Saturday, October 10, 2009

Friday, October 09, 2009

Armen Eloyan, Timothy Taylor Gallery, London

Reviewed by Charles Darwent

As self-portraits go, Armen Eloyan's Untitled (Painter) is a bit of an oddity, surpassed in the weirdness stakes only by Untitled (Painter II).

In the first, the 40-something Armenian depicts himself as a log, sporting natty red shoes and propped up against a wall fast asleep, palette and brushes on the floor beside him. In the second, the alter-log is at work on a canvas, but looks surprised to find that a wedge has been hacked from the back of his head. If Armen is trying to tell us something about life as an artist, his take on the subject does not seem entirely upbeat.

Cartoons have a venerable history in contemporary art – think Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons – but Armen's cast of characters feels different from these. Lichtenstein and the rest were playing high-art-low-art games with their "whams!" and their Mickey Mice. Armen, by contrast, is inventing rather than appropriating, and although his biggest influence is clearly Philip Guston, his logs and potatoes and tomatoes and books smack oddly of Chagall: bit-players from a Mitteleuropa folklore, down-market versions of wolves and pigs and little girls in red capes.

If Armen's characters have one thing in common, it is their air of jaunty cruelty. His Untitled (Potato) wears the stock cartoon-zany expression of crossed eyes and lolling tongue, but has hacked off one of his Mr Potato Head arms with a carving knife and taken a slice, à la Van Gogh, out of his own tuberous bonce. The titular hero of Untitled (Tomato as a Cook) is as cheerily self-destructive as he sounds. Self-abuse of one kind or another is a recurrent theme in Armen's painted fairy tales. Several characters appear to be masturbating, most insistently the case of the log in Untitled (Pink Pinocchio) who is touching a strategically placed twig in what can only be described as an inappropriate manner. Another log, in watercolour this time, has a stick up what would, in other circumstances, be his arse.

And what is this all about? Well, black humour isn't the only thing that Armen's pictures share. The other is the quality of their painting. The palette and brushes in Untitled (Painter) are in deep impasto, standing proud of the canvas so as to be both representations of themselves and demonstrations of what they can do. Like Armen's self-cooking tomatoes and self-slicing potatoes, they elide cause and effect, the maker and the made. In their throwaway way, they are deeply clever and accomplished and they want you to know it. To put it another way, Armen's pictures are Absurd with a capital "A", squandering their talents on what looks like childish nonsense but slyly underlining those talents in the process.

In this, the new work has the feel of a manifesto. His last show here, just over a year ago, was both more painterly and less so. Then, his cartoons felt like German New Painting, expressionistic, harder to read. Now, the potatoes and tomatoes are both simpler and more virtuosic, exasperated but in a good way. What artist hasn't occasionally felt that he was killing himself with work to no end?

At times like this, you go back to the beginning, which is what I'd guess Armen is doing. Personally, I'm intrigued to see where he goes next.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Luc Tuymans @ Wexner Center for the Arts

Luc Tuymans is the most challenging painter in recent history. A retrospective of the fifty-one-year-old Belgian artist at the Wexner Center for the Arts, in Columbus, Ohio, invites a verdict. Mine is a thumbs-up. Tuymans’s thinly brushed, drab-looking (but sneakily lovely) canvases, usually based on banal photographs with wispy political associations, dramatize the fallen state of painting since the nineteen-sixties. Tuymans also discovers in the very humiliation of the medium a surprising vitality. He does so with audacity, in terms of subject matter. He works in thematic series, whose topics have included the Holocaust, disease, Flemish nationalism, Belgian colonialism, post-9/11 America, and the mystique of Walt Disney. One of Tuymans’s first definitive works is a 1986 painting of the gas chamber at Dachau. The first-person touch of his brush is the work’s sole, and frail, emotional anchor. Tuymans is Flemish, a native and lifelong resident of Antwerp. He quit painting in the early nineteen-eighties to pursue filmmaking, resuming in 1985. Tuymans’s works would rather whisper than shout, though always in a vicinity of raw nerves. He has recently painted both a series touching on Belgian politics and a suite responding to America in the era of George W. Bush. His 2005 painting of Condoleezza Rice both demands and rejects answers. Tuymans articulates a modern tradition that gives equal weight to the dazed German Romanticism of Friedrich and the wide-awake Parisian modernity of Manet. He has compared his method to the self-developing of Polaroids, saying of his process, “It’s like I don’t know what I’m doing but I know how to do it, and it’s very strange.” Tuymans is influential among younger painters, but he is not apt to become popular.

"Diktatur" Ronald de Bloeme @ Hamish Morrison Berlin

With an army of billboard-sized works of equal dimensions (220 x 350 cm) de Bloeme questions media strategies and the content of the information found in contemporary visual sign systems, as used in advertising and the packaging industry, reflecting on the absolutism of today`s communication processes.

In an era in which imagery is increasingly superseding language, de Bloeme analyses the origin of signals and the components of their persuasiveness. How do producers of visual language manage to manipulate neutral form and colour in a way that they induce a subconscious process of identification for the largest possible number of individuals of a specifically defined target group? To what extent does red next to white evoke a flag or the packaging of a chocolate bar?

Through appropriation, deconstruction and manipulation using a computer Ronald de Bloeme transforms image templates of our consumer society. He censors existing text and eliminates any figurative references, creating a pure geometric language, which he again combines and distorts into arresting compositions. These are then transferred to canvas with competing colourful layers of high-gloss and matt enamel paint. The resultant expansive surfaces capture our attention through the combination of colour and use of various techniques, with a suggestive impact analogous to the original advertising medium's intention.

„The viewer often doesn´t know what is more enjoyable - the mastery with which the artist gives a new unity to a whole range of elements, or the remaining fine imperfections that are a sign of the handiwork."(1)

Through the collaging of everyday consumer goods that we are constantly exposed to, de Bloeme´s body of work creates a heterogeneous field of forces, of tensions and contradictions, certainties and uncertainties. The original context is not maintained as such, rather the work recalls memories of perception or of consensus of knowledge; the information, retained only as codes, has an effect on us but we cannot explain why. Are we not merely carriers of internalised decoding systems, controlled by the ever-extending propagandistic sign-systems of the dictatorship of consumerism?
Whilst de Bloeme´s colour combinations can be identified as codes, at the same time samples of other contextual systems of signs unfold. In doing so the artist brings the relativity of information into an innovative game. In his painting Ironie he mixes a military code system with the aesthetics of a paper napkin; in Extract he replaces in a more radical manner all relevant core information with constantly oxidizing gold pigments.
With his contra-manipulation de Bloeme asks us to determine how complex the structures behind communications strategies for consumer goods really are and how much impact they have on our subconscious and to what extent they control our everyday life.

see also interview:

Mark Bradford & Kara Walker @ Sikkema Jenkins

Sikkema Jenkins now hosts an exhibition with not one, but two MacArthur Genius grantees. Announced this morning, Los Angeles based artist Mark Bradford now joins the ranks of his show colleague Kara Walker as a grantee. Bradford uses found paper from billboards, posters, and magazines that he finds on the streets to create painterly collages.

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