Tag Archives: figure painting

Michaël Borremans’ “As Sweet As It Gets” is darkly delicious

A trip to deliver a painting to the Irving Museum of Art quickly took a turn in purpose when I read about an event at the Dallas Museum of Art. An exhibition by Belgian artist, Michaël Borremans, was scheduled to open and I have admired his work for years. In my graduate thesis, I wrote about the influence of one of his paintings, Four Fairies, in my work and yearned to see his work in person as opposed to only viewing paintings online and in bofourfairies_borremans3oks. Learning about the exhibit made me deliriously happy, and then came the icing on the cake…the artist would be present for a “conversation” with the show’s curator and all I needed was a ticket to attend. WAIT A MINUTE. I could sit right in front of an international superstar, one of my all time favorite living artists? For 5 bucks?

Juggling work with motherhood can be challenging…I’m often riddled with guilt when choosing work or an art related activity over spending time with my precious daughters. However, I almost never leave town without them, and I schedule my studio time around their schedules. Surely one quick trip to Dallas was acceptable, right?

Here is the information I found when researching March events at the Dallas Museum of Art: “The DMA hosts the United States premier of the internationally traveling exhibition Michaël Borremans: As Sweet as It Gets, co-organized by the Dallas Museum of Art and the Center for Fine Arts, Brussels (BOZAR). The exhibition brings together the artist’s paintings, drawings, and films from over the last fifteen years in a single survey. Join contemporary Belgian artist Michaël Borremans in conversation with Dr. Jeffrey Grove, curator of the exhibition and the DMA’s former Senior Curator of Special Projects & Research, for insights into Borremans’ life and work.”

After about 30 seconds of consideration, I purchased a ticket and knew I would somehow get there. Those with a ticket for the artist talk could also get a sneak peek of the exhibit two days prior to the official opening. This was truly as sweet as it gets. Making the quick trip even more fun (and economical) was a childhood friend’s offer to let me stay overnight.

At this point in my career, listening to a great artist speak about his work, process, inspiration, and use of materials, is a vital boon to my ideas and work. And if that sounds dramatic, I will use an example provided by the artist himself during the conversation. He spoke of Goya, and of seeing Los Caprichos as a teen. The moment he saw the etchings, something in him shifted and his ideas for his future were altered.393px-No_te_escaparas - Goya - Los Caprichos los_caprichos_de_goya_f_010

Artistic influences profoundly shape an artist’s life and work. I find art’s extreme power to influence is difficult to describe. I, too, am influenced by artists and by Goya in particular. When studying art history in Madrid as a 20-year-old college student, I visited Goya’s work at the Prado. The paintings, both those with disguised darkness and those with overt malevolence, luresaturn_devouring_his_sons-larged me in and pushed me away. I’ve never been able to shake the power those paintings held over their viewers. Since then, I see the work of Goya at every opportunity, which is rare, as I do not travel often beyond the United States. But I did get to see those etchings, Los Caprichos, in Santa Fe, NM last year and the genius of Goya startled, scared and bewildered me again. His ability to capture the human condition – both the comedy and the darkest of human behavior – is unparalleled. Perhaps this partly explains why I am drawn to the work of Borremans. He simply presents complex and dark insights to being human. His paintings are alluring, confounding, disturbing and provoking, in a beautiful and violent presentation.

Before I share more about the artist’Borremans - the whistlers comments, let me take you on an abbreviated tour of the exhibit. Not to boast, but I do believe I was the first visitor allowed in…okay, I was a little too excited, but what the heck, it’s fun being passionate and eager. Anyway, upon entrance, I accidentally rushed through the first room, wanting to be alone for a moment. As a longtime admirer of Edouard Manet, I first noticed a piece titled, The Whistler, 2009, which is reminiscent of ManeManet the Fifert’s The Flute Player, 1866. The body position and brushwork between the pieces are similar but Borreman’s painting is darker, not just in hue, but in mood, in message.

Injury to the body is common in his work. There are burns, lacerations, detached body parts and truncated torsos in impossible positions. Often, when my eye could detect no injury, there were aggrieves marks such a rude stab by the paintbrush to the eye in Colombine, 2008.Borremans - colombine

The figures should look uncomfortable but their downcast faces appear neutral, lacking any expression or response to the awkward position, or injury they display. It is as if the people in Borremans’ paintings become objects, and are dehumanized conveying a dark message about being human. Many of the figures are painted in the same tones as the background space making thBorremans - figurinee bodies appear to be the same importance, or the same substance, as their surroundings. I also immediately noticed several paintings of seemingly simple objects. A branch, a mask, a toy, figurines. Whether these objects stand alone in a painting or are presented with human figures, they dominate the space.

For example, in Man Wearing a Bonnet, 2005, an inversion exists where the man becomes a prop used to display a bonnet. The bonnet is oddly alluring with floppy little ears built in and various paintings of the same subject provide multiple views of the bonnet. Is this what deconstructionists do with writing? Strip away meaning, take apart notions, and flatten ideas and impressions so there is nothing remaining but a deep truth found only in nothingness? And exactly what is the deep truth expressed by Borremans? Even after closely listening to the artist speak about his work, I have no answer to that question. Perhaps not knowing is part of the delicious appeal.Borremans - bonnet

I am attracted to the figurative work of Michaël Borremans for many reasons. His paintings are simple yet become complex upon further thought. They prompt the viewer’s mind to unravel a tangle of ideas, often too dark to consider closely. They are beautifully executed – his drawing skills are superb and his brushwork, paint application and color palette are the strangest mixture of calming and energizing, both luscious and void, both warm and cold. Describing the work of Borremans is a process of using contradictory language, rightly so. In case you are confused, let me provide an example. Many of the figures are in positions indicating they could be dead. However, the artist’s use of rich warm tones in the skin indicates blood flow and vivaciousness. These confounding contradictions let viewers intuit something is not right.

After viewing paintings of various sizes in the first four large display halls, a shift in medium occurs with the display of a film titled, The Storm, 2006. The 35 mm grainy film is projected by a colossal piece of noisy equipment and the image on screen flickers. The Borremans-The-Stormambiguous flicker of light could be indicating a damaged or aged film reel or could indicate an intermittent loss of power in the mysterious scene – a room void of detail, purpose or time. The image of three seated men in the room is almost stagnant but the flickering lights and jumpy screen add a rhythmic quality. Though the men appear to be completely still, viewers perceive very slight movement, perhaps breathing, which makes viewing the one minute loop very different from viewing a still photograph that is flickering on a wall.

After the film, the exhibition is filled with drawings, three-dimensional models, photos, and films on small monitors mounted borremans - houseon the walls amongst drawings. Using pencil, watercolor and gouache on found paper and boards, we find lots of little heads and body parts, experiments with scale, repeated drawings of the same subject with varying views and settings, and the artist’s notes and handwriting. The sketches and notes provide some insight to the development of ideas, certainly more insight borremans - punishedthan is provided by the reticent paintings (let me clarify, it is their silence, and lack of answers that make the paintings outstanding amongst contemporary figurative art).

Often, viewers can recognize objects or bodies that appear in paintings earlier in the exhibit. For example, The Greatness of Our Loss is a sketch of two male bodies, which reappear in the painting titled, Two Bodies, 2005. Or a film, such as Add and Remove, 2007 shows a scene that reappears in nearby drawings. Worth noting is that three drawings, The Walk, Sunset, and Add and Remove were each created in 2002 and the film displaying the same shelves with miniature trees being added and removed was produced in 2007. It is as if the artist is borremans Add and removedigging away at the meaning of a thing, and at possible perception based on material and presentation. He explores body positions and objects with relentless agitation and circles back to previous ideas, forcing himself and viewers to look, and think, and look again, and think more – possibly over a long period of time – about a repeated image.

IMG_4540Having studied and copied (my attempt is on the left) the painting The Goldfinch, 1654, by Carel Fabritius, I was delighted by the simple painting of two bird specimens (titled 10 and 11, 2006) and curious about the artist’s slippery attempt to explain why he now paints from nature, something he previously declined. For the next entry, I will talk about Borreman’s brief Borremans birdsexplanation of how he chooses subject matter and several other insightful topics he discussed during the artist “conversation” with curator, Dr. Jeffrey Grove.

Until then, thank you for visiting!

Revisiting Italy…In My Mind and in My Work

DSC_0748Today’s post is a preview to my upcoming exhibit on display at Boswell Mourot Fine Art February 28 – March 5 and again March 21 – April 2, 2015. Upon completion of grad school, I briefly wondered what would drive me to create a body of work in addition to my commission business. The answer presented itself as I applied for, planned, and attended an artist residency in remote southern Italy. The experience provided enough inspiration to last a lifetime and fuel countless bodies of work.

So I see this show as a scratch in the surface, as a beginning to a lifetime of visually exploring ideas I’ve contemplated for many years, ideas that Italy poignantly highlights in a lavish display of architecture, art, sculpture, monuments, ruins, and relics. IMG_4053 DSC_0880DSC_0907 DSC_0381DSC_0087    DSC_1000

 

 

 

This body of work is an attempt to consider and communicate ideas. Specific themes surfaced repeatedly during my travel research: the passage or suspension of time; the strong influence of history in daily contemporary life; and, visual cues contrasting the ancient with the modern. For example, several paintings examine the presence and participation of inanimate objects (see below left image and consider the statue, the key, the chains underfoot, the cell phone, and the purse), such as religious relics and sculpture, in contemporary life. DSC_0755

In Italy, I began to see the omnipresent visual references to history as beacons of light. Details in stonework, in sculpture, in ancient relics and ruins allow the past to shine on contemporary life by guiding us with ancient clues, philosophy and lessons. This body of work examines visual evidence that seems to contrast modern life but actually surrounds, shapes and embodies today’s inhabitants of Italy. DSC_0742

Viewers of this new body of work can consider ideas about history in our their own lives. The work integrates figurative imagery with layers of text, pattern and drawings in a manner that both hides and reveals information, causing viewers to seek answers and ponder the abstracted space in which the figures exist. My hope is that the work invokes thoughtful contemplation for viewers, as it did for me during the creative process.

And if that all sounds like a bunch of artsy talk, take a look at the above painting and I’ll show you what I mean. I hope you will want to study the figures and ask, “Where are they? Are they together and do they know each other? What is their relationship? Is he in her past, present or future? What is that book in her hand? What is he writing? What does that text say in the background around the woman? Who are the faded figures and are they people in his mind, his memory? Is he writing about them? What are those architectural drawings fading into the background?” There are not always answers to these questions. The point is to consider the work, apply it to your own experiences and ask questions that keep you engaged in something, in anything! There is a Robert Rauschenberg piece at Crystal Bridges Museum and the label states his work is about “the effort of searching for meaning rather than specific meaning itself.” Look at the images in your world and in the art you see, and think. You might reconsider an issue on your mind, or see something in a new light. If my work can provoke this type of exploration, then I’ve had some measure of success.

Thank you for visiting! And please visit Boswell Mourot Fine Art in Little Rock, AR if you’d like to see the paintings in person.

 

 

How Looking Closely at Life Provides Artistic Content…and so Much More

When working on my recent body of paintings, a common thread appeared in my thoughts and observations: closely noticing things in our lives makes me feel more grateful. Compositionally, I capture moments that seem mundane or ordinary but once more deeply observed or considered, these moments become complex and provoking and can feel like little gifts.

DSC_0901What I didn’t realize is how watching closely in order to find painting content would morph into something much bigger and, for me, profound. By slowing down and doing a better job of listening, looking, and acknowledging my surroundings, I not only developed imagery for artwork, but a gratefulness practice that impacts my every moment and the way I view my world. Life becomes art and art becomes life, indeed!

At risk of straying off topic, I’d like to write about a recent experience. As I list the following kind moments, they might seem unrelated to my career as an artist and to the process of painting. But here’s the thing about it: as an artist, EVERYTHING RELATES TO PROCESS. These examples are an ongoing part of developing work and ideas. I also see them as a consequence of my gratefulness practice heightened through painting.

For those who like the image of a dark, suffering and brooding artist, get ready for an annoyingly optimistic one instead. Without further adieu, here are some lovely moments I noticed on a 4 day trip to New York City.

A young man (in his 20s) on the subway who was headed to an interview downtown kindly helped me with directions and then asked all about my southern home state (my country bumpkin’ accent was an immediate giveaway).

A man at the Museum of Natural History walked up while I was in the ticket line and gave me his extra ticket.

I tried to help a woman with three suitcases get up the subway stairs but her load was too heavy for me to carry up. This brawny arm reached forward from behind me. A big dude asked if we needed help and proceeded to carry the heaviest suitcase all the way to the top.

Again on the subway, a man gave up his seat for my daughter and me during rush hour. He was then smothered in the crowd during the rest of his ride which included several more stops.

UBER UBER UBER: Friendly drivers, good prices, spotless cars, fast service.

At the Brooklyn restaurant, Talde, every staff member in the place was aware of my daughter’s seafood allergy and made extravagant efforts to provide her with plenty of safe dining options. (note – in addition to extraordinary service, the food was delicious)

We arrived at the Beacon Hotel on Broadway and the desk clerk found a room so we could check in three hours early which significantly improved our day.

Two cleaning crew guys at Grand Central Station showed us the way to the restroom and teased us about looking utterly lost there during rush hour.

A college friend whom I rarely see invited us to her swell apartment for a home cooked meal with her family.

The aforementioned friend offered to connect me with an art dealer who specializes in contemporary figure painting. Really? Yes, so very thoughtful.

The bellman at the Beacon Hotel who stored and later retrieved our luggage was friendly and helpful.

The man who showed us to our bikes at Central Park Bike Rental, pointed to my daughter and said, “Come here, shorty.” She thought it was hilarious. When we returned the bikes later, he gave us perfect directions to our next destination.

When my daughter put a dollar in a saxophonist’s tip jar in Central park, he responded, “Thank you, little lady.” I know, I know, some might say this should be expected. But he did not have to say thank you at all. And he did not have to say it with such meaning and kindness in his voice.

The doorman at a friend’s apartment enthusiastically showed us how he works the manual “lift.”

We took a break in the foyer of the New York Public Library. As we ordered cold drinks, the salesman asked my daughter a few questions and said her answers reminded him of this little girl.

When checking my daughter’s shopping bag, the security guard at The Met talked with her about her soft and fuzzy new slippers and pajamas. She could have just rushed us forward or stared coolly into the bag. I guess this exemplifies most of what is on this list: human interaction and taking the time to care and connect, even in massive crowds, even when busy, even when working hard.

Though I have known her forever, the generosity of an old dear friend and her husband never ceases to amaze and humble me. They welcomed us into their Brooklyn home and into their busy lives and made us feel like nothing was more important than our time together (even though they have plenty of pressing tasks each day).

Every police officer was kind and helpful. In fact, everyone we came in contact with was actually nice…I mean really nice. People gave us directions, held doors open, answered questions, and said things like “Have a wonderful day!” It was like manners and helping each other was en vogue.

Even our experiences at LaGuardia and throughout our flights was better than I could have imagined: there were no long lines, the security check was short and sweet, the American Airline employees were jovial (yes, I just used the word “jovial” when describing something about air travel), the woman at the magazine stand was friendly and smiled. Other travelers looked and acted relaxed and positive. I wonder, have I become so jaded that I am absolutely stunned by the persistent loveliness we experienced at each and every turn?

So the next time you assume something about a person or a place, try to show a little kindness and appreciation. You might just get it back ten-fold. Without considering people and ordinary moments for my paintings, I migIMG_3451ht not have noticed and appreciated all the little, yet valuable, human kindnesses we experienced in New York. Thankfully, kindness, as well as artistic inspiration, can find each of us just about anywhere.

 

A little inspiration goes a long way

“The distance is nothing; it is only the first step that is difficult.” Marie Anne du Deffand (1697-1780)

You know those words or quotes that jump out at you at just the right moment? Just when you need that extra nudge or new perspective? Well, this quote practically tore itself out of a magazine and pinned itself under a magnet on my fridge. And there it has remained for the past 7 or 8 years. I think I’ve read the tattered little paper almost everyday. It is simple, yet powerful. These words have enabled me to persevere during life’s ups and downs. Any challenge I can think of, no matter how gargantuan and hopeless it seems, is lessened and made possible when I read these words. They give me the courage to try, even when I don’t think I have the strength or skill to succeed. The real miracle occurs once I have started the task and taken “the first step.” I start to believe that maybe, just maybe, I can inch a little closer to a goal. I start to believe that maybe, just maybe, I do have the strength and skill I need. And I start to realize that, indeed, the distance is nothing and that anything is possible, or at least worth a try.

So, here I am, creating a new web painting portfolio and blog. Taking the aforementioned “first step.” I hope to start following writers and gaining readers who are interested in contemporary art and the ideas and processes behind the work. I imagine I’ll post various quotes and inspirational lessons, artists, writers and people whom I meet along the way. If anyone out there is reading this, welcome and thank you for visiting!

Laura