JSW Turner The Blue Rigi, Sunrise watercolor on paper 1842
My husband and I were lucky enough to go to the opening of the new Getty exhibition: 'Turner: Painting Set Free.' It was more lovely than I had expected, given I have only seen his two paintings at the Huntington Gardens previously. To see his work, row upon row, showed his strength in repetition and variation upon a theme: the watery, steamy, moist atmosphere carried from painting to painting, some calm, some tumultuous, some finished, some barely started. His paint was simultaneously remarkably transparent and remarkably thick. He seems to have been a precursor to Bonnard in his practice of placing an empty space or a void at the center of the canvas. The paintings glowed.
But it was his watercolors that were most revelatory to me. I have never seen watercolor used so deftly, not even by Sargent or Winslow Homer. His watercolors were fresh and light and luminous. Some were as detailed as his oil paintings, but with even greater transparency and movingly delicate brushwork. But the quickest and lightest of his watercolors on display, a set of paintings made on the spot of the tower of London burning at night, were also among the most vivid. They felt so immediate still, as though you were watching the flames reflected across the water across more than a hundred years of time. The sparks still falling, the colors still bright.
JMW Turner Fire at the Grand Storehouse of the Tower of London watercolor on paper 1841
Dan McCleary Protection oil on canvas 2009
I have been reading the new book 'Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life,' by Karen Armstrong, who was a nun before she became a renowned religious historian who wrote 'A History of God,' among other books. In 'Twelve Steps' she says that "one of the chief tasks of our time must surely be to build a global community in which all peoples can live together in mutual respect," and goes on to emphasize the importance of compassion in building that community of peace.
Reading it made me think of a show my husband and I went to see two weeks ago. Dan McCleary: Every Day Sacred is at the USC Fisher Museum of Art until March 7th. What strikes me most about Dan's work is how respectful it is of its subjects, and how compassionate his gaze is towards the friends/strangers/'other' who he depicts. I worked for Dan for a time as a model and as a drawing teacher at his program for young adults called Art Division. Dan is indeed as compassionate and kind as his artwork suggests. He is one of those not "motivated by self-interest, a truly humane person. . . oriented toward others," as Karen Armstrong describes a little later in her book. His portrait paintings and drawings show "a consistently empathetic consideration of others (which) can introduce" the viewer of his artwork "to a dimension of existence that transcends our normal self-bound state."
His paintings allow us the chance to share a gaze or gaze upon another person depicted with respect as mystery, going about their life in the shared, private and sometimes anonymous spaces we all inhabit. It is what I like most about them, that sense of silence, connection, distance, intimacy, and reflection. They are very beautiful in person. Dan's colors are fresh and surprising, and his application of paint is thoughtful. If you are in LA, I would recommend making the effort to go to the Fisher Museum before the end of the week as well worth your while.
Dan McCleary Panel Discussion oil on canvas 2011 (that is twenty-one year old me in the middle of the table, wearing a gold pendent. The other models are, from left to right: Javier, Robert, me, Emmanuel, Wilbur, and Ajax)
Yesterday evening my husband and I went to the Pomona College Museum of Art. Conveniently for us, the museum stays open until 11pm every Thursday for Art After Hours. PCMoA has three shows up currently: a selection of Brenna Youngblood's abstract paintings from last year, a selection of the Guerrilla Girls' witty and pointed posters, and the very poetic work of Italian poet, writer, artist Mirella Bentivoglio.
I felt that Youngblood's paintings were hung too closely together, and didn't have as interesting or varied of surfaces as I expected after reading the wall-text extolling her process. It was also a little bit out of kilter with the evident connection between the Bentivolgio and the Guerrilla Girls shows, with their common emphasis on the relationship between word and image, as well as exploring what it is to be female historically and currently. It was disheartening to read the updated versions of the Guerrilla Girl posters from the 80s and 90s only to find the statistics of female and non-white representation in museums about the same, and in some cases worse. Like feminism in the broader culture, the posters make the same points over and over, because from decade to decade there has been so little change. It was saddening to walk through that hallway, despite the deftly used humor (which had both my husband and I laughing out loud), because each poster is still relevant and applicable today, a quarter century or more after they were made. It left me wondering why it is still so hard for women -- why don't more men support feminism for the sake of their wives, daughters, girlfriends, sisters, aunts, mothers, grandmothers, if not for themselves?
Bentivolgio's work was more wide-ranging than sticking to strictly feminist themes, and yet I found some of her feminine, feminist pieces to be the most memorable to me: the reoccurring image of the egg among stones, the egg made of stone and split into a book, the faces of stone damaged or being unwrapped and excavated, the woman disappearing in the photograph and reappearing behind the curtain, and Bentivolgio herself, present as a shadow, a mask, a name, and as a photograph doubled under the arch of time. It was harder for me to follow the beauty of her concrete poetry since I do not speak Italian, although the wall-text translations helped. But her work with images, books, and stones carry across cultural language barriers quite smoothly, speaking as they do a visual language which I could intuit and understand. Viewing her work left me with a freshened awareness of the uncanny repetition and resemblances of things in nature and culture, past and present, and respect and awe for the ongoing, never-ending connection between things.