Really good stuff at the Carnegie

Before I begin- the picture for this with me in front of the blue/yellow colorfield is the only other selfie I took that day I went back to get some of these photos. Not a huge fan of it- a little misleading, I know.

In my last post, I wrote about all the paintings that made me feel nothing. In this post, I want to highlight the paintings at the Carnegie International that were rock solid winners. To qualify some of what I think a “good” painting is, I think it should be both arresting and rewarding. Put simply, I think that there should be a good reason to look at it the first time and that over time there should be a lot of reasons to keep looking at it. Repeated visits to see a painting should be like re-reading a great novel- there should be something, at least subtly, new in it to be noticed. I think great art often reads the viewer- the viewer sees a version of themselves reflected back in the things they are able to notice in the work of art.

Below are paintings by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye; as a collection, they are titled “A Light for the Louder Graces”

There’s so much going on in these paintings. First, they’re in this amazing zone between realism and nonsense- not impressionist as much as just well prioritized. In many of the paintings, you’ll notice tiny flecks of white- that isn’t light, or contrasting color- that’s unpainted canvas. It’s wonderfully rendered people with parts of the canvas just showing up through into the finished painting. It’s like the people are made of smoke, ready to vanish as soon as a strong wind hits the canvas.

Second, the compositions have wild power. I took an art history class, and it seemed like whenever the professor talked about composition, she would pull out triangles as a reason that the painting worked so well. Good news! Lots of awesome triangles in these compositions. If you look at the man sitting in the chair, the angular nature of his position does seem to balance in a cool way with his chair. The two people facing each other have a kind of triangular/mirror thing going that seems to strike an odd, compelling balance.

I don’t think these paintings are impressionist, but then again I’m not an expert on the rules of what impressionism means. (And, art rules are fuzzier than ever) Ad hoc, I think that there is a parallel in that the delicacy of the figures and the transience of the moments that are being depicted. These paintings seem a little reminiscent of Degas or Pissaro. Maybe John Sloan? I think the atmosphere is different- there is something of a nighttime feel to these paintings for me. Also, with impressionist portraits, I feel that the technique and atmosphere displace the importance of the subject. The subject can feel at times like an excuse of practicing this cool impressionist technique, whereas with these paintings the technique seems very much in service in expressing the importance of the person.

Another wild thing- I think these paintings take advantage of reverse chiaroscuro at times. There is this paradoxically illuminating affect of the dark figures on the light backgrounds. How did she do that? This one in particular:



This painting is also good, but the artist statement next to it I think is pretty interesting:


I agree with that idea, that the kind of art that gets to go into a gallery is part of a closed loop system that was decided on a long time before a diversity of artists had a major voice in what “good” art means. Selfishly, I hope that a new equilibrium can rein in some of the silly excesses of the avante garde I wrote about last week. Less boxes, more “Light for the Louder Graces”. One of the interesting things is that in the Carnegie International, almost all of the newest portraits are of people of color. Inclusivity could seemingly lead to more naturalism.

And, to be fair to art that isn’t portraits, here are some abstract paintings that I was caught by:

The one on the left really strikes me as being about an awful, mechanistic, factory like existence. The sporadic green is I think a couple shades off of the truest complement for the red in the bottom right corner, which adds a clashing dynamic to the piece. The uneveness of the wheels within the wheels along with the white/black dynamic increase the teetering nature of the abstracted structures. Really dour, but also a really fascinating piece. The second painting- I’m not sure why it’s working for me. It seems like it’s almost resolving into so many things- I can’t quite place it. The red/blue/white is cut up so much that the power pop dynamic of those intense colors is left pretty unresolved.

Anyway, there are a lot of really good paintings at the Carnegie. I’d love to be able to practice some of the techniques I’m seeing.

Things I’m learning:

  • In portraits, shaking up the positions and having expressive, almost conversational stances can be pretty rewarding
  • Dark on dark portraits can work if you do them right
  • White/Grey backgrounds can create just as much mystery as black backgrounds
  • Churning abstraction can create profound feelings
  • Discordant planes of color can throw a painting into a weird imbalance, especially if that paintings had chopped up bits of color contrast to your colored plane.

A real joy to see these paintings. Hopefully I’ll be able to incorporate some of this stuff into my own work.

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