Still from the sixth Norton Lecture by William Kentridge.
William Kentridge Expands
I still remember my mother laughing about how wowwed she was the first time she saw the movie Sunset Boulevard. And how gawdawful it seemed decades later.
Sometimes you enjoy something not five stars worth but six. Time may soon calm you down to five. Or two. But some things — Joyce’s Ulysses, Handel’s Messiah — may salute your life’s end by a show of flags. The signs of grace that you carried in your living heart.
Six stars today for artist William Kentridge’s Norton Lectures at Harvard from 2012. (All available on YouTube — links below). On the final lecture night an introductory speaker joked that everyone in attendance might want to go home and review their speaking skills. Kentridge is a phenomenon. He spends minimal time behind the podium, walks around talking, shows film clips, even interacts with one in the last night. His lectures are titled Six Drawing Lessons.
Drawing is the least of what you’ll learn. Drawing is exactly what he’s talking about.
I think of Kentridge as one of the three best living male artists (Frank Stella, Anselm Kiefer)*. Each of them has gone again. And again. And further. Each has searched inside himself and created an astonishing self-portrait.
The reasons for you to treat yourself to Kentridge’s lectures are these. He is the P.T.Barnum of the sober-sided Norton Lectures. A consummate performer with a sense of the absurd. He is a thinker, meaning he really thinks — like a drinker taking a long draught of elixer. I don’t understand it all and I don’t care. To hear someone as multi-leveled, articulate, charming, alive as this cannot mar your day.
I suspect you’ll give it 6 stars and will become quite fond of William Kentridge.
A. Two patterns in one frame. B. Pattern unit compiled from A, tiled out into a pattern. C. Same as B but with alpha (blank space) around + contrasting-scale pattern behind. D. Patterned silhouette on patterned background (augmented for contrast).
When More Is Better Yet
Galore even beats More.
I love ladling complexity on top of excess. Life seems so chaotic and the more busyness I can control at once provides a bannister.
One of my longtime goals is to achieve maximum complexity while retaining readability. Readability may be constrained by the human ability to keep track of separate units in one’s head. My most ambitious project would have 3D characters which dance or otherwise move, upon each of which plays a pattern or patterns or a single image in video and/or animation form. This would require designing every single facet to work — harmoniously? disharmoniously? — with each other (pace, rhythm, tonal contrast, color schemes…), probably with a sound track and undoubtedly with a background which is likewise alive.
Pieter Bruegel the Elder, the Wedding Dance. Public domain from Wikipedia.
You see the multi-tasking problem in Bruegel’s Wedding Dance. Try to attend to the foreground figures while keeping track of those receding into the woods. Particularly as you notice all the tumescent penises on show.
My project would require experiments with each piece to determine the aesthetic effects of say, smooth vs jerky movements of the figures in ensemble. Of combined arms and head movements vs arms with leg movements. Drilling down in every particular and next as they combine. I’ve toyed with each figure being assigned a storyline that unfolds in the images playing across their forms. Limits are for sissies.
The key to the project will come in controlling contrasts. Slow/fast, purple/yellow. Where to deploy them, where to tone them down. Because the biggest requirement is that the whole darned thing works as a whole. And the more traits that can be grouped the more your attention will fold them into what you can stay mindful of.
That said, until I have a studio assistant with technical 3D and 4D computer skills I won’t begin. My main job would be getting the aesthetics to work. Arguably harder, to begin to understand how the pace of a figure’s motion is affected by the rate of change in the video screening across it.
I’m in the midst of showing my work with patterns on the Created side of this website. Simple, then more complicated, and the last — on 11.23.20 — more voluptuous yet.
The basic techniques are laid out in mathematics. They’re called Wallpaper Patterns and each of seventeen can replicate a single unit to infinity without variation. I don’t pretend to know what the effects of nearby black holes will have if you pattern out to infinity. But the mathematics remain doggedly two-dimensional.
Except. Except for the odd rule that allows a pattern unit to sometimes be flipped. Which cannot happen in 2D. Why this action qualifies inside 2D math mystifies me.
Some wallpaper patterning formulas require a move through the third dimension. Imagine that this left-facing dragon [from [Dover Publications] is printed on thin paper and bound in a book. You must turn the bookpage over to get a dragon facing the other way.
All seventeen wallpaper patterns vary the orientation of one unit to the next like moving a compass needle. And some use the baffling flip diagrammed above. Remember with this set of seventeen formulas you could cover the Earth in roses or Royal Stewart plaid or puppy dogs. It’s that easy.
Photograph by Ivanna Torres of Unsplash. On unsplash.com I cannot find Ivanna_Torres, Ivanna Torres, Ivanna, Torres (plenty of Torres’s but not the right one.) Aha! Ivanna Torres. I followed the photo ID on Google.
I can’t find this photographer though I collected her work within the last two days. Ouch! …OK, now I have her but want it on record that I often can’t find photographers directly on unsplash. Bah.
Torres clearly has a camera that can be submerged and she’s taking shots that focus partly underwater and partly out in the free air. This isn’t the only shot of Torres’ I pulled off unsplash but it’s the one I fixated on.
This is the use of a tool that I love to see. The artist is exploring the fringes of what effects the tool will allow. It’s an extraordinary shot, surreal, edgy, beautiful.. I want to follow her explorations. It occurs to me that a split view can be achieved in multiple ways.
Last night I was woodshedded by a friend, in the sense that I was privately lambasted for my muddle-headed idea for testing the concept of fair use in copyright law.
If I’m in the right lane at an intersection and attempt a left turn any accident is my fault. No ambiguity. But if I justify my publication of an image by pointing to the text I write about it — well my friend says that sucks. A lawcourt might as well.
The lesson I take is that by displaying Gyasi’s image without his permission puts him, the unsuspecting artist, in a weird position he did nothing to provoke. I didn’t pull his name from a hat. I’ve collected well over 800 artists on Artsy and Gyasi’s work stuck insistently in my head. Mainly because of his startling success with color. I sought out his work in my Artsy catalog, going down one-by-one more than halfway before I hit on his entry.
Till then I could see the work in my head but not remember his distinctive name. Now I’ve published and commented on the work. If he doesn’t know yet, Google will most likely tell him. I owe him an apology for snagging him into a controversy. He did nothing to incite this stranger (me) than to do stunning artwork that the stranger saw. Unfair, reprehensible. Stupid.
Sir, I apologize to you.
Recently Ruth Bader Ginsberg lay in state while thousands of people filed past. Some needed to pause a moment to pray or commune, others hustled past mindful of those behind them. I have seen the Mona Lisa, but in that hasty second way. I looked, grokked, got out of the way.
Fact is I don’t quite get it about the Mona Lisa. I observe her standing in public regard but I’ve never connected with an aha! The Nike of Samothrace however takes my breath away. I stayed a long time with her from more than one vantage and as I left felt I was being dragged away from a piece of my heart. The sculpture I assume is centuries wise and understands how to cherish all the nuggets of self we leave in homage.
Prince Gyasi. The artist’s way with color is twofold. First is his ability to achieve an intensity of color saturation that could look hokey but doesn’t a bit. I believe his world contains this powerful color and he has found techniques that initiate and convince us. His second achievement composes photo shoots where color rules even though the models caught show raw individuality. His website quotes him “color can serve as a therapy, it can treat depression and transform emotions.”Here is where I feel we meet, I agree with every bone in my body. Colors are like fruits that you can bite into. Songs that give you wings.
Gyasi’s color is like a limp balloon he pumps with helium. He gives color extra meaning.
Testing, testing. Above we have two images. One is by Leonardo da Vinci whom you may have heard of by now. I know lots about her making, down to the wood that she’s painted on and how it warps seasonally. Green and brown is among my favorite color combinations and lend themselves to the Mona Lisa’s harmonious charm.
The image is copyright-free on Wikipedia. The image on the right is a screen grab from the website of Prince Gyasi, a Ghanaian. I do not have permission to use the image but I want to say that the artist’s achievement of supra-natural colors is the work of an iPhone. His experiments with photo-printing papers call attention to his curiosity.
In my view Gyasi is a fine artist. Da Vinci too. Gyasi photographs the stunning beauty of black black skin. His figures are rhythmic. Da Vinci’s rhythms are more subdued, have gentleness, grace. Gyasi is younger and his energy sings out. His inventiveness — as in the piece above — has nothing to do with the culmination of years of study. The artist’s focus is when the camera clicks.
I continue my tussle with the rights and particulars of copyright laws, specifically what is fair use to a blogger? My use of the works above is a test. I hope Mr Gyasi takes no offense at my using his distinctive work. It’s worth blogging about and I believe I’ve discoursed on it enough to claim fair use when using it.
The only identifiable face exposed is Mona Lisa’s. So no rights infringement there.
When I wrote my profile of Deborah Roberts I was denied the use of images by Stephen Friedman Gallery in London. That made my piece on Roberts less powerful and convincing, more challenging for the reader to decode. And it does the artist, getting less clarity or boost, no favors.
What you want a profile to provide is the flavor of the artist. It should not be hide’n’seek, bait’n’switch. Follow the links — surprise! — you’re the researcher now.
For months I’ve been compiling material for an essay on Furniture in Art. A survey. May I address this topic? By all means. Can I illustrate the survey with widespread examples and still claim fair use? Will that hold true in Bulgaria?
If I use no more than one image from each artist? If the essay remarks on the image and why it’s relevant here? Will Chinese law disagree?
Will USA law agree? British? (Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.)
Why — if I cannot receive even as much as pocket-change from my profile — can’t I use low-resolution, significantly downsized replicas of artworks?
What is free speech to a commentator on the visual arts without showing examples of the visual arts under discussion? Can a gallery refuse me use but can fair use rights override their no?
This is a test. Soon I’ll do another with an essay on furniture in art. Live, test the limits and learn.
“Stern Man” [Photo via <a href=”https://www.goodfreephotos.com/”>Good Free Photos</a>Liftarm] with my background.
Copyright and Fair Use
Fair Use is a legal term you use at your own risk. Lawyers can readily be found to take their battling arguments before a judge. Who can you afford?
Fair Use means a blogger profiling an artist’s work may not cut into that artist’s profit from the work. I assume that by profiling an artist the blogger is spreading the artist’s renown. So unless a person depicted in an image is recognizable I have the right to offer that image to you, the reader of my focused profile.
This I assure you is the fine legal opinion of me. Never a member of a law class.
Furthermore if I’m forbidden from using an artist’s image, I am allowed to replicate a part of it, just not in its entirety. Endless arguments festering here. An inch more off the top, judge?
The real problem is I don’t want to be a jerk. You can’t keep me from writing about you but you can vociferously resent my using your image as illustration. So do I say I’m claiming fair use? An ill-smelling choice. Do I publish without visuals? Pretty lame for visual arts. Maybe I can find a way to politely say that I’m writing the profile, you can give me permission to show some works or I’ll have to resort to chopping out pieces of it. How do you convey that without your subject seeing a gun in your hand?
I’m writing my letters and not hearing back. Kehinde Wiley’s crew took me to second base, then fell silent. In Covid times you can’t jump to conclusions. But of course I did. And I re-sent my reply, citing web malfunctions, but surely someone would be answering his email were he out of office.
My profile of Deborah Roberts (below) is my first after an unequivocal no from a gallery for images to accompany my blog. The method does the artist no favors. I’d much rather whole examples but I’ll take what seems legal and in good faith.
I am not a man, I’m dynamite, by Deborah Roberts. Mixed media and collage on canvas, 2019.
Addendum (11.01.20.) I’ve received feedback that some think Deborah Roberts is a so-so artist. I emphatically disagree. I also disagree – – jumping up and down disagree — with the ambiguity of copyright law, in that what’s fair use and what isn’t seems to be about how big a law firm you can afford.
If the example of Roberts’ work above doesn’t convince you of her gift please check out Deborah Roberts website. View the many personalities arrayed in Let Them Be Children and see if your opinion changes. Her yes, distorted, but but complexly human children feel. And you, dear human, can feel them feeling.
Deborah Roberts, Pieces Made into Wholeness
This powerhouse artist minces no words. She’s cut her way through photographs and found images and assembled the pieces into believable disjointed faces whose strong emotions you feel viscerally. Collage is fundamentally piecework but Roberts’ non-negotiable expressions lead me to call her collages wholework. These people are not composed for a pricey oil portrait, they’re caught in living moments. Mind-fuck situations. Trying to make Tab A fit in Slot B when Tab A is made of living crabs and Slot B is an unapproachable black hole.
I remember once as a child, after my father had spanked me he began applauding and and jeering why didn’t I really cry? A little white girl in a home of refined tastes. I felt in that outraged moment like the Pacific Ocean was trying to collide with Mars. Does not connect. In life you love and sometimes love knocks you clear off your pivot. Rarely, which is why it’s such a shove.
Recently the journalist Kristen Welker moderated 2020’s third Presidential debate. She happens to be Black which means she knows about what Black people know as The Talk — the mandatory indoctrination for Black children by their parents on how not to provoke a White person into killing you. Ms Welker asked each candidate to comment on The Talk.
I take nothing from my furious little girl self. You can only react to the cards you’re holding. But my grown-up self tries to imagine The Talk. My parents tutoring me how to stay alive when in the company of other-skinned police. How to live in a society that prides itself on fairness — but, by the way, no one means Black people. You’re out of luck, brace yourself.
You want incomprehensible? White girl, bite down on that.
Deborah Roberts’s pieces give special attention to several parts of portraiture. The face is primary and it’s uncanny how well the artist can tell which pieces make emotions plain. Meaning complex but plainly seeable. Say a questioning face with iron determination in it. Two pieces that we can read together.
My impression is that Roberts inks in the Black hairdos. Making the photographs less personal, recognizable.
Deborah Roberts, sample hairstyles.
Deborah Roberts, sample hands (with an added white one).
Deborah Roberts, sample footwear.
Deborah Roberts sample clothes.
The hands are a focus, often way outsized for the character. There’s always invention and immaturity in the poses of the young girls. She keeps growing as an artist, adding boys, women, men. And most notably — you feel it in your solar plexus — she’s added pieces of white faces, white hands into the troubled identity of her Black people.
You should also attend to her choice of footwear. When the subject’s feet are included Roberts is picky about the socks and shoes. Her people dress with personality.
Lastly, the torso seems to have a particular meaning. You’d swear the artist isn’t paying attention until you see how unerringly a rectangle of stripes shows just how a subject’s shoulders would sit. Also the torso is where Roberts can indulge her fancy in highly patterned and often wild clothing.
The figures are so startlingly realistic you lose sight of how surreal they actually are. I look at Roberts’ figures and say Of course. The artist treats the ratio of surreal and real like a rock guitarist a wah-wah pedal. Some works feature crazy exaggerations. Others put their foot down decisively. No experimenting here.
The first art I ever made that wasn’t someone else’s was collage. I have strong feelings about it. It’s in this context that I look at Deborah Roberts’ work with great respect. What seems weightless and little thought can only be due to deep seeing. The parts she exaggerates, those she sets akimbo, the sketchy arms, the ink hairdos — don’t take these for granted. The way she weights her works is telling. Meaningful.
See more of her work at the links below. [For an explanation of why I illustrate Roberts’ fine work with lame illustrations see the next post on Copyright and Fair Use.]
PPS: This image mix was culled from a web search. I’m suggesting it is fair use to showcase Roberts’ evocative range.
Humans who seek to reach others nonverbally by color, gesture, shape, were in past centuries limited to what they could draw, paint or sculpt with. That began changing with human experiments in focusing in (microscopes) and out (the scale of telescopes). We began to equal and exceed the abilities of flies and bees. We saw things that no human before had any notion existed. In pond water, in blood.
My last post Art and Experimental Media explored how science can change art. Let’s go further. The notion of focusing both in and out has been expanding. Scientists now turn art techniques to science to reveal new complexities. The Brainbow above is a technique for imaging neurons, for keeping one separate from another so you can trace from here to there.
Today ScienceMagazine announced Cryo–electron microscopy breaks the atomic resolution barrier at last. Atoms for art?
Cryo–electron microscopy reveals the atomic details of apoferritin, a hollow, spherically shaped protein complex that stores iron.
And isn’t the image above spectacularly gorgeous? What I want to see is this brainbow technique pursued by serious artists. This type of image worked in with other kinds of image. For it to step from scientists to artists with agendas utterly other.
I’ve recently become aware of the MIT graduate Michael Fogleman who enjoys making small apps for the visually ambitious. He’s my hero right now, exactly the free-wheeling brain that can deliver me a slew of techniques for that I can accumulate and then begin bringing together.
If this seems far afield from imaging technology (electron microscope, Hubble telescope) remember that the brain is a superb focusing device. And Fogleman’s apps allow you to make images that you hadn’t imagined.
Welcome to an abundant world for artists to harvest from.