José Clemente Orozco | The Clowns of War Arguing in Hell, 1944October 6, 2022
José Clemente Orozco | The Clowns of War Arguing in Hell, 1944
Fresco, Palacio de Gobierno, Guadalajara (alternately known as Carnival of the Ideologies).
Do I look like the kind of clown that could start a movement? (from the film Joker, 2019)
And butchered, frantic gestures of the dead. (Siegfried Sassoon, 1886 – 1967)
This fresco, created only five years before the artist’s death, is a good example of how ‘Orozco’s late works were characterized by a deep sense of anguish and pessimism as the artist grew skeptical about the future of humanity in the wake of sweeping technological advancements.’ (from here) The facile art historical reading is that this work was Orozco’s reaction to WWII, but even a quick perusal of his impressive body of work, and the cultural and social milieu he existed within, will indicate that this is a more complex and personal artwork than that.
It is, bluntly, a horrifying piece, and intended to be so: painted in the final days of WW II, one might see this as the answer to that image of the conference at Yalta, with FDR, Churchill and Stalin, still pretending to be allies and not with their knives out to gluttonously divide the spoils of war.
Recently I was lucky enough to write about the work of Orozco’s colleague Rufino Tamayo, who eschewed the political discourse that this artist – and other contemporaries like Diego Rivera or David Alfaro Siqueiros – considered essential to Mexican art. Orozco is at the opposite end of this spectrum from Tamayo: in this regard, Octavio Paz [the internationally renowned essayist and poet] once remarked “Orozco never smiled in his life.” (from here) Perhaps that is because – as with this work – Orozco had little use for genteel diplomacy, and knew that once you saw horrors, it was a conscious act of morality to not look away….I am also researching the Russian – Canadian artist Paraskeva Clark, right now, and her aesthetic was to respond to, and reflect, the world she lived within. That is what Orozco is doing here.
But if I’m honest, the reason this older work holds my attention now and I want to share it here is because it seems that very little has changed, in our political discourse, and that we’re still – willingly or press-ganged – onto Das Narrenschiff [A Ship of Fools], a favourite theme of Hieronymous Bosch and so many others….
A quick perusal of the civic candidates standing for office in my space of Niagara only emphasizes this appropriate cynicism.
Much more about Orozco’s life and legacy can be seen here.
~ Bart GazzolaRead More
Hayv Kahraman | Migrant 3, 2009September 29, 2022
Hayv Kahraman | Migrant 3, 2009
Oil on panel 70 x 45 in. (177.8 x 114.3 cm.)
Hayv Kahraman was born in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1981 but now lives and works in Los Angeles. She describes her work as being “a vocabulary of narrative, memory and dynamics of non-fixity found in diasporic cultures are the essence of her visual language and the product of her experience as an Iraqi refugee / come émigré. The body as object and subject have a central role in her painting practice as she compositely embodies the artist herself and a collective.”
This work was made around the same time as her series Marionettes which “explores this subject of female oppression with particular reference to war in the Middle East and specifically in her home land of Iraq. At the same time, she turns her attention to female subjugation found in the everyday, in a series of work focused on women and domestic life. Enslavement is depicted through strings controlling the movement of the women; they drift through the landscapes seemingly oblivious to, or accepting of, their fate.” (from a review in Contemporary Practices, 2010)
This image, as I was engaged in my frequent research about contemporary artists, caught my eye not just for its evocative if disturbing scene (that might be an act of self censorship, or a visual metaphor for a prohibition to speak or be heard), but also with what’s happening in Iran, right now. Feminism – that idea, affronting to so many, that people are all equal – is a contested narrative with overlapping and challenging voices, whether you’re listening to Hurston, Dworkin, Solanas, hooks, Simpson or Deer.
When geo politics enter the conversation – as with spaces where religion is a defining factor, such as the Middle East or the United States, lumbering like a rough beast towards not so much Jerusalem as Atwood’s Gilead – it only becomes more important to allow it to be defined personally, as, “the personal, as everyone’s so fucking fond of saying, is political.” (from the writings of Quellcrist Falconer, the founder of the Quellist movement, in Richard K. Morgan’s Altered Carbon)
As the work is titled Migrant 3, Kahraman might be ‘speaking’ of Iraq or of her new home, in the United States, just as the mirrored figures have differences, as time and experience takes upon any sense of self.
~ Bart GazzolaRead More
Craig Thomas Oliver | Cloud Passes My Window, 1973September 15, 2022
Craig Thomas Oliver | Cloud Passes My Window, 1973
Craig Thomas Oliver’s work always makes me melancholy. Perhaps it’s because not long after my return to Niagara I was approached to contribute an essay to an upcoming catalogue about the artist, published posthumously, as a means to bring attention to his art and accomplishments in Niagara. Later, I would include him in an exhibition I curated from the collection of Rodman Hall Art Centre, under the title of A Place To Stand, emphasizing artists in that archive who had built a place for others to grow and prosper within St. Catharines and Niagara. Both of those instances strike me as being about moments lost, or passing, with an implicit act of grieving.
Cloud Passes My Window is a small, delicate meditation, with clean, vibrant colours, like a sky so blue it might have been hammered into place. If you’ve visited Niagara Artists Centre (NAC) and their upstairs terrace – the CTO Terrace, named for Oliver, as a founding member of the artist run centre – this motif is familiar to you. On the left wall, a massive reproduction of Oliver’s simple and pristine white cloud on blue dominates the second storey space. It’s an amusing contrast, of the solidity of the architecture and the whimsical, ephemeral clouds, repeated like in this image: but in this work, it slowly leaves us, like any cloud – or person – who was here, and now gone.
I’ve spent many an evening there, with various NAC events, but I always think of it from a clear sunny afternoon, at the end of my first month upon returning to Niagara, in August of 2015. The CTO Terrace is a site often filled with music, so whenever I see any of Oliver’s ‘cloud’ works, Yoko Kanno’s song Blue comes to mind (Never seen a blue sky / Yeah I can feel it reaching out and moving closer
There’s something about blue / Asked myself what it’s all for / You know the funny thing about it / I couldn’t answer / No I couldn’t answer…)
Unsurprisingly, Kanno’s song may be about death, absence and loss, too. I’ve been told my mind goes to dark places, but that’s not entirely true, with the bright blue skies that Oliver shares with us, and that fills a wall in the loft space that bears his name, with ‘his’ sky to the side and the full sky above us…
But a more apropos element of textual ‘collage’ would be from Allen Ginsberg’s Elegy for Neal Cassady, written in the early morning hours (5 – 5:30 AM) upon learning of the passing of his friend and sometime lover:
bright as moving air
blue as city dawn
happy as light released by the Day
over the city’s new buildings –
Lament in dawnlight’s not needed,
the world is released,
desire fulfilled, your history over,
story told, Karma resolved,
vision manifest, new consciousness fulfilled,
spirit returned in a circle,
world left standing empty, buses roaring through streets —
garbage scattered on pavements galore
Upon Oliver’s passing, NAC Director Stephen Remus offered the following tribute: “Craig was a key figure in the first wave of innovative collective projects that set the tone of wit and satire that has endured to define NAC today. [These include] the Niagara Now Billboard Exhibition (1972), Downtown Street Banner Project (1973), The Johnny Canuck Canadian Ego Exposition (1974), and The Johnny Canuck Canadian Ego Exhibitionist (1976). Craig was a master printmaker and he produced print work by many of his fellow NAC artists including John B. Boyle, Dennis Tourbin, Alice Crawley, and John Moffat.”
More about Oliver’s life and artwork can be read here.
~ Bart GazzolaRead More
Ana Žanić – One Breath – Femme Folks Fest RepostMarch 15, 2022
The first time you see Ana Žanić’s watercolor and pencil artwork is like taking a sharp blow to the limbic system. Every one of your senses screams “I know this” but cannot figure out what “this” is or why it knows it. They take on the form of something both organic and subliminal, communicating to us of the past (back to pre-history) and our deeply troubled emotional state we find ourselves in through the pandemic.
Her colour palettes are very natural and gently reassuring… mother earth will take us back into her bosom and help us heal. The meticulous marks speak of long journeys past, and reach out to our future selves to remind us that we have struggled before and have overcome those obstacles… we can do it again.
I reached out to Ana and asked her a few questions.Read More
Temptation of Saint Anthony | Hieronymus BoschJanuary 18, 2022
High culture has pretty much disappeared along with the dress code.Read More
The Art of Richard DiebenkornDecember 18, 2021
The Art of Richard Diebenkorn, 1997
Jane Livingston, with essays from John Elderfield and Ruth Fine (The University of California Press)
Forgive me for saying something positive about social media, but it’s allowed for a proliferation of art and images online (which is one of the motivating factors that helped create the Covert Collective); the art historian in me welcomes this, as on Twitter, for example, there’s numerous ‘art bots’ that have filled the sphere with many fine artworks – such as those of Richard Diebenkorn.
“Recognized as a major figure in postwar American painting, Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1993) was an artist strongly identified with California but whose work is beloved throughout the United States and the rest of the world. This catalog is the most comprehensive volume on the artist now available.
Jane Livingston’s extensively researched biographical essay covers Diebenkorn’s entire career and concentrates on the artist’s inner life and purposes as revealed in his paintings. Ruth Fine deals primarily with the figurative aspect of Diebenkorn’s work (1955-67), and John Elderfield concentrates on the Ocean Park period (1967-93). All three authors provide valuable insights based on their personal relationships with the artist and his widow, Phyllis. On both page and canvas, the reader can sense Diebenkorn’s complexity and highly self-conscious working methods, as well as his formidable integrity.
The Art of Richard Diebenkorn will give readers with an interest in all phases of modernism new thoughts about the relationship between abstraction and representation. Stunningly illustrated, with 192 full-color reproductions, this book is an exhilarating testament to a distinctive American artist.” (from the publisher, The University of California Press)
The essays are enjoyable and informative: but the majority of the book is defined by almost 200 full-colour reproductions and that’s why I recommend this book. From Diebenkorn’s still life paintings to his rough portraits to his ephemeral repeated meditations where place and abstraction intersect, this book is rife with beautiful images. “If painting doesn’t offer a way to dream and create emotions, then it’s not worth it”, to quote Pierre Soulages, a contemporary to Diebenkorn, and one can easily get lost among the many images of Diebenkorn’s in this book
This is hopefully to be found at your library (UC Press offers a space to request a copy for the same), or your locally owned bookstore. Since I mentioned social media in this Library suggestion, it would be remiss to not offer links to a Richard Diebenkorn #artbot on Twitter, as a teaser to encourage you to seek out this book.
~ Bart GazzolaRead More
Michele MikesellOctober 31, 2021
The Morrigan, 2017 by Michele Mikesell
Michele Mikesell’s characters peer back at you. Often, they seem to look through you. This is understandable as her inspiration is so often taken from mythology, with figures like this one (or ones, considering that the Morrigan is sometimes a trio, all sisters, called the three Morrígna) that embody larger ideas that dwarf the individual viewer. The imaginary portrait that Mikesell offers here is titled The Morrigan (but she / they are also called Mórrígan, sometimes named Morrígu, a powerful deity from Irish mythology. In Modern Irish she is Mór-Ríoghain, meaning “great queen” or “phantom queen”). A divinity of war and fate, often a harbinger who foretells doom, death or victory in battle, she’s often been depicted – as alluded to in the shadows here – as a crow (birds which still unsettle us as dark omens, or as scavengers of carrion, perhaps those who fall in battle….perhaps a psychopomp, even, waiting to escort the newly dead to their just reward…).
She looks fittingly unimpressed. (“It is better to fall in with crows than with flatterers; for in the one case you are devoured when dead, in the other case while alive.” – Antisthenes / Ἀντισθένης, c. 445 – c. 365 BC)
There’s a sense of whimsy to many of Mikesell’s anthropomorphic figures, blending animal and human, often titled for old gods like Artemis or Bastet. Another painting is titled Huginn, one of Odin’s ravens – another foreboding bird, knowing and seeing much. She lives in Dallas, Texas and Spain, and “her paintings hone in on the connectedness between human ideas and animal instinct. Irony, contradiction, humor and tragedy are themes throughout her work.”
Many more of her fine paintings (as it was very difficult to select just one) can be enjoyed here. ~ Bart GazzolaRead More