Sunday, January 31, 2010

Wayne Thiebaud

I went to hear Wayne Thiebaud speak in San Francisco a couple of years ago. At the time, I was showing my work at Paul Thiebaud - his son's - gallery. The talk was at the Herbst Auditorium, one in a series of talks organized by Wendy Lesser, editor of the Threepenny Review, who also interviewed Mr. Thiebaud.

The stage was arranged in a cozy living room setting, and Mr. Thiebaud was at ease in the wing-backed chair. With his lean frame you could imagine him popping onto the courts the next day for a game of tennis.

One of the best things he said that night was about the physicality of art. "The art department should be next to the gym!"

He was gracious with questions. Someone asked him if he had any favorite colors of paint. After a small pause he answered, "You can make any color with a warm and a cool version of each of the primaries." It was the most succinct, direct, complete explanation I've heard of the color wheel, and I've based my own teaching of color on it ever since.

He was sharp, generous, illuminating, droll, and humble about his own success. You get the feeling he's far more at home as a teacher than as an art star.

In my opinion, he's one of the greatest living teachers of art, in addition to being a deeply inventive, expressive and in my mind consummate artist - one who is both playful and serious. He has always done what he wants to do.

Here he is interviewed for a television channel. If you watch it all the way through, you'll find some quotable moments yourself.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Hypocrite and Slanderer

No wonder the Met wanted a Messerschmidt.

When I saw this picture of Austrian artist, Franz Xaver Messerschmidt's sculpture, Hypocrite and Slanderer, in the New York Times this morning, I was sure I was seeing the work of a brilliant contemporary artist. It's frank, raw expression conceived in a sleek, pared down way struck me as modern - like a three dimensional Odd Nerdrum - and made me want to know more.

The piece dates, it turns out, to the 1760's and is one of a series of similar works by Messerschmidt.

One of the things that strikes me in the New York Times's story is the artist's unwillingness to sell the series of sculptures - a clear indication that he made them for his own reasons, with no compromise or commission, and didn't care if anyone got them or liked them or not. Which is of course what made the work so deeply affecting and sought after ever since.

The picture shows a bronze of a powerful, bald man with chin on chest and furrowed brow, seen in profile. The man is seemingly observed in a private moment of deep self-reflection.

In the pose and the cool yet sensitive rendering, the sculpture speaks of simultaneous contempt and compassion for the subject on the part of its maker. He holds up the man's failings, yet he does not judge or condemn. It's a quality common to greatly drawn characters throughout the history of art - Raskolnikov in Dostoevsky's Crime & Punishment, Shakespeare's King Lear, Nabokov's Quilty in Lolita come to mind. In choosing the hypocrite and slanderer as a subject, Messerschmidt acknowledges something dark in himself, and dares the viewer to judge - or do the same.
Franz Xaver Messerschmidt
Hypocrite and Slanderer

Read the New York Times article on the Met's new Messerschmidt sculpture