are critical times. I've seen the best artists of my generation
decimated by censorship and suppression. They have been misunderstood,
ignored, treated with willful ignorance and disdain. The spiritual
revelations that burn in these great works of art are yet to
be recovered; they echo in the soul, and, like the works of
William Blake, will transcend time.
my aesthetics, and your aesthetics. There is no prescription for
quality. In the long run each of us creates our aesthetic vision,
hoping to achieve a consensus. We don't need to see every Franz
Kline to understand the position Franz Kline took. And as we create
works of art, each of us takes positions. Sometimes we spend our
lifetimes making our positions clear; sometimes we are known only
by a single work.
The 20th Century
gave us abstract art, among other things. But the definition of
abstraction changes as our ideas about art change. There are two
mainstreams of Twentieth-Century art: the Duchampian mainstream
-- Apollonian, intellectual, conceptual, and ironic. Perhaps more
interesting is the Matissean mainstream -- Dionysian, intelligent,
romantic, and passionate -- which strives for freedom of expression
via hands-on use of materials.
can be seen as metaphysician, as alchemist capable of transforming
and transcending materials and objects. Artists endow material
with magical powers and properties that transform matter into art
and into a valuable spiritual commodity. This is the nature of
and challenge inherent in making art.
Abstract Expressionists -- Gorky, Rothko, Motherwell, Newman, Kline,
Hofmann, De Kooning, and especially Pollock -- created an ocean
of images and ideas; a visual mythology from which springs the
abstract art of today.
painters and Minimalists, like Noland, Kelly, Reinhardt, Judd,
Ryman and Agnes Martin, are aesthetic artists; but it is Lyrical
Abstraction, as practiced first by Morris Louis and later by Larry
Poons, Frank Stella, Ronald Davis, Dan Christensen, John Griefen,
William Pettet, Ronnie Landfield and many others that defines the
possibilities for High Aesthetics in abstract painting today.
The art the
of this century has sometimes been characterized as "hot" and "cool."
It seems abstract artists are divided, deeply divided, not only
about matters hot or cool. We are divided about abstraction and
about imagery, and we have developed cults -- cults of the traditional,
cults of the new, cults of the found object, cults of the computer.
These divisions prevent us from appreciating the beauty and inner
peace that comes from great art.
making art. I like pouring paint from buckets. I like color,
I'm sensitive to surfaces. Feeling my senses that I cannot name,
except to say -- that's my aesthetic sense. Moving the stuff
with long squeegees and big brushes. Using rollers through cadmium
orange, hansa yellow, dioxine purple and pthalo green. Hitting
an area, pulling it off, like a coup, or committing a crime,
and who said artists don't take chances. Gazing for hours at
the surface of a painting wondering how can I nail it?"
is about faith, about suspension of disbelief; it's about the unknown,
and making visible the invisible. It isn't the imagery, but the
cynicism that is disturbing. Duchamp, Dada, Johns,Warhol, Pop,
Conceptual Art -- however ironic -- make me wonder at the cynical
loss of faith that fuels the popularity of those movements. Painting
is visual; one must look at it and see it with one's eyes. It's
hard to talk about, because it isn't about propaganda; it's
just clear. Do we believe what we see? Or do we only see what we
From the The
Fauves -- who took the cue from Postimpressionism, using color
that abstracted nature -- to the Cubists like Braque and Picasso
-- who changed our perception of representation -- the concept
of abstraction has changed. Picasso, inspired by Cezanne and by
African and Egyptian Art, was in his time thought of as an abstract
painter. However, Picasso never let go of imagery, no matter how
many liberties he took in changing the way things look. And the
Russian mystical painters Malevich and Rodchenko -- variously inspired
by Modernism, Theosophy, Mme. Blavatsky, Gurdjieff, and Ouspensky
-- created probably what is the purest abstract art.
attempting to cover the whole history of modern art, perhaps the
following three anecdotes will give a flavor of what's at stake
a morning in April 1966. I was nineteen years old, wearing my only
Brooks Brothers suit, on the way from my 6th floor walkup apartment
in the East Village to an appointment to see the famous architect
Philip Johnson, whose office I would find at the top floor of the
Seagrams Building, the pinnacle of Modernist Architecture of the
time. I was scared, slightly in awe of my surroundings. The receptionist
-- who struck me as someone straight out of The Fountainhead
-- sat me down at a long empty table in the board room to wait
for Mr. Johnson. As I looked out at the magnificent view through
the glass windows on all sides, the whole of Manhattan, clear to
the East River, could be seen. As I waited there, out of the corner
of my eye I spotted something shiny on the table, something that
reminded me of aluminum foil. As I looked closely I saw several
tiny figures of men in a row apparently walking along on a low
wooden base. I was stunned to realize that the Giacometti I was
looking at was made of aluminum foil. In Giacometti's hands the
stuff my mother wrapped turkeys in was turned into a powerful and
succinct work of art.
In 1976 I saw
an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art called The Wild Beasts:
Fauvism and its Affinities, or something like that. I'd been around
more than ten years; I had more than a dozen one-man shows. I was
represented by the Andre Emmerich Gallery and I saw the show, never
thinking I'd learn something that would stay with me for a lifetime.
But there were two small landscape paintings side by side that
caught my eye as I moved through the show. I looked very hard at
them both. They were about the same size, dated the same year,
and they looked to be the same locale, so maybe they were made
the same day. The Vlaminck on the left was very good, emotional,
felt, colorful; and as I looked, I began to feel how the artist
was feeling about the rent, perhaps about his wife. It was very
expressive. The Matisse on the right was a better painting. It
was in perfect balance, clear and harmonious. I was stunned to
realize that as I gazed at it, I had learned more about the pure
concentration of the art of painting than I had ever known. Matisse
expressed through color, drawing, and surface what great painting
was. No thoughts of rent here, only aesthetics, high aesthetics.
The small Matisse painting with its dense concentration was spontaneous
and precise and made me high.
A couple of
weeks ago I was talking to my friend the painter Ron Davis on the
telephone about the incredible websites he is creating for us called
Lyrical Abstraction and Abstract Illusionism. Ron had used something
I said as a headline that flashed across the screen in four prominent
places. The headline read " FORGOTTEN
AND SUPPRESSED ART " which reflects how I feel
about the way museums sometimes relegate art to the basement. I
told Ron that I didn't think that headline was such a good idea.
He said, "Okay, give me a better idea," and as we talked I told
him about a great show at The Pace Gallery I had seen earlier that
day of Bonnard and Rothko. I told Ron that when Jenny and Noah
saw it at the end of the day -- it was the last day -- there were
lines around the block. I said, "It is so hopeful that people would
do that just to see great, beautiful paintings." And when I saw
it earlier in the day I ran into my friend Barbara Thomas there,
and as we enjoyed the paintings, I mentioned to Barbara that I
was feeling slightly sick in the spirit because I had gone to the
opening of the Whitney Biennial the night before.
But these Bonnard and Rothko paintings were HEALING me.
"That's it!" Ron said.
"What's it?" I said, and he replied,
"That's our new headline: