Sunday, October 11, 2009

Walker Art House Ranger

Last week for my Orientation to Art and Design Class we visited the Walker Art Center. I've never left the Walker thinking anything but, "Why the hell did I want to go here... again?" I think it's a similar situation to when you get terribly drunk. The night ends with heaving while clutching a cold porcelain ring that was never meant for a face. You stare dizzily at the frayed loops in the dirty lavender shag rug, and you tell yourself stearnly, " Self, we are NEVER going to do this again." But inevitably you forget the talk you had with yourself that horrible night... while your hair dangled dangerously close to the acidy soup that filled the toilet bowl. The human memory is a fragile thing...
Fortunately this visit to the Walker was different. I wasn't left to wander aimlessly disgusted through the labyrinth. I went on a guided tour. The woman leading my group talked about several pieces, explaining their back stories. As an assignment I am supposed to reflect on the pieces I saw, and their formal qualities...

First, I want to point out a pop art piece by Jasper Johns. I'd say that this piece has very strong formal qualities. The piece is an optical illusion caused by the rigidity of line, and the artist's precise choice of color. If the viewer stares at the tiny dot located in the center of the orange and green flag, then looks down at the dot centered in the gray flag, an illusion of a red, white and blue American Flag appears. Other than the illusion (it's formal quality), for me, this piece has no meaning.

This piece was created by Shiraga Kazuo. Looking at this for the first time I was irritated, then slightly appalled. But as our guide began to delve deeper into the piece and it's origin, I became intrigued. The story goes, this was sort of a performance piece, conveying the injustices the artist felt post WWII.
The canvas is not prepped. It is slathered with layer upon layer of thick black and red pigment. In the texture of the paint the viewer can clearly see foot prints. The artist painted with his feet as he hug from a rope, which enabled him to swing emotively to conveying his inner emotion. I think this piece's content is more important to the viewer, because without knowing the story of it's creation, or about the artist's personal struggle with WWII, it is simply a canvas slathered haphazardly with red and black paint.

It's difficult for me to go into depth about this piece without becoming angry. Its by Yves Klein... one of his many sad attempts at fame. This image is a result of a performance. During the performance, the artist had nude women lay in a vat of Yves Klein Blue pigment (yes, he has a shade of blue named after him) then press up against this sheet of gauze. A orchestra played a single note "symphony" in the background, conducted my Mr.Klein himself, which was followed by a 20 min silence for reflection, and mediation. Let me just add that the artist didn't touch the paint or the canvas during the performance... So wouldn't that make the nude models the artists? I'm pretty sure they deserve the credit... or at least an applause for putting up with Yves Klein. -Does anyone else feel like this piece is a giant let down?

This is a portrait of Kiki Smith by Chuck Close. I think this piece possesses both formal qualities and important content. The portrait is composed of a grid of small squares painted individually. Each "cell" is unremarkable itself, but seen all together the cells read as a portrait.
Before Close became wheelchair bound, his portraits were remarkably realistic. His breakthrough self portrait is among one of my favorite portraits of all time. But after what he intimately refers to as the "event", Close had adapt his style, due to his inability to grasp a brush. This forced new artistic direction may have been for the better. Photo-realism is no longer as popular as it was when Close was at it's forefront. Over all this piece isn't my favorite, but I think it's use of color, and implementation, combined with Close's triumph over his disability, make this piece the most meaningful to me.

Okay, this isn't currently on display at the Walker, but on a previous trip, this piece was part of a series of hundreds of images by Zak Smith (this isn't my favorite) illistrating the book 'Gravity's Rainbow'. The images were all the same size, about 4x6 inches, and were laid out on a wall about 1/2 inch apart. This collection caused me to get up close to the individual drawings, and really look. After I left the gallery, his images were stuck in my head. I was later possessed to look up the artist, and find out more about him. Which made me like his work even more. (he has a collection called"100 girls, 100 octopuses".. need I say more?) His work is mostly pen and ink portraiture of girls, but contains some amazing oddities too. I recommend his work to anyone who loves portraiture/weirdness. You can explore his gallery on his website:

Friday, October 2, 2009

Russ Mills: My dirty little digital secret

As traditional art continues to be elbowed aside by works composed digitally, my distain for computer generated art grows ever more fierce. Just as I thought all hope for traditional art was lost... I stumbled upon Russ Mills.
At first glance, I was intrigued by the flowing, spattered, complex and interesting application of paint, but upon further investigation... I mean CLOSE inspection, I noticed the image was altered in a computer program... Sirens began to go off in my brain as the realization hit me that I liked a digitally composed piece... Shame! Shame! Shame! I was TRICKED by his exquisite use of clean technical drawing! The spontaneity of his brushwork! The boldness of his subject choice! “HOW COULD I BE SUCH A FOOOLL!!!???!?” I shrieked. (okay, I really didn’t shriek.) But just as my mouse was reaching across the browser to delete all record of his site in my web history... I felt compelled to read Mills’ Bio.
Through the tears of humiliation welling in my lower lids I read about his process. It said the images were drawn then scanned in... sniffle. He also compiled random marks, scribbles and textures, then scanned them in as well. My guilt began to fade as I read on... “I keep the amount of layers to a bare minimum so the results are as spontaneous as possible. I don’t use any filters at all to keep the 'digital' nature of the image to a minimum.” Finally my scared, betrayed feelings diminished.
After being liberated of my own ignorance, I was able to browse his gallery guilt free, absorbing the elegance and spontaneity of all his work.
I’ve chosen two pieces to concisely represent his style.

The first piece, House Anthems 99, is composed of two black line figures highlighted with gold expressive brushwork, laid on deep, almost blood red ground. Both figure’s bodies are clearly human. The left figure is topped with a scull, and the right has the face of a fierce dog. Animals frequently occur in Mill’s pieces, and are usually accompanied by humans and/or have human bodies.
In contrast to his seemingly brutal and intense, masculine pieces, Mill’s portfolio has an equal emphasis on beauty and elegance. In Aeonium, the artist uses his trademark frantic brushwork to imply the woman’s figure, but describes her striking face with caution and clarity. The piece is set off with a diagonal splatter of bright red paint.
Russ Mills holds onto the traditional values of art while keeping current with ever-evolving contemporary tastes, using innovative ways to digitally compose his pieces. I recommend Mills’ work to anyone who is having a difficult time accepting technology’s influence on art. You can dip your toe in the pool, and test the digital artwork waters at Russ Mills’ web site His gallery is stunning... and I can now admit that without guilt.