Monday, September 30, 2013

Talia Shulze

The languorous light was just beginning to fade when I visited Talia's Bushick studio...  
Taoists recognize the value of languor. According to Lin Yutang, "If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live." The tenets of Taoism are typically anathema to most city slickers, which makes quoting the Taoists all the more enjoyable in the wildest depths of the urban jungle! 
During our visit, Talia talked about what a huge impact the Matisse show at the Met last spring had on the New York art world, and how that correlates with the resurgence of the current interest in the pastoral in art. 
I tend to associate the pastoral with the sublime, since they are both ways of interpreting the natural world. Despite certain obvious congruencies between the two, the two perspectives are more different than alike. The pastoral conjures up mental images of giddy nobility running through pastures and swinging merrily under willows in Watteau paintings. Within the pastoral way of thinking, there is this contrived effort to portray nature as pleasant, benign, and even kind. The sublime is more vicious; it's more like the pastoral's evil, complicated twin. There is this fantastic Francis Bacon interview, which touches upon the sublime, where Bacon talks about how even under the most beautiful landscape, insects are fighting for their lives and biting each others' heads off. It's been a while since I've read it, so I might be butchering it completely, but you get the gist, gentle reader. 
Camille Paglia writes about how we interpret nature as being beautiful because the sheer terror of the tremendous power and brutality of nature is too much for us to bear. I would agree with that, but I also believe in the theory of Biophilia and that the further we remove ourselves from nature the more out of place we feel. Humans are attuned toward plant life as well as other life forms because we are biological beings who long to be amidst nature. Nature is beautiful, even if one ascribes to Carl Sagan's belief that the universe seems neither benign nor hostile, but merely indifferent.  
At the very beginning of Jerzy Kosinski's Being There, there's a passage that compares and contrasts the differences and similarities between plants and people.

"Plants were like people; they needed care to live, to survive their diseases, and to die peacefully."

"Yet plants were different from people. No plant is able to think about itself or know itself; there is no mirror in which a plant can recognize its face; no plant can do anything intentionally: it cannot help growing, and its growth has no meaning since a plant cannot reason or dream."

Although Kosinski avoids anthropomorphism in that passage, he still measures plant life against the human standard. He does the opposite of Morandi, who imbued each of his tenderly painted bottles with anthropomorphic warmth and intimacy; instead his terse and blunt prose describes a form of life that is entirely impervious to our struggles and aspirations. The effect makes us aware of the vastness and magnitude of existence, and the limitations and smallness of our own point of view. It's what Baudrillard is talking about when he talks about the pretension of culture melting away in the desert.

Talia infuses her depictions of the natural world with a sense of humanity. There is something deeply private and sensual, even erotic, about these paintings. The inherent sensuality of Talia's paintings as well as the anthropomorphic, narrative quality is reminiscent of Indian miniatures. The way in which the palm trees wrap around one another is similar to a lovers' embrace, and is a recurring leitmotif in many Indian miniatures.
The sense of mystery, the sensuous, wavering line, and the enveloping color also remind me of Mary Heilmann. However, Talia's layers and transparencies create an illusionistic depth which is very different from Heilmann's paintings which live on the surface of the canvas and never venture fully toward representation.
The playful ease of the confident gesture creates a feeling of pleasure and fun.
Talia's paintings convey a wide range of thoughts and moods. The unyielding conviction of the minimal painting furthest to the right creates a contrast to the comical and endearing, pensive intimacy of the figurative painting second from the left.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

I took a brief break from blogging this summer to pursue other projects, but now that fall is almost here, I'm excited to resume blogging and post the recent studio visits I've been on!! In the mean time, please check out these two interviews I did recently for NY Arts Magazine with artists Caitlin Cherry and Brent Birnbaum. Enjoy!

image courtesy of the artist
image courtesy of the artist and Brooklyn Museum
link to Caitlin Cherry Interview