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.

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