Thursday, December 30, 2010

Will Cotton vs. Jenny Saville

Will Cotton (Image Above), Jenny Saville, (Image Below)

I've been wanting to write a post for a while about Will Cotton. He's pretty big in the media eye as of late, since he was the artistic director for Katy Perry's music video "California Gurls".

And I think this may make him sort of a sell-out in a lot of artists minds, but whatever.

I'm very intrigued by this artist. He has a great talk done by the Federation of Artists from a few years back describing everything from his working methods, his palette, and most obviously his concept.

As a modern day figurative painter, I seem to have a hard time not putting myself in two categories: Either you paint pretty women, as the history of Western Painting up until WWI did, OR you paint the gritty side of our world (hence the image of Jenny Saville above). If you paint pretty women today, one could easily argue that this beauty is trite, unfitted to todays world, or even, at very best, a spread from a glossy magazine. And if you paint pretty nudes, even worse. You are just adding to the long lineage of how the world sees women... delicate, decorative.
If you paint the grit and ugliness that is very present today, and which, to my relief, we are very much ALLOWED to paint, well, you paint ugliness. It took a lot of hard work, I think, to get away from EVERYTHING being pretty in the 1900s. Ms. Saville's paintings are NOT beautiful, in many ways, but are a means to show something completely different, another side of humanity, however much we may want to look away.

I know I'm making a big ol' box for figurative painters, but hear me out.

A little over a month ago, I participated in a show called "Women Painting Women". It was rooted from a blog by Sadie Valerie after she had gone to see a show entitled "Women in Art" a few years back. She was shocked, rightfully so, that there were no female painters represented in the show, only images of women painted by male painters. Hence she began her blog about how women have a different viewpoint on their fellow women, and hence, the show at Robert Lange Studio came to be.

So what do Women Painting Women, Will Cotton, Jenny Saville, and the struggles of Ugly versus Pretty Art have in common?


I submit for discussion evidence A:

So here's Will Cotton: normal guy of today, well-educated, and a seriously good craftsman of his metier. At this point, if you don't know his work, you should look at his website to make some sense of what I'm going to write. He paints women in these huge canvasses, covered (partially) in everything from melting ice cream to cotton candy. I know a lot of women who have issues with this guy, but hear me out. He is, very obviously, going for a statement about gluttony and extravagance. Insatiability. Absolute decadence. And, smartly, he very often shows that decadence in an easy-access, somewhat cheap sort of way. A nude. Candy. Chocolate. Fluff. Interestingly, he also paints quite a lot of paintings that show these still lifes that he has created as maquettes eroding. Decomposing sweets.
Will cotton has found a way to go SO over the top with beauty and sweetness, that not only do we like to look at his paintings (aesthetic: check), but he has a pretty bold, modern, real statement within them (modern content: check).


And what does that have to do with women? Well, as a female painter, while I was on my trip in SC with 11 other female artists, I found myself pretty torn up. On one hand, I like to look at beauty. I like female nudes. I like the paintings men have created for us in history. But the other side of me also wants nothing more than to stay away from trite-ness. I don't think beauty is trite by any means, but I do think it can fall into a place of emptiness. Plus, beauty, as far as I have come into contact with it, usually has a component of surprise, chaos, and even sometimes darkness. NOT all dark, mind you... that can get twisted easily.

So as a female figurative painter, who struggles with going back and forth from beauty to reality, I give props to Mr. Cotton. A lot of my artist friends might be pretty pissed I say this. But he found a way to say something that is going on, without having to scream it. I look forward to seeing these bigger-than-life canvasses some day.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Opposing Natures

I'm not big on writing movie reviews for blogs, but I think this movie deserves some thoughts. If you haven't seen "Black Swan" yet, I will try to be thoughtful about not ruining the movie for you.
I saw this yesterday in Atlanta. I'm supposed to be in New York right now, but because of all of the blizzard complications, humans can't fly up there for a while. I say humans because my bag somehow made it up there without me.

So, Tim and I scratched our trip, and are camping in Atlanta until we figure out what to do, or at the very least, get our underwear back.

It's kind of funny... this month has been a bit of a whirlwind, not unlike the weather. A few weeks ago, my truck broke down with smoke coming out from under the hood on my way to see my students' final paintings. The next day my pt Cruiser died in the middle of East Chattanooga. I was pretty pissy for a few days, completely forgetting any kind of holiday spirit I may have had in lieu of all the cash I had to spend on cars.
And then the morning I had to go and turn in my final grades at the University, there was an ice storm and I walked instead. Walking is my most natural state, I believe. I walked through the silent streets, hovering for that moment in a suspended little scene of ice and twigs and frozen blossoms. It completely snapped me out of my funk, thankfully.

And so, for Christmas, Tim and I headed to Miami to see my dad, everyone with a fever and cough as is expected. We got to Miami, and I was blown away with my dad's new work. Photos do his sculptures no justice.
The plan after Christmas was for us to take flight straight from Miami to New York to see my sis.

And so here I am in Atlanta:(

Which is why yesterday, while waiting for our seemingly ever- invisible bags to be delivered, we went to see Black Swan.

So, here's a little info:

This is from wikipedia about the Swan Lake story line:

Princess Odette is a fictional character from the ballet Swan Lake. She is the lead ballerina role. Von Rothbart's daughter Odile is danced by the same ballerina; this explains how Odile is able to trick Prince Siegfried into being unfaithful to Odette. She also appears in many adaptations of the ballet.

Odette is an enchanted princess under a spell of the evil sorcerer Von Rothbart; she has been transformed into a swan by day and can only regain her human form at night. She has many companions under the same spell, who have made her their queen, hence her title 'The Swan Queen'. She is forced to live by a lake that was magically formed by her grieving mother's tears when Rothbart kidnapped her; Rothbart's reasons for kidnapping Odette and enchanting her are unknown in the ballet. The only way for the spell to be broken is by the power of eternal love between Odette and a young man who will remain faithful to her, for if the vow of eternal love is broken, she will remain a swan forever.

One day, the young Prince Siegfried ventures upon the lake while out hunting and sees Odette transform from her swan form back into her human form. He is so struck by her beauty that he falls in love with her at once and when she tells him her story, he promises to love her forever and invites her to a Royal Ball at his castle so he may choose her as his bride. They spend the night dancing together, falling more and more in love with each other until dawn breaks and Odette is forced to return to the lake as a swan, leaving Siegfried alone.

Siegfried waits for Odette at the Ball and believes she has attended when two strangers arrive. But it is actually Rothbart and his daughter Odile in disguise. Rothbart has planned to trick Siegfried into breaking his vow to Odette by magically disguising Odile in Odette's shape and form. Siegfried dances with her and fails to see the real Odette appearing at the window in her swan form to warn him of Rothbart's plot and pleading with him to remain faithful to her. Rothbart's plan is a success when Siegfried declares his eternal love to Odile, thinking she is Odette and Rothbart joyfully reveals that Odette is now forever in his power.

Odette flees back to the lake in distress and Siegfried follows her, begging her to forgive him, which she does but she tells him that she will never be freed from Rothbart's spell. The only way she can be freed is if she dies, for she would rather die than live without Siegfried. Siegfried cannot live without Odette and declares that he will die with her. When Rothbart appears, Odette throws herself into the lake and Siegfried follows her. In the climax of their sacrifice, Rothbart's powers are destroyed and the spell is finally broken; Odette's companions are freed from the enchantment. As the sun rises, Siegfried and Odette ascend into Heaven together, united in love for all eternity.[citation needed]

I remember seeing this ballet when I was little in New York on a class field trip. Of course I had no idea what was going on in the story, but I was enthralled with the dancers, especially the Swan Queen.
So this new rendition, if we can even say it is a rendition, is a total love/hate story. I can see why a lot of people wouldn't like "Black Swan". I absolutely loved it, even though I was uncomfortable from start to finish.

But one note:
While we were walking to the theater yesterday, I asked Tim what his life story would be if he had to tell me in 5 minutes. I won't tell you what he said, but it was good. He asked me to do the same. I found myself talking half of the time about how I wanted to be a painter of my generation. I want to show the struggles and joys that my generation deals with but in a timeless way. And I've said it before, but I think the people of today deal a lot with polarizations. Polar opposites. Extremes. Attached/detached. Interested/bored. Consumers/ purists. Modern/vintage. Expressive/denying. Painfully removed/ unwillingly associated. More/less. Surely we are not the first generation to go through this. But the image of a small crevice expanding is what comes to mind. And that's all OK. We are BOTH. It is the personal story of the people today that makes this part of our "both-ness" a great thing.

Most of this movie is about opposing roles. I found myself thinking about all of the times that I have ever been asked to be one person only. It never really works out, and you end up sort of exploding into someone else after a while. Like my friend Meg says, "AND not OR"
OR can be one of the worst things to go through. If you ask me, it is the most unnatural state humans, or at the very least, I (since that's the only human I can really speak for) can be in.

Props to the director Darren Aronofky for making such an AND movie... dark, gorgeous, visceral, gritty, refined. Even the movie poster shows both beauty and darkness.

So I take it back, I'm not going to write a movie review. Go see it for yourself, but be warned it is not for the faint-hearted. When Tim and I got out of the theater, we didn't quite know what to say, but were both bursting with ideas.

A lot to think about when heading into 2011. More to come!!
Thanks for reading, and I hope you all have/had/are having a great holiday!