Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Rufino Tamayo--Tres Personajes

Well, some people have all the damn luck. If I had found a Tamayo in a dumpster, you bet I would have recognized it.
But one March morning four years ago, Elizabeth Gibson was on her way to get coffee, as usual, when she spotted a large and colorful abstract canvas nestled between two big garbage bags in front of the Alexandria, an apartment building on the northwest corner of Broadway and 72nd Street in Manhattan.

“I had a real debate with myself,” said Ms. Gibson, a writer and self-professed Dumpster diver. “I almost left it there because it was so big, and I kept thinking to myself, ‘Why are you taking this back to your crammed apartment?’”

But, she said, she felt she simply had to have the 38-by-51-inch painting, because “it had a strange power.”

I wondered why my blog traffic had suddenly spiked; evidently the New York Times ungenerously posted an inadequately tiny photo of the Stolen Masterpiece, and when a person Googles the name 'Tamayo,' looking for a bigger one, they get me. So I did a high-resolution scan of 'Tres Personajes' from the Tamayo anthology on my bookshelf, and here it is. We aim to please.

Rufino Tamayo, 'Tres Personajes,' oil on canvas, 1970

Over the last few days, I have been following a couple of debates about Quality in art--whether it is subjective, objective, or has any relation to morality whatsoever. Much has been said, which I shall not attempt to paraphrase or repeat. I will merely state that one aspect of Quality may include that nameless thing which causes a non-art-scenester to haul a large, odd, cumbersome object out of a trash pile and put it on her wall, because it has 'a strange power.' Not because it has a ream of text on the wall next to it, explaining the post-modern or political ramifications of its existence; not because a haughty individual with a gift of gab and many wealthy connections tells you it is Important; not because it enrages people, or cost a lot to produce, or critics wrote about it, or because hipsters are clustered in front of it, talking about themselves. Just for the energy in the object itself.

Monday, October 22, 2007

That's IT!

'Divinity Lotus' by Agnes Pelton

Thank you, Jackadandy!

Why didn't I know about Agnes Pelton before this? Good grief! I went to an accredited (barely) Art School, and received an honor degree from a major university. Additionally, I studied Humanities in high school with the mad Hungarian pianist who demanded that all graduates of HIS school be classically, culturally literate. And I've combed the painting galleries of major museums in seven or eight major cities, exhaustively and repeatedly, looking for the Inspiriting Spark. I don't think I've been THAT lazy.

So why have I never heard of the Transcendental Painting Group? This is it! This is The Stuff!

The TPG manifesto stated that their purpose was "to carry painting beyond the appearance of the physical world, through new concepts of space, color, light and design, to imaginative realms that are idealistic and spiritual." The manifesto included the statement that "the work does not concern itself with political, economic, or other social problems." Arranging exhibitions of transcendental work that would "serve to widen the horizon of art" became the focus of the TPG's activity.

One of the most significant accomplishments of the TPG was to bring the term transcendental to prominence within the semantic dialogue. The TPG's application of the term to their art advanced the meaning assumed by the terms abstraction or non-objective. The term transcendental allowed expansion of the ideas already behind each artist's work and established the concept of the sublime, a word that conveyed high spiritual and intellectual worth. Because a transcendental painting represented an ideal condition or one of expanded awareness and acceptance, the TPG believed that it held the potential to serve as a powerful icon for enlightened cultural values.

Difficult and perhaps seemingly obscure terms such as spiritual, transcendental, quality, or ideal were part of the transcendental dialogue. At the time, the group was aware of the difficulty involved in defining these terms and made a genuine effort to explain the TPG's ideals through lectures, newspaper articles, and the group's manifesto. These terms generated confusion, fear, or dismissal. For the TPG, spiritual was meant to convey something other than religious meaning--rather, something that was reached from a process of refining integrity, skill, knowledge, and experience into an artistic statement conveying openness and acceptance--and something that was ultimately inspiring for the human condition. The term transcendental was tied to quality, as was the concept of ideal, because no work lacking in quality could represent an ideal, and therefore could not approach the spiritual.

Well, THAT'S not very PC, is it. Silly question.

Agnes Pelton, according to the essays I found about her, spent the final thirty years of her life in the desert, painting spiritual energy through abstraction from nature. I could BE this woman.

'Mount of Flame,' Agnes Pelton

Wow, wow, wow. I suppose, for the sake of being My Own Artist, non-derivative, progressive etc., I should explain why I am NOT Agnes Pelton; the technician in me notes that she, like Georgia O'Keefe, seems to have labored under the Old Master paradigm of creating a flat-surfaced image with a homogeneous paint quality. The images, although abstract, are still vaguely illustrative, and thus can be engaged with on a literalistic level, as 'depiction.' Whereas I, schooled in the SFAI 'piece of the floor' aesthetic, am integrating a range of textures and surface refractivities into my paintings, to better convey the multidimensional aspects of transcendent experience.

But gosh, they're gorgeous. I want one. I want ten. Someone send me one, please. Woo hoo.

This almost makes up for my last few trips to Chelsea, which have been largely dispiriting. I will refrain from cataloguing the 'art' I viewed there, except to say that most of it was ugly and/or lame, boring, puerile, derivative, tepid, negative, and narcissistic. I am making a bigger effort to Reach Out, this year, but when you trudge through gallery after gallery of pure hubris, it kind of makes you question what you're aspiring to.

This is what I'm aspiring to. It's lovely to be reminded.