Monika Baer, “3 bad habits (3a),” 2013, Photo courtesy private collection, Cologne
By Jason Foumberg
“I fight against my good taste,” once said Miuccia Prada. It’s not something you’d expect from someone whose name and fashion house is always associated with high-class taste. One section of the Met’s 2012 Prada retrospective was titled “Ugly Chic,” but when has Prada ever really ravaged our sense of decorum, or been truly disgusting and tasteless?
The German painter Monika Baer recently said something to me reminiscent of Prada’s take on taste. (Thirty of Baer’s paintings are currently on view in the Modern Wing.) “Some of my paintings are not to my taste,” said Baer. That is, she occasionally disobeys her better judgment or her inner critic (these are tough clichés to unpack anyway), and even pursues bad thoughts or behaviors in painting. (Don’t we all, just to see where they will go?) “I wouldn’t limit myself to what I like or what I don’t like,” Baer said. With this attitude, one must be ready for anything, even failure.
Baer’s painting called “Extended Failure” is a rescued “failed painting.” Baer says she failed making it three times, then brought it to a restorer to patch it up, then painted on top of that. It has scratches all over its surface like hesitation marks that have scarred over. The artist is proud to display her painting that refused to die, and the object itself, like a survivor, is left to tell its post-traumatic tale. Another work, titled “3 bad habits,” has a mini-size bottle of booze attached to it. A realistically painted cigarette is depicted on the canvas too. And, since I’m counting, the third “bad habit” of the artwork’s title is, I assume, painting itself. Baer corresponds the act of painting with drinking and smoking, such guilty but convincing pleasures. Read the rest of this entry »
Chicago-trained, NYC-based artist David Sharpe has been painting cosmic spectaculars for many decades—a thrilling example from about thirty years ago recently hung in the Koffler collection at the DePaul Art Museum. Within that magnificence, the artist has often placed crudely rendered human figures that now feel less like the defiant scrawls of a schoolboy and more like the angry frustration of a mid-life crisis set in the sophisticated, pictorial world of early twentieth-century modernism.
His backgrounds resemble the bright, upbeat Arcadian interiors of Matisse, sometimes complete with the serpentine edges of philodendron leaves. They encompass angular female figures—sisters of the big-foot monster-women and angry wives of Picasso. Read the rest of this entry »
“No Matter Where You Go, There You Are,” oil on panel, 2013
Life is boring. That’s why we need superheroes. They violently and delightfully disembowel the world of complexity and return it to an Edenic garden of unequivocal right and wrong.
The painter Gabriel Mejia’s hero, in his new exhibition “Journey into Whatever” at Bert Green Fine Art, craves this glory but is stunted by necessary, everyday activities. According to his artist statement, Mejia has created a “central deluded misfit who sees himself as masked protagonist whose banal routine mirrors my own.” This masked protagonist rides mass transit, does laundry and lingers in a workplace kitchen.
It’s this tension that hydroplanes across each of Mejia’s paintings and makes them not just humorous, but spot-on modern avatars of impotency. The action of inaction peacocks its way through mundanity sans shame.
Conceptually, Mejia bases his hero on elements derived from an amalgamation of eighty Facebook friends’ profiles who share his name. He is delving into the gap between people’s public and private lives, much in the same way tabloids enjoy breaking and entering into celebrity’s bulletproof facades to ground them in human frailty. Read the rest of this entry »
Robert Guinan, “At the Double Door,” 2008
“To Live by Night” invites comparison between two very different visions of night: the acrylic-on-canvas paintings of Robert Guinan, and the charcoal-on-paper drawings of Mary Livoni.
Guinan is a great action painter—not the action of an arm wielding a brush, but the narrative action of his subjects, depicted with strong, dynamic contour lines. The subject, often a nightclub entertainer or habitué, goes directly onto the canvas, but the thin paint and dusty colors suggest that we’re looking at memories rather than at the actual scene. What’s remarkable is that these memories feel so alive, even though some of them must date back to the artist’s youth. Flashes of bright color bring the feelings into the present, while the grayish backgrounds push them back into the past. Though sketchy, the surrounding pictorial space feels complex and real. The artist, having found some moments in his life to be intriguing, now lives comfortably with his memories of them. Read the rest of this entry »
There’s something rough and persistent about the cityscapes of Errol Jacobson that mirrors his own life in Chicago, and his many careers as pool shark, entrepreneur of women’s shoes and creator of custom welded furniture. Any city street or monument may become the subject of his painting. Some of them are done on-site, but the best ones were made from photos shot through his car’s front window as he drove through the city working his current job as an independent real estate appraiser. Often the shots were taken at night, often it was raining, and usually the car window was dirty—but he manages to pull it all together as he pushes the oil paint into a compelling vision. There’s always a strong sense of where he is going with no particular attention to peripheral details. Read the rest of this entry »
Artists have depicted struggle for centuries. From political and religious strife to the struggle within the artists’ wormwood-pocked mind, these days some of the most alluring paintings do not depict struggle as much as they embody it. Paint itself can appear tortured: scraped, smeared, erased, diluted, sanded and dug into.
Diane Christiansen’s current exhibition, cleverly titled “Cup Freaketh Over,” embraces the struggle between the artist and her medium, but ever so gracefully and intentionally. Her oil on plaster works have a worn aesthetic—perhaps a nod to Renaissance-era fresco paintings, but feel very fresh and contemporary through the artists’ tentative application and unique palette. An unsteady line forms a corpse-like forearm, reaching out of a deep blue swirl of paint, clutching something unrecognizable. An acorn hangs, cradled in an elastic ribbon, pulled down from a clumsy cluster of red, pink, brown and ochre loops of paint, pulling forth from the plaster ground which seems to want to suck up the pigment as it has in so many other areas on the painting. These works are simultaneously playful and painful, often with bodily titles like “Hairy Eyeball” and “Amphetamines,” and each with a distinct air of anxiety. Read the rest of this entry »
Vidvuds Zviedris, “Symphony of Ghosts,” 2013
I liked the pieces in Chicago painter Vidvuds Zviedris’ exhibition at McCormick Gallery almost instantly. The pink and yellow plains, scoured surfaces and scattered décollage in a work such as “Symphony of Ghosts” feels almost medieval, like aging frescoes in a forgotten monastery. The plaintive deep blues of “White Foxes” even manage to recall Giotto in an exhibition dominated by the sunny optimism of Matisse.
But, over the years I’ve grown suspicious of work that goes down too easily. For all their charms, Zviedris’ luminous pictures read fast, and after the tasteful balance of high-key color and shallow pictorial space runs their course, there isn’t much left to savor. The shrewdly incorporated passages of newsprint, torn and transferred to the paintings’ surfaces via acrylic medium, mitigate the works’ rapid consumption, but they don’t contribute any significance. The ultimate effect is merely another formal device; beautiful, but meaningless. Read the rest of this entry »
Paul Sietsema, “Untitled figure ground study (Degas/Obama),” 2011.
This is the sixth installment of the Visiting Artist column. Newcity asked Chicago-based painter Matthew Metzger to comment on LA-based painter Paul Sietsema’s survey, now on view at the MCA. Both painters employ trompe l’oeil strategies in depicting everyday objects in their artworks. Metzger is assistant professor of studio arts at UIC’s School of Art and Design. His website is matthew-metzger.com.
I wonder what generates the inclination to picture that which has already been pictured. Whether intentional or unintentional, manufactured or crafted, romantic or otherwise, everything is pictured. Images, it often seems, rival cockroaches in their production. In an infested kitchen, the most immediate thing to do in order to catch a roach is to grab a glass and slam it upside down. The roach scurries around in circles, running up and down the interior edges of the glass looking for an out. Its future is now up to you. How quickly comes the illusion of control, as one is captured while many more remain breeding behind the wall. Read the rest of this entry »
Marisol Escobar, “Six Women,” 1965-66.
Marisol’s place in the public consciousness of fine art—if such a thing can be said to exist, somewhere between the Old Masters and Basquiat-obsessed rappers—seems mostly to be as a personification of good friend Andy Warhol’s hoary prophecy in regards to the approaching ubiquity, and short duration, of fame; the minuscule collecting of the two artist’s works at the MCA—just three apiece—instead seeks to explore the more reciprocal aspects of their relationship, even leaning a bit toward the sculptor’s side.
The fledgling influences of Pop art manifest themselves in Marisol’s sculptures in ways both esoteric—the use of primary colors; prolificness of found objects, although she avails herself to these for the context they can add to her works, oftentimes being private possessions of the subjects, rather than the abstraction driven by their presentation removed from their frames of reference—and blatantly, intimately obvious, most notably her portrait of Warhol himself, in the shape of a throne. Read the rest of this entry »
Artemisia Gentileschi, “Judith Slaying Holofernes,” c. 1620. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.
What artwork would you pick if the Foundation for Italian Art and Culture offered to facilitate the loan of a masterpiece from an Italian museum? Assuming that not everything is going to be on the table, the Uffizi’s “Judith Slaying Holofernes” (c. 1620) by Artemisia Gentileschi would be a damn good choice. Chicago once had its own feminist art gallery inspired by the proto-feminist Gentileschi, called Artemisia Gallery that ran from 1973-2003.
The victim of both a rape and a sensational trial-by-torture at the age of eighteen, Gentileschi painted her first version of Judith the following year, borrowing heavily from the explicitly violent version done by Caravaggio. It was a theme she would revisit four times in her career. About eight years later, she did a modification of that first version, aging the face of Judith just as she herself had aged, and moving the bloody sword to the middle of the canvas, triangulating it between the victim’s knee and the determined woman’s outstretched arms. Wow! The murderous action really falls off the wall. Even Caravaggio’s blood-spurting tableau seems peaceful by comparison. Read the rest of this entry »