High noon

Ellsworth Kelly, High Yellow, 1960 Blanton Museum, Austin, TX

Ellsworth Kelly, High Yellow, 1960 Blanton Museum, Austin, TX

It’s a showdown here, folks. Two serious contenders, abstraction vs. realism.  We’re facing off today in Austin, TX on the field of  High Yellow, speaking to Mr. Ellsworth Kelly. Pitting our need for representation against his refusal to represent. Gear up and let’s get it on. Winner takes all.

Round one: the obvious

Us: This is a minimalist landscape, the green is grass, the blue is sky and the yellow is that scorching beast of a  Texas sun.

Kelly: This is greenness, this is blueness, this is yellowness.

Round Two: the memory

Us: Ok, then. This is the yellow ball that finally scored a hole-in-one at Peter Pan putt-putt golf in seventh grade. The night I finally kissed Bethany Mulhaney.

Kelly: This is greenness, this is blueness, this is yellowness.

Us: No fair, you’re using my distrust of simplicity against me. It’s complicated you know.

Round Three: the metaphysical gymnast

Us: This is about the possibility of purity, of perfection – both impossible in life.

This highlights the ironic equation of the cosmos, that blue + yellow=green, every time. But in life inputs rarely equal outputs, anytime.

This is a bridge where representation walks over into abstraction and surrenders to the veracity of color.

Kelly: LOL, this is so simple that it takes a genius to figure it out, huh?

the tie-breaker

Us: You really gonna trash talk me about this fat egg painting?


Helen Frankenthaler Flirt 2003

So I kissed the pastry chef at BarleySwine Friday night in front of a full table of friends. Some of whom didn’t know me too well.  Would it be soo cowardly of me to say a painting made me do it?  I guess I can’t blame Helen Frankenthaler for my indiscretion (at least from the viewpoint of my significant other).  If I were in France lets say, where such expressions of affection are par for the course, the kiss would simply be a continental gesture of thanks.

And, in my family we were taught to always “kiss the cook”. . . right?  The pastry chef was standing right there, next to me, leaning in. Right after I had devoured the last crumbs of strawberry shortcake with mini-meranges so smoothsweet like little sighs of angel breath. Giddy and high on a French Sauternes, lost in culinary oblivion, tripping down a dangerously hedonistic path.  When your body outruns your brain, and “swack” you’ve done it before your brain even knows.

This painting illustrates what happened in that instant, with its beautiful coral passion, pressing up against the thinnest linear blue. I rather think the conventional blue will be the loser in this contest. For lines will be crossed. The redround bouche in the bottom right corner, to me implies a coy kiss.

Frankenthaler is generally known as one of the first of the color field painters. She thinned out the paint, poured and dripped it right onto raw canvas, creating  intense colors charging around, yet embedded in the canvas. Many artists after seeing the freedom and allure of her work fell in love with the idea of color play as the only point to painting. This was the early 1950’s and Helen visited Jackson Pollack’s studio several times which also brought gestural vigor to her work.

After a bit of reflection, I think a hug just wouldn’t do in this situation. What is appropriate  thanks for a man whose life work is an homage to sugar? Only a sweet kiss.

Target practice

Kenneth Noland, That, 1958-1959, New York, New York

Today I’m thinking of archery, women archers (beginning with the goddess Diana) and the wonder of The Hunger Games. Which leads me to the subject of targets in art.

Although Kenneth Noland wasn’t the first to paint targets as art, (there is a  famous series by Jasper Johns) I  like this one for its big blue middle. Any novice who has taken dead aim at a dart board would appreciate this bigger bullseye. I mean wouldn’t life be a little sweeter if it were easier to hit?

Although I don’t think Noland’s intention is to give us a pass here. This target is a test. In life, a test of relaxation and accuracy and strength; but here, a test of what we think constitutes “subject matter” in painting.

The target sheds its symbolic qualities to become merely a flattened image. Concentric rings whose colors create the driving force, stuck on an indistinct cloud of grey. A dedication to color field painting which concerns itself with intense juxtapositions of color and elevates color itself as the “star of the show.”

However, I can’t shake the feeling that he is also playing with target’s symbolism. Asking us about the  boundaries between winning and losing and if they are as hard drawn as we would like to believe.  Challenging the grey fog of the “as-ran,” where all of us who are actually playing end up from time to time.

And if you were to take aim at this image, where would you point your arrow? The red, the traditional center, is now on the outside. So, which ring is the winning one?  It’s the old existential crisis  again–we make our own targets, create our own rules and are therefore afield in the grey ambiguity. With little sense of whether we are winning or losing.  Ego, that great muscle, longs for the life and death, “winner takes all” scenarios of competition ala The Hunger Games, The Most Dangerous Game, the Olympics, war.

When you draw your ring of circles, do you choose, tiny red center or big blue one?