Friday, November 8, 2013

Note that this blog has been discontinued

I am no longer posting to this blog site. Please visit my website at for current information and blog posts. Feel free to browse this site too. Thanks. Stephen

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Thinkin' bout the past

I had been thinking about painting from the 80s over the past couple of weeks when I happened upon the February Art in America featuring a piece looking back to a couple of issues from 82/83 dealing with questions of expressionism. I remember the issues well, pouring over them in my senior year of high school. I actually managed to keep a copy of these into the 90s.

It was right about that time when I saw show at the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk that included a few Neo-Ex painters (Schnabel, Salle and a few others). Going into my senior year, I had been painting large-scale non-objective works but the new stuff that was coming out of New York, Germany and Italy was so exciting to a young punk like me.  I found I was drawn even more to a lot of the painters coming out of the East Village like Rick Prol and Stephen Lack and before long, I was making big, messy figurative work. I was also very involved in music, even playing in a number of punk bands and I believe there is something in this type of painting that fits well with the punk aesthetic.

Jenney- Them and Us (National Gallery of Art)
 Reading Raphael Rubenstein’s recent article, I realized that the original issues were probably the first time I had encountered the writing of Craig Owens and Hal Foster. At the time, I’m sure I sided with Donald Kuspit who supported these artists but also was very interested in Owens and Foster’s take on the movement.

Neo-ex had a pretty short heyday and these artists do not seem exert a great deal of influence in today’s art world. Obviously Kiefer is still in the thick of things but what about Schnabel, Salle, Chia or someone like Richard Boseman. I don’t see these artists on view at museums very often. I did have to smile the last time I was at the National Gallery and they had one of Neil Jenney’s pieces up.

Though much of this expressionist painting had more to do with style than substance, us young and idealistic art students seized on the opportunity to create in a purely expressive manner. I do think that artists of my generation still carry around a little of the spirit. You can see it in the handling of materials and palette. There is a spark I see in works made by painters between 45-50 years old even if we have grown up, somewhat.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Signal to Noise

Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music
Over the holidays, I received a lot of books (and Amazon gift certificates). Of the dozen or so books, I started off reading the Bob Mould autobiography since Lori wants to read it too. After that I've started digging into the more "serious" books. I've been particularly interested in Audio Cultures: Readings in Modern Music edited by Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner. The first section includes a number of essays that deal with the concepts of silence and noise in relation to modern music but also in everyday modes of listening.

In general, there is no such thing as silence, and noise would be defined as the interference in receiving signals. Noise is what we don't want to hear in order to better hear what we want to. This applies not only applies to music but to everyday sounds. There is also visual noise which gets in the way of properly receiving visual signals. The senses, smell and taste are not immune from noise either.

I have always been fascinated by art that uses for it signal what is generally referred to as noise. In everything, (whether visual art, music, food, wine) I seek a balance of signal, noise and silence.

Though I typically downplay intentionality in assessing art, it certainly does come into play. That said, the final product/assessment is made by the receiver.  Results will vary.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Johns, Biography and Content

Just before heading to SOVA for the holidays, I finished Jill Johnston's book on Jasper Johns, Privileged information. I had some trouble getting through the book due to some stylistic issues.  

Style issues aside, this book deepened my appreciation and affinity for Johns’ work. Central to Johns’ method is the stripping of meaning from the objects he has depicted, leaving flags, targets, numbers or whatever as simply compositional elements. Basically he would say, “What you see is what you get.” Possibly beginning with the crosshatch paintings in the 70s and more obvious by the earlier 80s, Johns was using more coded information that suggested actual subject matter and content. These paintings were dense and somewhat impenetrable from critical perspective. While some recognized certain imagery (Munch, Grunewald, etc) buried in these works, Johns would not discuss what the images were or what they may mean to him personally. Johns followed Duchamp’s theory that the viewer completes the art. I’ve always taken this to mean that it is not for the artist to explain what a picture is about, whatever the spectator gets from a piece is completely valid.  It is also not important to know any biographical information of an artist to experience the work. In the end, there is the work and the audience, nothing more.

Some artists make their work to try to explain themselves to the world. I have always made work for myself with the hopes that other would find them interesting. Like Johns, I’m not interested in revealing myself to the world yet it is hard not to use personal symbols or coding in my work. Moving to a more minimalist has provided some distance from discussions of “content.” I’m happy enough to reveal that the work is rooted in contemporary music that generally leads to pleasant conversations about music, steering clear of “meaning.”