Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Paper #1 Comparative Analysis
March 1, 2012
Advisor: Deb Todd Wheeler
Deriving pleasure from looking.
During the critical theory class a painting by Joan Semmel came up and was touched upon for a couple of minutes. Me Without Mirrors 1974. I have seen her work Before and have had conversations about Semmel’s work, and how it parallels some of Philip Pearlsteins work.
I will focus on two specific pieces, Joan Semmel’s painting Me Without Mirrors and Phillip Pearlstein’s watercolor, Two Models on Blow Up Chair 1999. I am choosing these two because of the compositional similarities, realistic rendering and anatomy, and an attention to detail that borders on the obsessive.
Both paintings have a photographic quality to them, but not necessarily photorealistic. Pearlstein’s has the sense of a snap shot, cropping parts of the subjects as if taken in a hurry that just happens to have a good accidental composition. Semmel’s, is a P.O.V. (point of view) shot that gives it a look that became popular with the availability of cheap user friendly cameras, and lately cellphone cameras, and the ability to publish through blogs and websites in the internet. A perfect example of which are, Her Side of The Hills and Good Luck With Madeleine. On which P.O.V. self portraits taken by women are showcased.
Two Models on Blow Up Chair, from the perspective of the observer, is looking over the shoulder of the model in the foreground. She is reclining, creating a line that cuts diagonally across the painting and dissects the other model, who is on the floor, and between them segment the format into four triangles that meet in the center. The illumination on the subjects is bright, almost straight from above them, and from several sources. By cropping the heads, any kind of empathy with the subject disappears which lets the viewers explore there voyeuristic impulses, and allows them to look upon it, and be absorbed into an almost obsessive desire to observe and start paying attention to the most minute details. It’s an almost idealistic image, despite the fore mentioned lighting and sharp shadows, there seems to be a soft quality to it, the smoothness almost creamy colors and the equal treatment of all subjects, be it human or otherwise, makes them become object like.
Pearlstein’s watercolor gives me an aura of objectivity. It is looking in almost a mechanical matter, where the composition takes precedence over the subject matter. It becomes impersonal. It lacks the intimacy of a portrait. It shows the bodies in a matter of fact fashion that takes away any eroticism that the model could have. I would say that more than looking at it as a composition (which just happens to have a couple of women in it), it would feel clinical. After I get over the clinical feeling, it becomes almost whimsy, the chair, which supports the model on it on a plane above the other model who is in part seen through it, and on it rest a lock of hair, which is one of the only things that breaks the composition, and shows a little bit of personality. The ways in which the colors of the rug come through the plastic of the chair, the drum in the background, the positioning of the models, the playfulness with which the shadows fall across all the objects and “subjects” and plants them solidly in the space they inhabit.
Me Without Mirrors, reminds me, of the Degas series of nudes bathing. The position is more like the sculpture The Tub, but from the subjects point of view, in this case, the cropping of the head allows the observer to be in the position of the artiste and empathize with the subject, Semmel. In a way, the observer becomes the subject, and can alternate between self and other. At the same time it gives the permission to look at a body that doesn’t belong to you, as if it did. As a man, it gives me a glimpse into the female psyche. Noticing the intricacies of the skin, the way flesh folds, differences in pigmentation, how extremely foreshorten the torso becomes, and how real and unidealized a body can become when it becomes your own. It surprises me and the body turns from object to subject, and forces me to look at it, and at myself from a different perspective, and in a more detailed manner. There are several ways in which the towel can be interpreted, for example as menstrual flow, or a symbolic phallus. Composition wise, like Pearlstein's piece, there is a convergence of four triangles which meet in the center of the painting, defined by torso, legs and sides, at the same time a diagonal bisection of the canvas into dark and light areas which give it the appearance of emerging from the dark. The illumination appears to be from a natural source and comes from front and above, is soft but bright, which creates smooth transitions in the treatment of the figure yet allows certain areas to be accents.
Semmel’s painting, has such a feel of intimacy. It is as if you already know it in such detail that it has a certain familiarity. But, there is something odd about it that pulls you in and triggers and inquisitive response. The positioning of the body could be interpreted in several ways, either laying down, reclining, siting or leaning forward. It seems to be coming out from the ether and becoming aware. It gives a glimpse into how she think and puts you in her place, which allows the viewer a liberty to approach it and become immersed in it. Think as if you were her. Become her.
The contrast between these two pieces comes, not only by the treatment of the subject, but by the intimacy with which they are portrayed. Pearlstein’s watercolor, has a whimsical feel to it, almost playful, but the subject objective. Semmel’s painting is intimate. It places emphasis on the personal; and I would say forces one to identify with the subject matter.
In conclusion, both of these artists have attained technical mastery in their fields. They have a similar subject matter. They have similar compositions and an eye for detail. At the same time, Pearlstein’s piece makes you feel like a fly on the wall. You are a witness to a moment but with a disconnect from the subject matter, and with a definite interest on the surroundings. Semmel’s piece, carries an emotional weight. It puts you in an intimate place, and makes you self aware and in empathy with her. It touches a serious nerve and places you in the skin of the subject. The pleasure you get from looking at these particular pieces comes from very different places. One gives you that detachedness that allows you to be voyeuristic. The other puts you in the position of the subject. Self aware, but oddly, in a skin not you’re own.
First Residency Summary
After the residency was over, I was a left a little bit bewildered by what I thought where at times very conflicting views of my work. How technically, it is, controlled and nicely finished, and how some of it has emotional substance, and part of it, from what I perceived, might be thought as, a little vapid. The compositions I choose to use in my work creates the illusion of space by using and manipulating the way light strikes the subject, and the way the shadows are cast, not by adding a background, witch allows the emptiness of the format to become part of the work, and permits the viewers in, usually looking slightly down from a point that creates a certain uneasiness, an illusion of intimacy and, hopefully empathy with the subject. While at the same time acting as a barrier or window that separates it.
When it comes to the way my subjects are placed in the page, Teresa pointed out something that was echoed by several other people, that the shadows are as much a subject as is the object casting it. The way I use color as a reflection or projection of of the character that it is coming from, and how it adds a feeling of nostalgia to the general composition and helps evoke an idea of the past and the tribulations that it lived through, and speaking specifically about the piece “Bee”, on how it inhabited the space it occupied in the composition, witch has a large percentage of empty area above it, and tells a credible story of the fall.
One commentary that caught me somewhat by surprise, was how there wasn’t much of a mark in the works I did with acrylic tints on velum. Again, Bees and wasps. To the point where an original was looked at first as if it were a reproduction. In hindsight, I should have inquired if this detracts from the particular piece. In some ways, because of my own perception of an almost mechanical quality emanating from these images, I’ve been including and experimenting with mixing into some of my work more traditional materials, as in watercolors and oils, and trying to let the distance from the image dictate how much of the “mark” is visible, and how it relates to my ideas, perhaps relinquishing some control and worrying a little less about detail and allowing what I would usually see as mistakes to become “character”.
About my 3D work, the mummified lizard ties in with the rest of the bugs, as it deals with death, nostalgia and longing, and the techniques used parallel more closely the ones use in the rest of my work, but the series of Urns and or containers, even though, come from the same ideas, there is a disconnect between this particular pieces and the rest of my work. It was a common critique concerning the different bodies of work I’ve made, how they appear to be made by different people, when shown as a single body of work. How there is an almost sublime quality to my watercolors, yet a sense of harshness to the oils on panel. Mike mentioned how the shadows were a unifying factor, he recommended a book by Victor Stoichita, -A Short History of the Shadow- I am thinking about converging them at some common point, or simply concentrating on one of them and taking it as far as it can go, but at first I do plan to experiment, mainly, because I have been limiting my self to mostly figurative work, and Deb and Judith, both mentioned to artist that have enticed me. Joyce Pensato, with her almost scratchy
and free application of medium for portraits of usually recognizable cartoon and other media characters, and Annette Messager, whose installations use drawings, photos, toys, among other objects, and the impaled taxidermy animals wearing stuffed animal heads, both a little macabre and disturbing, but still amusing and perhaps fun.
Tony mentioned artist that have used insects in their work in history, as Jean Henry Fabree and his entomological studies, and Hans Hoffman, who used bugs and critters as subjects for his detailed Dürer like paintings, and how I can use them as a way to rethink my own work, and to see it from a different perspective. In the same way, Judith recommended that I sit in in as many contemporary art history classes as I can, an find a place in witch my work would fall in to. She mentioned artist like Walton Ford and Alexis Rockman,whom deal with environmental issues and how man relates to this.
I usually pick a subject that in my point of view fits the idea I am trying to convey, with out sometimes considering other cultural meanings it might have, and how it may be perceived by others. I can usually explain where my work come from in a personal way. But I realize that sometimes you do want it to be perceived as closely to what I meant it to be. So I should understand the traditional meanings of the characters I am portraying, and use the way on witch I do this as an emotional complement to that portrayal.