Everyday Beauty Craft Pop Simulation
Ken Fandell, Ass. Professor of Art, Harvey Mudd College, CA
The sound or the music which corduroy trousers, like these, make when one moves.
-Marcel Duchamp, Notes on the Infraslim, 1945
I do not wear corduroys. My everyday is not your everyday. In her 1993 essay “Equality Celebrates the Ordinary,” Sally Banes writes that the “embrace of the ordinary” is “not a monolithic project.” For her it ranges “from an almost biblical, mystical injunction humbly to love the world around one to an irreverent,transgressive embrace of schlock culture.” This diversity of approach to a concept we might initially feel is a shared one makes it difficult to assess the intent of the approaches. How do we tell if a work is a celebration of, as Banes refers to it, “the brash here and now” or if it is an indictment of it? Is the tone one of sincerity or irony? Can it be both?
The red lobster’s beauty only comes out when it’s dropped into the boiling water… and nature changes things and carbon is turned into diamonds and dirt is gold… and wearing a ring in your nose is gorgeous.
-Andy Warhol, On Beauty from The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again, 1975
The restaurant chain Red Lobster was founded in 1968. Although Andy Warhol did not make his reference to the colored crustacean a proper noun in his philosophy of beauty, I’m sure he was thinking of it. A paragraph later in the same essay he states that McDonald’s is the most beautiful thing in Tokyo, Stockholm and Florence.
I’m not sure what the beauty in a McDonald’s is. Arthur C. Danto was not sure “what the aesthetics of Warhols’ Brillo Box, if indeed it has any aesthetics, are”when he wrote “The Aesthetics of Brillo Boxes.” Although I know not to take Warhol at face value, that there are usually at least a few other things he may be getting at with his laconic statements, I do think he believed in the beauty in things I would define as not just banal but outright vulgar.
Technique has a bad name; it can seem soulless. That’s not how people whose hands become highly trained view technique. For them, technique will be intimately linked to expression.
-Richard Sennett, The Craftsman
Richard Sennett concludes The Craftsman with a chapter on the controversial proposal that “nearly anyone can become a good craftsman” and “that motivation is a more important issue than talent in consummating craftsmanship.” Given current cultural proliferation of craft across categories and disciplines, we can see that the desire to express is an incredible motivator. Expression, via the refinement of craft techniques, is everywhere. If we accept expression as the integral element of art, perhaps we have finally reached a moment when Josef Beuys’ slogan of “everyone is an artist” has finally come true.
Just What Is It that Makes Today's Homes So Different, So Appealing?
-title of a Richard Hamilton collage, 1956
Richard Hamilton coined the term pop art. He described it as “Popular (designed for a mass audience), Transient (short-term solution), Expendable (easily forgotten), Low Cost, Mass Produced, Young (aimed at youth), Wicked, Sexy, Gimmicky, Glamorous, Big Business." I hate most of the things depicted in pop art. I love pop art. I hope this does not mean my love is based on irony.
A thought about reflection is that what we are looking at something that really isn't there. On the reflective surfaces, the tactile and the visual poetry do not coincide for they overlap. Since all objects reflect, glass and chrome, only more so, they show how we think they are. Thus, the reflection becomes reality.
Richard Estes, 1968
Richard Estes embraces simulation unironically (maybe this is why he felt pop art “made too much comment”). He lives in New York. He takes photographs of things in New York. His everyday things like buses, escalators, diners, and Coca Cola signs. Often he takes photograph of reflections. This is sort of making reflections of reflections. Then he makes paintings of these reflections of reflections, making representations of reflections of reflections. His representations of reflections of reflections have often been refereed to as realer than real, or hyperreal. He has joked that he is really a plein air painter, but his “open air” or “natural world” is one of images. And although he has said that he does not “enjoy looking at the things” he paints, I think he loves the act of crafting beautiful simulations of his everyday.
Hyperclarity | Essay - Ann Goldberg
In December 2015, I will be having my third solo show at Winsor Gallery. This show, as well as my previous show, is at Winsor’s new location in the new art district in Vancouver - the Flatlands1. What will be hung on the walls is the end result of a process. I would like to share a little bit of the ideas & processes that led me to include the pieces of work shown.
I grew up in Edmonton, Alberta in the 60’s & 70’s. I remember my first visit to the Edmonton Art Gallery. My mother took me to see the new Photorealists. I remember being amazed at how real the artists could make the paintings and sculptures. I remember trying to feel the wet drops on the dry paintings; sitting beside the real, fake people on a bench.
I was raised amongst other artists. (I believe they were artists & I will explain later in more detail). In particular, they were my grandmother and my mother. My grandmother was a weaver - a member of the Alberta Weavers Guild. She was a prominent weaver in Alberta. She would dye bulk wool with natural dyes made with items she collected like lichen and onion skins. She would then spin this dyed bulk wool on her spinning wheel and then weave it on a huge loom - often with branches and other foud objects.
My mother was a sewer and I remember watching her design her own clothes- carefully cutting the clothes from patterns she designed and then sewing them with extreme precision. I remember playing and organizing her buttons while she laboured away.
I believe these women were artists as well as craftspeople. The debate about the crossover of art and craft is having a resurgence. It’s not a new question, the boundaries between craft and art have long been contested. With the interest in craft, artists’ such as A i Weiwei’ & his connection with traditional skills and Richard Sennett's collection of essays, ‘The Craftsman’, are gaining interest and coverage.
There are many ideas defining the distinction between the artist and craftsperson. Intention to express, the material used in the product - textiles, ceramics, glass...how a maker learnt their skill or the use of a product - something wearable.
There is still ongoing debate over whether fiber arts movement as it developed 1960s and 1970s, such as my grandmothers weaving, is more appropriately aligned with art than craft. This is certainly the case regarding the scholarship on Sheila Hicks (b. 1934), one of the most celebrated fiber artists. Also - the idea of the difficulty for these women to be taken seriously for what they were producing. A huge nod to the feminist movement.
The 1960s and ‘70s brought an international revolution in fiber art & the women's movement because of the traditional association of women with textiles in the domestic sphere.
Fiber work has become more and more conceptual, influenced by postmodernist ideas, this brought "a new focus on creating work which confronted cultural issues such as: gender, feminism; domesticity and the repetitive tasks related to women’s work; politics; the social and behavioral sciences; material specific concepts related to fiber’s softness, permeability, drapability, etc.
I think being around all these creative people gave me the inspiration to create something from nothing. So my mother put me in private art lessons at the age of 6. I loved them and have kept creating since then.
After High school, I studied Math and Fine Arts at UBC and the University of Victoria. I then went on the study Architecture at UBC. Graduating with an Architecture degree - I went on to practice architecture for ten years before going back to painting.
I work in oil on canvas - but I really believe that artists can use any medium they want to create. I just happen to really enjoy the craft and the process of painting. I think a persons true creative spirit will “come out” no matter what medium they are using. I often wonder if my paintings are like the crafts of my ancestors - enjoying the process... the rhythm.
My paintings might be considered Hyperreal paintings - perhaps a result of the photorealistic shows I went to at the EAG. Hyperrealism is an outgrowth of extremely high resolution images produced by digital cameras. (Whereas photorealism emulated from analog photography) With this digital photography we are kind of stopping time - immortalizing a moment. We are kind of then living in the now, remembering & retaining a moment in the now. Being present in an intense way because of these high resolution digital images,....ie a drop of water in full resolution sitting in the air...Hyperrealism became a movement.
The concept of Hyperrealism is based on the philosophy of Jean Baudrillard a French philosopher ,, "the simulation of something which never really existed”. In my case, my paintings are based on digital photography - which is like a frozen moment in time and doesn't really exist that way in the real world.. As Jean Baudrillard suggests in his example of hyperreality - technology distorting reality - "The gulf war did not exist...."
So my paintings are using digital photography as a technology. They are a simulation of reality using digital photography but with my human touch (the craft) and I can then hopefully enhance the original found beauty.
My paintings actually end up as a contrast between hyperrealism and abstract expressionism (although seemingly opposing - another recurring theme). As you can see if you get up close my paintings are abstract & painterly but as you back off they become photographic. I find this duality really interesting - also in lightness & darkness... The idea of opposites often crops up in my work - also focus - blurry vs detailed or focused. Also, the idea of craft and art meets Hyperreality/Jean Baudrillard. I consider my art sometimes to be like the crafts of my influencers. explain One of the things in regards to Baudrillard is the idea of the lack of an original, but craft is so tied to the idea of authenticity.
My paintings are human more made by a human based on technology that was originally taken by a human.but the technology or camera distorted the reality so I'm not really painting reality. So my paintings and my life are a constant flow between technology and reality.
I am typically interested in Beauty. Beauty of all kinds - beauty of the mundane, banal or everyday... Things that for some reason catch my eye. And I have been reading about the science of beauty - trying to understand why these things catch my eye. Essays by people like Ellen Dissanakye - who wrote Homo Aestheticus and argues that art is and always has been essential to humans. Something touches people and there is the need t express it.
When I get a commission - I try and learn about that person. What they are looking for and what is important to them. I try and make the moment in time they want to retain a reality.
In terms of subject matter - I find my painting are often an interpretation of culture as I see it - which is true for many artists. I find they often tend to be Pop-arty or Kitschy as its something I am also interested in. As Douglas Copeland said, ”Pop art is a way of looking at the modern and consumer world in a compelling and beautiful way. Andy Warhol said once you see the world as Pop you can never see it as un-pop."
When I see something that attracts my eye, I capture it with a digital camera. Usually taking about 200 photos, then I put it up on the computer and play with it. I then transfer the image to the canvas, all the while analyzing the image; attempting to try and bring out or highlight the parts that I found beautiful and that caught my eye. Saturating colors, emphasizing contrasts, highlighting light, popping out what I think is important in the piece or mixing parts of images together. And then I transfer it to the canvas again intensifying the part I found beautiful all the time referring to the digital image on the screen of a computer, iPad or iPhone.
For example, the detail of a glass bowl with fruit has colorful rainbows in the glass - I find beauty and try to make it more extreme in my paintings. (Or sometimes not - as they are already amazing).
I'm not sure if most overlook what I see - I think most people see the same things - I just exaggerate it. I've also been very visual from a very young age so I'm always looking for beauty in the everyday. I believe artists defract what is going on in the world- they are kind of like a prism that takes in light or information & separates it into the various colors that make up the light. or ideas...- taking in information, processing it and delivering an interpretation.
As there is this juxtaposition between the authentic handmade painting and the unoriginal digital image perhaps by painting the image I try to retain a humanness or authenticity in my work. The images are first a simulation of reality using digital photography, but then they are painted with my human touch and perhaps the craft influences from my ancestors. Hopefully this enhances the original found beauty.
My work has also been influenced in certain ways by math, as I mentioned that was my first degree. In the mathematical world, there are equal and opposite forces. The real world and the digital world might be similarly opposite but not comparatively or relatively equal. I see these dichotomies in the world, and I express them in my painting.
I also see parallels to these artistic dualities in nature. Physicist Alexander Kusenko from UCLA has recently proposed a new theory about the creation of the Universe (really creating something from nothing!). To put it simply, shortly after the Big Bang, the universe’s growth slowed with two kinds of particles which were perfectly opposed in mass and charge, effectively cancelling each other out except "for one tiny, unexplained asymmetry in the size of their forces: For every 10 billion antiparticles, there were 10 billion particles — plus one. That marginal imbalance meant that matter was the last man standing, leading to the creation of the elements, stars, solar systems, planet Earth and every person on it." I guess in a weird way my little world of painting is not entirely dissimilar to these theories, in that there is an abundance of dichotomies in my work. Dichotomies that are opposite but not equal. And the side plus one of the opposing ideas is hopefully the authentic human side or the good side.
This occurrence of opposites materializes in the view of the world from my perspective and this view oscillates between the real and the unreal or digital world. That is, the manifestation of opposites from my view oscillates between the real world and the unreal digital world. My paintings are a reflection or interpretation of life and culture as I see them. I sometimes think my paintings are more human or authentic than the digital image that was taken by a human (myself). The technology or camera distorted the reality so I'm not really painting reality. The reality is captured by the technology - which transforms it in the act. I then choose from hundreds of such captures. Afterward I alter one or more of those digitally to create yet a new reality, and then further transform the moment through its transliteration from the digital pixels to the analog brushstrokes - where information is both lost and gained in the process. So what am I painting? What remains of the original, organic experience? My paintings and my life are a constant flow between technology, ‘the unreal’, and reality. This show, Hyperclarity, exemplifies this idea of stepping back and forth between the real and the unreal.