Archive for May, 2009

Cobra

May 25, 2009 in Abstract Art



Untitled

Karel Appel

Karel Appel

So now I’ve visited the Cobra Museum, near Amsterdam, a visit that was inspired by a trip to the Municipal Museum of The Hague, a week earlier. There I saw some Cobra works, Cobra standing for COpenhagen, BRussels and Amsterdam, the cities of residence of the art group’s members. The group was founded in 1948, right after Hitler had made short work of one the greatest period’s of artistic and scientific bloom, in art represented by the School of Paris. In truth, this period of bloom was already in decline, but Nazism well and truly buried it.
I must confess I didn’t know a lot about Cobra, but seeing their works in real time surprised me positively. This comes at a time at which I’m (once again) trying to broaden my scope and get away from the pre-WW II tradition.

Corneille


Corneille

What you take away from the Cobra museum is proficient abstract painting, related to abstract expressionism in method certainly and to an extent in style. It’s main feat is it’s spirit, though, of which Karel Appel was the main representative. It’s a spirit of freedom, joy and childlike optimism.
The artist that actually made me want to see Cobra is Contant (short for Constant Nieuwenhuis, the guy’s real name). I’m not well enough versed in the post-WW II period to see if he dreamt it all up himself, be he certainly seems the most innovative of the bunch. And very different in tone, which makes you wonder about all the political rhetorics of Cobra. While some artists had this joy and optimism about them (like Appel and Pedersen), some started out as somewhat gloomy (Corneille, Lucebert) and Contant was downright apocalyptic. Appel and Pedersen’s approach to painting was also very different to that of Constant and Corneille. The former two were of the “gestural” kind, which means they didn’t really employ a methodology, but they “messed about”, as Appel once infamously mentioned, fuelling already existing prejudice against abstract painting.
Corneille and Constant were more “structural” in their approach, in fact, Corneille is quite an intelligent painter. I would say that Constant was the most forward thinking of the bunch. While Appel and Corneille were still tied to the School of Paris, Constant was decidedly post-WWII in his approach. While most School of Paris painters that are still famous today were political more in name rather than in actual militancy, many of Constant’s works from the 1950s had a flavour of political activism in the modern sense.

Constant

Constant

Why have post-WWII art groups like Cobra not found the recognition that the School of Paris has? One possible answer already occurred to me while at the The Hague museum, where I couldn’t help but compare Cobra art to that of their predecessors, such as Mondrian and the German expressionists, which are well represented at The Hague.
Actually the answer must be broken down in two, because of the above-mentioned devide that existed within Cobra. I wonder if Constant, like many of his contemporaries, bothered to “take his art to the people”, as so to speak. During the post- WW II period a strong sense of elitism developed in art (today more than ever, actually) and there was a strange contradiction about the way left wing intellectuals would be “for the people” and way above them at the same time. It seems unlikely that they didn’t realize that their “social criticism” was anything other than criticism of the “man in the street”. However, social criticism is one thing, turing away from society quite another and to many of Constant’s generation of artists it was fashionable to do both.
Now, in 2009, if I say to people I’m an artist, they are lukewarm, in such a way the relationship between the people and artists has been spoilt. If they see my art, they do recognize the honest attempt (if anything -:), showing that in spite of the post-WW II artistic carnage of the bureaucratic coup d’etat (meaning that art officials have taken control), nothing has been lost. In the wake of 1970s leftist intellectualism I grew up as an anti-elitist, but even then the above-mentioned considerations teach me a valuable lesson: That if artists don’t ally with the people, then ultimately art officials will fill the gap, totally destroying art, as has happened, from pickled sharks to museums looking like theme parks.

Kael Appel, abstract painting, Cobra art

Karel Appel

Piet Mondrian was always single-mindedly involved in the development of an inaccessable style, but as an artist I don’t think he lost the trust of the people. They didn’t understand him, but didn’t doubt his sincerity either. One of the main things I take away from Picasso was the way in which he tried to bring avant-garde art to the people. Don’t stay locked within the confines of your niche, but think of fine art in terms of it’s broader cultural context. That causes “high art” to flourish, elitism has caused it’s doom.

(Provided of course, that we’re referring to genuine fine art, not to art for entertainment’s sake only (or pulp art, if you will), the latter is the trend in museums of contemporary art)

Lucebert, abstract art, Cobra

Lucebert

The second reason why the School of Paris is more popular than Cobra still, may have to do with Cobra’s lack of emphasis on pictorial organization, most clearly visible in Appel’s work. While an extremely talented expressionist, his work lacks a clear conceptual plan, in contrast with the work of Picasso, Mondrian, etc. In art, instinct shouldn’t be tamed, but it should be guided, or else what results are paint-splashing spams. The essence of the work of great artists is the way in which they can layer idea upon idea in such a way that consecutive ideas strengthen each other and lead to surprises that can’t come forth out of fits of mindless passion. It’s this seemless connection between instinct and intelligence that characterizes artists like Rembrandt, Leonardo and Van Gogh.

Karel Appel

Karel Appel

Continuing on Cobra, Lucebert’s work, above, looked very attractive and well painted in the museum, but seeing it here I think it looks crappy and ill-defined. This morning I put an image of one of the Georgian paintings on this page, because it looked so nice in the museum. A few minutes I replaced it with a Lucebert for about the same gripe I have with the latter. These are in fact decorative paintings, which requires craftsmanship and can be convincing during a direct confrontation, but decorative doesn’t mean it’s good art.
So now I’m inclined to believe that the impression a painting makes on a webpage is actually a good measure of it’s merit, to some extent. On the other hand, every time I visit the Rijksmuseum, I’m disappointed with Vermeer. Oddly, his paintings look better in art books than in reality, taking into account, though, that I’ve never seen his larger works in the “real world” (the ones in the Rijksmuseum are all small-sized). Rembrandt is the opposite. Only in reality you feel the Rembrandt magic.

Cobra art

Cobra art

The Cobra museum is a beautiful place, built in the 90s, especially for Cobra. Although Appel, Corneille and Constant were/are/are certainly good painters, I would guess that in 100 or 50 years (or less, considering the less than generous public attendance during my visit) the museum still exists, but not as the Cobra.
If it weren’t for a group of senior citizens on a guided art trip, I would have felt lonely at the museum. At the Cobra cafe one of them sat down with her peers and said:
“May I be honest? I think it’s all crap”.
“Yes…”, someone replied…”But you have to take into account their vision”.
With which I agree, partially. I go to museums to get influenced. If there’s one thing I can get out of it, then it’s worth the trip and it has been worth it in the sense that I have a much better understanding of what Cobra is about. It may be interesting to compare Cobra to it’s American counterparts, abstract expressionism and and color field painting. Willem de Kooning has a lot in common with Cobra, not suprisingly, but their style is a marginal extension of pre-WWII European expressionism. What they did, eesentialy, was mess it up, literally. It became more free, but at the cost of structure.

more later…..


The Nineties

May 17, 2009 in Abstract Art, How Not To Paint, New Paintings

I can’t crank out a new painting every 15 days, so when I don’t have a new one available, I put an old painting online, beginning with the ones I’m confident about. So now I have to resort to my less fortunate creations, although, if I really think a painting looks like ****, I dispose of it.
The Nineties just makes the cut. The painting, that is. The decade was perceived by me (for what it’s worth) as fake, conceited and marked by unholy alliances and other silliness. People were referring to the divinification (I don’t know if that’s real English) of man.
Cool, huh?
The “painting” is a collage, painted on with acrylics. You can see a larger version of it if you click on it.
Never mind about the text in German, which was taken from a Bach piece, I think it was the St. Matthew’s Passion.

Verspronck

May 16, 2009 in Figurative Art

In my previous post, called Museum visists, I was musing about Frans Hals’ great work “The Regentesses of the Holy Spirit House”. I couldn’t find any info on this painting online, so I went to a library to get some non-virtual (as seen from a web-addict’s point of view) information. I got a large, bulky book on Hals in which there is no mention of the painting.

Time to say DUH!

Then I saw a black&white pic of a painting that was quite similar to the painting I saw in the Frans Hals museum. It was painted by Johannes Verspronck. I already knew Johannes from my recent visit to Hals. I saw his portrait of a priest whose name I don’t remember. I have no beef with priests, but this particular individual served as a model for a portrait that’s the most scary artwork I’ve ever seen. Verspronk renders the man as a dark, shrewd and eminently political figure.

Portrait of Willemina van Braeckel

Portrait of Willemina van Braeckel

A similar effect, although far less ominous and menacing than in the before-mentioned portrait, can been seen in the image on the left. The reason why Verspronck is so much less famous than Hals becomes obvious. While Hals was a dreadful flatterer (meaning he did his utmost to make his portraits in such a way that the model would feel flattered), Verspronck was a ruthless portraitist of truth, the most ruthless I have seen. I have no idea what kind of man Verspronck was. Actually one of his paintings is very famous.

Girl in Blue

Girl in Blue

It’s the one below, a very expressive and brilliant portrait that is hardly unsettling. I knew the painting, but had never heard of Verspronck. Shame on me or on the art experts that undervalue Verspronck. The thing is, as a psychological portraitist Verspronck was better (still) than Rembrandt and as good as Leonardo da Vinci. While Leonardo was ruthless in rendering the indifference and superficiality of people, he still seemed to be quite cheery about their character. But Verspronck showed every niche in human nature, good and bad.

Portrait of Woman

Portrait of Woman

The painting below shows Verspronck’s enormous talent, such a sublte and gripping portrait it is.
I have to assume “The Regentesses of the Holy Spirit House” was painted by Verspronck (but I’m still not sure, but will when the Hals museum opens tomorrow). Whoever made it, it’s one of the most beautiful and brilliant paintings I’ve seen so far.
Last week I visited the Rijksmuseum, as said, where I saw The Nightwatch. Pretty nifty painting, but in essence a failed composition. In his successful works Rembrandt was able to produce a very tight composition in which every element interacts with another in a deliberate way. The Nightwatch was simply too large for that, because the larger, the more elements that need to be combined and at some point even Rembrandt will lose it, while he had a seemingly supernatural sense of composition. In the Nightwatch the central two figures have been painted precisely, the rest loosely, not because they don’t play an important role in the painting, but because Rembrandt couldn’t push the composition any further and had to leave the greater part of it less than well-defined. You can see how well he had thought out the composition, by the way the people on it are arranged with respect to eachother, but if the drawing would have been a composition that “added up”, then the painting would have been as inspiring as his best works, which it isn’t.
The Regentesses is not as large and ambitious as the Nightwatch, but still very sizable. It’s larger actually than The Sampling Officials by Rembrandt, which is said to be Rembrandt’s best work. It’s a beautiful painting, but not nearly as spontaneous as what you’d expect from a Rembrandt. This too is an example of a painting that’s too large to fully permit Rembrandt’s style. What Rembrandt wanted to do was to overwhelme the onlooker by means of a highly emotional and intense picture. Then he would have to concentrate all his pictorial ability on the part of the painting that catches the eye. In the Nightwatch and Sampling Officials there are just too many other things going on and one audaciously wonders if Rembrandt had a concept for that: how to relate an active, but secondary background to the main subject. Certainly in the Nightwatch the “Rembrandt magic” simply isn’t there. It seems to me that given his desire to be intense, a canvas size as that of The Jewish Bride was a far as Rembrandt should go, and without portraying more than two people in one painting.

The maker of the Regentesses was a very different kind of painter. Rather than the focussed intensity of Rembrandt the emphasis lies on the composition’s overall balance, which the artist achieved. The painting represents an enormous amount of dedication and while the artist could not match Rembrandt’s compositional computing power (no-one can) the painting’s concept is so well thought out that the composition is complete, while unforced. The faces are a bit overworked, but the painting combines compositional balance with a very fine poetic touch. This combined with the remarkable light effects (as mentioned in previous post) makes it in my opinion the best group portrait ever (but who know how many more surprises are out there?).
What the artist did was to eliminate all unnecessary details and keep the painting simple in color, a light-brown (yellow ocre?) dominates. That way he could limit the complexity of the composition.

The Regentesses of the Holy Spirit House, painting by Johannes Verspronck

The Regentesses of the Holy Spirit House

Okay, while I’m writing this post I’m doing some additional research leading to a pic of the painting I’m making such a bl**dy fuss about. It’s a bad pic, in b/w, but at least now I’m sure Verspronck is our guy.

The Regentesses of the St. Elizabeths Hospital

The Regentesses of the St. Elizabeth's Hospital

I’ve added his Regentesses of the St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, which is just like the Holy Spirit painting, minus one, so that you can see how beautifully Verspronck could paint.
“What a fuss over a bunch of nuns”, would be the understandable reaction, but on this blog it’s all about painting, not the subject per se. Apparently Verspronck had positive feelings towards these women and portrayed them kindly.

Museum visits

May 10, 2009 in Figurative Art

I’ve taken it upon me visit all notable museums in Holland. Last week I visited the Frans Hals museum, today the Rijksmuseum, where the Nightwatch is.

I picked a fine time to visit the Frans Hals museum, because the greater part of it’s collection is currently in Berlin, with in it’s place the collections of a late art collector (called Kremer).

The moment I walked into the first room of the Frans Hals museum I thought I found myself in an Amsterdam sex club, because much of the before-mentioned collection consisted of nudity that is so distasteful it made me sick. Now, I’m not a puritan and have tried my hand on nude art myself, but I couldn’t believe how in your face these paintings were. Which shows how little we (I) understand the times in which these paintings were made, the 17th century. We picture the Europeans that lived in the 17th century as more puritan than us (gosh, we are so enlightened), but apparently sex was an accepted theme in fine art. And by accepted I mean accepted by big wigs and the upper ten in general, including the religious establishment. The paintings I saw were not just harmless maidens in the playing fields of heaven (or something), they were explicitly sexual, every painting a butcher shop of voluptuous flesh, that’s as much detail as I will give.

No matter how much this collection must be worth, it’s ghastly, except two great works: a painting by Pieter de Hoogh and an etching by Jan Lievens.

De Hoogh is the lesser Jan Vermeer. I always thought of the bright blues and reds, in particular, of some of Vermeer’s paintings as testifying of his innovative genius. The clarity in light and color and the whole approach to composition only became mainstream due to the impressionists, more than 200 years after Vermeer.

Now I know that this style isn’t due to Vermeer, but to the School of Leiden, if there’s such a thing, because both De Hoogh and Vermeer were from Leiden. Vermeer was simply the better painter.

Today I saw several Vermeer paintings and I noticed the surreal quality these works have. Please see my page about Hanne Clausen and maybe you’ll see why Vermeer’s art reminded me of Edvard Munch’s work (both Hanne Clausen and Munch are/were Norwegians). This style testifies, in my opinion, of suppressed anxiety and Vermeer’s work of a forced peace and tranquility. “All is well, I’m a privileged person” is what his art says, while in fact he was worried stiff about how to sustain his large family as a non-selling artist. According to his wife, Jan went from perfect health to death in less than a day. Did the dam burst? Mentionable, but gratuitious speculation, that’s what it is.

Anyway, let’s get back to Frans Hals. Having made short work of the Kremer collection I went to the room that had some Frans Hals. Besides the military guild pieces, which are pot burners, devoid of artistic ambition, there were some good, but overworked portraits, so I was beginning to think I was in the process of wasting my day.

But then it happened! Across the room I was greeted by the Regentesses of the Holy Spirit House, a group portrait of five women. I know Rembrandt and Vermeer pretty well, but that’s how far my knowledge of “old art” goes. I didn’t know the Regentesses, while it’s one of the greatest art works ever…

In my mind, if there’s one artist that can come anywhere near Rembrandt’s accomplishment, it’s Hals, and just because of the Regentesses. This is his piece de resistance (there may be more in Berlin, or elsewhere, but I wouldn’t know that). It’s a very ambitious work, very large, but a complete and finished composition, in which an overwhelming amount of thought, preparation, dedication, intellectual power, poetic finesse and simply everything Hals had to offer as an artist, must have gone.

While the military guild pieces are exercises in obligatory craftmanship, the Regentesses are stuffed with creative solutions to unorthodox painterly problems. One of the things that makes this painting unique is that in it the light comes from several directions. In a Rembrandt the light comes very explicitly from one direction, that’s of the main stylistic statements in many of Rembrandt’s paintings, which is an improvement over the light being directionally undefined, as is common in painting. In fact, as ayoung painter, Rembrandt made works like Tobit and Anna, which is sound in terms of it’s composition of light, but Rembrandt only came into his own when he adopted the following approach: Start with a very dark background and from there on be very explicit about where the light comes from. One then his work got the drama and intensity that characterizes his style.

Hals would have none of that. The Regentesses look like as if each of them is lit by a different spot light, the light coming from above. When I tried to paint after Playboy photos, just because of the wonderful lighting effects some of those photos have, I discovered how difficult it is to render light that comes from multiple directions. I’m not really a figurative painter, so I wil leave it up to Hals (postumely), but all the more is my admiration for Hals and his Regentesses. Such a painting is not a matter doing of what you learned in art school, because your teacher would have been blissfully unable to make something like that. It requires piling one breakthrough innovation upon another, each one a monument to creative willpower.

The painting portrays the snug and cozy atmospere of five spinsters, as 17th century Dutch painters had a flair for giving a higher meaning to banality, with all due respect to the Regentesses. The painting as a whole has incredible poetry and a atmosphere of spiritual freedom.

Clearly I’m not the only one who has noticed (although I’m puzzled why the paining isn’t much better known), because during my visit to the museum there were several women (they tend to be more appreciative of art than men) who sat down before the painting, almost in a meditative state, as if before a holy shrine.

Tomorrow I will continue to reflect upon my impressions, so this post will be updated.

Server outages

May 10, 2009 in Geek

My apologies to regular visitors for the servers outages, recently. Unstable servers is a constant pain in the neck for webmasters and has been for me for many years. I thought I had solved it by hiring a relatively expensive “virtual private server”, but a month ago my webhost moved my account to a new server, which was crooked, but because I was the only one complaining (because I was the only one on the server), they refused to take me seriously.
Now I’m going for a different approach: instead of one high quality hosting account I’m going for multiple low cost accounts and configure my “DNS” (no matter what that means) such that another server will take over when one fails. Also, I will be better protected againsts network congestions and some other problems.
To accomplish this is more complicated that I thought, it requires indepth knowledge of DNS, which I don’t have, but my DNS host has been very helpful so far. Even if I get the DNS sorted out I will still have to synchronize my family of servers, which means that I don’t have to upload every file to each server, but that this will be automated. Many thanks to blueroomhosting‘s Jim Bailey for his suggestions on this.
Because of my incapacity to understand the subtleties of DNS I’m still having problems keeping my site online. My site’s recent problems even caused it to drop on search engines.
All problems aside, a project like this arouses the geek in me, resulting in long days and loss of sleep. I will now end this rant and write a post on art. Thanks for your patience.