Month: April 2017

Kerry James Marshall: Music Scores and Color Worksheets

 

There are two different reasons that I like a painting: the overall visual effect appeals to me emotionally, or the painting has interesting ideas and plastic elements. For example, I like Picasso and Kandinsky for both reasons, the Barbizon school for the first reason, and Dali and Magritte for the second reason. Usually it’s a mix.

However, Kerry James Marshall is a weird case. I strongly dislike how his paintings look – there’s an instinctive desire to close my eyes or walk away – yet I still find them interesting enough that I stare at them for hours.

When walking around the Kerry James Marshall exhibition at MOCA for a first round of coarse look, I was not particularly attracted to any painting. As I was about to leave in disappointment, a staff member was leading a group discussion on Past Times. Two of the little girls in the group were incredibly observant, and pointed out many elements that slipped my attention. I realized that I could still enjoy the individual building blocks of his paintings without finding it pleasant as a whole.

In Past Times, the golf player and the croquet player freeze in motion, but the music notes continue flowing out of the radio. The motion is stopped at one fixed instance of time, whereas the music notes show the passage of the time.

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Past Times, by Kerry James Marshall, 1997

So I went around the gallery again carefully to search for other interesting ideas, and this time Kerry James Marshall did not disappoint. This untitled portrait contains a rich set of ideas, and it is from a series of portraits of black artists with palettes and color worksheets. (At first I thought it was a series of self-portraits but later found out Kerry James Marshall is a male artist.)

  1. The artist is probably facing a mirror, based on the sitting posture. It’s unclear whether she is coloring the numbered worksheet at the back, or whether she is painting this painting itself.
  2. The painting is recursive, and if you look at the color worksheet carefully, the gray part left of her red hair also has the shape of her hair, so it’s a third layer of recursion.
  3. The artist is almost entirely in black, but her blouse is very colorful, and so is the image of her in the color worksheet. Metaphorically, black artists are unnoticed by the society and deserve more attention.
  4. The palette is unproportionally huge. Perhaps this goes along the same line that black artists are underrepresented and hidden behind their work.
  5. It’s possible to complete the color worksheet based on the numbers and the existing colors. Even though no one would actually complete it, it’s entertaining to leave a room for such imagination.
  6. It suggests a different way to perceive colors. Usually, we look at the overall color scheme as a whole when the colors are all visually present. In this color worksheet, we look at individual parts and ask what color the number corresponds to.
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Untitled, by Kerry James Marshal, 2009

Another interesting one is Black Painting (2003), which depicts the murder scene of African American activist Fred Hampton in different shades of black. For more information about Black Painting:

http://witnessvoices.blantonmuseum.org/tumblr-post-from-blantonmuseum-4/

Shoji Ueda on the Sand Dunes

 

It never crossed my mind that photography could be such a good medium for surrealism, but here’s Shoji Ueda (植田正治).

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Hat, 1980

At first, I walked pass “My Wife on the Dunes” painted on the exterior wall of a building in low resolution, and thought the human figures were photoshopped onto the landscape. The composition was interesting so I took a picture of the wall. A few days later when I visited the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, there was a series of prints by Shoji Ueda on display, and I realized “oh, that’s what it was”.

That being said, it’s a fair question to ask: If it’s the same image, does it really matter whether the human figures were real or photoshopped? I think it does. When we see an image, the sense of vision elicits emotions and thoughts. But it’s not just the sense of vision, we also take into account the story behind the image. The viewer’s response is different depending on the story, so I’d say the story is part of the artistic expression in this sense.

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My Wife on the Dunes, 1950

The sand dunes near his home are his stage to pose family members and friends. For me, the most fascinating aspect of Shoji Ueda’s works is the creative use of space. I can’t put it into words so I’ll quote Mark Rothko from his essay “Space”:

If one understands, or if one has the sensibility to live in, the particular kind of space to which a painting is committed, then he has obtained the most comprehensive statement of the artist’s attitude toward reality. Space, therefore, is the chief plastic manifestation of the artist’s conception of reality.

This explains why different art lovers go to different artists to satisfy themselves. Some prefer Raphael, some castigate them. The same is true of Giotto and Titian and the thousands of other masters who were so plentifully produced in those great times. In the case of none of these masters are the opponents unaware of their great qualities. These castigations are simply the result of differences of spatial faith.