Sunday, May 26, 2013

Jill Greenberg: Horses and Swimmers

I like horses in art.  To me, the horse is a symbol of transition.  By transition, I mean transition within our inner reality as well as transition in our external reality.  Symbolically, the horse represents what gets you from one (rotten?) place to another (better?) place.  It takes you from a place of turmoil and conflict to your own hearth.  It leads you into and out of battle; it helps you escape, engage in some adventure or go home. 

St. George kills the dragon while on horseback.  Here's one version by Uccello.

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Indeed, throughout the history of western art, the horse has played an essential role in many amazing works of sculpture and painting. Here's an example by Jacques Louis David of his buddy Napoleon and his horse.

One of my favorite "horse" paintings is by Rembrandt and is found in the Frick Collection.  Here we see The Polish Rider:

Every time I see this painting at the Frick, I'm convinced that the horse looks emaciated. However, the last time I went, the person with me disputed this and said the horse looked OK.  Actually the person said that Rembrandt just probably sucked at painting horses.  My interpretation of the piece, however, was that Rembrandt was being allegorical.  We see a look of dogged resolve on the head of the horse, despite the emaciated state of its body.  It's as if the inner strength or inner qualities of the horse, and not just its outer strength, is what makes the horse such a potent symbol.  The resolve or determination of the horse is contrasted with the calm sense of command and confidence of the rider.

Here's an interesting painting I once saw at a gallery called Asian Art Piers by Zheng Hongxiang:

It's difficult to see the details from this picture, but the red boxes are covered with text from very idealistic political documents and on two boxes are drawn the face of a human while on two boxes are drawn the images of a horse head. 

An artist represented by Clamp Art (on 25th street) paints amazing close-up images of horses.  Indeed, Jill Greenberg seems to be a quite versatile painter in that the themes of her paintings often change.  She has also painted some amazing pieces of women floating in swimming pools.  First the horses, though:

What's different about Greenberg's horses? These are horses at rest showing a type of mystical or transcendental quality.   As I mentioned earlier, the horse is not a means of transition and engagement just because of its brute size.

Greenberg also dazzled me with her images of women floating in swimming pools:

Of course the big question is: why do they have their shoes on?

I think the presence of the shoes magnifies the feeling of a type of "groundless ground."  I recall a lecture by a prominent sociologist at my undergraduate school on a famous sociologist who referred to our ethical beliefs and actions as being derived from the groundless ground of ethics.

In this pool of water the body is submerged and weightless - it is almost like the root system of a plant.  The head, like a lotus flower, pierces through above the surface of the water providing an asymmetrical equilibrium.

Here I am standing next to a giant painting of Secretariat which was once part of a show of Australian art at Agora gallery. The artist is Lyn Beaumont.

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