A bit of autobiography, painters who have affected me and thoughts on the edibleness of pictures.
My first encounter with the idea that paintings could appear “edible” came when I was interviewing for a place at Sotheby's Institute of Artin London, England. Lord Thomas Balogh, a noted Hungarian economist who taught at Oxford, where I lived for many years, had written a reference for me, and there I was in my black knee-length suit from Etam, hoping I would measure up. My interviewer kept pressing, for he was looking for just the right word from me to describe the Venetian Rococo ceiling fresco by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo I had been asked to critique. “Edible, edible! Don’t you see? Its edible-looking!” Well, after that, I did see and I’ve been seeing it in painting ever since.
There was a countess in our Sotheby’s class who told me she shopped for her clothes in Paris, New York and London. I remember her buttery- soft, sky-blue leather jacket seemed as deliciously sensual as the sugared-almond pastels of French 18th century renderings by Boucher and Fragonard. I fell in love with paintings during those months in the British capital. Nowadays I’m fortunate enough to call myself a professional artist and it’s the voices of Vincent Van Gogh, Jackson Pollock and Howard Hodgkin that call to me so vigorously from history.
Van Gogh used painting to keep his madness at bay but was always in his right mind when he put pigment to canvas. After the moralistic and under-your-fingernail griminess of Potato Eaters,1885, he moved to the south of France and fell in love with color. He understood its symbolic and electrifying potential to convey the “terrible passions of human nature.” His frenzied and tumultuous images of intense complementary blues, yellows, greens and reds make a startling break from anything that had ever been depicted.
By the time of his death, Van Gogh was literally swallowing paint by the tube-full as if his mental liability was caused by some dietary deficiency. Astonishingly, one of his last works, Wheatfield with Crows, 1890 (right), was an all-at-once breakthrough and has been called the first modern painting.
The thing about art-making is that it’s a process that requires a willingness to surrender to the unknown. Van Gogh was good from the beginning. His pictures from Arles suggest an almost religious reverence because of the throbbing luminosity of his palette. In the course of his life’s work though, we behold a fervent seeking, a reaching for something not completely understood but only sensed. In the 1940s, Jackson Pollock had that same intuition. Like Van Gogh, Pollock completed his best work toward the end of his life. He is famous for the claim “I am nature,” and his later compositions, such as Blue Poles Number 11, 1952 (below), have been shown quantifiably to contain increasingly more of the fractal geometry that is such a hallmark of the natural world.
Pollock didn’t know what he was looking for like his life depended on it, he just knew he had to find it. You only have to stand in front of one of his huge later canvases like I did many years ago at the Pompidou Center, that high-tech architectural wonder in the 4tharrondissement in the City of Light, to know that find it he did. The masterpieces pulsate with an unmistakable interior energy that you can almost smell.
Like Van Gogh and Jackson Pollock, Howard Hodgkin takes sensuous pleasure in the gorgeousness of his material. If Post Impressionist Van Gogh is the steppingstone into Abstract Expressionism, Jackson Pollock is the manifestation of this quintessentially North American movement. Howard Hodgkin, with his vigorous, muscular attitude, is the contemporary artist who, for me, most authoritatively seizes upon the possibilities of expressionist painting today. Hodgkin employs both the evocative quality of the medium of paint and the color of paint to make “representational pictures of emotional situations” (see Dirty Weather 2006, below). In the same way as Van Gogh and Pollock before him, he savors his medium and even his small works embody a power that reaches out and grabs us from across a large room. Close up, his surfaces (to non-synaesthetes alike) scream “touch me”, “lick me”, “eat me” - “savor the beauty that I am.”
I strive to approach the act of painting with intention, an awakened receptivity and an open heart, as well as the knowledge of those who have created before me. Often, when people come into the Janice Griffin Gallery to look at my canvases, they tell me that my figurative and non-representational pieces are the first paintings they have liked. I always consider this a complement because, as much as anything, I want people to “feel” my pictures. Art often grapples with complex issues and emotions that are better explored visually than in words. For this reason, I’ve always trusted that good painters have to be both fearless and a little crazed. It’s that consenting to put our own understanding of experience open to public scrutiny, that extraordinary beauty of the truth, that people find so compelling. Thank you Vincent, Jackson and Howard for leading the way.
Janice Jada Griffin
© Pearl Avant-garde Copyright 2018