Sunday, May 29, 2011

Weekly market of Bagh: Colors of rural India

It’s been a long time that I have wanted to post this video that we captured while driving through the weekly market in the village called Bagh, in Madhya Pradesh state of India. It is a tribal belt in central India located some 600 km from Pune. My wife Nivi and I were passing through this village to see the 4th century Buddhist caves located nearby which have some stunning fresco paintings from Buddhist tales. Quite unexpectedly we landed in this colorful market and were able to see these wonderful people in their weekly shopping mood!

You can see some screen-grabs below and a small one minute video clip which gives an idea of what it was like to be in the middle of a rural Indian weekly market. People wore clothes in combinations of various pinks, reds, greens, shades of white and yellow ochres. These colors, organically evolved, uninterrupted and persistent for centuries, are very symbolic of the preference of people in rural India. Perhaps that’s the reason why these bright colors appear so true and original to eyes. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mary Livoni’s charcoal drawings: A silent game of light and dark

I have seen many versions of the legendary playwright Samuel Beckett’s play ‘Waiting for Godot’, in which two hopeful needy men are waiting endlessly for some unknown, unseen, superman like Mr. Godot to change their fate. The reason here to remember ‘Godot’ is, in the context of art very often I see that many artists keep waiting (which reflects in the tentativeness of their creations) for miracles in their art. They miss simple things or ignore daily life existence in the quest for ‘something beyond’. And here when I see artists like Mary Livoni, I feel amazed to see the artistic confidence they carry in their art works. The notion of ‘completion’ never gets hampered by the simplicity of the subject matter or the medium of paint. They do not wait for miracles, but they create something which is more genuine than a miracle.

Living in Chicago, Mary Livoni’s suburban architectural charcoal drawings prominently capture various views of old iron bridges that cross the river in her city. Mary’s use of charcoal as a medium and her metallic-structural subjects join together and offer one pure art experience. 
For her, charcoal is not just a preliminary drawing tool, but she uses it to create masses, and forms, suggesting smoke and cloud vapors, painstakingly smearing it to achieve desired mood. Earlier she had her share of conventional painting education and art exercises as an art school student but she was always attracted to light and dark.  Black and white photography was her starting point as a younger artist and she felt it fascinating to experience how the ordinary world is transformed when translated into black and white. She feels that, a world reduced into this high contrast palette is also suggestive of other elemental ideas and narratives. In the process of forming her own artistic dialect, three artists have influenced her very strongly. Giorgio Chirico’s paintings, Francis Ford Coppola’s movie “Rumble Fish” where a small industrial American city was transformed into a black and white world of intense beauty, and Frank Stella’s monumental sculpture “The Town Ho’s Story” which is created especially for the city of Chicago.

In future she wants to create larger works and is also planning to work on murals without compromising the ‘charcoal and paper’ feel of her work. For some time she is also planning to work on series of illustrations based on Marilynn Robinson’s novel ‘Housekeeping’. It is going to be interesting to witness her artistic journey!

Mary Livoni’s works are simple to perceive and rich in the experience. I loved them! Visit her website to learn more. 

My heartfelt thanks to Mary for her patience with my long e-mails :) and also for sharing pictures with the blog. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The magic of the ‘Monumental’ (Part 2): Tim Maguire, Volkan Diyaroglu and Zhang Xiaogang

Is there any ‘method’ that artists use to choose a physical size for their painting? Which aspect of the process plays a significant role in this decision? Is it the subject matter, idea, artistic inspiration, artist instinct or practicality? I haven’t come across any definite theory or recommended process that might work as a guideline to decide the ‘right size’ of the painting surface.

It will sound a little crude but I loosely see four categories of paintings as far as painting surface scale is concerned. Good painting on good size, good painting on bad size, bad painting on good size (frankly, very rare) and bad painting on bad size (I don’t care much about which) ;) Let’s not get into what I mean by a ‘good painting’ for it is always an up-close, personal and complex thing to write about. But let’s focus on the ‘good size’.
In the previous post (part 1), I had briefly covered the historical significance of the scale and had promised to write about some of the well-known contemporary artists who are admired not only for their expression but also for the large scale of their works. Here are three of my favorite artists who are from three different corners of the world, and are known for their absolutely different styles and subjects: highly acclaimed Australian contemporary artist Tim Maguire, talented young artist Volkan Diyaroglu from Turkey, and Chinese artist Zhang Xiaogang who is admired for his large scale portrait like paintings.

Tim Maguire: Born in 1958, he has completed his education from the prestigious Kunstakademie, Düsseldorf in 1985. Tim has participated in numerous group shows and many solo exhibitions, and is represented by many well known galleries across the world. When I first came across his very famous large flower paintings, I was thrilled to see his pure painterly approach to the quite simple subject matter. The combination of a large scale, a distinct warm color palette and the dexterous handling of paint makes these paintings look majestic! Currently he is also exploring large scale print-making that involves digital reconstruction of abstract, mystic elements. His prints are also as interesting as his flower paintings. If you happen to be in NYC, there is a solo show of his works at Von Lintel Gallery till June 5th, 2011 which you might want to catch. You could learn more about Tim from his website. 

Volkan Diyaroglu: Born in 1982, this ‘young Turk’ is one of the much admired young artists on the international art scene. Initially he started his art education in Turkey, later he was awarded the prestigious ‘Promoe scholarship’ and continued his education in Valencia, Spain. I was impressed to see his constructive bold style and simple brush work. I feel that his work has a very interesting resemblance to the raw style and primitive forms handled by the great French artist Jean Dubuffet. The choice of large canvases looks quite apt for his expressive work. It gives Volkan’s work a fantastical twist and makes his work really enjoyable. Volkan has been awarded many scholarships and has exhibited widely around the world. You can check out his website to learn more.
Zhang Xiaogang: Born in 1958, Zhang is popular for his ‘bloodline’ series of paintings. He belongs to the ‘top brass’ of the Chinese contemporary art scene. His paintings are exhibited and collected worldwide. If you are looking at the images of his work without knowing the scale, they may not seem very striking. But once you understand that the paintings are in a very large scale, you automatically become curious. His figurative works are stiff in appearance, but that stiffness has a huge bundle of emotional traction which happens behind the scene. The paintings are based on black and white photos of people from 2-3 generations before, from the time when people witnessed critical social and political transitions in China. Although based on photographic references, his paintings are not realistic but are more surreal in nature. I could not locate his official website or a single source of information to direct you to, but it is not very difficult to learn more about Zhang Xiaogang, his work and artistic philosophy from the scattered information available online.
As an end note to this post, I want to express an agreement with the views shared by many of my artist/blogger friends about the ‘monumentality’ in art. Indeed, monumentality is an appearance as well as an experience which goes beyond the scale. These two posts were to discuss good art which has been executed on a good large scale. Let’s discuss ‘monumental’ art particularly accomplished in the small size some other time!

My sincere thanks to Tim Maguire and Volkan Diyaroglu for permissions and providing pictures for this post. I could not contact Zhang Xiaogang for permissions, but I would like to acknowledge various sites for the pictures I have used. A. Chang W. Lee for The New York Times B. Mike Clarke-AFP/Getty Images / Washington Post C. Dan Chung / Geotypographica 

Thursday, May 05, 2011

The magic of the ‘Monumental’: Large expressions- Part 1

While studying from books, I had seen Claude Monet‘s ‘Water lilies’ several times. But a few years back at NY MoMA, when I had an opportunity of looking at this great impressionist’s masterful work, I was completely amazed. Monet’s complex brush work, his signature style of handling light and shadows, the sheer monumental size of the painting, everything put together created a magical atmosphere. This post is about one of these elements which contributed to the astonishing experience I had while looking at Monet’s water lilies - the physical size of the painting.   

In art, I don’t think ‘anything that is important has to be monumental’, but some of the very important works are indeed monumental, much larger than imagination. I feel that size has also played a very big role in establishing them (artists or their paintings) as important. 

Flipping through the history of art pages, we can see that the decision making on the physical attributes of a painting rested on various factors, often ‘requirements’. For instance celebration of triumphs or royal portraiture (example ‘Las Meninas’ by by Diego Velázquez) demanded impressive proportions. Similar hefty expectations were made from art for religious purposes (example: ‘The Burial of the Count of Orgaz’ by El Greco), architectural needs (frescos, example ‘The School of Athens’ by Raphael) or for propaganda making (example: The Coronation of Napoleon by Jacques-Louis David).

Then came the great masters like Georges Seurat, Claude Monet who painted on very large sized canvases. Large size painting now became more of the artist’s own decision. In modern history, we see that some of the artists were flexible in their choice of the painting size and based it on the context of the work. For example Picasso’s ‘Guernica’, it is undisputable that the subject which was Picasso’s universal remark about war needed its monumental size. While Picasso painted on various sizes, his contemporary Paul Klee remained loyal to his iconic small sized works. And I absolutely don’t need to mention that whatever the size of Klee’s paintings he holds a very important place in the history of art!

In post WWII era, we had abstract expressionism and its European contemporary movement called Tachisme. Artists perhaps started enjoying supreme freedom of expression in the broadest sense, which reflected in their work and its size too. Painters like Rothko, Newman, Karel Appel, Jean Miotte are some of the artists whose large canvases are greatly celebrated by the art world. 

We cannot move on without mentioning the modern masters Cy Twombly, Chuck Close, Zhang Daqian and Gerhard Richter who are well known for their large expressions. 

This post was just about the large scale in paintings and not about large scale art in general (for example Richard Serra or Jeff Koons). In part 2, I will discuss some contemporary art stars who are admired for their monumental paintings. See you then!

  My  sincere thanks to all the people who have captured and posted online, these fantastic views of various art exhibitions. Without these pictures it would have been very difficult to convey the idea of the scale.