Monday, January 12, 2009

Painting in Winter

As the days get perceptibly longer and the temperatures fall, I spend more time in the studio, and for the first time since I began writing here, am going address some of what happens while I'm there. After all, what I want to uncover is an evolved way of painting the subject matter that interests me, and that subject matter remains, as it has for a long time, rocks and water. But subject matter is only the starting point, or perhaps not even that. It becomes a distant reference the deeper I get into any given painting. Painting is a process, and the physical act of moving paint around on a support has to be joined with patience and the use of appropriate technical tools. It's not enough to mix, shove and scrape the paint until an abstraction is produced that can be interpreted as some sort of recognizable image. It is also not good enough, to my mind, to resort to obvious narrative. In other words, I have to work harder - thinking about what I know of Matisse, De Kooning, and their descendants, Diebenkorn and Brown. Their work with spatial relationships and chromatic harmonies are informative, but not imitable. In a confrontation with a canvas, it's what makes me uncomfortable that counts.

Monday, January 05, 2009

A Saving Grace

Travel by air is a special kind of hell, but if I hadn’t flow through Philadelphia, and been stuck there overnight, I would have missed the three exhibitions in the F Terminal. Most airport art comes in two flavors: the oversize posters and scenic photographs that line the concourses and moving walkways, or the big public art projects, frequently mobiles, that are pleasant to look at but are not challenging art. Philadelphia does it differently.

My attention was caught first by the color and patterning in Andrea Packard’s fabric and paper collages of wooded landscapes. Somehow their complexities reminded me of David Driskell’s work, though the palette was entirely different. I was deep into these for a while before I realized that nearby, a group of paintings by Jackie Tileston created an equally magnetic space. Here, calligraphy and images borrowed from Chinese and Hindu sources combined with other elements to make dream-like spaces. The piece de resistance, one which tied Tileston’s work to Packard’s, was a lone three-dimensional tuft of fabric in an otherwise two-dimensional universe. In the third group of images, Florence Putterman’s black and white linocut narratives provided unintentional though perfectly possible story lines with which one might people the abstracted landscapes of the first two artists.

Each of these women has a substantial resume and a clear commitment to making art that matters. Andrea Packard teaches and is Director of the List Gallery at Swarthmore. Jackie Tileston has been awarded a Guggenheim and a Bellagio residency, and teaches at U Penn. Florence Putterman has received an NEA Grant, and has a long list of museum collections to her credit.

The Exhibitions Committee at the airport publishes a brochure detailing locations and projects throughout the airport’s terminals and I’m sorry I didn’t have the time and energy to get around to all of them. More airports around the country should think about offering stranded passengers the saving grace of serious art.