Artist research: Allen McCollum

6 September 2017. My tutor suggested I have a look at a set within Allen McCollum’s (*1944, USA) famous surrogate paintings, basically empty frames painted in vivid colours and lined up in rows along a wall (McCollum, n.d.). Despite the connection my tutor tied (“where absence and shadow can speak volumes”), I was not attracted. The frames look rough, their colours haphazard. Looking at them again during a quiet minute they reminded me distantly of the multitude of doors leading to the childrens’ bedrooms in the great film “Monster Inc.”. In contrast to McCollum’s frames I find a real purpose to the doors besides serving as symbols for individual lives. Of course I can fill the absences in McCollum’s frames with whatever (shadows) I like, but this I can do with everything that is empty around me, so I do not really need the frames.
McCollum not only works with sets of blank frames, but also with multiples (similar but not the same) of drawings, sculptures or even collections of natural objects such as fulgurite tubes (glass lined hollow tubes formed where lightning strikes sand), which I was not happy to see either. I am having difficulties again with the lining up of multiples of objects into grids and rows, no matter how sophisticated the connection with some important human issue such as a discussion of the mass-produced versus individualized, the issue of a painting being an object representing itself and such like, in the late 20th century (ARTCenterMFA, 2015). At the risk of outing myself, again, as a philistine, the addressed issues feel vastly insubstantial to me in the face of the enormousness of the universe and the mystery of life. The produced objects are sometimes attractive, more often nice to look at, but this is where my interest ends somehow. I believe that most repetitive patterns look attractive to the human mind because they are aesthetically pleasing, but this does not automatically make them qualify as works of art. Is this the same sort of decoration my tutor saw in the first stages of my Assignment 2 umbrella project (Lacher-Bryk, 2017)? I am probably not the best person to judge here, because to me the umbrella is a multidimensional analysis of a highly personal legacy. However, I will be taking my own experience with McCollum’s work as a warning to myself, so that I do not wander, starry-eyed, into the same trap.

References

ARTCenterMFA (2015) Allan McCollum, Graduate Seminar 2/3/2015 [online]. Department of Graduate Art at Art Center College of Design, Los Angeles. Available from: https://vimeo.com/118767506 [Accessed 6 September 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A. (2017) Assignment 2: “An Umbrella Project” [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA blog: Understanding Painting Media, 17 August. Available from: https://andreabrykocapainting1upm.wordpress.com/2017/08/17/assignment-2-an-umbrella-project/ [Accessed 6 September 2017]

McCollum, A. (n.d.) Allan McCollum [online]. Allan McCollum, New York. Available from: http://allanmccollum.net/allanmcnyc/ [Accessed 6 September 2017]

 

 

Artist research: The photographers Bill Brandt, André Kertész and Brassaï

23/24 July 2017. Bill Brandt (1904-1983, UK), André Kertész (1894-1985, Hungary) and Brassaï (Gyula Halász, 1899-1984, Hungary-France) were groundbreaking photographers, who shared a love of black and white photography at a time when colour photography was already available and a keen eye for the unusual view on the seemingly mundane to create striking compositions.
My tutor very likely intended for me here that I investigate the principles of distribution of light and dark areas in a composition devoid of colour. Since in black and white photography there is no colour to distract the eye (which humans have a great innate affinity for), any compositional imbalance is noticed immediately. Gibson (n.d.) points out that “the emotional power of color can mask poor composition”, which requires that particular attention is to be paid to “tonal contrast, texture, line, shape, pattern, and negative space”. This will be absolutely true for black and white painting as well. Another vital aspect listed by Gibson (n.d.) for successful black and white photography, the requirement of having the best possible lighting conditions, will of course be of great advantage in setting up the arrangement for a painting. However, in painting there is a large creative space on top of the properties of a setup, within which the respective weight of light and dark may be analysed, played with and adapted further. Which means that deviation from the original arrangement may be such that it is no longer recognizable in the finished work.
Among the three pioneering photographers I feel the greatest affinity with Brassaï. His compositions include many textural elements I might find in a contemporary painting. Troiano (2016) analyses his “The Language of the Wall” graffiti series from wartime Paris (ASX team, 2013) as a purposeful journey through the history of man. This may not be immediately obvious to the first-time viewer, but graffiti is often based on symbols common and intelligible to a large percentage of people through the times. One such photo in connection with the other members of the series thus becomes the carrier of several embedded layers of narrative, allowing a viewer to travel with it for as deep as they want the journey to be, from a superficial interest in the depicted wall texture to prophetic messages encoded in the series.
Bill Brandt, on the other hand, appears to me to have been a more direct commentator of contemporary everyday and political life, and, as black and white photography lends itself beautifully to that purpose, the documentation of the world at night. As far as I can see there are fewer encoded messages than in Brassaï’s work and this is probably included in his explanation of his approach to photographing the human body: “Instead of photographing what I saw, I photographed what the camera was seeing. I interfered very little, and the lens produced anatomical images and shapes which my eyes had never observed.” (Victoria and Albert Museum, n.d.). This appears to me as a highly experimental, 21th century approach, since while the absence of planning will have opened doors to a new way of seeing the world, it will also have been accompanied by a great many failures. Brandt however also edited photographs in his darkroom to achieve effects he had in mind (Victoria and Albert Museum, n.d.). In images which were not pure documents of a situation, Brandt’s compositional qualities are strikingly evident. In the same way as in a working painting he leads the viewer into and through a story, for example in his “Coal-searcher Going Home to Jarrow” (1937).
The fewest connections I notice with André Kertész. There seems to be a strange modern commercial feel to the photographs I found, which is strong enough for me to lose interest. While the compositions are immaculate, for me they do not radiate the mystery of Brassaï’s work and also lack the political statement of Brandt’s. This is not surprising, really, as Kertész used to work for magazines such as “House and Garden” (The J. Paul Getty Museum, n.d.).

For my own work to come I will have printouts on my wall of those photos which left the strongest impression. I just hope that I can learn from them.

References

ASX team (2013) Brassai: *The Language of the Wall” [blog] [online]. American Suburb X, 27 July. Available from: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2013/07/brassai-graffiti.html [Accessed 24 July 2017]

Brandt, B. (1937) Coal-searcher Going Home to Jarrow [black and white photograph] [online]. Bill Brandt Archive Ltd. Available from: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/b/bill-brandt-biography/ [Accessed 24 July 2017]

Gibson, A.S. (n.d.) Avoid These 5 Common Mistakes in Black and White Photography [blog] [online]. Digital Photography School. Available from: https://digital-photography-school.com/5-mistakes-black-white-photography/ [Accessed 23 July 2017]

The J. Paul Getty Museum (n.d.) André Kertész (Getty Museum) [online]. The J. Paul Getty Museum. Available from: http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/artists/1847/andr-kertsz-american-born-hungary-1894-1985/ [Accessed 24 July 2017]

Troiano, C. (2016) ‘Graffiti’ photographs by Brassaï [blog] [online]. Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 13 May. Available from: http://www.vam.ac.uk/blog/network/graffiti-photographs-by-brassai [Accessed 23 July 2017]

Victoria and Albert Museum (n.d.) Bill Brandt Biography [online]. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Available from: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/b/bill-brandt-biography/ [Accessed 24 July 2017]

Artist research: Ellen Gallagher

18/19/20 July 2017. Looking at the images my browser came up with when searching for Ellen Gallagher (*1965, USA) on the web, I got an immediate first impression of comic strips. On closer inspection I found this completely wrong, and only a very limited segment of her oeuvre, but her working in large series, the reduced palette with an affinity for yellow and grey and her style reminded me somewhat – but not exclusively – of a number of pop art painters. The above is but one of the many different styles and techniques Gallagher uses, many of these including collage, video, traditional and innovative types of printing and also mechanically working into the surface of her paintings (Gagosian, n.d.). In a series of videos Gallagher explains, among others, her keen observation of initially unwanted side-effect of her techniques, which over time may become central ingredients of the work she makes, e.g. trapped air bubbles which she then used to recreate biological structure. It was also an eye-opener to me to get to know how Gallagher approached a project of capturing the usually fleeting impression left by the activity of birds (Forster, 2014). In her subjects Gallagher often deals with racial and gender stereotypes as she finds them transported by the media (Tate, n.d.). At first I was not too much drawn to the appearance of her final pieces, but having listened to her explaning the ideas behind her work, I started feeling close to her unusual, highly sensitive, honest and witty ideas of making her intentions known.

References

Forster, I. (2014) Ellen Gallagher: Cutting [online]. art21, New York, 21 February. Available from: https://art21.org/artist/ellen-gallagher/ [Accessed 20 July 2017]

Gagosian (n.d.) Ellen Gallagher at Gagosian [online]. Gagosian. Available from: https://www.gagosian.com/artists/ellen-gallagher [Accessed 19 July 2017]

Tate (n.d.) Ellen Gallagher. Biography [online]. Tate, London. Available from: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/ellen-gallagher-9553 [Accessed 19 July 2017]

Artist research: Marlene Dumas

15/18 July 2017. I came across Marlene Dumas (*1953, South Africa) before in preparing for Assignment 5 of Drawing 1 (Lacher-Bryk, 2015). Her haunting portraits are based mostly on photographs. They are done quickly using dilute watercolour or oil and by selectively wiping off pigment, leaving ghostly sketches of her subjects. Most are not intended to portray a person truthfully, but rather an emotional state (Moran, 2015). Her technique reduces a facial expression to its absolute essentials. This lack of diversion by unconnected secondary messages I think makes the portraits so strong. When I compare them, a great many appear to radiate trauma in one way or another. Maybe it is my own experiences which make me (hope to) see a hint of something similar in the faces of other human beings, so that I may not alone, which leaves the hope of being able to share the emotions intact. It is horribly fascinating to see that a child’s face, without the everyday traces of having lived visibly engraved, can radiate as much trauma as that of an adult’s (see e.g. Dumas, n.d.). Since these shadows from the past are central to my own projects also, I will tackle exercise 2.2 of this course and very likely Assignment 2 with Marlene Dumas in mind.

References

Dumas, M. (n.d.) n.t. [online] [watercolour drawing]. n.k. Available from: postmedia.net/dumas/dumas5.htm [Accessed 17 July 2017]

Lacher-Bryk, A, (2015) Part 5: Personal project – more research [blog] [online]. Andrea’s OCA study blog, 5 December. Available from: https://andreabrykoca.wordpress.com/2015/12/05/part-5-personal-project-more-research/ [Accessed 17 July 2017]

Moran, F. (2015) Close up: Evil is Banal by Marlene Dumas [online]. Tate, London, 3 February. Available from: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/close-up-evil-banal-marlene-dumas [Accessed 18 July 2017]