Universal Modern?

Today I’d like to invite you to respond to some images. Please look at them carefully and tell us what you think. You’re welcome to guess who they’re by, but I won’t tell you the name (s) of the artist (s) until next month. Enjoy!

Untitled 1991#1 Untitled 1991 149×245.5 cm (58 x 98″)
Untitled 1991 #2 Untitled 1992 135 x 135 cm (53 x 53″)

Untitled 1992 #3 Untitled 1992 135×135 cm (53 x 53″)

Untitled 1993 #4 Untitled 1993 61x50cm (24 x 20″)

Untitled 1994#5 Untitled 1994 (detail) 1 of 3 panels each 150x60cm (each 59 x 20″)

Utopia Panel#6 Utopia Panel 1996 1 of 18 panels each 280×100 cm (each 110 x 40″)

Untitled Batik on silk#7 Untitled Batik on Silk 1000×112 cm (394 x 44″ or 33 feet x 3’8″)

Untitled on Silk#8 Untitled on Silk108.5x 92 cm (43 x 36″)

22 Responses to “Universal Modern?”

  1. 1 June November 4, 2007 at 9:45 am

    Perhaps it’s the commercial patterns that bore me, Clairan. I certainly love shibori or any of its Americanized cousins, where the dye patterns repeat with serendiptous variations. But plaids — well, you have to remember I’m of the madras plaid generation — what we all wore in college (or were supposed to).

    Yet I like Sean Scully a lot, and his work is definitely about repetition, sometimes even plaid.

    It’s the machine-ness of pattern that I am not very interested in, I think. And so I tarred the whole idea with that smear. And of course, people can do amazing things with commercial fabrics, plaids included, but that’s way beyond me.

  2. 2 clairan November 3, 2007 at 8:13 pm

    Isn’t repetition one of the features of pattern, June? And strict repetition is boring; it’s the little idiosyncrasies, the twists and turns that fascinate. #5 could just be stripes, but each line is individual–thick thin, curved and straight, with white showing or not, and yet it’s a clear pattern. Sometimes one has to work harder to see the pattern, just like life (I’d snort like you, but I hate being a copycat!).

  3. 3 june November 3, 2007 at 5:06 pm

    Sigh. People whom I admire immensely love pattern.

    I hardly ever get it. I sort like pattern but can’t say it enthralls me or even interests me. Photography, of course, thrives on pattern (hmmm, did I say that? And what _was_ I thinking?) And the whole culture of cloth, possibly because of its necessary consumer-driven culture, thrives on pattern. But that begs the question, of course.

    Nah, it’s not the pattern that could possibly thrill me, it’s the repetition (Or maybe that’s pattern.). And the scale, of course, always the scale. Or maybe it’s Saturday night and I’ve had two glasses of wine and Oregon is just barely eking out a possible victory (the radio is blasting away as I write), and the cooking for the art group’s brunch tomorrow is well underway and the house smells wonderful. And what has that to do with the price of cheese in China, I asks…..

  4. 4 clairan November 3, 2007 at 3:07 pm

    I really love pattern, so that draw me to them, June. I just love a good plaid!

  5. 5 June November 3, 2007 at 12:44 pm

    Oddly enough, I don’t feel drawn to any of these (Clairan and I usually agree on our tastes in art; that’s why it’s odd.) I like more values, more shadow and light. I’m not against them. I could be drawn to them if they surrounded me and I swam with them, but I have trouble doing that with the web images.

    I could also be drawn to them through a cultural explanation. If they were Song-lines, a re-making of the earth by traveling it (even imaginatively), then I could come to love them for the connection. It might be like loving quilt art because it has connections to quilt — not for the art itself so much as for the context into which it is immersed.

    This cultural connection isn’t a small matter, by the way. It’s overwhelming for most of the objects — maybe all of them– that we love. But I think there are visual impacts and visual emotions that are not connected to context.

  6. 6 clairan November 2, 2007 at 6:39 am

    I am drawn in by the dots, the patterning. To mean they seem like fields of flowers, really enormous fields that one could get lost in, or coral, or water/bubbles, or possibly something familiar under a microscope. In the batiks I see ferns or leaf patterning very up close –but not quite under a microscope. In #4 I feel I am in the sky on a fiery fall day (or in a swing in a Constable painting or something). These works make me look at them again and again as though they are trying to tell me something of great value, but I’m not sure what. I like Lee’s suggestion of an emotional journey. But although they seem to evoke in my an emotional journey, they seem mysterious fluid and static at the same time.

  7. 7 Lee November 1, 2007 at 2:59 pm

    I’m most drawn to the second one, so I’d like to talk about that rather than the collection (a wealth of things to see!)

    1 what do you notice

    I notice lots and lots of dots. I see a surface that is composed of layers and layers of dots that look like they are made with a fingertip. There is no background, it is dots all the way down.

    2 What does it remind you of

    It reminds me of reflections of things in wind ruffled water.

    3 What is your emotional response

    Thinking about making all those dots makes my fingers twitch for paint. I want to try it too. The picture as a whole makes me feel curious and cheerful.

    4 What questions does it bring to mind

    What was the artist thinking about when they were working on this? Is there a meaning that I am missing?

    5 What might the meaning or intention be

    To chart some emotional journey?

  8. 8 June November 1, 2007 at 10:46 am

    The different approaches to examining these pieces have been interesting, to say the least.

    One of the things I’ve been savoring is not knowing the names, countries, etc. of the artists. It forces me to actually Look at the work, rather than think of extraneous things, like culture and names and movements.

    Re: Gwen’s questions

    1. I think I’ve answered the first question: What do you notice?

    2. “What does it remind you of” is implicit in some of my answers — swimmingly immersed, entropy, etc.

    3. “Emotional response?” Oddly enough, I have to think about that. I don’t have any at the moment that i can think of except irritation that the web gives such little indication of what the pieces would “feel” like in person.

    4. Questions? Well, I’ve been asking them all along — why the sizes, why the lack of values, why why why.

    5. Meaning or intention — ah, there’s the cultural rub. If these are ab ex works (or I should say, post-ab ex) then the meaning or intention is mostly likely to be one thing; if they are from indigenous Australian peoples, then the meaning/intention will be far different. Which is why it’s worth doing the looking before the naming, I think.

    And Gwen’s questions seem to me not to be “looking” so much as pushing you back into yourself. But I know myself, maybe too well. Looking takes me out of myself. While I appreciate the way the Gwen questions work, I think they dummy down the experience. Not that Gwen is doing so, only that her references are doing so.

    And the Allison’s descriptions of the Aborigine hangings make me even more want to see these works, hung propoerly, in person, regardless of their origin. Oh, and Allison — I’m not going to look — at least not now. I’m enjoying the mystery and the questions too much.

  9. 9 clairan November 1, 2007 at 5:05 am


    Gwen Magee’s recent post on her blog Textile Resource Guide on Crtical Responxe ( a teaching technique) may help here:

    1 what do you notice

    2 What does it remind you of

    3 What is your emotional response

    4 What questions does it bring to mind

    5 What might the meaning or intention be

  10. 10 alison November 1, 2007 at 3:12 am

    I should have looked before posting – but if you google Utopia settlement australia, the first page that comes up 3/4 down, is a website for DACOU – Dreaming Art Centre of Utopia, and just below that another item “Utopia Dreaming” – a review of an exhibition in the Pittsburhg Tribune.

  11. 11 alison November 1, 2007 at 2:52 am

    I feel Margery is right, that these are works by Aus. Aboriginal artists. I don’t know if they all come from Utopia settlement, but there painting is done on canvas and batiked onto fabric – and I feel the last three are fabric lengths. These artists have a record of exhibiting long lengths of fabric. Hung from gallery ceilings they are magnificent. The first 4 I would say are probably acrylic on canvas. These are either exhibited as raw edged canvases, or mounted on stretchers – and I think most buyers leave them that way. I have one in Perth (different style, not from Utopia) on a stretcher showing the points where the colour meets the white canvas beneath – and those edges are very important, imho.

  12. 12 margery November 1, 2007 at 1:24 am

    Clairan, June et al

    I chanced on your post – these works may be by Australian indigenous artists at the Utopia settlement in Central Australia.

  13. 13 June October 31, 2007 at 6:42 pm

    I keep nibbling and nibbling:

    Another attribute of all these pieces is a very narrow value range. That might be why they have to surround the optical field. In imagining them hanging, I imagine that I would more impressed by the larger sizes. So there’s something about the modulated surface that insists on particular sizes (maybe very small they would work too, particularly if they had the same textures/clarity of marks).

    Do you have any photos of these on-site, in a gallery, etc., Clairan? It would be fascinating to see how they present themselves.

    I am also intrigued by the lack of title — or the totally confusing title of Utopia — no clues are being given us — the artist remains enigmatic about her purpose or concept.

    Now, to be more methodical. Line isn’t important, but shapes – ie dabs of color or rectangles/ stripes — are. But they are shapes that are all the same size — like the absence of value, there’s an absence of variation in sizing of totally similar shape. It’s rhythmic repetition at its most extreme, perhaps. No sense of volume or mass (ie, no modeling through lights and darks, which goes along with the middle values). Texture exists because of the marks – the dabs and stripes. There’s not much illusion of space, although some of the dabs and the last batik are behind others (hence forward and behind) and number 4 is a bit more illusionistic. No sense of motion that I can detect, although again #4 might be an exception. Balance is irrelevant (except in #4) as is, I think, Unity — or maybe unity is so present as to be unimportant.

    With the dabs, I sense entropy — things breaking into similar bits, flying apart. Number 5 and 6 are on-going — lines that lead off into space with no edges. The batiks are more like the dabs in their lack of movement or direction.

    OK, I’m done for this evening. I think I need to look again at Barrett to decide where to go from here.

  14. 14 eileen doughty October 31, 2007 at 6:32 pm

    I’ll be interested to hear what these are about and who made them. They strike me mostly as ‘beginnings’ of a piece of art, as backgrounds, except perhaps for #4 (which, oddly, is also the smallest). The first one seems to be influenced by cloth, it is so long and skinny, like yardage (and 7 and 8).

  15. 15 clairan October 30, 2007 at 7:46 am

    1, 2, 3, are complete and singular. 4.5.& 6 are 1 of parts of larger pieces (panels). 7 & 8 are on cloth.

  16. 16 Olga October 30, 2007 at 7:07 am

    My first thought was that the first three of these were cropped close-ups of parts of Impressionist paintings, but then I looked at the dates. They are attractive, but I find they go nowhere much on their own beyond that perhaps with the exception of 5 and 6 which for me have the most substance. The others definitely lovely as yardage or elements of interior design. I still have the feeling that 1-5 are parts rather than wholes.

  17. 17 clairan October 30, 2007 at 5:04 am

    I like the notion of motion (!) June. I want to say they”re rhythmic and lyrical — I think we’re getting at the same thing. And you’re right — definitely not a quilt artist (s).

  18. 18 june October 29, 2007 at 8:16 pm

    Ok, these are not quilt artists, or if they are, they aren’t going to get any texture with that canvas.

    So, what’s the next question? Think about the picture plane, the frame of the image. — what’s that? What “frame?” Isn’t that the point? That these are all-over images, continuing beyond the frame, making nothing of the picture plane because all the material is crowded right up front and in your face. No focal point, but continuation.

    Ned Rifkin, in a video that Pam RuBert linked for the SAQA list, talks about “motion” as a determining factor in the Modern art movement of the turn of the 19th century — think of “Nude Descending a Staircase.”

    Well, it seems to me that continuation is like motion in some sense — no beginning, no end, no front, no back. It just goes on and on. And that’s the point, I suspect, that one is immersed in these enormous pieces (at least some of them) like swimming in a multi-colored ocean — or being surrounded by strips of paper floating from above, thousands of them. The pieces are atmospheric or surrounds or all encompassing.

    Here’s Pam’s link for the video; it was edited by her husband, Russ.

  19. 19 clairan October 29, 2007 at 5:56 pm

    #1 paint on canvas

    #2 paint on canvas

    #3 paint on canvas

    #4 paint on canvas (1 of 4 panels)

    #5 paint on canvas panels

    #6 paint on canvas

    #7 yep 1000 cm 1988

    #8 1988

  20. 20 june October 29, 2007 at 4:19 pm

    Well, Clairan, maybe only you and I want to play. But that’s ok…. We’ll eat ice cream.

    So how to attack this problem. Well, I’m thinking of questions about materials and methods, first. I know this is a no-no, but I can’t help myself.

    #1 is painted or possibly hand-dye-painted, although something about the markings make me doubt that it’s dye. They are too definitive. More pointilist than Pollock, of course. But not pointilist either. I just had to do the alliteration.

    Likewise 2 and 3, although there’s a definite weave to the substrate — diagonal.

    #4 looks more like a dye because of the schmooshing around of the color. And the diagonal weave is still apparent. Linen? or canvas?

    #5 in 3 panels looks painted also, and reminds me of Sean Scully. It’s not discharge.

    #6, the Utopia panel, looks like discharge to me — batik and discharge. It’s huge, but not as big as #7. Except that it’s 1 of 18!!! panels, all 110″ long by 40″ wide???

    #7 batik on silk and unbelievably big as a whole cloth (are those really the numbers?). I’d be inclined to think it was one of the ab ex women who did it except that it’s batik on silk.

    #8 is also definitely batik, also on silk

    So, I’m thinking #s 1–4 are the same person, for sure. About #5, I don’t know. And # 6 –8 are all batik but by the same person? Can’t be sure. The markings on #7 somewhat resemble the first four in the markings, although batik takes differently.

    Note that I’m not making any judgments yet. I’m just circling.

    I think I’ll number the pieces (and correct one of my editing mistakes) so it’s easier to compare them. I really want them side-by-side, in large form. I’ll have to open a bunch of new windows.

  21. 21 june October 28, 2007 at 8:20 pm

    I can’t do centimeters, although I admit it only reluctantly. However, the web is a marvelous resource, so I translated for those of us too parochial to deal with rational ways of measuring. I’m impressed by some of the results:-)

    Now there’s no excuse for us not to proceed to eyeball and articulate.

  22. 22 June October 28, 2007 at 6:44 pm

    My first thought is “I want to know how big these things are.”

    Can you tell us that much? I can’t begin to evaluate anything unless I have some idea of scale.

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