Advisor: Jan Avgikos
7 March 2017
Maturity and Time Reflected Through the Works of Tansey and Fischl
Emerging from the minimal and conceptual art of the early 1970s, Neo-Expressionism in New York returned to recognizable imagery. Two artists with a less extravagant style were hard at work in their NYC studios, one with a historical metaphorical narrative and the other with a personal psychological voyeuristic approach.
“Rejecting the restrictions against imagery and gestural treatment set by their Minimalist and Conceptual teachers and contemporaries, the Neo-Expressionists revived the formal elements of German Expressionism and Abstract Expressionism, often on a heroic scale. As the “new” Expressionism this style reiterated the subjectivism associated with the earlier forms, marked by flamboyant textural brushwork and distorted figures. In their work the Neo-Expressionists took up a variety of cultural-mythological, nationalist-historical, erotic, and “primitivizing” themes” (Guggenheim).
Eric Fischl (b.1948) and Mark Tansey (b.1949) were born just one year apart and both attended Los Angeles based art schools. After finishing their education, they eventually descended on the NYC art scene and joined the Neo-expressionism movement. I chose to explore two popular works painted decades apart, Sleepwalker (1979) by Eric Fischl and Reverb (2017) by Mark Tansey. In my search through the Google image library I organically gravitated towards these pieces without question. I realized the factor that played a significant role in my visceral reaction and intrigue of these specific pieces was - time — time as it relates to identifying with the figures and time in how it relates to my level of maturity and comprehension.
There is nothing subtle about Sleepwalker at first glance. In this image we see the awkward body language of a naked boy grabbing his penis set amid a typical suburban backdrop. The shadow of the boy peers back at him in a mixture of confusion and excitement. A kiddie pool rests still and shallow in the yard but the depth of swirling emotions of the standing figure is anything but. There is an unfiltered honesty in Sleepwalker that is welcoming. The powerful drive of puberty in the boy is over poweringto what society would consider appropriate. The innocent beginning of male sexual exploration is literally front and center stage. This is a confusing and intimate moment caught almost as if under a spotlight of the circular pool and lawn. “The pool is still. The lawn chairs bear silent witness, as do we” (Nichols).
What Tansey’s Reverb lacks in upfront shock value, it more than makes up for in subtle and layered complexities. In this painting a woman and a man are in mid conversation, her mirrored reflection peering back at us in a somewhat disassociated state. Similar conversational gestures of cultural figures (Woody Allen, Groucho Marx and Marilyn Monroe) are visible in a massive framed wall display. Framed images in a elegant setting are usually reserved for portraits of dignified family members or noteworthy historical figures, not Hollywood icons who are anything but dignified in most cases. One could easily catch a glimpse of such photos on magazine covers while waiting in line at a grocery store. As the images recede in the distance the framed pictures change to line graphs of subatomic particle equations. The male figure who is speaking is more directly situated in front of that same mirror and has joined the collage of conversations on the wall. “Reverb contains more than one hundred and fifty collected images on the themes of reflection, symmetry, and perception that pervade Tansey’s oeuvre” (Gagosian).
I can’t help but to associate the male figures in each piece although they are portrayed at different stages of maturity. These two paintings completed decades apart roughly correspond with the advancing age of the individual in both pieces, Sleepwalker, 1979 and Reverb, 2017. Each offer complexities associated with a male of different ages but highlighted in drastically different arenas.
It seems life was simpler back in adolescence with summer vacations and innocent crushes, I’m sure the boy in the kiddie pool would disagree. So much of our lives is shaped by early experiences as we are not self-aware but rather just reacting to our hardwired human condition and the fate of our environment. The powerful emotions of adolescence can now be understood but from the safer distance of middle age. Our experiences in our youth, from the trivial to the traumatic, are like etched grooves in a record that will later be played over and over again to differing degrees. We can push against this and rewrite certain lines of the music if we can hear it clearly enough. Reverb adds static to this music with its complexities and metaphorical contradictions. Modern life compounds this abundance of this noise. Technology offers a constant bombardment of information, further pushing society’s narrative and prompts us to question our own position in it.
The two different paintings can conjure any number of emotions and responses. As with all art and the life for that matter, our interpretation is subjective. Our bias and points of view are as unique as our fingerprints. Aside from any internal interrogations, age and sex alone have enormous influence on how these pieces are interpreted. If I were shown these two images as an adolescent my response would be one of indifference to both. I would have little patience and understanding for the complexities and contradictions in Reverb, while my lack of confidence and embarrassment when seeing the raw relatable image in Sleepwalker would immediately put me on the defensive and shut me down.
Now, as a man of age of 42, both pieces are more easily understood. Sleepwalkerstill remains potent but I’m able to explore, reflect and compartmentalize those uncharted urges.
I can appreciate the artists honest depiction of a sensitive topic and find it liberating. At the same time Reverb cannot be so easily dismissed; the painting prompts more questions as I explore the confusing subtext of the interactions. I’m reminded of countless personal discussions with friends, family and ex-girlfriends where ego, words, emotions, and societal influence collide. Society has had pervaded our lives since the storybook endings and innocent crushes of our youth, understanding and truth can be more difficult to discern. These interactions remind me of a line from one of my favorite poems by Theodore Roethke: “Of those so close beside me, which are you?” (Roethke).
Mark Tansy’s and Eric Fiscal’s work reflects societal and personal factors as they developed as artists and individuals. Their art offers use a unique glimpse into their lives and how they make sense of their experiences. Their thought provoking paintings were at the forefront of Neo- Expressionistmovement in New York City and their work offers us a point of entry to help us reflect and maybe make more sense of our own lives.
Fischl, Eric. Sleepwalker. 1979. Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.
“Gagosian-Mark Tansey”. Gagosian, 2017 http://www.gagosian.com/artists/mark-tansey
“Neo-Expressionism”. Collection Online, Guggenheim, 2017
Nichols, Emily, editor, and The Art Story Contributors, compilers. “Eric Fischl Artist Overview
and Analysis”. Theartstory, 2017 http://www.theartstory.org/artist-fischl-eric-artworks.htm
Roethke, Theodore. “The Waking” The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke. Doubleday,
Tansey, Mark. Reverb. 2017. Gagosian.
Advisor: Jan Avgikos
5 April 2017
Building Block - The Influence of Japanese Woodblock Prints on Claude Monet and Frank Loyd Wright
In the Mid 1800’s new trade agreements with Japan exposed Europe and America to Japanese artifacts for the first time. This wave of new and refreshing art came crashing over the west. One particular art form, Japanese Woodblock Prints or Ukiyo-e - “pictures of the floating world” became a powerful source of inspiration for artists. Two unique and pioneering artists who where avid collectors of these prints and embraced these fresh artistic elements were a painter from France and an Architect from America.
My examination of Japanese Woodblock Prints influence on the works of Claude Monet and Frank Lloyd Wright are not going to get into details of specific works, ironically lack of detail is one thing that interested these artists in Japanese prints. My focus is rather going to be on uncovering the essential elements of Ukiyo-e that resonated with their intuition and emotions to help answer this question. What was the essence of these Japanese prints that had such a visceral impact on these two artists. Ukiyo-e prints contradicted western academic art and was widely admired for there non-European characteristics. The following is a brief rundown of this style of art:
- decorative motifs often portraying ordinary townspeople and nature
- simple large flat areas devoid of value
- well defined lines, never blurred with emphasis on sensitivity, flow and rhythm
- space between the lines often left empty
- bold color
- forms stylized to simplify and exaggerate with no soft edges
- asymmetrical compositions, diagonals and silhouettes
- bold cropping and design (Tyrrell)
Monet was among a long list of impressionists painters to gravitatetowards this work. He drew inspiration from nature and the working class as well and embodied a sense of freedom from the traditional and academic establishments. The handling of composition was among the most prominent feature of Ukiyo-e that had an impact on Monet. The use of asymmetrical and non linear composition went against the format of the Academy’s classical symmetrical arrangements. The bold and imaginative cropping of these prints offered a new compositional approach. Monet spoke on the matter “In the West what we admired most of all was this bold way of cropping images; these people taught us to compose differently” (Maloon)
Simplicity of form and use of color were other distinct features that captured Monet and his contemporaries. The Japanese prints simplified form to its essentials and tackled these shapes devoid of value while pushing vivid colors and contrast. This gave Monet’s paintings a brightness of color, often in a light tonality, in which he then added ranging value to the shadows. Monet’s brushstrokes were alive with energy something that the Japanese prints addressed with a boldness, rhythm, and expression of line. It was clear this style had such a prominent influence on the painter. In a conversation with a critic in 1909, Monet stated: “If you insist on forcing me into an affiliation with anyone else . . . then compare me with the old Japanese masters; their exquisite taste has always delighted me, and I like the suggestive quality of their aesthetic, which evokes presence by a shadow and the whole by the part.”(Looking East)
Frank Loyd Wright response to the Japanese Woodblock Prints was similar to that of Monet. He was first drawn to the simplified compositions and the artists ability to eliminate all extraneous information. I find it interesting that an architect could be so affected by an overly flattened 2 dimensional art form. This shows the impact of these Japanese artifacts across multiple disciplines. The honest integration of form, purpose and material were described by Wright as “organic”. This minimalist sensibility evoked by this art form validated and influenced his architecture practice.(Peter)
Like Monet the subject matter of the prints also connected with Wright. Ukiyo-e prints in Japan were cheap and therefore affordable to the working class. These works often depicted a narrative of the every day life of common people and included animals, birds and landscapes. Wright saw this as a celebration of the working man’s connection to the land while being unaffected by materialism. He found these works had a spiritual sense linking man to his natural surroundings. “The Japanese print artists reverential presentation of naturealso attracted Wright; in his architecture he too sought to integrate buildings with their natural settings.”(Peter) Wright in a conversation with apprentices said "I remember when I first met the Japanese prints. The art had a great influence on my feeling and thinking.... When I saw the print and I saw the elimination of the insignificant and simplicity of vision, together with the sense of rhythm and the importance of design, I began to see nature in a totally different way.”(Transcript, Wright)
It is apparent that these two artists experienced a visceral response to theJapanese prints. I believe at the heart of this response is simplicity, simplicity as it both relates to form and to living. Wright said “Simplicity and repose are the qualities that measure the true value of any work of art.”
I am certainly not the first person to point this out, simplicity in art has been discussed by old and new masters of every discipline to exhaustion. In my research I came across endless articles and quotes on the matter. But if this is so obviously why is there so much written in all corners of the art world and philosophies on life itself? Why am I writing about it now? The answer is that simplicity is difficult. Vincent Van Gogh who, like Monet, was equally inspired by Japanese Prints stated“How difficult it is to be simple.”
I view Japanese prints as the foundational blueprints for simplicity that many artist successfully built upon. Our minds can make sense of the Japanese woodblock prints with their stylized solid forms, sharpness of line, contrast and color. There is then within these strong compartmentalized elements room to create, expand and explore. There is no struggle to make sense of an endless amount of information and detail, we can take in the simple elements and essence, finding refuge in simplicity.
Often times it is easy to get caught up in the throws of inspiration and dive head first into an art endeavor and forget about this key ingredient. Monet and Wright intuitively knew the power of simplicity and the Japanese prints confirmed their beliefs and propelled them to go further with confidence.
I often think of simplicity like that inner voice or intuition we all have that does not have to speak loud because it knows it will win in the end. We might start out with holding this intention close but our egos are loud and want to dazzle with brushstrokes, details and extravagant colors all over the place to show the world what we can do. It is only when we take a breath and step back that we see that we ignored or muddied this power.
Hawthorne said it best in the first line of the chapter on landscape painting. “The weight and value of a work of art depends wholly on its big simplicity- we begin and end with the great spots in relation one to another.” (Hawthorne).
Hawthorne, Charles “Hawthorne on Painting” 1938 Dover Publications p.53
“Looking East: How Japan Inspired Monet, Van Gogh, and Other Western Artists” asianart.org Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Oct. 20, 2015 Accessed 28 March. 2017.
Maloon, Terence. “Monet and the Impressionists exhibition brochure”. asianart.org Art Gallery of New South Whales, Sydney, 2008
Peter, Carolyn. “Wright and the Architecture of Japanese Prints” hammer.ucla.edu Hammer Museum 2005.
hammer.ucla.edu/exhibitions/2005/wright-and-the-architecture-of-japanese-prints/ Accessed 2 Apr. 2017.
Transcript of Wright's talk to Taliesin apprentices, Sept 29, 1957. Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.
Tyrrell, Katherine “Making a Mark”. makingamark.blogspot.com March. 2008, makingamark.blogspot.com/2008/03/elements-of-ukiyo-e.html. Accessed 1 Mar. 2017.
Advisor: Jan Avgikos
June 1, 2017
Creativity and Flow in Artistic Practice
The artists mind is armed with refined skills, practiced over the years, and has acquired a vast amount of relevant references. In the throws of inspiration we show up to express our ideas and creativity but not without the all too familiar default setting of the minds distracted states. This is especially true for the artist who is often in the solitary and idle atmosphere of a studio with no external distraction. As artists we need to quiet the mind to fully explore the nature of our experience and express it fully in our work without the ego’s influence.
nIn this paper I’m going to take a look at three areas of study: art, science and spirituality to try and shed some light on what is responsible for creativity and flow. We all have experienced these moments where we are on auto pilot in our element working away effortless as time and sense of self disappear as something unique is created before us. What is this mysterious, creative, intuitive intelligence and how might we open ourselves to access it more often?
Our minds are great tools, we can build bridges, solve problems, and learn skills. I’m not going to get into all the minds complexities and its power but its safe to say its nothing short of amazing. We engage our minds in almost all situations as we try to best navigate the world. Often times this super computer between our ears can jump the tracks and take us in all sorts of unintended directions, it can overthink, obsess, point the finger outward or inward. If we had control, which we don’t, we would then simply choose the best and most appropriate thoughts.
When talking about spirituality it is easy to go down many paths and get lost and confused, however generally speaking all these paths lead to the same place. Nonduality is a term used in many areas of religious and spiritual thought. It simply means “not two” or “nonseperation”, stating that “we are all one”. Whatever ever you want to call it, awareness, spirit, god, consciousness, we are all part of the same fabric. “This realization has ontological implications for humanity: fundamentally we are individual expressions of a single entity, inextricably connected to one another, we are all drops of the same ocean.” (Nonduality)
The eternal gaze of consciousness is witnessing our thoughts and is not in flux but ever present as if you notice its disappearance this noticing is precisely what it is. It is the universal intelligence that effortlessly beats our hearts and grows massive redwood trees. It is patient, nothing can rush to reach its full potential, trust and surrender need to happen to let this inherent intelligence do what it does effortlessly. Why then wouldn't we surrender aspects of our lives to this same force to varying degrees? Don't get me wrong intent and effort need to be applied but there is a balance and trust that needs to be exercised as well. The ego can not comprehend this giving up of control and pushes back, will argue with reality. We all have had the experiences of things unfolding organically; chance meetings, things falling into place, new opportunities, people or insights come into our lives. All usually occurring while we are busy in our lives and not forcing our will. Artist especially need be aware of this state in the process of creation.
The artist job is to explore the presence of this consciousness using elements of the objective world, the art created is the result of this inquiry. Attention must be placed on this awareness and the ego must take a back seat. Our sense of separation must be dissolved to more honestly inform our art. (Spira) The filmmaker Passolini once said on the topic “I am trying to restore to reality its original sacred significance.”
The inquiry and curiosity into this timeless creative realm is pervasive through all artistic disciplines. The artist view on the subject is of course more poetic but connects with the same undercurrents. Isabelle Allende told aspiring writers “Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too.” When asked in an interview about creativity, Pablo Picasso responded “To know what your going to draw, you have to begin drawing… When I find myself facing a blank page thats always going through my head. What I capture in spite of myself interests me more than my own ideas.” Picasso is stated what artist have been talking about since recorded history, the best work happens when rational thought and the discriminating mind gives was to intuitive flow.(Popova)
As the artist makes manifest his or her inquiry into reality in such a direct way, so does the scientist but through a model of reality based on research and data. Its important to have an understanding of these processes in the body to better inform us of what is going on.
The scientific community often refers to this state as “flow” where action and awareness merge and our sense of self disappears giving way to heightened performance which includes creative performance. Beta brain waves slow from a normal waking state to slower alpha and even theta waves which are associated with REM sleep. This lower brain wave pattern combines ideas and thoughts in new ways enhancing creative thought. The prefrontal cortex temporarily goes off line quieting the sense of self and the inner critics voice and gives way to more creative and courageous ideas. The brain also gets flooded with norepinephrine, dopamine, endorphins, anandamide and serotonin. These neurochemicals enhance performance and increase pattern recognition boosting creativity.(Kotler) You can sign me up for that, but how?
This question is why I decided to research this topic. From the artists perspective the answer often takes on a mythological and spiritual tone. The artist’s view is that one must show up and work with discipline endlessly as to show and court this elusive thing in hopes it will infiltrate thoughts and feeling thus informing our work in an honest way. Commitment and intention on the artist part through work must be made clear to the scared. Through this effort hidden treasures within may surface or the muse might just see your studio light on late at night and come gently rapping at your door.
Going from the most abstract to the least, science has ideas about how to influence the body to the states mentioned earlier. Researches have been able to induce these states by targeting parts of the brain through trancrainial magnetic stimulation.(Kotler) Chances are you don't have one of these machines laying around the studio so we’ll move on. Research finds that sustained periods of intense focus of concentrate without interruption is any entry point to creativity. This means goals are outlined so the mind doesn't have to search for what to do next and there are no distractions. The challenge to skill ratio must reach a certain threshold in the individual to further engage attention and focus. Working in a group with like minded individuals and shared goals can produce flow. I remember in art school painting from a live model in class and experiencing this. The heightened enriched environment of students put me in a state that I was intuitively reacting and my sense of self disappeared.
In his book Flow Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains that the human body can only process a certain amount of information, thats why you cannot understand two people talking at once. There is not enough attention in this focused state to monitor how your body is feeling or what its thinking or doing. Existence is temporarily suspended. So when you are completely engage in the process of creating, identity disappears from consciousness. (Mihaly)
Meditation is a common practice in spiritual circle to connect with the state of eternal awareness and stillness. This is a rather difficult state to produce art in yet it is fertile ground for artistic ideas and intentions. These artistic inquiries have to be explored and practiced with curiosity. Attention must be void of the ego with its preoccupation with getting love, power or avoiding pain. We must learn to surrender and trust allowing ourselves to be open and gain access to the gifts of the spirit. Margaret Paul Ph.D compares this access to something we are all familiar with, the internet. ”Staying locked into our own mind is like being cut off from accessing the Internet. She writes “Our personal computer is like our mind - programmed only with what we have put into it. Yet, just as we can use our computer to access the vast information on the Internet, we can use our mind to open to the infinite love, peace, joy, information and creativity that is available to us from Spirit.”(Paul)
As unique as works of art are so must be the artists relationship and understanding of this sacred unknown. We all must adjust and redefined over a life this relationship with our higher selves as we grow. A good place to start is to start is to approach these things not from a place of fear but of genuine childlike curiosity. Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. "Flow, the Secret to Happiness." Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Flow, the Secret to Happiness | TED Talk | TED.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 June 2017.
Kotler, Steven. "Flow States and Creativity." Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, 25 Feb. 2014. Web. 04 June 2017.
Nonduality, Science And. "Nonduality." Science and Nonduality. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 June 2017.
Paul, Ph.D. Margaret. "The Spiritual Power Of Creativity." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 10 Oct. 2016. Web. 04 June 2017.
Popova, Maria. "Picasso on Intuition, How Creativity Works, and Where Ideas Come From." Brain Pickings. N.p., 12 Sept. 2016. Web. 05 June 2017.
Spira, Rupert. Interview with Daphne Astor - Consciousness and the Role of the Artist, 2002 | Rupert Spira. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 June 2017.