Harmonies of Light

An art appreciation blog.
#6 Julie Mehretu (b. 1970 -)

I think of my abstract mark-making as a type of sign lexicon, signifier, or language for characters that hold identity and have social agency. The characters in my maps plotted, journeyed, evolved, and built civilisations. I charted, analyzed, and mapped their experience and development: their cities, their suburbs, their conflicts, and their wars. The paintings occurred in an intangible no-place: a blank terrain, an abstracted map space. As I continued to work I needed a context for the marks, the characters. By combining many types of architectural plans and drawings I tried to create a metaphoric, tectonic view of structural history. I wanted to bring my drawing into time and place

These words of the artist herself are perhaps the best description one can make of Mehretu’s works. An abstract analysis of globalization and the expanding structures of capitalism. Despite this, she is politically neutral, even going so far as to be commissioned by Goldman Sachs in 2007 to paint a mural for their building. Her opinion of the corporation; “I don’t see it as an evil institution, but as part of the larger system that we all participate in. We’re all a part of it.” And perhaps this is a part of the logic of her art. Clearly fascinated with the abstract landscape of global civilization, she envisions a certain democratic highway of mass interaction.
In her paintings, everything is ordered by a certain chaotic interconnectedness. Like the charts of collisions of subatomic particles, Mehretu maps out a macroscopic vision of the microscopic interactions that make up the mass of interactions called civilization. Perhaps it may be ironic to quote Marx in regards to such a politically-neutral artist, but not only are Mehretu’s paintings one of the highest expressions of Late capitalism and postmodern signification, they testify to Marx’s declaration that “Society does not consist of individuals, but expresses the sum of interrelations, the relations within which these individuals stand.”
Her masterpiece to date, and one of the greatest paintings of the last decade is Congress, shown above.

#6 Julie Mehretu (b. 1970 -)

I think of my abstract mark-making as a type of sign lexicon, signifier, or language for characters that hold identity and have social agency. The characters in my maps plotted, journeyed, evolved, and built civilisations. I charted, analyzed, and mapped their experience and development: their cities, their suburbs, their conflicts, and their wars. The paintings occurred in an intangible no-place: a blank terrain, an abstracted map space. As I continued to work I needed a context for the marks, the characters. By combining many types of architectural plans and drawings I tried to create a metaphoric, tectonic view of structural history. I wanted to bring my drawing into time and place

These words of the artist herself are perhaps the best description one can make of Mehretu’s works. An abstract analysis of globalization and the expanding structures of capitalism. Despite this, she is politically neutral, even going so far as to be commissioned by Goldman Sachs in 2007 to paint a mural for their building. Her opinion of the corporation; “I don’t see it as an evil institution, but as part of the larger system that we all participate in. We’re all a part of it.” And perhaps this is a part of the logic of her art. Clearly fascinated with the abstract landscape of global civilization, she envisions a certain democratic highway of mass interaction.

In her paintings, everything is ordered by a certain chaotic interconnectedness. Like the charts of collisions of subatomic particles, Mehretu maps out a macroscopic vision of the microscopic interactions that make up the mass of interactions called civilization. Perhaps it may be ironic to quote Marx in regards to such a politically-neutral artist, but not only are Mehretu’s paintings one of the highest expressions of Late capitalism and postmodern signification, they testify to Marx’s declaration that Society does not consist of individuals, but expresses the sum of interrelations, the relations within which these individuals stand.

Her masterpiece to date, and one of the greatest paintings of the last decade is Congress, shown above.

#7 Carrie Mae Weems (b. 1956-)
There’s been a concern about a lack of sincerity in the arts. Postmodernism has brought us a new way of looking at and integrating multiple forms of art in a constantly changing world, but with that, under its addiction to irony and cleverness, it has created some works throughout mediums that are empty and cynical.
The works of Carrie Mae Weems are passionate, graceful, sincere and angry.  ”Let me say that my primary concern in art, as in politics, is with the status and place of Afro-Americans in our country.”  Simply put, her photographs and photographic series concern the culture and struggles of black Americans, both past and present. Though her work also has a feminist interest and her first of two unquestionable masterpieces, Kitchen Table Series (1990) is both an intimate and social portrayal of the life of a black woman, all from a kitchen table. Weems, a master of manners, composes her main subject with a subtle grace, revealing different aspects of the roles given to her, both imposed and natural; either as a mother to her child, a lover (and mother-figure) to her boyfriend, a friend to her girlfriends, a body, a mind, a woman. It throws itself in the face of all of the endless patriarchal and racist portrayals of black women in the media and does so with loving compassion.
Her other masterpiece is also a series, though it uses both words and found photographs, From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried (1996) depicting an entire history of the painful struggle of black Americans from their initiation into slavery to civil rights struggles. Words are mixed in with the images and are poetic as they are sad. It is perhaps one of the greatest works of African-American art since Burnett’s Killer of Sheep.
Her great work from this decade was The Louisiana Project series (2003), depicting a black woman living in a traditional southern plantation in a sublime re-imagining of history in which she owns the property, dresses in nice Victorian clothes and stares contemplatively at the landscape.

#7 Carrie Mae Weems (b. 1956-)

There’s been a concern about a lack of sincerity in the arts. Postmodernism has brought us a new way of looking at and integrating multiple forms of art in a constantly changing world, but with that, under its addiction to irony and cleverness, it has created some works throughout mediums that are empty and cynical.

The works of Carrie Mae Weems are passionate, graceful, sincere and angry.  ”Let me say that my primary concern in art, as in politics, is with the status and place of Afro-Americans in our country.”  Simply put, her photographs and photographic series concern the culture and struggles of black Americans, both past and present. Though her work also has a feminist interest and her first of two unquestionable masterpieces, Kitchen Table Series (1990) is both an intimate and social portrayal of the life of a black woman, all from a kitchen table. Weems, a master of manners, composes her main subject with a subtle grace, revealing different aspects of the roles given to her, both imposed and natural; either as a mother to her child, a lover (and mother-figure) to her boyfriend, a friend to her girlfriends, a body, a mind, a woman. It throws itself in the face of all of the endless patriarchal and racist portrayals of black women in the media and does so with loving compassion.

Her other masterpiece is also a series, though it uses both words and found photographs, From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried (1996) depicting an entire history of the painful struggle of black Americans from their initiation into slavery to civil rights struggles. Words are mixed in with the images and are poetic as they are sad. It is perhaps one of the greatest works of African-American art since Burnett’s Killer of Sheep.

Her great work from this decade was The Louisiana Project series (2003), depicting a black woman living in a traditional southern plantation in a sublime re-imagining of history in which she owns the property, dresses in nice Victorian clothes and stares contemplatively at the landscape.

#8 Sean Scully (b.1945-)
While Scully calls himself a Romantic, I’d more likely call him a spiritualist harking back from the medieval tradition. His repeating textures are highly reminiscent to many of the precursors to abstract expressionism one can find a thousand years back such as the glowing decoration of The Book of Kells or the design of the Durham Cathedral.
Like such passionate believers in the beauty of variation and repetition as Bach or Ozu, Scully makes the carpet-like patterns of carefully organized stripes a religion. His greatest works it seems are the ones that maintain a highly baroque and monotone pattern, with a sudden interruption in order by another order, that is, not a dissent from pattern by chaos, but a digression from dominating order to a minor one. 
Like many works of abstract expressionism, Scully’s exist outside of time and space, yet they have a certain baroque precision to them, even more so than other Color Field paintings. In this regard he is just as much a craftsman as he is a painter. His stripes of his paintings like bricks to some grand cathedral that shall forever be unconstructed.

#8 Sean Scully (b.1945-)

While Scully calls himself a Romantic, I’d more likely call him a spiritualist harking back from the medieval tradition. His repeating textures are highly reminiscent to many of the precursors to abstract expressionism one can find a thousand years back such as the glowing decoration of The Book of Kells or the design of the Durham Cathedral.

Like such passionate believers in the beauty of variation and repetition as Bach or Ozu, Scully makes the carpet-like patterns of carefully organized stripes a religion. His greatest works it seems are the ones that maintain a highly baroque and monotone pattern, with a sudden interruption in order by another order, that is, not a dissent from pattern by chaos, but a digression from dominating order to a minor one. 

Like many works of abstract expressionism, Scully’s exist outside of time and space, yet they have a certain baroque precision to them, even more so than other Color Field paintings. In this regard he is just as much a craftsman as he is a painter. His stripes of his paintings like bricks to some grand cathedral that shall forever be unconstructed.

#9 Rachel Whiteread (b. 1963- )
Perhaps the greatest living British sculptor, Whiteread’s massive works are immersive yet simple. Extracting such elemental beauty from what some have called “anti-monuments” which seem to both exist inside and outside of time. Her best known work House is a primary example of a trend within her work of abstracting the basic infrastructure of objects and spaces as if she had taken a photographic negative made of concrete and placed it in a natural terrain.
In 1997 she did a similar thing when she took the casts of the space beneath chairs and exhibited them lined up in perfect geometric lines. In this regard she is a craftsman of negation for she brings to reality the negative space that exists between things.
She seemed to take an even more elemental and minimalist approach with her exquisitely simple and beautiful Water Tower, which like her Untitled Monument that she made three years later, is a translucent form whose only content is the light it refracts.
Her masterpiece to date is her Holocaust Monument aka Nameless Library (pictured above) in which she integrates her method of negative casting and minimalist simplicity. It is a memory-bank of history a second Library of Babel in which the pages of all the books are blank. It is an artifact that speaks nothing but silence and as sublime a reaction to the horrors of the Holocaust as the paintings of Anslem Kiefer and the poetry of Paul Celan are.

#9 Rachel Whiteread (b. 1963- )

Perhaps the greatest living British sculptor, Whiteread’s massive works are immersive yet simple. Extracting such elemental beauty from what some have called “anti-monuments” which seem to both exist inside and outside of time. Her best known work House is a primary example of a trend within her work of abstracting the basic infrastructure of objects and spaces as if she had taken a photographic negative made of concrete and placed it in a natural terrain.

In 1997 she did a similar thing when she took the casts of the space beneath chairs and exhibited them lined up in perfect geometric lines. In this regard she is a craftsman of negation for she brings to reality the negative space that exists between things.

She seemed to take an even more elemental and minimalist approach with her exquisitely simple and beautiful Water Tower, which like her Untitled Monument that she made three years later, is a translucent form whose only content is the light it refracts.

Her masterpiece to date is her Holocaust Monument aka Nameless Library (pictured above) in which she integrates her method of negative casting and minimalist simplicity. It is a memory-bank of history a second Library of Babel in which the pages of all the books are blank. It is an artifact that speaks nothing but silence and as sublime a reaction to the horrors of the Holocaust as the paintings of Anslem Kiefer and the poetry of Paul Celan are.

comethatwickedwind asked: just found your blog and have fallen in LOVE! maybe i can continue my art history education after my class ends on friday! :D

Why thank you! I really appreciate comments like these. Knowing that people enjoy the blog encourages me to get back to posting on it.

Lucian Freud (8 December 1922 – 20 July 2011)
One of the greatest neo-expressionists of recent decades died yesterday. He is making an appearance on my ‘greatest living artists’ list and even though he’s died I’m keeping him on there since he deserves it anyway. Speaking of which, in case anybody gives a shit, I’m trying to get back on that. The list has just been expanding more and more so I keep knocking other artists back to “Honorable Mentions”, anyway hopefully tomorrow I will be able to write for my #9 artist.

Lucian Freud (8 December 1922 – 20 July 2011)

One of the greatest neo-expressionists of recent decades died yesterday. He is making an appearance on my ‘greatest living artists’ list and even though he’s died I’m keeping him on there since he deserves it anyway. Speaking of which, in case anybody gives a shit, I’m trying to get back on that. The list has just been expanding more and more so I keep knocking other artists back to “Honorable Mentions”, anyway hopefully tomorrow I will be able to write for my #9 artist.

#10 Michael Lewis (b. 1941-)
Perhaps it is too early to determine the greatness a painter who’s just starting to get noticed. Noticed or unnoticed, I think his paintings reveal evidence of a modern master in the tradition of Edward Hopper.
There is much the two have in common: their dark humor, their fascination with alienation, with the effects of modernity. The defining difference is perhaps that Lewis refuses any kind of liberating romanticism, showing that only grim humor is the reliable alternative to despair.
For Hopper, alienation occurs when you’re alone, for Lewis, the greatest alienation seems to be when one is around people. His paintings refuse individuality by painting black marks over all of his subjects eyes and yet they are all individually separated from each other.
His cynical portrayals of the modern business world is keenly appropriate and poignant for the times we live in. They are surreally humorous, the way a New Yorker cartoon is. Lewis reveals the abyss of emptiness beneath the culture of late capitalism the same way Fellini did with the Italian bourgeoisie. 
But above all, Michael Lewis is a painter of our times. With an intelligent detachment, he depicts the ironical cynicism of the last decade and the spectre that the events of 9/11 and the 2008 crash holds over Americans today
[Note: I’ve been editing my list so that’s why the numbers keep changing on the artists.]

#10 Michael Lewis (b. 1941-)

Perhaps it is too early to determine the greatness a painter who’s just starting to get noticed. Noticed or unnoticed, I think his paintings reveal evidence of a modern master in the tradition of Edward Hopper.

There is much the two have in common: their dark humor, their fascination with alienation, with the effects of modernity. The defining difference is perhaps that Lewis refuses any kind of liberating romanticism, showing that only grim humor is the reliable alternative to despair.

For Hopper, alienation occurs when you’re alone, for Lewis, the greatest alienation seems to be when one is around people. His paintings refuse individuality by painting black marks over all of his subjects eyes and yet they are all individually separated from each other.

His cynical portrayals of the modern business world is keenly appropriate and poignant for the times we live in. They are surreally humorous, the way a New Yorker cartoon is. Lewis reveals the abyss of emptiness beneath the culture of late capitalism the same way Fellini did with the Italian bourgeoisie. 

But above all, Michael Lewis is a painter of our times. With an intelligent detachment, he depicts the ironical cynicism of the last decade and the spectre that the events of 9/11 and the 2008 crash holds over Americans today

[Note: I’ve been editing my list so that’s why the numbers keep changing on the artists.]

Honorable Mention: Ahmed Alsoudani (b.1975-)
A synthesis of Picasso’s La Guernica and abstract expressionism, Alsoudani holds a special cultural perspective in being an Iraqi who immigrated to America during the Gulf War. Alsoudani pays his respects to all painters since Goya who documented the horrors of war with such immediacy, it seemed that the paint splashed onto the canvas as it happened.
Like Goya and Picasso, there is a horrifying sense of total destruction. His paintings are quite truly the explosions of modern warfare. Abstract pieces of matter emerge from the chaos from which we wonder what they once were. Haunting bits of arms and eyes fly about at times, as if this destruction had formed some kind of shapeless monster.
Alsoudani is also one of the great mediators of allegory and abstraction. His Baghdad paintings are just as much baroque compositions (as was Guernica) as they are works of abstraction. Allegorical, political and mythical allusions emerge from some of his paintings forming a double-sidedness in which what at first appear to be mere shapes become poignant symbolism.

Honorable Mention: Ahmed Alsoudani (b.1975-)

A synthesis of Picasso’s La Guernica and abstract expressionism, Alsoudani holds a special cultural perspective in being an Iraqi who immigrated to America during the Gulf War. Alsoudani pays his respects to all painters since Goya who documented the horrors of war with such immediacy, it seemed that the paint splashed onto the canvas as it happened.

Like Goya and Picasso, there is a horrifying sense of total destruction. His paintings are quite truly the explosions of modern warfare. Abstract pieces of matter emerge from the chaos from which we wonder what they once were. Haunting bits of arms and eyes fly about at times, as if this destruction had formed some kind of shapeless monster.

Alsoudani is also one of the great mediators of allegory and abstraction. His Baghdad paintings are just as much baroque compositions (as was Guernica) as they are works of abstraction. Allegorical, political and mythical allusions emerge from some of his paintings forming a double-sidedness in which what at first appear to be mere shapes become poignant symbolism.

person4people asked: If you went to Rome and could only see one work of art (oil and canvas, sculpture, building, etc.), what would you choose to see?

The Sistine Chapel, no question about it. The only other work existing in the world that I would probably more want to see in person is Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. But then again I’m sure the experience of seeing that ceiling and the altar wall is beyond anything that any art on canvas (or any material for that matter) can offer.

I would seriously love to be one of the priests there that gets to look at that great work after the chapel has closed to visitors and just be able to experience it in total silence and become engulfed in its total presence.