Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Road Trip/Sketchbook Journal: Buffalo

I've written here before about previous visits to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and this year's expedition was, as always, rewarding. For one thing, as contrasted with other visits, the security was far too busy monitoring herds of young students ("pencils only - no pens!") on field trips to bother shadowing me: as per the panel above, my heart goes out to the chaperons ("Tell me how it makes you feel") valiantly trying to instill some sense of aesthetic appreciation while the kids were otherwise occupied with texting.

"1957-D, No. 1" 1957, oil on canvas (113x159")
Courtesy of an especially attentive and enthusiastic docent, I got a personalized bonus breakdown about a special retrospective of Clyfford Still paintings that was on display. The Albright-Knox is the largest repository in the world of his works, which is a major score since Still hated galleries, museums and critics. His images are abstract compositions that have a massive presence with one enormous painting per wall. His favorite color was black (he ground his own pigments) and the resultant color field coupled with such overbearing scale creates an oppressive impression. Given my inherent skepticism towards abstract art (especially ironic given Still being "notorious for distrusting the art world" - his work would be one of the prime examples of it being reciprocal)  I completely failed to see how these images imparted any "search for universal meaning" as he supposedly intended them to achieve. Sometimes I just don't get - but that doesn't mean you ever stop trying.
Contrasted with that, was a real treat exploring the Burchfield-Penney Art Center across the street: newly expanded renovations have resulted in a mind-blowing space within which to show an impressive and at times astonishingly talented range of contemporary and regional works by local artists in the Buffalo/WNY area. There was a seemingly never-ending labyrinth of hallways and galleries with many smaller shows featuring everything from paintings, sculptures, community quilters, photographers and even a historical display of bronze animalier Charles Cary Rumsey.

Detail from "Cat", 1992 20x30" acrylic on canvas (from the show catalog)
The best part of the visit was highlit by a special exhibition of the work of J.C. Litz, who  "primitivism" was an aesthetic overdose after Clifford Still's paintings (then again, so would gift-wrapping).
In an interview with Michael Basinski published in the show catalog, Litz said:
"I paint the the people in my paintings the way I do because that's the way I do it. I just did it naturally. I never went to art school so I don't have the skills to draw my figures realistically. The people are painted well enough to convey what they are doing and what they are supposed to be. They are odd figures and I hope they make people laugh. I like humor; there should be humor in painting."
Other terms that could apply to his work are naïve, folk-art (re: Amish post) and Outsider art. I used examples of his work in last week's class after we finished with linear perspective to show Beginners that not having a firm grasp on how to create the illusion of a 3-dimensional depth in one's drawing doesn't necessarily doom you to not being an artist. There's plenty of folks out there who could care less about technicalities or even talent. Much as it sometimes annoys me personally (and objectively speaking I think it interferes with the interpretation when it's so crudely rendered as to be screamingly obvious) I sure can't cast any stones: I completely empathize with the faction of modern artists whose style trumps academic concerns, like drawing well. Certainly can't argue with his creative philosophy of unsophisticated innocence, which on its own is as inspirational as some of the works done by the Old Masters.
Regardless of my perspective, what's most important is to avail yourself of any opportunity to experience as many works of art as possible wherever one goes. Just like I can't pass up a chance to stay home and work at the drawing board or computer, whenever there's a show within reach of my travels it's a simple priority that is always rewarding.

 "I just do things my way and without having to think about what anyone else would say" - J.C. Litz

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