Book Launch in Riga

On June 5th, 2019, Salt in the Wound was presented in the Latvian capital Riga with a talk and discussion at Careva Gallery. With this event the gallery launched its art book store in the city centre, at Kalku Iela 24.

One of the chapters of Salt in the Wound is conceived in Latvia, as I was a resident at the International Writers and Translators House in Ventspils. From there I started to explore the Latvian landscape, history and habits, and the cultural environment. The result can be read in ‘Notes from Latvia,’ which recalls, among others, a meeting with painter Janis Avotins in his studio in Riga.

“‘Art shouldn’t be sentimal,’ Avotins says – partly because we’re talking about the relationship between his work and the history of Latvia. The figures he paints are based on photographs from magazines of the Russian era. At his studio I see folders full of neatly ordered cuttings, all images from a time gone by, the time in which he was born. He is interested in the postures of the people in the photographs, not in the individuals themselves. Or, you could say, he looks at the way people are specifically not individuals.” (fragment from ‘Notes from Latvia’).

Next Book launch: University of South Carolina Aiken, 30 Sept. 2019

Louise Bonnet in Berlin

Seeing a reproduction of Louise Bonnet’s painting The Pond (2018) on the invitation to her exhibition made me both curious and skeptical. It shows a woman posing in an uncomfortable, if not impossible, back bend curve, her form conjuring a shortened bridge, with her hands and feet under water. What we mainly see is a large body against a dark background. Face and individuality are hidden behind physicality. Firm, outsize breasts point straight up toward the sky. It is certainly a weird scene—but I couldn’t decide if it was weird as in interesting, or more like a cartoon or a forgettable gag.

I got my answer from the exhibition itself, which included six large oil paintings on linen, along with five smaller, colored-pencil works on paper. Most of these works had a single body as their protagonist, stretching, bending, or hiding behind hair. These bodies were voluminous, twisted, exaggerated, or reduced to just certain parts: giant feet, a massive hand, a blown-up nose. The recurrent appearance of bare skin did not mean the figures were fully exposed; in most instances they were rather trying to hide their intimacy or were prevented from showing their real selves. The reason for this could be the pressure of the public eye or another force: In Bed shows a figure being pressed down by the enormous hand of a second figure, floating above.

Bonnet was born in Switzerland in 1970 and, after attending art school in Geneva, moved to Los Angeles in 1994. While some regard the Californian city as the epitome of superficial body culture, for Bonnet it was the opposite. She has said that as a woman she felt more at ease there, less preyed on or dominated by male eyes. Such observations on cultural habits of seeing are important to her work. Clearly, being or having a body was one of the main themes of the works on view here. In both the drawings and paintings, there was a kind of smallness and vulnerability inherent in the figures, despite their exaggerated dimensions. They were constantly being squeezed or rendered faceless.

In the works on paper, a discomfort with the body was rendered with a light touch, the white paper visible underneath the pencil lines, while in the oils something more happened, bringing further layers of expression that led to a greater degree of ambiguity. In the paintings, the impression that the artist was aiming at a twist or a quick laugh tended to disappear. Sure, the bodies in these paintings seemed absurd; they were equally comic and tragic. But the way they were painted, along with the way they were staged in isolation, rendered them ambiguous plastic shapes that invite longer contemplation: The figures generally looked smooth, plastic, and volumetric, but details such as wrinkles of the skin or the tension of the muscles were worked out precisely. They seemed sculptural: the result of a thoughtful exercise in bending curves, showing folds, creating depth, and working on surface expression.

Bonnet started to use oils only recently, in 2014, and the medium turned out to be the perfect way to attain plasticity. Her painted figures possess solidity and stillness. They are abstract in the sense that they become placeholders for forces that play out across the canvas as a whole. The shades and folds of skin in The Finger, or the tears or waving hair in The Rock, were resolved in such a subtle and beautiful way that they resembled the lovingly described surfaces of objects in a classical still life. As a result, the sensations of discomfort, disproportion, imbalance, or pressure were transformed into something paradoxically celebratory. Bonnet’s paintings are weird in a serious and monumental way.

This review was published in Artforum, February 2019. The exhibition was on view at Max Hetzler Gallery, Berlin.

Meeting with Rachel Whiteread

In 2018 I met with British artist Rachel Whiteread in Vienna to talk about her exhibition in Belvedere21. For her it was the first come back to the city after making the much discussed holocaust memorial. The full interview was published in DAMN magazine and can be read online here

There is something about plaster that is incredibly special. It is really ancient; it comes from rock that is turned to powder, you add water it becomes liquid, heats up and dries, and pours the surface away from the object you are casting from – every minute detail. It is almost like alchemy.”

Vienna Contemporary

Vienna Contemporary, work by Angelika Loderer

De Vienna Contemporary is een jaarlijkse kunstbeurs met het focus op Oost-Europa. De editie van 2019 was goed om ons eraan te herinneren dat Europa meer te bieden heeft dan nationalistische angsten en discussies over vluchtelingen en grenscontroles.  De beurs was een uitnodiging om nieuw artisitiek territorium te betreden, en kennis te maken met galeries uit diverse hoeken van Oost-Europa, waar je normaal nooit op een dag tegelijk op bezoek zou kunnen gaan. In een bericht voor HART magazine combineert Jurriaan Benschop een bezoek aan de beurs, met een bezoek aan galeries en ateliers in Wenen om de temperatuur te meten in ‘de poort naar Oost-Europa.’ De tekst kan worden gelezen in nummer 185 van HART en ook  hier .

Riga Biennial 2018

In her opening speech, the curator of the Riga Biennial of Contemporary Art, Katerina Gregos, pointed to our busy and stressed ways of living, leaving many people with burnouts or existential fears. In some of the artworks this is reflected quite literally, while other sections of the biennial shift the attention and try to offer an antidote. The Biennial touches on many topics of our current times, luckily without degrading the art works to mere illustrations. The biennial was one of the better surprises of the 2018 summer, and still on view till October 28 in the Latvian capital. For DAMN magazine I wrote a report about how Riga and the arts relate, which you can read here

 

 

Interview with Marc Trujillo

In Los Angeles I met with painter Marc Trujillo to talk about his ambivalent appreciation of American culture and his interest in the Dutch old masters. All American consumer places such as retail stores, gas stations and fast food restaurants appear in his work, painted with precision, in a way that no camera could capture.  “I am American. I have mixed feelings about all this stuff. I am ashamed of Pizza Hut; I feel bad about it and meanwhile… I’m starting to get a little hungry. If you would have shown up with some slices, I would have probably liked that.”

You can read the full text in the autumn edition of Elephant magazine (Elephant #36, 2018) or here.

Report from Marseille

For the German Tagesspiegel I went to Marseille to visit the  Art-O-Rama fair and measure the artistic temperature in France’s second largest city. While artists and gallerists say there is not much market and future in Marseille, the Art-O-Rama tries to prove the opposite, and energizes the city – at least once a year.  You can read the text in German here

 

 

 

Talks in Los Angeles

In October I’ll be in the Los Angeles area for talks and studio visits at Otis, ArtCenter and LCAD. There are two public talks scheduled:

Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles, CA ,  11 October 2018, 11.15 am

Laguna College of Art and Design, Laguna Beach, CA,  17 October 2018, 5 pm

A Kind of Escape. Peter Doig in Basel

After the work of Peter Doig was exhibited in the 1990s, a lot of young painters started to paint ‘Peter Doig-like’. Apparently he had struck a chord, inspiring a new generation of artists. He legitimized a new romanticism that had been impossible, and even suspect, for years. A show in Basel brings together a selection of Doig’s works from the last 25 years, and offers a chance for the visitor to comprehend the ingredients that make up his attitude as a painter.  

There are few such perfect locations in which to host a Peter Doig show as the Fondation Beyeler. The museum, situated in a rural setting just outside of Basel, is surrounded by a sculpture garden. While walking through the building there are moments when nature enters: a view of the surrounding hills or a tree that’s losing its leaves. Such impressions interfere with the exhibition in a meaningful way. They give context to the question of Doig’s relationship to nature. Does his work address what is ‘out there’ or is it, rather, a painted reality in itself, as the artist suggested in a talk at the museum: “A painting has to be convincing, in the sense that it provides a kind of escape and has a kind of reality of its own.”

Doig was born in Edinburgh, grew up in Trinidad and Canada, and studied art in London. His years spent in winter landscapes as well as in tropical ones, have informed his work. Observations from such different parts of the world can actually be seen mixed within single paintings. A recurrent motif is nature and man’s reflection on (and in) it. One can see, for instance, a single figure aside a lake, a figure in a canoe on a vast expanse of water, or somebody walking over the ice. In all cases, the reflection in the surface is important, and creates a painterly double, or extension of the figuration. According to Doig, “Reflection is a device to create space in a painting. It opens the whole thing up.” The mood of these landscapes is not only transmitted through the actual scenography and posture of the figure but also through the differences in paint application and mark making.

In Doig’s eyes, “Painting is about working your way across the surface, getting lost in it. The large size of the paintings is about getting absorbed in them.” A project made specifically for this exhibition is a long mural, Cat of 9 Tails, a collaboration with some of Doig’s students from Düsseldorf. It shows an ongoing wall of colored bricks in which different windows appear, offering a vista of the blue sea, an island, and the horizon. It’s not entirely clear whether these windows are really windows or rectangular images or paintings on the wall, and thus an illusion. As Doig says: “It’s a play on making a painting.” The mural is an extended version of his 2004 canvas called House of Pictures.

As do many contemporary painters, Doig borrows freely from art history. His appreciation of early modern artists, such as Daumier, Cezanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, and Munch can be discerned in the way he draws silhouettes, enacts a starry night, or lightens-up white snow with pink. What is crucial is that the re-takes of these predecessors are incorporated in a new atmosphere. Unlike many of his followers, Doig succeeds in digesting his source material, resulting in a painterly language that can be experienced as current – if even in the work the sense of historic time is ambivalent. The present appreciation of Doig’s oeuvre doesn’t necessarily mean that it depicts our era; it may instead point to something that is lacking or that people are longing for at present. His paintings enable the viewer to establish a vivid connection to memories and internal landscapes.  

In many ways, Doig’s work is informed by photography, as can be seen in his image archive (presented as a slide show), while in his paintings he moves away from photography and looks for expression that can only be achieved through paint. “I use photography simply as a way of imaging memory”, claims the artist. Also exhibited for the first time are the graphic works that Doig has made over the years, which often contain images he would later use for his paintings. Even though the effect of these ‘experimental prints’ is modest in comparison, it’s interesting to see the pictures in black-and-white and at a small scale. It makes one aware of the importance of contrast in the compositions – before any use of color or virtuosity comes in. Doig’s credibility as a painter has to do with layering. Many paintings balance between multiple competing forces, moods, and notions. Parts of the works are executed with an obsessive emphasis on color, while other areas are hardly touched, being more sketchy or pale. Some areas are very precisely drawn, while others seem sloppy, the result of indifferent brush strokes or dripping paint. There is the notion of skill, but there is also the understanding that art is not about mastering technique. As Doig sees it, “You can make a painting plausible by having areas of focus, and then have other areas that are completely out of focus.”

The only thing lacking in Basel is a good insight into Doig’s recent production. Apart from the mural, there’s only one work from 2014, a figure on a horse – which looks like a battlefield, in terms of figuration. This doesn’t shed any light on which direction Doig is now moving in. What the exhibition teaches us, though, is that Peter Doig is not just a style or a look, it involves an internal quest. That is what distinguishes a real Doig from his epigones, who are enchanted by the surface treatment or the romantic imagery. As he put it in an interview: “I think you have to be connected to your subject, for your own sanity, really; and, also, to feel grounded.” ‹