Abts, Hodgkin, Rothko, Twombly, Newman & Chou En-Lai

Today I’m thinking about the work of Tomma Abts and her highly geometric abstractions.  Her colours are delightfully muted.  I am thinking about whether I like the machine-like perfection (despite her saying these works take a long time and betray their provenance).  I do like the layering, of past incarnations being replaced and the lines showing through — I do this and feel it adds to the history of the creative process. I also respect her for working with a fixed canvas size — I was chided once for using the same size and similar marks (or lack thereof) and wondered why that was a problem.  I don’t get criticism about the ’sameness’ of my handwriting which is quintessentially mine, too.

I am also thinking about Howard Hodgkin, whose work is tremendously provocative and elegantly cavalier in form.  His bold designs and titles are thoughtful.  I like this, and feel that titles are appropriate to a work of art, more ‘user friendly’ than ‘untitled number 342′, which feels like you’re eavesdropping on a private experience.  Why many artists avoid titles seems petty — certainly we’d feel quite differently about Shakespeare if ‘Romeo and Juliet’ were simply ‘untitled number 24′.

I still find Rothko interesting and thoughtful.  I’ve read his words, and what others have written about him and looked at his work up close and personal as he would like as well as from afar.  Was he really so mythic?  He did choose rectangular shapes, vaguely outlined albeit so background and foreground are ambiguous (is the foreground the bit in the middle?).  What was Rothko thinking?  That is the question for me.

Finally, today’s ‘thinking about’ brings me to Cy Twombly (a variant on my own last name, I wonder…).  This former cryptographer’s fascination with codes is evident, and the playful nature of the works are refreshing.  Is Twombly the last abstract expressionist, or is there hope for those who think this approach has more to say?

Granted, the art community does view things in a rather primitive linear manner (post-modernism and post-post, and post-post-post notwithstanding), that with art you can’t really go back — Cubism has no more to say despite having its genesis in Einstein and relativity theory, something we’re still learning to understand — so can we really say that the last ‘art word’ has been said on cubism?  I think not.

I’m still trying to make sense of Newman’s Onement.

As Chou En-Lai said when asked what he thought the historical significance of the French revolution was: “Too soon to tell”.  Perhaps the problem with art is that the attention span of the art thought leaders is too short — perhaps on the same order of length as the folks who look for the next big thing in music.  It is the sustainability of the message that is probably important than the novelty. (So much for YBA…)

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