22 July, 2011

22 July - Lucian Freud dies at 88

Lucian Freud passed away on Wednesday at 88. Freud was a figurative painter known for holding steadfastly to his own voice and figurative style through decades that critics, collectors, and curators cast their interest and praise solely upon abstraction. Freud's work ultimately rose beyond art trends and contemporary fancies to be placed firmly within the trajectory of art history as one of the most important artists of our time. In the words of Tate director Nicholas Serota, "The vitality of his nudes, the intensity of the still life paintings and the presence of his portraits of family and friends guarantee Lucian Freud a unique place in the pantheon of late 20th century art."

Freud’s painting delves into the exquisite grotesqueness of the human flesh – it is impermanence and imperfection manifest - his paintings are excruciating masterpieces of lumpy and flawed sensuality. Only Freud could render Kate Moss' nude body both ravishing and ravished in thick and loose strokes of his brush. In his words, “ I paint people not because of what they are like, not exactly in spite of what they are like, but how they happen to be."

Working most of his life in a dingy studio in London, Freud's subjects were predominantly friends, family, fellow artists, and lovers. He described that his "subject matter is autobiographical, it's all to do with hope and memory and sensuality and involvement, really”. In the words of New York Times critic William Grimes, Freud's studio was “his artistic universe, a grim theater in which his contorted subjects, stripped bare and therefore unidentifiable by class, submitted to the artist’s unblinking, merciless inspection.”

Freud touched on the most intimate details of his subjects' carnality and in doing so gave his viewers a glimpse into the delicacy and raw sensuality of the human form. British art critic William Feaver described that Freud “always pressed to extremes, carrying on further than one would think necessary and rarely letting anything go before it became disconcerting.” Through the lens of Freud's sumptuous distortions we are given a glimpse of our own humanity, acutely revealed and inexorably electrifying.

18 July, 2011

18 July - Eva Hesse Spectres

I finally made it to the UNM Art Gallery to see the Eva Hesse Spectres, 1960 exhibition. Seeing this show was a reminder of how visceral and searing Hesse’s work truly is live, her work suffers so dramatically in printed and digital reproduction. I was surprised to find that Hesse's early paintings are as haunting and fragile as her later works in more experimental and ephemeral medium that included string, rubber, cheesecloth, wax, and resin. The Spectres paintings achieve the hollow and fragile need, the teetering vertiginous quality of the installation and sculptural works that propelled her short career into international renown. Walking from painting to painting, I was reminded of a quote from Whitney curator Elisabeth Sussman’s 2010 Hammer Museum lecture on the same series, “It is always beyond me how good Eva Hesse is at all times.”

Eva Hesse was born in Hamburg in 1936. She and her family fled to the United States when she was 2 to escape the Holocaust. This body of work was created when Hesse was just 24, soon after graduating from the Yale School of Art. The show consists of 19 oil paintings on canvas and masonite. An early departure from the abstraction and minimalism she would later be known for, the Spectre paintings are semi-representational, haunting, and acutely personal.

The paintings are comprised of two distinct groups. The first are smaller paintings that are of cadaverous, loosely rendered figures standing in small groups of two or three. As described by the Yale Press blog, “These paintings seem to emerge from an intersection of the sculptures of Alberto Giacometti and the paintings of Willem de Kooning. They straddle the divide of flesh and paint, figure and ground, abstraction and line, proximity and distance.”

The second group are larger in scale and are elegiac and isolated self-portraits. As UNM Art Gallery curator E. Luanne McKinnon describes in her catalog essay, these figures embody “a sense of loss or displacement and pain. More directly stated, in these paintings Hesse’s real beauty was transmogrified into the ghastly.” As described by the Yale Press blog “claustrophobia and aberrant colors abound; skin is thick and dripping with paint; eyes are sightless and reflect nothing but violence. These self-portraits, as with the paintings that comprise the first half of the collection, are embodiments of emotional turmoil and existential frustration.”

Hesse’s work, regardless of medium, cuts to the core of human experience. Almost unbearably desolate, her work also holds a tenderness that I experience as a visceral sense of optimism, breathless expectation. Hesse fearlessly explored pain, loss, and isolation in her work, but also the unchartered territories of life's mysteries - the tender spaces between its excruciating moments. In her words, “I am interested in solving an unknown factor of art and an unknown factor of life.”

IMAGES: No title, 1960. Oil on canvas. 36 x 36 in. (91.44 x 91.44 cm). Collection of Barbara Bluhm-Kaul and Don Kaul, Chicago; Eva Hesse, 1969; Contingent (detail), November 1969 Fiberglass, polyester resin, latex, cheesecloth, 138 x 248 x 43.