Over the weekend I scored Martin Amis’ The Pregnant Widow. What a knockout cover! What stuck me was the how powerful both the formal and narrative aspects of the painting were. The composition was riveting – this tightly packed moment given epic scale – and the weight of shared experience slung between the two figures was palpable. From what I know of the book’s plot and themes, which follow the tumultuous vicissitudes of a group of friends spending the summer in a remote Italian castle, it seemed a note-perfect choice – marred only by completely ham handed typesetting and design.
The painting, Il ne se plaignait jamais… (He never complained…), from 1976, is the work of the French painter Gerard Schlosser. Schlosser is most closly associated with the Narrative Figuration movement, a distinctly French mash-up of Pop and Photorealism.
His early work was rooted far more in a sexy cartoon pop aesthetic – like a combination of Guy Peellaert and Tom Wesselmann. As he evolved the work became more overtly photo-realistic, but just as meticulously staged – details are purposefully exaggerated, extraneous objects removed, everything is framed and arranged for as much narrative impact as any comic book panel. One critic described this dynamic perfectly, that for Schlosser, “framing is never a trivial gesture. It tightens the most significant narrative element, the small detail that summarizes the essence of a moment.”
What I love about his paintings is that they transmit on four equally powerful frequencies. They are wonderfully composed realist abstractions. They contain a powerful dose of concentrated storytelling. They celebrate the figure as landscape. And they frame a vantage point that is the very definition of intimacy – conversational, sexual, relational – in a way that is incredibly potent and evocative. They’re artful, moving, brazenly sexy, and, as Blackadder might say, as French as a pair of self removing trousers.
(Schlosser’s work is scattered about the web. Most of the sites are in French. No English monograph seems to exist. There are at least three French ones, a bit pricey and all difficult, it seems, to obtain)
Holy cow… these landscape photographs by Kim Keever seem to indicate he’s in possession of the Genesis Device, the terraforming rocket fired off in Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan. They’re like Hudson River School paintings submerged in a lava lamp… and, they’re all composed in 200 gallon fishtanks, thusly, below. Aces. More on Keever here, and here.
When I saw these photographs by Harry Callahan reproduced in a magazine, I took them to be photo-realist paintings. It’s the compositions – they’re so deliberate and graphic. What I love about the photo-realist painters that I love is the degree of framing and editing they employ. They hold reality in abstraction, and the intersection of the two is the source of a great deal of the aesthetic impact they deliver. It’s why I was so gobsmacked to find that these images were caught in camera.
Callahan was an engineer with Chrysler Motors in the 40’s, where he joined a camera club. A visit by Ansel Adams to the club transformed his passion for photography from a hobby into an artistic calling – a search for the intensified image. As he put it – “The difference between the casual impression and the intensified image is about as great as that separating the average business letter from a poem” – which gets at the essence of his images perfectly. Half a decade later he was hired by Bauhaus legend Liszl Moholy-Nagy to teach photography at the Institute of Design in Chicago. He went on to create the photography program at the RISD. More on Callahan here.
It took me a while to get past the sheer masterfulness of the technique to grok the lasting point of Eric Zener’s paintings. It’s the idea of water as a medium for human experience. It reduces us, isolates us, dwarfs us so profoundly that it coaxes from us our most fundamental expressions. To surrender to water is to shed complexity. Splashing, floating, leaping, submerging, basking, even walking along the ocean shore, are dense, but utterly basic, experiences. It’s that same kind of surrender that transforms this tightly focused series of paintings into something much more human and universal. Oh, and the technique is ridiculous. (On exhibit at Gallery Henoch, New York City, until May 9th.)
Holy cow… these landscape photographs by Kim Keever seem to indicate she is in possession of a pen sized version of the Genesis Device, the terraforming rocket fired off in Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan. The best ones evoke the the grandeur of Hudson River School painter Frederic Edwin Church’s work… Actually, these are staged in an aquarium, which for me, as an amateur aquarist, makes them even more impressive. (hat tip andrew sullivan.)