The Blue Raccoon

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Day Late and A Dollar Short Part VII:
Reading Ossie Clark and conclusion

Reading Ossie Clark (2003) is "a study of “Swinging London’s” preeminent fashion designer of the late 1960s and early 1970s, as seen through the pages of his wild and colorful stream-of-consciousness diaries," as the Corcoran literature explained. The image is via Kinz, Tillou + Feigen.

I recall from my absorption of the Duncan-Blake effect during the past summer how comparison was made between David Hockney's portrait of married designers Ossie Clark and Celia Birtwell, and the Yo! Venice images of Duncan and Blake that got plastered all over web sites (this one included). Even I, the philistine, thought the Venice images resembled a Hockney painting. That California light and the wide beach spaces.

Mr. and Mrs. Clark Percy (1970), David Hockney, via artchive.

[Below] Jeremy Blake and Theresa Duncan, Venice Beach, by Bret of Yo! Venice, May 2005. Looking David Hockney by way of Edward Hopper...

[Below] "The Hockney That Never Was." A digital painting from Idyllopus Press, J.M Kearns, presiding and posted this image, August 23, 2007. Based on an image from the Yo! Venice series.

So, my notes for Reading Ossie Clark don't amount to much. Clarissa Darymple's narration was compelling, the accent something an actor might need to invent.

At one point the words appear, "Yak, yak, yak...lies, lies, lies," and I chuckled to myself, thinking of, well, the rushing torrents of language that have poured forth about this artist and his fate...and to which I've contributed. The wonderful visuals were based in designs and elements within Clark's oeuvre. The loop runs nine minutes but seemed longer--maybe because I was experiencing "moving painting" fatigue.

I profess to a profound lack of knowledge about the history of contemporary fashion and Ossie Clark and Swinging London. Blake's fascination didn't spark me, though many of the images he generated under its inspiration are quite splendid.

Image via creative

I left the gallery of Wild Choir with a sense that I understood better the critical praise bestowed upon Blake's work but also aware of the limited nature of new media and how we here in the present can't predict how these multimedia pieces will make their ultimate contribution to art history. I also wondered about longevity. Digital media may last how long? How does one preserve it? Of course, all art is rotting and deteriorating, no matter how careful the efforts at conservation. Artists seize upon new technologies and methods because they want to see what they can make them do; theirs is not to know how to make it last.

Blake's pieces exists only when projected. His drawings and paintings remain in three-dimensional space. In the end, those may survive the videos.

Earlier, I'd viewed rooms full of Edward Hopper and J.M.W. Turner. Hopper, cool, distant, refined, simple yet complicated, a Hemingway of painting whom De Chirico referred to as the U.S.'s only Surrealist. De Chirico fell out of his avant-garde and struggled to reconnect with representational realism. Hopper didn't fall out of anything; he built his own niche.

Hopper's own countenance, in the show's photographs and portrayed in his paintings, seems a blend of Dwight Eisenhower and Fred Thompson. His is a big solid U.S. face; the son of a dry goods salesman father and a housewife who liked to draw.

Hopper was influenced by cinema and theater, and he in turn influenced cinema. The 15-minute film that went with the exhibit, narrated by Steve Martin, pointed out several examples--some outright, others more subtle--like Hitchcock's Gothic home of the Bates family in Psycho.

Perhaps my favorite painting of his is New York Movie (1939).

He conveys the hushed darkness of a film house but that he's interested in the usherette, lost in her own reverie, having seen this picture in bits and parts maybe a dozen times. I'm gazing at her from my seat, noticing how the the lamplight shines in her strawberry blond hair.
Image via

Another picture that I don't recall seeing before was one made quite late in Hopper's career and the portrayal of silent spareness is disturbing--and brings to mind DeChirico's empty streetscapes. Except this is a motel room. I remarked to Amie that it looks like somebody from a foreign country trying to paint like Hopper and making it even more weird. Or a still from a n early David Lynch film. This image is via the Yale University Gallery of Art.

J.M.W Turner astonished me. I've certainly seen examples of his work in various museums throughout my assorted travels, but never gathered in one place, and how given the benefit of walking along the line of his artistic development one sees an artist who made the mold then broke the mold.

His massive paintings of horrendous sea battles and ancient temples and pagan rituals remind me of meticulous matte paintings, except Turner's pictures present the drama instead of providing background. Then he ended up becoming what amounted to being the first Impressionist. Trying to gauge Turner's power from muddy images online or even good ones in books is like describing the quality of sunshine in a summer rain. You just have to see this yourself.

The Perfect Storm ca.1810, via Wikipedia, The Wreck of the Minotaur.

The vivid, hyper-real landscapes and tableaux give way to swirling colors and objects in name only.

The so-called Sunrise With Seamonsters of 1845, was given that name by curators
who first exhibited the piece in 1906 (!) This is probably two flounder in the surf, but, the perspective is so unusual one perhaps can forgive gallerists who'd perhaps never been to the sea. Imag via artchives.

In the biographies of the two artists, living centuries apart, there's interesting differences and connections. Hopper, now considered as much part of U.S. culture as Coke, didn't sell his first painting until 1913 when he was 31, and his second, at 41. After that, things began looking up; he married artist Jo Nevison, she 40, he 42, and they remained together until his death in 1964 at the age of 87. Jo followed him nine months later.

Hopper was part of no school, no movement, and worked in figurative or narrative idiom while the rest of the world went its merry Abstract Expressionist/Pop/Op way. Maybe in his own manner, Hopper was putting back together the shattered pieces before they were already all the way broken. But once anything is busted, the pieces never constitute what existed prior to the destruction.

Hopper, for all this ability to convey a sense of quiet desolation--he stopped putting people in his street scenes because they gave them an energy he didn't want--couldn't paint reflections in glass or water. His Nighthawks depicts the denizens of an all-night diner in the precise manner worthy of a film or stage director. We almost don't see the huge window through which we're observing the hunched diners. The only give-away that it is there is the pale beam of the curve by the sidewalk. But as the critic Clement Greenberg described Hopper's lack of virtuoso painting flourishes, "Hopper simply happens to be a bad painter. But if he were a better painter, he would, most likely, not be so superior an artist." Image via

J.M.W Turner could paint reflections, all kinds of them, in different perspectives, and in watercolor. Turner enjoyed success and praise from the outset of his art life. As he matured, and his world became more dominated by the Industrial Revolution, the fanciful landscapes and historical tableaux may have seemed to Turner as ostentatious. Romantic realism couldn't convey what he was sensing in the wind. The artist began expressing his experience of a world that itself was waning and receding while mysterious machines and violent war clashed in flickering lights, mists and steam, and myth and old ways faded.

"In his later life he began sending to the Academy exhibitions unfinished canvases which one contemporary described as being 'without form and void, like chaos before the creation'," says the Tate Gallery's online biography. "He would then complete them in the exhibition room on Varnishing Days, virtuoso performances which soon became legendary."

Turner's housewife mother died insane when he was at the outset of his career and his barber and wigmaker father lived with him for more than 30 years and even served as his studio assistant, until his death. Turner thereafter experienced bouts of depression and his behavior became more erratic. He never married, but sired two children.

He left behind a fortune that he intended to be held in trust for "decayed artists" and his entire collection bequeathed to the English nation for the purpose of keeping his work together in one place, though that didn't happen. The current "Turner Prize," awarded to artists of distinction, was founded in 1984 but has no connection to the artist, except for the use of his name.

Now, upstairs at the Corcoran, away from Jeremy Blake's noisy introspection, is a big Annie Leibovitz exhibition. Unlike paintings, in many cases, photographs look just fine in books. There's no glass to negotiate.

I didn't expect much out of this show and was overwhelmed. and this was far more affecting than either of us had reason to expect, as her images of people whose fame she's helped to propagate were intermixed with her personal shots and of her relationship with writer Susan Sontag, who dies during the course of the exhibit, as does Leibovitz's father. These are tough pictures. Sontag is depicted in death laid out like an effigy upon an ancient sarcophagus. Her father, compared to earlier images of him, is a husk wasted by disease and age.

Near these images of her personal losses were the violent deaths from the siege of Sarajevo and massacres in Rwanda. I'd seen these in magazines and didn't know, or forgotten, that Leibovitz on these journeys eschewed all studio trappings and took herself and a camera. Their is world of hurt out there, and nations bathed in the blood of innocents, and at once removed from the rarefied spaces of her New York City studios--and yet not that distant at all.

Here, too, is Leibovitz at--I think age 52--her belly swollen with twins. The young children are shown growing up and the images get a little Sallie Mann-esque. Amie says to me, "What are you going to do? The most precious things to you in life are right there in front of you, and they will be this way for that moment, and never again the same way. So you're an artist and you want to record that."

In front of Leibovitz's portrait of Bill Clinton, Amie said aloud, "This makes me sad and wistful." Then then a woman standing next to her said,"Me, too." He was so young and vital in 1998, his hair not yet gone white, and he looked like The Natural-era Robert Redford playing Bill Clinton, and I said so, and the ladies agreed. His hands are huge--mitts-- and a thumb that looks the length of most people's index fingers. Ahead of him was a political tempest and heart surgery.

Chuck Close told Amie a little while ago that he met Clinton and that after being in Clinton's presence for a few minutes, even he wanted to go to bed with him, so magnetic is his personality.

Then around the corner from this was a big color portrait of Bush's first term team, with Rumsfeld and the rest, and they looked like the cast for some Fox Network night-time soap opera about the rich and venal. Perhaps there is something in that these portraits of recent U.S. leaders in their natural habitats they seem more like the actors Leibovitz is famous for dressing up and putting in contrived tableaux.

In the end, I cared less about her celebrities, and more about all our humanity.

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At 5:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 4:26 AM, Anonymous Wooden Shutters said...

I love Mr and Mrs Clark. It really does capture something of that early 1970's feel. Do you know that Hockney changed the name of the cat! Dig those 1970's shutters as well.

The turner painting that is just smudges of colour is also one of my favorites as is Edward Hooper.

At 6:26 AM, Blogger HEK said...

Thank you "Wooden Shutters" for showing up in my dusty neglected corner of the Internet. I'm a mite confused by what you mean that Hockney changed "the name" of the cat. Did you mean to say he changed the kind of cat it is? Ah, artistic license. I wonder what the Clarks thought about Hockney's improvisation. The Turner "Sea Monsters" is eerie in person because one isn't quite certain what one is looking at unit you understand the perspective. Thanks again. -- HEK


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