(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘painting

“The avant-garde always has a bad time of it.”*…

Whither the innovative, the experimental, the challenging in our arts and culture? The Drift explores…

It’s commonplace to note that sociopolitical upheaval and artistic experimentation often flourish side by side. But today — despite an alleged “polycrisis” — new modes of cultural production don’t seem to be emerging. Three years after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent George Floyd rebellion, the arts seem stagnant and stubbornly centralized: franchise fare dominates at the box office; literary output is hampered by monopolized publishers; even the obsession with so-called nepo babies suggests a cultural bloodline without disruption. The internet, meanwhile, tends to both homogenize art and silo audiences by algorithm. We’ve begun to wonder if we’re overlooking experimental movements, or if they’re going extinct.

For Issue Ten, we asked artists and thinkers across disciplines — novelists, sculptors, composers, dancers, critics — to reflect on the current state of the avant-garde. What’s to blame for the lack of a coherent movement? If the avant-garde is dead, what killed it — and what’s been lost along the way? In politics, nothing seems to surprise us anymore. In art, can we still be shocked? Should we?…

An example, from the contribution by Liza Batkin (@LizaBatkin), a writer, attorney, and former dancer

When dancers refer to the avant-garde, they tend, counterintuitively, to mean something old: experimental artists in the 1960s and 1970s in New York, who worked largely out of lofts and Judson Memorial Church. Modern dance, by that point, had moved beyond ballet’s pointe shoes, tilted heads, and sweet violins, but the avant-gardists went further. Yvonne Rainer wrote a manifesto in 1965 that rejected spectacle and virtuosity. Trisha Brown strung unremarkable motions together into what she called “accumulations.” A lot of the work, like Lucinda Childs’s “Dance,” a mesmerizing collaboration with Philip Glass and Sol LeWitt, was slouchy, cool, and organic. It didn’t express emotion or match its music, and no one smiled. 

Avant-garde dance had gone so far past ballet that it may have seemed it could go no further. But then it aged into the establishment. When “Dance” was restaged at the Joyce Theater in 2021, the performers were so virtuosic that they strained to recreate Childs’s nonchalance, and a show of Trisha Brown’s works on Rockaway Beach last summer, against sparkling blue water, could hardly be seen through the crowd. Choreography invented a half century ago — thrown limbs that propel the body, controlled movements that break into swinging, relaxed ones — is now vernacular.

Even as it borrows from the past, today’s dance has found new rules to break… 

What Happened to the Avant-Garde? “Publicists, Manifesto Pushers, Propagandists,” the current issue of @thedrift_mag.

* Anton Chekhov


As we explore the edge, we might send envelope-pushing birthday greetings to László Moholy-Nagy; he was born on this date in 1895. An artists and educator, his pioneering work in painting, drawing, photography, collage, sculpture, film, theater, and writing, was, in the words of art critic Peter Schjeldahl,  “relentlessly experimental” and was hugely influential in the European avant-garde. His artworks were included in the infamous 1937 “Degenerate art” exhibition held by Nazi Germany in Munich.

Moholy-Nagy taught, in the 1920s, in the Bauhaus school. In 1937, fleeing the Nazis, he emigrated to Chicago, where he founded the School of Design in Chicago, which survives today as part of the Illinois Institute of Technology, and which art historian Elizabeth Siegel called “his overarching work of art.”

The photo included with Moholy-Nagy’s Declaration of Intention for US citizenship in 1938 (source)

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July 20, 2023 at 1:00 am

“Art is an outsider, a gypsy over the face of the earth”*…

The Lion Room at Ron’s place…

A man’s death revealed his secret masterpiece—his rented home, illegally transformed into a classical villa. What happened next questions how we define art. Max Olesker explains…

It’s a cold February morning, and I’ve come to Birkenhead, just outside Liverpool, to visit the former home of a man named Ron Gittins, a property affectionately known as Ron’s Place. Over the course of 33 years, Gittins painstakingly transformed almost every surface of this flat with a series of artworks in a variety of styles and mediums, from friezes on the walls of his living room to a Roman altar in his kitchen and enormous, ambitious fireplaces (yes, multiple). It’s a singlehanded labor of love. But, because Gittins was renting the flat—with no right to modify the property to this extent—it’s also illegal. As a result, the work was created almost entirely in secret. It was only after Gittins’ death at age 79 that word gradually began to trickle out about the existence of this strange cave of wonders…

“Outsider art,” “folk art,” and “art brut” are designations frequently applied to artists—often untrained—who work outside the classical tradition (and frequently the law). If the work is a large-scale installation, permanent or semi-permanent, it might be deemed an “outsider environment” or “visionary environment.” Outside Madrid, a former monk named Justo Gallego Martínez spent 60 years singlehandedly building his own cathedral, working on it daily until he passed away in 2021. In Westbourne Grove, London, retired postal porter and factory worker Gerry Dalton, an “Irishman and self-proclaimed gardener” according to his site’s Instagram bio, created a series of remarkable outdoor sculptures along the Grand Union Canal, in a collection he dubbed Gerry’s Pompeii. In South Africa’s Eastern Cape, Helen Martins, who lived from 1897 to 1976, created The Owl House, which features over 300 sculptures made from concrete and ground glass. And there are many, many more across the globe, each with its own infinitely rich backstory.

“It’s all quite powerful, isn’t it?” says Martin Wallace, as he shows me around the flat. Wallace, 55, is a warm, articulate Scouser and BAFTA-nominated filmmaker who frequently collaborates with Jarvis Cocker, the frontman of ’90s Britpop band Pulp. Together, they made a documentary series, Journeys Into the Outside, traveling the planet to investigate extraordinary places built by regular people. Wallace, who lives nearby, is now working on a feature-length documentary about Gittins, and in the process has become inexorably drawn into the orbit of Ron’s Place. Initially, this only involved helping cover the flat’s rent—as a trustee—after Gittins passed, and thinking of a long-term strategy to preserve the unique interior. But it’s rapidly become far more problematic. Ron’s Place is under threat: After months of stasis, the landlord and owner, Salisbury Management Services, has finally decided enough is enough. The building is to be sold at auction.

The front door flies open and Jan Williams and Chris Teasdale hurry in. They huddle with Wallace in the Egyptian corridor; urgent crisis talks begin. Jan Williams, 61, is Gittins’ niece. Together with her partner, Teasdale, 71, they work as artists under the name The Caravan Gallery. Along with Wallace, they have now dedicated themselves to preserving Gittins’ legacy. The current discussions, hushed and frantic, are about potential investors who might work with them—but they don’t sound promising. One man claiming to have the money also had quite a lot of snot on his jumper. The housing associations who expressed interest the previous summer have all gone quiet, the occasional sympathetic voice inevitably getting lost in the mundane realities of running a large business. In order to be eligible to apply for funding, the trio has created a legal entity, The Wirral Arts and Culture Community Land Trust. But, with time now of the essence, it’s not clear how that will save the property… 

Read on for more of the story, the (happy) ending– and many more photos: “Ron’s Place,” from @maxolesker in @Longreads (though it’s not really that long :).

Robert Henri


As we embrace outsiders, we might send agitated birthday greetings to painter Giacomo Balla; he was born on this date in 1871. An early member of the Italian Futurist movement, he emphasized light, movement, and speed in his work. But unlike most of his Futurist colleagues, Balla tended toward the witty and whimsical, not the machines and violence (and ultimately Fascists sentiments) that characterized so many other Italian Futurists.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

July 18, 2023 at 1:00 am

“All is vanity”*…

Cecily Brown, All Is Vanity (after Gilbert), 2006 [see here for Charles Allan Gilbert drawing that inspired it]

A growing number of modern artists would have us reflect on our lives and their meanings. Charlotte Jansen offers an example…

Oysters, lobsters, Louboutins—and death. At Cecily Brown’s current exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum Museum of Art, “Death and the Maid” (through December 3rd), the trappings of capitalist society seem to slip into oblivion under her lively, vigorous brushwork and lucid tableaus. Skulls, mirrors, and references to paintings of the past remind us of the madness of materialism and the certainty of death, recasting the classic theme of vanitas for the contemporary age.

Historically, the aim of a vanitas painting was to point out the vain pursuits of our mortal existence. Evolving out of a distaste for decadence and wealth, fueled by Calvinist attitudes in 16th-century Europe, these paintings imparted a clear moral message. The burgeoning middle classes had suddenly been able to afford jewels, quills, luxurious fabrics, sheet music, and books. But, these paintings warned, no matter how much pleasure those material possessions may bring, all is futile in the face of death. In these still-life compositions, the transience of life was commonly represented in depictions of skulls, burning candles, flowers, and soap bubbles.

Unlike memento mori—another genre of painting designed to remind the viewer of their mortality—vanitas works can be distinguished for their inclusion of displays of luxury and collections of items alluding to pleasure. It’s perhaps no surprise that vanitas is making its way into the works of contemporary artists—especially in bodies of work produced during the pandemic that are now being seen in public for the first time…

The human condition: “Contemporary Artists Are Reviving Vanitas, Reflecting on Death and Decadence,” in @artsy.

* Ecclesiastes 2:2


As we muse on mortality, we might send authentic birthday greetings to Hermann Hesse; he was born on this date in 1877. A book seller, poet, and painter, he is best known as a novelist– especially for  DemianSteppenwolfSiddhartha, and The Glass Bead Game, all of which are animated by a search for meaning and self-knowledge (that’s thematically related to the Vanitas painters to the past and today). In 1946, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature.

You can find many of his paintings here.


“Dada is ‘nothing'”*…

Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia, and Beatrice Wood, 1917

Working from Marcel Duchamp’s concept of anti-art, Tristan Tzara and Hugo Ball conjured “Dada” in Europe in the early 20th century; it gestated in France, then it found it’s footing in New York in 1915, and ignited in Paris in 1920… Key figures in the movement included Duchamp, Tzara, Ball, and the likes of Jean Arp, Johannes Baader, Max Ernst, Richard Huelsenbeck, Francis Picabia, Man Ray, Hans Richter, Kurt Schwitters… and Beatrice Wood.

We need to talk about Beatrice Wood. The last surviving member of the Dada movement, the ceramicist, the artist, the writer, the actress, the lover, and let’s not leave out, the inspiration behind the headstrong character of “Rose” in the movie Titanic. Beatrice was born at the end of the 19th century, and died at the end of the 20th, and in between she lived an incredible life. The sign on her ceramics studio read “Reasonable and Unreasonable”, and was a pretty spot-on description of her life…

The remarkable story: “Meet The Mama of Dada” in @MessyNessyChic

See also: “Beatrice Wood@Artforum

* Marcel Duchamp


As we appreciate art, we might send carefully-composed birthday greetings to a very different kind of artist (one against whom the Dadaists were rebelling), John Singer Sargent; he was born on this date in 1856. One of the leading portrait painters of his time, he moved in the same social circles as his subjects (Presidents [e.g., Teddy Roosevelt), nobility (e.g., Lady Agnew), tycoons and their heirs [e.g., numerous Vanderbilts, Isabella Stewart Gardner), celebrity authors (e.g, Robert Louis Stevenson, Kenneth Grahame), even other artists (e.g., Claude Monet), and so was admired in his time for his evocation of Edwardian luxury. He was prodigiously prolific: he created roughly 900 oil paintings and more than 2,000 watercolors, as well as countless sketches and charcoal drawings.

Sargent in his studio with his personal favorite of his works, Portrait of Madame X, c. 1885 (source)

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January 12, 2023 at 1:00 am

“The medieval principles led up to Raphael, and the modern principles lead down from him”*…

Raphael, “The Madonna of the Pinks” (“La Madonna dei Garofani”) (c. 1506-7)

On the occasion of a major National Gallery show in London, Michael Glover on Raphael…

… he was born a mere man, a citizen of Urbino in the Marche, the son of a court painter, who was orphaned very young and raised by an uncle who also happened to be a priest. Perhaps the reverence is due to his talents, which were superabundant, and moved in so many directions at once. He was a painter, printmaker, architect, designer, sculptor, and much else. His industriousness, and the consistent quality of his output, were superhuman. That is undeniable.

Raphael painted relatively few portraits… during his short lifetime, and even fewer in which he could be said to have painted them in order to please himself, because he was always so much in demand by immensely rich and powerful male patrons for the kinds of things that they wanted him to do. They wanted him to beautify public (and private) spaces, all the greater to reflect their own power and importance — beneath the ever-watchful eye of the Christian God, their chief sponsor, in whose revered name they splashed all this cash. 

Raphael was the very well remunerated servant of these rich masters, and this was entirely a matter of choice. He was boundlessly ambitious and intimidatingly energetic (he was already running a studio by the age of 17), charming, good-looking (though not to an excessive degree), diplomatic, and utterly opportunistic. Michelangelo loathed him because, though much younger, Raphael seemed to sweep all before him. What a break for the irascible, prickly Michelangelo that his young rival died, quite unexpectedly, of a fever, when he did, leaving him unchallenged for decades!

And Raphael, the name, the work, the style, has resonated and resonated across the centuries…

On the Renaissance painter described by Vasari, his first biographer, as the universal artist: “Raphael Between Heaven and Earth,” in @hyperallergic.

Raphael paints wisdom, Handel sings it, Phidias carves it, Shakespeare writes it, Wren builds it, Columbus sails it, Luther preaches it, Washington arms it, Watt mechanizes it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

John Ruskin


As we appreciate art, we might recall that it was on this date in 1890 that Vincent Van Gogh shot himself in the chest with a revolver; he died two days later. A post-impressionist painter, he was not commercially successful in his lifetime and, struggling with severe depression and poverty, committed suicide at the age of 37. But he subsequently became, with Raphael, one of the most famous and influential figures in Western art history.

Self-Portrait, 1887


Written by (Roughly) Daily

July 27, 2022 at 1:00 am

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