In Spring 2023 I visit several Midwest universities for a talk about my book Why Paintings Work. The tour starts in Aiken (South Carolina), and then goes to Bloomington (Indiana), Chicago (Illinois), Fayetteville (Arkansas) and Lyon College (Arkansas). Most visits consists of a public lecture and studio visits at the department of visual arts.
Why Paintings Work navigates the stylistically diverse landscape of contemporary painting. In the book, the author introduces the work of dozens of painters, discussing the themes, techniques, and sensibilities that can be found in their art. He continually returns to the question: Why does this painting work? In what ways does it speak to the viewer? He considers both the visible aspects of a painting, such as the depicted motif and the application of paint, as well as the concepts, beliefs, and motivations that lie behind the canvas. Why Paintings Work is not just about the mechanics of looking at works of art, but also about finding a language that suits the paintings and the experiences of the present day.
Why Paintings Work is published by Garret Publications (Helsinki). Public lectures are scheduled at USC Aiken (30 March), IU BLoomington (6 April, Painting annex), University of Chicago (10 April, Logan Center) and Fayetville (20 April, UARK Fine Arts Building).
During my visit to Sweden, the artist showed me the works of her grandparents, Beth Zeeh and Ryno Frieberg, both painters whose works can be seen in their former house in the countryside. Driving there, a good hour outside of Stockholm, I watched the landscape change into gently curving meadows, farms, forests, and lakes. I became aware of the natural background of Frieberg’s works, the visual “material” the artist has seen so often, even if only subconsciously, as it was simply always there. You might wonder why she did not become a landscape painter, considering that she grew up as a country girl, playing at the lakeside, catching fish under the bridge, and seeing how animals were fed at the farm nearby. Or you could argue that she did become a landscape painter, but she did so in the age of abstraction, where the focus is not necessarily on what can be recognized as a depiction in a painting, but on what is present in terms of energy and ideas, colors and forms. Broadly speaking, and probably more correctly, we could call Frieberg a nature-based painter. Her paintings cannot really be separated from nature, just as they cannot be separated from the late 20th century in which she grew up. She went to art school in Umeå at a time when abstract and conceptual takes on art had become part of daily practice and conversation. Abstraction was neither a novelty nor the result of a reductive view on reality, but simply an existing vocabulary with its own expressive possibilities. At the same time, for Frieberg, every part of her “abstract” paintings is rooted in nature – in the color of the sky, the movement of water, the pattern of a bird’s feather.
From the essay: “Connecting to the Source,” published in the book Elisabeth Frieberg, Rhythm Nature Movement God, Kewenig Gallery, 2021.
For his new series of paintings, presented in the exhibition So Long, Daddy, Daniel Richter has plugged into a timeless motif in painting: the figure. Yet this description immediately comes with questions. Who or what are the beings that appear in these colorful and dynamic paintings? And how would we label the environment in which they appear? Both the figures and the spaces around them are ambiguous and impossible to identify in one single way.
If we follow the complex play of lines within the paintings, enforced by marks of color, we get a sense of the complexity of the figures. Their outlines and gestures seem familiar enough to interpret them as fellow human beings. Yet within them, there is also the suggestion of something animalistic, an instinctive energy. Maybe humans are crossed here with their natural roots, the paintings bringing out the monkey inside us, or the bird that screams and wants to fly. (….)
Jurriaan Benschop spoke with Daniel Richter in his studio in Berlin about the paintings for his exhibition in Salzburg at Thaddaeus Ropac gallery. Below you can see a fragment of the conversation.