September 12, 2012

Big Picture, Big Draw

Jenny Saville with her painting "Plan" taken by Glynn Griffiths in 1994.
People by the thousands have been visiting my blog recently. On September 9 I had 5,164 visits to the blog. In the four days from the 8th to the 11th I had 8,624 visitors.
For a blog that gets a respectable 200 or 250 on a good day, these numbers are sensational.
Suddenly my art had been discovered by the masses? After all my last two posts were about my current show in downtown Pittsfield.
No such luck, according to the statistics generated daily for my site. The big draw was Glynn Griffiths' 1994 portrait of the British artist Jenny Saville, her painting Plan towering over the artist then in her early 20s.
Someone - actually lots of someones - was looking for that photo. And if you Google Jenny Saville and go to "images" you'll find that my site is the only place you could find it. (Of course you can find it on other sites if you add the photographers name and the title of the painting.
I used the photo with my post about Saville on July 19, 2006.

The lines that look like a topographic map here, I learned today, are derived instead from her study of liposuction and plastic surgery. I thought then and think now that Saville is one of the best contemporary painters. 

The self portrait above is extraordinary. From the moment I saw it, this piece was one of my favorites. The way she applies paint is masterful. The composition is spectacular. The wet, open mouth is arresting and disturbing. The painting, like many of hers, is confrontational, demanding, sensational.

Above and below are two of her recent paintings. She is now 42 and I like the stuff she was doing 20 years ago better. But she will be painting for a long time. I'm anxious to see what she comes up with.

Here's one of those earlier works, a commanding painting.

Here's a current photo of Saville, the mother of two children, in her studio in Oxford, England.
"It feels as if Saville is the lovechild of Willem de Kooning's violent misogyny and Lucian Freud's carnal hunger who, somehow, popped out as kind of a feminist," writes Priscilla Frank in the Huffington Post. I think Frank has it right.
Frank had another great line in her profile: "Her paintings are tender, not as in tender feelings but more like tender meat."
In an article in The Guardian by Rachel Cooke, I learned that it was while Saville was at Cincinnati University she was captivated by the sight of obese women at shopping malls. They became the subject of her 1992 graduate show at Glasgow University, a show that captivated Charles Saatchi - the British collector who introduced the crop of "Young British Artists" in the Sensation show, which seemed to have shifted the center of the art world from New York to Boston.
"I want to be a painter of modern life, and modern bodies..." Saville told the Guardian.
"In Britain, there has been a drive in art schools to describe and to rationalise what it is that you're making, and that is a death knell to painting," Saville said in regard to conceptual art.
America is more attuned to painting than England, she said, suggesting that might be because New York was the center of the last period of great painting - the Abstract Expressionists.

September 11, 2012

The Eyes of My Mother

Photo by Riley Nichols/All Rights Reserved
There are things I forgot to say when I gave my artist's talk at the BCC gallery. Two important things in any in depth conversation about her life and death.
One: She lived past infancy only because her mother saved her when their house burned in Calgary, Alberta. Her mother threw her from an upper story window in their house into the arms of someone below. Her mother, however, was unable to save herself.
Two: When my family moved to Tarrytown after my father was discharged from the Army Air Corps following World War II, he had a job in advertising in New York City that paid very well. After he lost that job, my mother, who was a nurse, returned to work and saved us from financial ruin. And she continued working for years as a private-duty nurse, often for 12-hour shifts for months without a day off.

Photo by Riley Nichols/All Rights Reserved

Other things I might have talked about was the once rocky course of their marriage. Of my mother's bout with TB when I was an infant. Of my mother when she was trying to fight off severe disappointment or deep depression singing to herself:
When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don't be afraid of the dark.
At he end of the storm
Is a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark.*
I did talk about her manic depression and the electric shock treatments she was given. If you read One Flew Over the Cockoo's Nest you know what a toll they could take. I used the reds and yellows and purples in the large print because to me those were the colors of electric shock.
Photo by Susan Geller/All Rights Reserved
 But there were so many things to say about her. In a 15-minute talk you can't fit in everything**.

 Additionally it was extemporaneous. If I were doing it over, I'd make some notes. Those aren't notes in my hand in Susan Geller's photo above. They're photos (like the two below) I had printed to show people during the talks, which attracted more than 30 people combined.

My mother does a handstand.

My mother was able to do hand stands and walk on her hands. In a sympathy note to my father, a friend said she had done handstands at the YMCA even at 58, the age at which she died.

My mother and a friend.
This is one of the photos in our family album of a trip my mother took to Cuba with several friends when she was young.
Photo by Riley Nichols/All Rights Reserved
In this shot my granddaughter Riley, I have just been introduced by Lisa Griffith, the head of the Art Department at BCC.
I am tremendously grateful to her for asking me to do this show - my third for the community college - and for the insightful way she hung it. I took several studio art classes with Lisa when I was in my 60s.
Riley, by the way, has been my show photographer for about five years. She will be 13 next month.

*You'll Never Walk Alone by Rogers and Hammerstein from Carousel.
**I also forgot to say how very much I love her and my father. Maybe that's obvious.

(Visiting hours for my show at Berkshire Community College's downtown gallery on Columbus Avenue are from 2 to 5 on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.)