Thursday, April 16, 2009

Artist of the Week (04/16/09)

I've always been intrigued with the all-or-nothing approaches to painting, processes in which an artist can mentally and emotionally prepare as much as they want, but what ends up on canvas is always, at least in part, up to fortune. Pollock's action paintings were like this, as are works by more contemporary artists (think some of Karin Davie's work or even to some degree our own Joy Garnett [see also here]). That's not to say the end result must be any less thrilling for more measured approaches, but there is something exhilarating to seeing things come together when so much (well, at least in terms of paint, canvas, time, and preparation) was at stake.

Jeff Kessel's paintings combine both approaches: layers of carefully considered and executed decisions crowned with an all-or-nothing statement. As Goethe once said, "Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it." Here's one of my faves among Jeff's recent paintings:

Jeff Kessel, untitled, 2008, oil on canvas, 62" x 48". Image used with permission of the artist.

You can see this painting yourself, among a few others, in the group exhibition Jeff's currently in at Bortolami Gallery in Chelsea. It's a strong exhibition, even if the press release is a bit vague about what binds the work:
The contrasts and diversities between their works present current contemplations of line, texture and color that reconsider tenets of Modernism, Abstraction, and Expressionism.
Can I have more, Sir, please?

Then again, perhaps they feel the work speaks for itself. Here's another Kessel I really like:

Jeff Kessel, untitled, 2007, oil on canvas, 40"x 34". Image used with permission of the artist.

The tension he generates by refusing the integrity of the actual plane of the canvas is what immediately greets you when you see one of Jeff's paintings from afar, but that's only the most obvious conflict. Each of these canvases contains a near epic series and layers of battles that are impossible to see in the small jpegs I have (so go see them up close in person at Bortolami) which then support the uppermost, often truly engrossing gestures:

Jeff Kessel, untitled, 2007, oil on canvas, 28"x 34". Image used with permission of the artist.

Jeff is just getting started in his career (the Bortolami exhibition is his first in New York), but I suspect he's got quite a bright future ahead of him based on the strength of these early paintings. Some of them have already a quiet strength you'd expect in a much older painter.

Jeff Kessel, untitled, 2007, oil on canvas, 24" x 24". Image used with permission of the artist.

The works in the group exhibition (save the one at the top) all have fairly allover dark palettes, but personally I respond a bit more to Jeff's paintings with more striking contrasts (not sure what that says about me, but...), such as these final two I'll leave you with.

Jeff Kessel, untitled, 2008, oil on canvas, 66"x 60". Image used with permission of the artist.

Jeff Kessel, untitled, 2008, oil on canvas, 72"x 66". Image used with permission of artist.

Labels: Artist of the Week


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Spelling correction: Bortolami.

4/16/2009 09:03:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Corrected (with humble apologies...spelling is not a strong suit).

4/16/2009 09:07:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh wow, first instance of a dealer criticizing another's PR that I ever read. Great!

Someone will have to explain me some day the rumour that Pollock used fractals in some of his paintings.

Cedric C

4/16/2009 01:46:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

first instance of a dealer criticizing another's PR that I ever read.Is it a criticism to ask for more?

4/16/2009 02:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Ced said...

Well from the artists' perspective, I find it is.

Just me.


4/16/2009 03:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

My dumb question for the day is: why the drips in Untitled 2008 (aka Ed's Favorite)? They look impolite.

Anyway this is an artist for Joane Mattera to have an opinion about, I'm just not involved enough.

Cedric C

4/16/2009 03:25:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Ahhh...but that's a whole other topic...whether the work benefits from explanation or not. I actually find it very difficult to write press releases for abstract work, so I totally empathize...but I also look to my fellow dealers to provide the words that don't come easily to me, so it's a sincere request for more text.

4/16/2009 03:26:00 PM  
Blogger George said...


There are no intentional fractals in Pollock.
Any references to this had something to do with using fractal analysis to characterize certain paintings for authenticity. As far as I know it's not all that useful.

4/16/2009 04:41:00 PM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...

I like the playful logic of these. This sort of conceptual painting of laying bare the width, length, direction and load of the brushstroke is interesting but also exectuted with great intuitive compositional intelligence. Its interesting to compare these with some of the Louise Fishmans James Wagner recently posted.

4/16/2009 05:43:00 PM  
Anonymous nemastoma said...

Beautiful Work. A twist on “Ode to the Square?” If only Joseph Albers could have painted exuberant and versatile squares like this.

4/16/2009 07:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

I guess the work is "hanging in there" between etiquettes. Or it takes a detour toward colourfield or construction by adding overlays of bands, which make you question wrether the planes are actually painted or "drawn", in some ways.
But I'm not a connoissor enough in abstract to assume wrether territory has been covered, lest the sensibility of the artist himself (his colors, his forms, etc..). I also still ponder about the drips, wrether they are too much or not enough.

Some of those look like the painting was larger and the artist cut it through with scissors, which brings a thematic discussed here recently. But the abex vs colourfield is what strikes me as the main statement?

Cedric Caspesyan

4/16/2009 08:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr Winkleman has very eloquently articulated some of the things that I think make these paintings absolutely captivating - the very surprising compositional and color decisions and the tension that results - enough to make any painter envious.

4/17/2009 10:18:00 AM  
Anonymous untitled said...

I dont know. I find that this kind of painting is very hermetic. I guess if you want to take refuge in formalist painting then all you can talk about are all these qualities of drips, bands, color-field etc. However I find more engaging the art that works to undo conventional systems of belief or that directly speaks to the kind of society we live in.

4/17/2009 11:08:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

(Last) untitled, I agree with you. But abstract is so popular
with collectors, that for me it's almost mainstream more than
hermetic. Hermetic seems to be the type of art I like and that nobody talks about. I really don't understand why.

Cedric C

4/17/2009 12:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm looking forward to seeing the show, thanks for making me aware of it.


4/17/2009 01:41:00 PM  
Blogger max said...

Hermetic? You can talk about formalist painting from a variety of perspectives, not just drips and bands and color; and everything is interconnected. What artists are truly "hermetic" (examples?)

4/17/2009 03:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

I thought some of David Rabinovitch (canadian, but lived in New York a while) to be hermetic. All sorts of mathematics are involved.

Some of Barry Le Va too (later stuff).

And I can't decide if Liam Gillick is hermetic or not. Some installations (like a red structure, and the next room the same structure in color, both spousing political idealism) are obvious, others I can't get it.

Cedric C

4/17/2009 04:51:00 PM  
Blogger tony said...

To Nemastoma:

"If only Joseph Albers could have painted exuberant & versatile squares like this."

Forgive me nemastoma but your statement is so sadly clumsy that I felt I had to respond. If you look at the paintings from the "Homage to the Square" I think it would be hard to find a more versatile body of work in the latter half of the C20th. & 'exuberance' is something other than bravado, which Edward seems to have confused with 'boldness' when he attaches it to his "Artist of The Week" choice.

Boldness is what Albers possessed in full.

4/18/2009 05:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

whats with all the all the young boy shows again? must be spring/summer...

4/18/2009 06:51:00 AM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...

Tony’s comment is interesting to me in that it exemplifies the assertive and unequivocal kind of statements that abstraction seems to wonderfully elicit. I offer this as merely an observation rather than a critique because I know that, as a practitioner, Tony can very competently and assertively qualify and distinguish “boldness” vs. “exuberance”. Much of my understanding comes from once being totally engaged in an abstract painting practice and feel my current one is informed by those sensibilities and procedures.
But what I love is the fact that something seemingly so ambiguous and open-ended as abstract painting can engender very defined parameters , many of which are not necessarily consensus forming. I know that much of this can be traced to the program of Modernism and its various agenda, but I like to think there is something more intrinsic. Abstraction is essentially an investigation of very elemental constructs and forms and so becomes basically self-aware. It is about itself, a record of its making , the physical and intellectual processes self-reflexively manifest. I think, under these conditions, are the origins of the paradox of a highly subjective process eliciting highly objective analyses.

4/18/2009 11:59:00 AM  
Blogger tony said...

Dear Mark, My post was initially directed towards Nemastoma and the accusation of clumsiness I made there could well be directed at me for the sloppy writing.

I was running the word 'exuberance' against 'bravado'(when perhaps I should have used 'bravura')& then I managed to tangle it all even further with 'boldness'. I think I'd better throw the keyboard in the wastebin and get back to painting.

I agree with your senstiments in the last paragraph but would question your last phrase:

"I think, under these conditions, are the origins of the paradox of a highly subjective process eliciting highly objective analyses."

In my case at least I seem only able to elicit highly subjective analyses. It is a profound weakness of which I'm not proud. Best wishes, Tony

4/18/2009 12:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The drips look like a trendy addition and an afterthought. And these works do not have the boldness and committment of an Albers. Maybe they don't need to. He's the artist of the week, not the decade.

4/18/2009 12:48:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Maybe they don't need to. He's the artist of the week, not the decade.
That may qualify as the bitchiest comment of the decade, but....

'exuberance' is something other than bravado [corrected to "bravura"], which Edward seems to have confused with 'boldness'
Point taken. (If only there were a comparable quote that extolled "bravura"...)

Comparing most any artist, let alone one just getting started, to Albers, though, come now...generosity is contagious...consider it.

4/18/2009 01:02:00 PM  
Blogger Mark Creegan said...

Oh yes Tony, and I am sure I am oversimplifying theses terms. I guess I am getting at the fact that we are certainly locating and designating examples of bravura or whatever via a subjective lens, but still the rawness of abstraction lends itself to at least the feeling of objectivity, especially if limiting the reading to only formal terms. And Edward is right to question the comparison of an established, historical abstractionist with one just getting started to investigate these things, but I also wonder if its accurate to compare any such artists from two different time periods based on an assumption that the criteria are the same. Which leads to the more important question of what are the criteria to be considered in assessing abstraction made today?

4/18/2009 05:32:00 PM  
Blogger tony said...

First off, Mark,I often end asking myself why I make paintings in the way that I do and am not particularly tempted,with all the innumerable possibilities available, to do them in any other way. I can only put that down to lack of competence/vision or both but I don't think my sort of tunnel vision is exceptional in painters. I have the feeling that, no matter how we may fight against it,we are very prejudiced creatures. As you point out it's not really helpful to compare an abstractionist from one period to that of another - the more so when their approach and areas of interest are so different.Allusions could be made if both painters seemed to show similar concerns or where the more recent seems to be referring, sometimes closely, to another's work. To your last question I have absolutely no answer and quite happily so. I admit to being a miserable, limited, narrow- minded bugger
but outside of that I adore the openness that abstraction allows and invites; I love the notion that the one thing which is more important than the responses we see & feel are the questions that lead on from those responses.

4/18/2009 08:31:00 PM  
Blogger Christopher/Mark said...

Even thinking about whether you even want to wonder or know whether Liam Gillick is "hermetic" or not seems like something not too urgent on any level I am aware of.

4/19/2009 01:49:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Hmm, I had a second look at the Bortolami exhibition Saturday and found it adequate but not compelling.

Regarding Marks 5:43 comment mentioning Louise Fishmans paintings, I feel it's an unfair to make a comparison with Fishman. Her paintings are hands down the toughest paintings on view in NYC right now.

That said, Kessels blue painting looked pretty good in the gallery. I think the drips work in this particular case.

I can't see any connection with Albers. I find Albers, hermetic, suffocating and ultimately boring.

Tony says (to Mark) As you point out it's not really helpful to compare an abstractionist from one period to that of another - the more so when their approach and areas of interest are so different. I disagree with this idea. Painting is a fairly closed medium when compared to other forms of object making and arranging. Sculptural approaches can mine the latest physical objects from the culture and generate fashionably new forms and follies to exhibit.

Painting, on the other hand, is a medium which is highly defined and rigidly bounded. This means that paintings will/can respond to the cultural imperatives of the present, but are also intimately bounded to an historical language of forms, structures and approaches.

It is the lineage back through history, an awareness of all approaches taken by painters in the past, using essentially the same tools and materials, which allows us to experience the artwork without the intervening distractions.

Painting is capable of binding the cultural present with its history. Fashionably new philosophies form cultural relationships which can be clarified by this artform which is defined in an historical sense.

One cannot view Albers without considering Mondrian who opened up the line of investigation which made Albers work possible.

4/19/2009 01:52:00 PM  
Anonymous I Just Look said...

I just look.
Jeff Kessel, untitled, 2008, oil on canvas, 62" x 48" looks to work well - Very simple: Tends to expand the canvas; uses the marks not as cropping but instead expansion. What the image doesn't do is decrease the viewing area. Some do! The one with loads of black closes down like an aperture. And the black doesn’t do anything to add presence. Might be the image, but looks to be a structural thing.
Look at a Don Voisine. He uses a lot of black but it's robust. The painting boundaries don't operate as framing, usually not black, so everything stays open and fluid. All parts are integral to the painting. And the painting is creating this space, pulsing it out and open. This is very difficult to achieve, as Jeff would know. With Albers' 25 plus versions on the hemorrhaging square everything remains open. But it did take him a long time. Mondrian found space in his 50's. Albers around that time!
I think Jeff can get there before 50. Good luck! Good post!

4/27/2009 07:36:00 AM  

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