Doctus Artifex

A look at the history of artistic techniques and studio practice

Tag: painting

‘Painting is what paint does’: Milton Resnick at Mana Contemporary

Milton Resnick’s paintings are arresting. The images are hard won. The surfaces are tactile and weighty. They have presence.

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A major survey exhibition of Resnick’s work on view at Mana Contemporary through August 8, 2014. This exhibition, Milton Resnick (1917-2004): Paintings and Works on Paper from the Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation, spans over a half century of the artist’s work. Resnick emigrated to New York from Russia in the 1920s, participated in the WPA Artists’ Project, and befriended Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, John Graham, and other downtown artists. He was drafted into the army during WWII, then returned to New York in 1945. His abstract paintings placed him firmly in the first generation of abstract expressionists. In the 70s and 80s, he created allover compositions with increasingly dense paint applications. The resulting works have a “topographical presence” and emphasize the materiality of paint above all else. Works from this period are exhibited in the first floor gallery space at Mana. The exhibit continues on another level, where several of his early works from the 1950s are grouped with later figurative works of the 90s and 00s. Resnick died in 2004 in New York, and his wife, the painter Pat Passlof died in 2011, establishing the Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation in her will.

Milton Resnick, Mana Contemporary installation view

Milton Resnick, Mana Contemporary installation view

Milton Resnick, Mana Contemporary, Installation view

Milton Resnick, Mana Contemporary, Installation view

Ever since I first encountered Resnick’s works at Cheim & Read in Chelsea, I’ve craved seeing more of his paintings. The few exhibition catalogues I could find of his work are rare and out of print (with the exception of Milton Resnick: A Question of Seeing: Paintings 1959-1963, published in 2008 by Cheim & Read). In the late 90s, a televised portrait of Resnick aired on PBS, A World of Art: Works in Progress: Milton Resnick and (Works in Progress: Milton Resnick, Part 2). It provides a glimpse into his painting process, his life with Pat Passlof on the Lower East Side, and many of his insights into the medium of oil paint. “Painting is what paint does. You have to be the straw in the wind and listen to what the master, paint, tells you to do.”

Milton Resnick, Sphinx

Milton Resnick, Sphinx

Milton Resnick

Milton Resnick

Milton Resnick

Milton Resnick

Given the longevity of Resnick’s career, it is surprising that this show at Mana is the first major East Coast exhibition of Resnick’s work. Perhaps Resnick isn’t more widely known precisely because his paintings demand being experienced in person. He uses paint as a visual medium rather than as a vehicle for presenting ideas; since the paintings don’t explicitly express intellectual concepts, they don’t lend themselves to written discourse. Furthermore, in our age of mechanical (now digital) reproduction, we’ve become accustomed to slick images that are easy to represent with digital surrogates. There’s something to be said for the cult of the original, for authenticity, and for experiential understanding. Resnick is that breed of painter’s painter whose work warrants firsthand knowledge.

Resnick, installation view

Resnick, installation view

Milton Resnick, Mana Contemporary, Installation view

Milton Resnick, Mana Contemporary, Installation view

Resnick

Resnick

Visiting the Resnick show at Mana Contemporary is a pilgrimage of sorts. Firstly, you must take the PATH train (which isn’t that difficult, it turns out). Secondly, you cannot view the show without a guided tour. Due to the peculiarities of the gargantuan space, this procedure makes perfect sense, and isn’t at all a deterrent to seeing the art work at your leisure. When I went to view the exhibit, our guide explained some of Mana Contemporary’s features to the group. The enormous space is a work in progress, with a combination of galleries, studios, printing presses, and art storage. Its beginnings as an art storage facility have influenced the exhibitions, including this current ambitious show of Resnick’s paintings. Apparently, Resnick’s work was being stored at Mana, and one of the curatorial missions is to showcase artists whose works are in storage there. The Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation will be opening a museum on 87 Eldridge Street in the Lower East Side in a synagogue that was Resnick’s studio from 1977 until his death in 2004. The museum is scheduled to open in 2016 and will provide an exhibition space for works by Milton Resnick and his wife, Pat Passlof, as well as the study of other abstract expressionists.

Milton Resnick, Mana Contemporary, works on paper

Milton Resnick, Mana Contemporary, works on paper

installation view

installation view

 

There may be hope: two painting shows in Chelsea

“The whole thing of should I paint or not, is painting dead—of course it’s not.” That is a delightfully dismissive statement by Glenn Brown in an interview in 2009 in Art in America. Of course it’s not. It’s that simple, really, and the two painting shows I saw last weekend in Chelsea are a rousing testimony to the vivacity of oil paint: Glenn Brown at Gagosian, and  Hannah van Bart at Marianne Boesky. (Had time permitted, the Maria Lassnig show at PS1 would have completed my art pilgrimage and made a satisfying triumvirate of figurative painters. The Maria Lassnig show is up through September 7th though, so there’s still time).

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Glenn Brown, In My Time of Dying, 2014

British painter Glenn Brown says in the press release for the current show at Gagosian, “I like my paintings to have one foot in the grave, to be not quite of this world.” My artistic sensibilities so align with his – the indebtedness to art history, the love of the language of oil paint – that I’m thrilled to have finally gotten to see his work in person. The paintings on view are all oil on panel, and the surfaces are luscious and luminous. Brown revels in all the medium can do; blurred areas of atmospheric calm set off the vigorous dizzying (but controlled) brushwork that tends to be reserved for the central subject of each piece. The paint is applied thinly and methodically. I expected the surfaces to be like Auerbach’s with thick impasto instead of such polished surfaces. As the artist himself said, while he admires de Kooning or Soutine, he paints more slowly, which lends itself to more refined results. Brown traffics in the widely-recognized themes and stories of myth, of the Bible, and of art history, and people relate to it. It’s truly refreshing to think we can all put notions about there being no meta-narratives behind us. His mastery of the medium is exuberant and deeply satisfying on many levels.

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Glenn Brown, Cactus Land, 2012

The works in the Gagosian show included several bronze and oil painted sculptures, all of which related to the art historical epochs alluded to in the paintings. With titles like “Magdalena Penitente” and “Nazareth” or “Romantic Movement,” the foothold in the artistic achievements of the past is apparent.

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Glenn Brown, installation view, Gagosian Galley, 2014

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Glenn Brown, installation view, Gagosian Gallery, 2014

Hannah van Bart deals directly with nostalgia and human memory in her work, but in a decidedly different way from Glenn Brown. With a more muted palette, Van Bart uses vintage photos as her source, and alters them with a characteristic nervous line and sensitive brushwork. The images are re-worked numerous times until the original reference is supplanted by the painter’s decisions about the subject’s portrayal. For a glimpse inside her studio in Amsterdam, watch this interview with Hannah Van Bart on 4 Art on Kunstuur from March 2014: 4 Art – Hannah Van Bart.

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Hannah Van Bart, Doubt, 2013

Van Bart’s portrait exhibition at Marianne Boesky featured approximately 15 paintings (all pictured on the gallery website), all oil on linen. The works included are refreshingly modest in scale and scope. Her paintings have a tactile surface that I find pleasing. It’s nice to see evidence of the human hand’s involvement in the creation of anything, especially since so much imagery we see every day is super-slick and created by the press of a button. Although the brushwork is evident, the surfaces are all rather flat. Despite the use of outline around the figures, there’s a a satisfying interplay between the figure and the ground. With palette choice, patterns, grids, textures, and undoubtedly many other formal concerns that I overlooked, Van Bart uses all the elements of picture-making to connect the space inside the figure to its surrounding areas.

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Hannah Van Bart, installation view, Marianne Boesky Gallery, 2014

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Hannah Van Bart, installation view, Marianne Boesky Gallery, 2014

There’s a line in Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway that I read years ago while working on my MFA in painting in New York, “Cleverness was silly. One must say simply what one felt.”  It resonated with me at the time, as I was trying to make big splashy clever paintings. When I see work like Glenn Brown’s, which seems to originate from a sense of enjoyment and intellectual curiosity, or Hannah Van Bart’s, which seems utterly human and self-searching, this quotation springs to mind. Their work is felt. While these two shows both close June 14th, there are a few other choices for happy hopeful art pilgrims. Next up for me will be Maria Lassnig at PS1 (as I already mentioned) and Milton Resnick at Mana Contemporary.

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Hannah Van Bart, Man, 2014