Sally Porter's Web Log
Jasper Johns & Porter’s Meta Expressionism 
Thursday, July 1, 2010, 05:12 PM - General
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When Jasper Johns began his career, he wished to separate himself from emotion based painting such as abstract expressionism, choosing flags, targets, numbers, etc. as his subjects. He supposed these objects void of expressive content. What he didn’t realize was all art is an artifact of the self. When the painter chooses an object as subject, the object becomes the person’s voice. Art is objectification of the self; you produce what you are. The work of Jasper Johns is no exception. Johns chose to depict his early subjects with reserve, logical contemplation, and codification. These early choices are as legitimate as his later ones in which the work is created with greater complexity, flamboyance, passion, and openness. His work was and is a reflection of his internal development, the meta expressionist culmination of will, idea, and soul.

While professing an aversion to expressionism, his art was saying something else. His early art was a huge, flashing billboard of self involving the depiction of a single object in which he poured every ounce of creativity into the image of one flag or one target or one type of pattern. He verbally denounced expression, soul and emotion, while visually revealing his true self in the work. Growing up in the South, his choice to exploit the flag image reflects his ever-present awareness of the American Civil War. He was even named after a relative who raised the American flag in the Revolutionary War. He professed his use of the flag as an object “the mind already knows”, but he had great emotional connection to this object.

In his earlier pieces, he also heavily engaged in a metaphysical discourse of self. His consistent choice of conceptually charged subjects such as the targets, numbers, patterns, and maps reveal his unnamed intuitive obsession with the Platonic idea of an underlying order.

Furthermore, when viewing the earlier work, one detects a tendency towards deception. Johns is always hiding things. He buries the printed word repeatedly using printed newspaper under layers of encaustic. In Target with Four Faces (1955), he refuses to reveal his entire face, disallowing the viewer access to his eyes, the window of the soul. In Drawer (1955), he creates a closed drawer, daring us to look at the contents. He plays cat and mouse, saying look at what you can’t see. This method tantalizes and keeps us wanting to know more.

While the early imagery is stark, the lush surfaces of his stencil and collage pieces reveal a rich, textural sensibility, even when done sans color as in White Numbers, 1958. When he does choose to use color, as in False Start (1959) it is a controlled riot of brilliant red, yellow, and blue, juxtaposing the loose splotches of color with the crisp edges of the stenciled words red, yellow and blue. His crosshatch paintings are just a sample of his various explorations in pattern. While intellectually engaging us on a search to formulize the pattern, we are beguiled by its decorative beauty. By simplifying the image, his pictures envelope the viewer alternately in multiverses of texture, color, and pattern. As his work progresses, he engages us with multiple subjects, multiple canvases, and multiple pictures, all within the same piece. The sense is one of infinite layers of self, waiting to be explored. Infinity is an important concept in meta expressionism. Reality does not exist in neat discrete bundles; existence is a continuum of infinities.

Although he claimed to take his art in a direction away from the abstract expressionists, he managed to expand rather than negate their process. His exploration of pattern in the cross hatch paintings such as in Dancers on a Plane (1980-81) and Between the Clock and the Bed (1981) are breathtaking. He carries out his exploration of self by presenting works such as Ventriloquist (1983), where he juxtaposes a rich variety of images, both blatant and obscured, side by side. His decision to pursue the Jungian shadow in his Seasons paintings done in 1985 and 1986 allow us to appreciate him through a prism of complex psychological references, the equivalent of waking dream analysis.

In his current work, he returns to a more purified approach, using simplified color (even gray) or geometric patterns. In his watercolor and pencil piece, Bushbaby, 2003, he is juxtaposing various patterns of harlequin diamonds of red, green, yellow, black and gray, with areas of polkadots in similar colors. On the left third of the painting, he separates passages with pure geometric triangles and rectangles of black with a thin, uneven outline of white. In the upper right corner, he includes a “picture in a picture”, a smaller variation of the larger painting. He throws the viewer off balance by including his own idiosyncratic images of wooden lattice strips, convincingly depicted with a string hanging from a small screw in the wood. The image of the string trails off the edge of the picture plane proper, taking us into a new space. This flourish is typical of the genius of Jasper Johns, who continues to amaze as an innovator who redefined the meaning of expressionistic painting, his disavowed father.

Sally Porter

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The Brilliance of Kokoschka’s Bride of the Wind (1914) 
Monday, February 22, 2010, 03:35 PM - General
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In 1914, Oskar Kokoschka painted himself and the love of his life, Alma Mahler, in the expressionist masterpiece Bride of the Wind (1914). During their tempestuous relationship, the previously widowed Alma rejected his multiple proposals for marriage, eventually marrying the famous architect and founder of the Bauhaus, Walter Gropius. During his life, Kokoschka never ceased devotion to his love, Alma.

In homage to his love, Kokoschka began the painting to become known as Bride of the Wind or The Tempest. The large canvas, 71 1/4” x 86 5/8”, allowed Kokoschka to physically immerse himself in the creation of this passionate universe. He and Alma are alone with the purple mountains in the distance, lit by a shining moon eclipsed by a black sun and entombed amid the swirling, crashing waves of paint.

Alma rests beside him like a specter in pale whites and silvery, almost metallic grays, with eyes closed, sleeping peacefully. Kokoschka is awake with a troubled stare consuming his visage, covered in brutish strokes of gray, blue, rose and rust. In this moment, they are together, protected from the stormy currents by an arch of multi-colored, knotted brushstrokes above their heads. Their bodies are covered in shimmering sheets of white reflecting muted blue-greens and brilliant blues, with touches of olive and lime greens from the surrounding roiling sea. An electrical storm of emotion grips the couple in their nocturnal embrace amid the water.

Oskar created a place of being where Alma would remain his forever in this timeless painting of two lovers in embrace.

Sally Porter

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Porter’s Meta Expressionism & Rothko’s Desire for Tears  
Friday, February 5, 2010, 08:51 PM - General
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Mark Rothko, one of the great abstract expressionists, desired people to break down and cry before his paintings. He stated, ”The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them. And if you, as you say, are moved only by their color relationship, then you miss the point.” Every successful painting makes a spiritual connection with the viewer. The spiritual component of the connection is instantaneous and defies logical analysis. It’s a feeling of understanding and prior knowledge, either completely satisfying or igniting an inner quest, enriching one’s existence.

Rothko’s development as a painter took him on a trip from figuration, as in Entrance to Subway, 1938, through a brush with mythmaking, into Surrealism, and eventually to his color paintings of pure emotion, exploiting the vagaries of humanity such as “tragedy, ecstasy, and doom”. My paintings also engage on a spiritual level with an awareness of color and pattern. Meta expressionist paintings explore conceptual ideas and deliberate actions of mark making (will), as well as the spiritual components of freedom and emotion. The exposition of pattern is becoming more pronounced in my work. Just as Rothko discovered color as a means to spirituality, pattern itself is another path.

Painting the darker and passionate side of being as Rothko chose to do is only one of an infinite number of choices to forge the spiritual connection with the viewer. Optimism and intellectualism are but two others. Meta expressionism explores the inner chasm of reality, enabling the paintings to appropriate buried messages from within the artist, and open the possibility of communicating them to the viewer.

Every person is ultimately spirit, naturally drawn to the artists whose work either merely touches or completely envelopes their own field of knowledge and experience, inclusive of emotion.

Sally Porter

Sally Porter Gallery ... ll/all/all

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Picasso’s Self Portrait with Cloak, 1901/02 
Friday, January 29, 2010, 07:57 PM - General
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Picasso’s Self Portrait with Cloak, painted in 1901/02, is part of his blue period work. The background is drenched in a muted turquoise blue scrubbed into an olive green. His full, dark brownish black hair and stylishly trimmed beard frame the ghoulishly white face with the high, prominent cheek bones. His long, dark cloak wraps him in mystery. His facial expression is almost haughty, eyes staring forward.

Picasso paints himself as a vampire of the night, completely drained of blood, cold and heartless, with only his red lips revealing a taste for passion.

Sally Porter

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Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights - The Paradise Panel 
Tuesday, January 12, 2010, 08:53 AM - General
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The left panel of Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, painted in 1503 - 1504, is titled Paradise or Eden. This one work is comprised of multiple masterpieces.

In the lower portion of the painting, you have an incarnation of God, fully clothed, standing in a lovely green meadow, flanked on either side by his very pale, grown children, Adam and Eve. In the forefront is a pond of amazing creatures emerging from a dark pond, including a triple headed bird, a fish with wings, and a duck wearing a monk’s hood reading his prayer book. Was Bosch having a visionary precognition of the theory of evolution?

In the middle area of the painting is a pale pink, very futuristic looking fountain arising from the middle of a second pond. A light gray giraffe and an elephant stand out as two of the larger animals in this mostly peaceful depiction of nature. Looking closer, we see a rather small lion devouring an antelope in the background, but there is no blood or carnage depicted here; the lion is merely having his supper.

The fountain area leads into another body of water to the left. What do we find drinking at the water’s edge amongst other horned friends? It’s none other than a white unicorn, sipping at the blue water and leisurely snapping her tail.

In the uppermost, left passage, sits a yellow mountain in front of a small blue mountain range. From the cave of this yellow mountain, a flock of birds comes rushing out. They swirl up and through a sculpture on top of the cave, which in turn is topped by two tall, pointed towers of rock. Their silhouette brings to mind the Empire State building and the Manhattan skyline.

Bosch blended iconic cultural images with images from nature and his creative consciousness to give us a timeless painting full of fascination and leaves us admiring this visual representation of the self.

Sally Porter

Sally Porter Gallery ... ll/all/all
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