Carl Belz, Director Emeritus of the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, has been posting his views on a variety of art topics for some time on Left Bank Art Blog. His most recent article, The Color Picture Now: Feeling Foremost, is my all time LBAB favorite.
But that shouldn’t be surprising. This is a topic that speaks directly to the wheelhouse of my six years of writing on Slow Muse.
In this piece, Belz navigates his way through the postmodern era of art by focusing on the vision of three painters—Ronnie Landfield, Sandi Slone, and Darryl Hughto. All are, as Belz describes them, “fully schooled in modernism, and each absorbed from the start the ways and means of Post Painterly Abstraction, in particular its primary emphasis on a personal and expressive use of color.”
Belz does a succinct contextualizing of the work of these artists during an era that has not been, shall we say, painting-centric:
Postmodern sensibilities that germinated in the 1970s haven’t generally endorsed the value judgments guiding that synopsis of color picture history. Disillusioned by the failed promises of the previous decade—a reaction quickly transferred to 20th Century modernism generally—they’ve opted more for cultural deconstruction and critique, for irony, and for detached, anti-aesthetic interest than for quality and conviction. From such a position, the tradition extending from Matisse to Stella, say, is seen less as a pictorial achievement than a decorative art historical sidebar, an assessment echoing a concern that was initially voiced decades before, most notably by Marcel Duchamp, who, in the face of the Fauves and Cubists, declared the new art mere visual pleasure—in a word, retinal. As a corrective, he called for art to restore ideas to itself, the implication being that it would otherwise devolve to comprise objects lacking meaningful content, objects, that is, which were indistinguishable from ordinary things in the world, things that could only nominally be considered art, like bottle racks or bicycle wheels, for instance, instead of the real McCoy, like the things in museums.
Conceptualism’s critique notwithstanding, the colorist equation of content with feeling continued to figure prominently—as it had figured prominently since the late 1940s—across our visual culture’s increasingly pluralistic stage during the later 1960s and the 1970s. Which is when the three painters presented here…were coming into their early maturity.
Belz goes on to explore the work of each artist individually, accompanied by a selection of sample work. His point of view is respectfully admiring and thoughtful. A must read in its entirety.
The post concludes with this paragraph which resonates for me wholeheartedly:
Paintings I really like I think about living with, like the paintings of Ronnie Landfield and Sandi Slone and Darryl Hughto. The worlds they take me to are generous and accommodating, pleasured by art that is meaningful in and of itself, art that is justified simply by being, like nature. I like to think there’s room in my own lived world—even in the lived world at large—for that kind of experience. I share Matisse’s dream of “an art filled with balance, purity and calmness…a spiritual remedy…for the businessman as well as the artist”—even though I’m no businessman or artist myself.
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