Monday, August 19, 2013

Quixotic warriors of an inner struggle - Francis Upritchard at Anton Kern Gallery

When you first enter Anton Kern and see the figures of the older men in bizarre tai-chi like positions, you might be perplexed.  In her artist statement, however, Upritchard clarifies matters somewhat by indicating these are warriors engaged in a type of inner struggle.

Some of the figures wear chain mail, some have caps bearing crucifixes.

Often when we think of a person engaged in inner struggle or in a process of inner discernment, we imagine folks like this:

So Upritchard's pieces resonated with me because my own attempts to understand my own motives, emotions and cognitive processes have not always been the peaceful endeavor depicted immediately above. Indeed, an insight can come during some experience or encounter in the world just as readily (or perhaps more readily) as it can during deep reflection.

Upritchard also points to the fact that in our attempts to dive deeper into ourselves, we look for metaphors and military metaphors often help us to, paradoxically, understand inner conflicts or attempts to overcome inner obstacles in order to attain a more peaceful inner life.  Some 'holy' books contain extreme violence and military endeavors ordered or sanctioned by "God."

Here are men - about the age of Quixote - who have adopted all the military trappings (except weapons) but are not engaged in an outward 'fight.'  They have conceived of their inner journey as a battle and their outward posture, facial expressions and accoutrements reflect this.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Bananas and peaches. Amazing drawings by Zhang Dun at Chambers Fine Art

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I must be more pure than I thought (and I'm not sure whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.)  When I walked into Chambers Fine Art with a friend of mine and saw the amazing drawings of bananas and peaches, I was immediately impressed by how the artist captured a sort of perfect ripeness; the drawings were so well executed.  My friend, however, said, "Wow! This is really sexual stuff." Then I realized: Ooops, yeah, this stuff is obviously 'erotic.'  But it's not erotic just for the sake of being erotic.  I think that Zhang Dun is really making an interesting point about how the male and female sexual organs and sexual drives are perceived and even how they are utilized in art and literature.

In allegorical literature the masculine and the feminine often have a symbolic meaning. In the Odyssey or Faust, or any number of older works, you have the wandering, tormented, testosterone driven, struggling male who overcomes obstacles to seek his comfort or solace in the eternal feminine.  The man (Odysseus, for instance) wanders and fights and the woman (Penelope, for instance) stays home and weaves and waits.  The masculine seems to represent something active and searching while the feminine represents a passive ideal of spiritual solace for the man (or what the man represents symbolically).

That symbolic 'paradigm' (for lack of better terminology), of course, doesn't quite work these days, now that society has changed so radically over the generations and women are as active as men.

So what I like about Zhang Dun's work (beyond her amazing draughtsmanship) is her exploration of the male and female sex organs using analogs that allow a differing perspective from common notions of the masculine and feminine sex drives (and how they can be 'allegorized'). 

You no longer have the male penis as something harsh or piercing, for example.  This is no longer the penis of Faust, Dante or Odysseus.  The peach is not the vagina of Gretchen, Beatrice or Penelope. Both sex organs possess, basically, the same type of soft elegance.  Indeed, if we were to look for active and passive analogies here, the peaches would seem to be more "active" than the bananas.  The peaches are, in places, a deep red color, implying passion or desire.  The bananas seem to passively unfold instead of aggressively swell.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Optimist by Tim Okamura

There has been a great deal of sensitivity to the condition of African Americans shown in some Chelsea galleries recently.  There is, for instance, an amazing show at Jack Shainman Gallery called: Question Bridge: Black Males.

At Lyons Wier I saw a painting by Tim Okamura that I thought was worth passing along.  He calls it: The Optimist.

We see an African American woman who is apparently surrounded by poverty and violence but who has attained to a degree of tranquility despite her immediate surroundings. Indeed, we even see a type of graffiti halo hovering over her head.

It's a very optimistic painting - I am not even sure this level of serenity is possible and, at first, due to the obvious halo, I thought that the artist was, perhaps, being ironic. 

Being an optimist myself, however, I tend to think the artist was being more sincere than ironic and I appreciated the positive and hopeful belief that even in situations of harsh adversity we can believe in something better and perhaps even reach a state of grace or serenity.

So here's an image of a person who was not corrupted by her surroundings and we are challenged to think about the inner means and struggle she engaged in to reach this state of grace.

Thank you to Giulia A. for taking this photo for me.