Is Painting Dead?

An interesting view by Jason Farago:‎

‎“Is painting healthy or sick? And why is it so hard to tell? The Forever Now, a divisive ‎show of contemporary painting now on view at the Museum of Modern Art in New ‎York, argues that painting is as healthy as it’s ever been – it just isn’t interested in being ‎novel anymore, and instead recycles or redeploys pre-existing styles for new purposes. ‎Whether or not that argument convinces you or not (it didn’t convince me), the very fact ‎that MoMA has organised a contemporary painting show for the first time since 1984 ‎attests that the stakes of painting are higher than they’ve been for a while.‎

Painting has been declared dead so many times over the past 150 years that it can be ‎hard to keep track. But in her introduction, Hudson pinpoints two developments in the ‎history of art that shook painting to its foundations, in both cases almost fatally. One ‎was the invention of photography in the 1830s. Photographs did more than just depict ‎the world better and faster than painting; they also made entire painterly languages ‎defunct, from military painting to academic portraiture. (“From today, painting is dead,” ‎the academic painter Paul Delaroche is purported to have said after seeing a ‎daguerreotype for the first time.) Ever since, painting has in some ways functioned in ‎dialogue with the camera. In some cases that dialogue takes the form of rejecting ‎photographic realism, such as in the unnatural colour of Van Gogh. Or the dialogue is ‎between equal partners. That can be via the use of silkscreened imagery, most famously ‎by Andy Warhol; via a hyperrealism of Richard Estes or Franz Gertsch, whose paintings ‎are ‘more photographic’ than photographs; or via more painterly effects that nevertheless ‎advertise their photographic source, as in the art of Gerhard Richter and Chuck Close.‎

After photography, the other body blow to the primacy of painting came in the 1910s, ‎when Marcel Duchamp elevated a bicycle wheel, a bottle rack and an upturned urinal to ‎the status of art. Even more than photography, the ready-made object struck at the heart ‎of painting’s self-justification. Not only did Duchamp recalibrate the terms of artistic ‎success, privileging ideas over visuals. He also eliminated the need for the artist’s hand ‎in a way photography never entirely did. (Indeed, many photographers of the early 20th ‎Century, from Ansel Adams to Edward Steichen, consciously imitated painting ‎techniques.) Duchamp’s insurrection removed technical skill as a painterly virtue, and by ‎the 1960s an artist like the minimalist sculptor Donald Judd could confidently say, “It ‎seems painting is finished.”‎

Some styles of painting really did undergo a kind of death in the 20th Century. So-‎called neo-expressionism, whose big bad canvases by such figures as Julian Schnabel ‎and Francesco Clemente fetched millions in the 1980s, may have pleased the market but ‎had little to offer anyone who cared about the history and potential of the medium. ‎Today’s ‘zombie formalism’ is much the same. But painting that acknowledges the ‎challenges the medium has faced and builds from there is doing very well indeed. ‎‎“Painting, too, is capable of manifesting its own signs,” Hudson writes. “Painting has ‎become more, rather than less, viable after conceptual art, as an option for giving idea ‎form and hence for differentiating it from other possibilities.”‎

In the last century abstraction was seen as the supreme, even the only, form of advanced ‎painting. But in recent decades, as painting has thrown off the yoke of avant-garde ‎prescriptivism, figurative painting has been on a noted upswing. Some make use of ‎appropriated media imagery, notably Luc Tuymans, whose colour-sapped paintings of ‎Condoleezza Rice or Patrice Lumumba redeploy photographic representations. Others ‎prefer observation without cameras, such as Josephine Halvorson, who paints modest ‎tableaux of rural buildings from arm’s length, or Liu Xiaodong, whose plein-air ‎paintings of young Chinese students recall Manet and Courbet. Perhaps the biggest ‎omission from Hudson’s book is Catherine Murphy, who is not only one of America’s ‎greatest painters but also a professor who taught generations of students at Yale Art ‎School.‎

Painting has also moved off the canvas, and even off the walls. Imran Qureishi, from ‎Pakistan, makes not only miniature paintings but also all-encompassing installations ‎drawn directly on the floor and the walls, often featuring blooming floral motifs in ‎blood-red acrylic. Jim Lambie plays off the architecture of the spaces in which he ‎exhibits, covering the floors with multi-coloured vinyl tape. Paintings also now function ‎frequently not as stand-alone artworks, but as elements of a larger network of artistic ‎procedures. The influential painter Jutta Koether, for instance, does not only paint; she ‎also designs the presentation of her paintings, complete with special lighting and ad hoc ‎viewing platforms, and sometimes performs in the gallery alongside them.‎

Koether’s expansive practice of painting is a good counterweight to the big question ‎surrounding the rude health of the medium – a question that goes unasked in Hudson’s ‎fine book. That is the question of the market. When I visited her studio a few years ago, ‎the artist RH Quaytman – known for her brainy, reflexive paintings organised into ‎chapters, like a book – lamented how the demands of collectors and markets were ‎powerful enough to move art history. “Art fairs, jpegs and the entire bloated art market ‎are responsible for the resurgence of painting as opposed to all other art forms,” she told ‎me. “I’m sad that it is the structure of the art market that has revalidated and ‎reinvigorated painting.… It’s easy to store, it’s easy to transport, it works well enough ‎on the internet: it turned out that painting was, despite itself, the perfect tool. The ‎problem is, whose tool is it?” Every painter should ask themself that question when they ‎turns to the empty canvas.”‎

Source: http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20150217-is-painting-dead

An art installation by Jim Lambie called ZOBOP September 2000 on the floor of the camden arts center. It forms part on an exibition called Dream machines.

The Last Supper and the Colors of Christ

‎“Besides occupying the centre of Leonardo’s painting, Christ’s spatially isolated from the ‎apostles, all of whom are bunched together as they physically touch their neighbors or lean ‎across one another in partial eclipses. Leonardo further highlighted Christ by placing him ‎against a window that opens onto a landscape of clear sky and bluish contours –by giving him, ‎in effect, a halo of sky. The effect is dazzling, even despite the color loss, as the warm tones ‎of Christ’s face, hair, and reddish undergarment advance while the cool blues of the ‎landscape recede: a prime example of Leonardo’s knowledge of the push and pull of colors. ‎For the blue mantle over Christ’s left shoulder Leonardo used ultramarine, which was, along ‎with gold, the brightest and most expensive of all pigments. One fifteenth-century treatise ‎on painting called it ‘a color noble, beautiful, and perfect beyond all other colors.’ A singly ‎ounce could cost as much as eight ducats, more than the annual rent paid on a house by a ‎poor worker in Florence. So expensive was ultramarine (the only known supply came from ‎Afghanistan) that unscrupulous thieves sometimes scraped it from paintings. Because of tis ‎beauty and expense, it was used to color the most prestigious and venerated parts of a ‎painting, most notably the mantle of the Virgin Mary.‎

The colors of Christ’s reddish undergarment were equally bright and deliberately intensified. ‎Leonardo generally laid his colors on a base coat of lead white spread across the entire wall. ‎For this red garment, however, he covered his white primer with a carbon-based black ‎pigment to create dark foundation, then added vermilion. Vermilion was the most brilliant of ‎all reds, and its appearance on the wall of Santa Maria delle Grazie would be all the more ‎striking because it was a pigment that like ultramarine could not be used in fresco. Vermilion ‎was made from cinnabar, a brick-red mineral that ancient Romans believed came from the ‎blood of dragons crushed to death under the weight of elephants. Like most mineral-based ‎pigments, it was incompatible with lime. Indeed, the layering of five separate coats of paint, ‎carefully manipulated to intensify their values, was something else completely unknown to ‎fresco.”‎

Source: Leonardo and the Last Supper by Ross King

Última_Cena_-_Da_Vinci_5

Munch: Three Paintings, Three Quotes

‎“I was out walking with two Friends –the sun began to set- suddenly the sky turned blood-‎red –I paused, feeling exhausted, and there I still stood, trembling with fear –and I sensed an ‎endless scream passing through Nature.” – Edvard Munch on The Scream

The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1893

‎“The passers-by were all giving him strange and peculiar looks and he could sense them ‎looking at him –staring at him- all those faces –pale in the evening light- he tried to cling to ‎some thought, but failed –he had a sense of there being nothing inside his head but ‎emptiness –and then he tried to fix his gaze on s window far up above –and once again the ‎passers-by got in his way –he was trembling from tip to toe and breaking out in sweat.” – ‎Edvard Munch on Evening on Karl Johan

Evening on Karl Johan

‎“All the tenderness in the world is in your face –Moonlight passes across it- Your lips crimson ‎as the fruit that is to come part as if in pain. The smile of a corpse. Your face is full of the ‎beauty and the pain in the world, because Death and Life are joining hands and the chain that ‎links the thousands of generations of the dead with the thousands of generations yet to be ‎born is connected.” – Edvard Munch on Madonna

Madonna

Charlie Hebdo: Liberty should –again- lead the people ‎

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to death your right to say it.”

This quote, usually attributed to Voltaire, doesn’t seem to make sense to many people who ‎still question the freedom of expression and ask for ‘laws’ to ‘regulate’ it, or simply put, for ‎mechanisms to reverse and ambush one of the most celebrated values in the civilized ‎world and a basic human right.‎
To reduce the Charlie Hebdo tragedy into a religious ideology or a political message is to miss ‎the bigger picture: the cultural context. It is the cultural context that I will intend to address in ‎this message.

And because my interest is mainly cultural, my conclusion is that you can never ‎explain freedom of expression to people who have never fully experienced it; people whose ‎minds are trapped in the straightjackets of state-sponsored media and the self-‎administered taboos of religion and sex. ‎
Most of the Arabs that I know condemn the attack on Charlie Hebdo, but attach a disclaimer ‎to this condemnation, undermining it in many cases: We condemn terrorism but…‎

When examined through a European moral lens, this is unacceptable because condemning ‎terrorism should come with no ‘but’s attached. Seen through an Arab cultural lens, things ‎would look quite different, as scores of innocent Arabs are killed every day in Palestine, Iraq, ‎Syria and elsewhere without anyone lifting a finger or doing as much as showing sympathy. ‎This is why many Arabs would tell you I am not Charlie; I am Ahmed, I am Gaza, to the end of ‎the list, and they definitely have a point.‎

Again, and because this is not about politics, the West (consciously or unconsciously) falls into ‎the enormous mistake of referring to the assassins as Islamists and/or Jihadists, while the ‎only term that should be used to describe them is one that we all know all too well: ‎terrorists! Islamists are not equivalent neither to Muslims nor to terrorists, and the term ‎Jihad should never be used lightly by those who do not understand it, because likewise, you ‎can never explain Jihad to a secular mind.‎

This is not about a clash of civilizations, but rather about cultural relativism as a friend ‎referred to it…it is about a cultural ‘divide’. Caricature is a very fine art and a powerful tool for social and cultural change, ‎and by nature it mocks and reveals things that many people do not want to see or accept. ‎Not so to those accustomed to censorship as the easiest ‘and cheapest’ way to fix things. The ‎worst is yet to come, as the attacks give a new impetus to the European far right and the ‎ultras, and as a new wave of Islamophobia looms in the horizon, only to add insult to ‎injury…that is, of course, if you still look at the ‘region’ rather than ‘your corner of the world’. ‎

PS. This article represents my personal opinion as an Arab living in Europe.

Eugène Delacroix_-_La_liberté_guidant_le_peuple

Prehistoric Cave Paintings were actually Animated Films?

In his article titled ‘The First Artists’ in this month’s edition of the National Geographic Magazine, Chris Walter recalls a very interesting –and rather convincing- argument about what some archaeologists consider to be history’s earliest ‘flip-book’ or animated film inside the famous Prehistoric cave of Chauvet in France! Here:

“In his book La Préhistoire du Cinéma, filmmaker and archaeologist Marc Azéma argues that some of these ancient artists were the world’s first animators, and that the artists’ superimposed images combined with flickering firelight in the pitch-black caves to create the illusion that the paintings were moving. “They wanted to make these images lifelike,” says Azéma. He has re-created digital versions of some cave images that illustrate the effect. The Lion Panel in Chauvet’s deepest chamber is a good example. It features the heads of ten lions, all seemingly intent on their prey. But in the light of a strategically positioned torch or stone lamp, these ten lions might be successive characterizations of just one lion, or perhaps two or three, moving through a story, much like the frames of a flip-book or animated film. Beyond the lions stands a cluster of rhinoceroses. The head and horn of the top one are repeated staccato-like six times, one image above the other, as if thrusting upward, its whole body shuddering with multiple outlines.

Azéma’s interpretation fits with that of eminent prehistorian Jean Clottes—the first scientist to enter Chauvet, only days after its discovery. Clottes believes the images in the cave were intended to be experienced much the way we view movies, theater, or even religious ceremonies today—a departure from the real world that transfixed its audience and bound it in a powerful shared experience. “It was a show!” says Clottes.
Thousands of years later you can still feel the power of that show as you walk the chambers of the cave, the sound of your own breath heavy in your ear, the constant drip, drip of the water falling from the walls and ceilings. In its rhythm you can almost make out the thrum of ancient music, the beat of the dance, as a storyteller casts the light of a torch upon a floating image, and enthralls the audience with a tale.”

Another quote from the article:
“The greatest innovation in the history of humankind was neither the stone tool nor the steel sword, but the invention of symbolic expression by the first artists.”

True. We now live in a world dominated by symbols: from traffic signs to computer icons and smartphone Apps… it would never have been possible without someone first inventing a system of symbols and abstractions that would express ideas, emotions and actions. This ‘someone’ happened to be the Neanderthal Man, our immediate ‘predecessor’.

For the full article:
http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2015/01/first-artists/walter-text

Postcards from Historic Cairo

Historic Cairo (also known as Islamic Cairo) is at the heart of Egypt’s crowded capital. Founded around 969 AD, Historic Cairo is a tour de force of Islamic art where the visitor comes face to face with hundreds of mosques, madrasas, bazaars, khanqahs, sabil-kuttabs and other monuments in the Fatimid, Ayyubid, Mamluk and Ottoman styles; a chaotic splendor that never fails to amaze, an overdose of Islamic art and architecture at its best.

A feast for the senses in every sense of the word, the city’s soundscape is dominated by the synchronized call for prayer and the honking of horns by impatient motorcyclists and drivers. The fragrance of every spice under the sun fills the air at many bazaars; while the dazzling colors of the tentmakers’ products at al-Khiyamiyya and the antiques at Khan al-Khalili offer a pleasant break from the grayish-brownish shades that dominate the old city.

I can go on forever, but the photos would do a better job. Enjoy!

An ‘Orientalist Tour’ of Historic Cairo

Bustling bazaars, Mamluk mosques and Ottoman houses abound in the artworks of Orientalist painters like John Frederick Lewis, Jean-Léon Gérôme, Ludwig Deutsche, to the end of the long list. During my Orientalist Art Course last week, I thought of doing some ‘cultural excavation’ in Islamic Cairo, tracing the footsteps of these Orientalist artists in an attempt to identify some of the settings that they had chosen for their paintings.

While some sites are immediately recognizable (like al-Ghuriyya and Bab Zuweila), others are not necessarily so. Many places look very different than what they once did, others have vanished all together, and yet, others are impossible to identify with precision because they are rather ‘generic’ (could be anywhere). In addition to recognizing the sites, the tour was a useful exercise to understand how the city has metamorphosed ever since.

Because images speak louder than words, below are some images of famous paintings along with photos that I took at Islamic Cairo, showing the sites featuring in the paintings.