Monday, December 14, 2009

Making connections

White Amaryllis(2004) oil, acrylic, palladium leaf, glitter on Japanese Doors
DC Moore Gallery


My last post provided a short summary of the productive practice of Robert Kushner, one of the founders of The Pattern and Decoration Movement in the US in the 1970's. This follow- up digs more deeply into his working process and influences and I hope to shed light on my interest in pattern and decoration and how it has influenced my work.

Kushner's recognizable large blocks of colour, lavish applications of paint, delicate drawings, and decorative elements of gold and silver leaf are found to varying degrees in his work from the late 1980's onward.

One of his more recent series was created on Japanese screens, a process inspired by his first trip to Japan where he saw ancient gilded doors that still remained vital after 400 years. He was also influenced by Asian brushwork and exaggerated horizontal formats. He comments that his use of used screens and doors as a background helps him "relish the history of use, damage and restoration that ultimately became incorporated into the image". Kushner’s travels instilled in him the conviction, he says, that his work is “a slight update of a vast conservative tradition” that doesn’t have borders.



Gathering (2004) oil , acrylic, gold and silver leaf on Japanese Screen
Bellas Artes Gallery

While I did not know Kushner's work until much later in life, the route to appreciation of it began with Matisse, Klimt and O' Keeffe. I saw my first Matisse pieces at 19 , a year before I began to paint. I was particularly attracted to the patterned pieces and came home from New York with the initial book that was the start of an extensive art library. Klimt came later in a second- hand book store and I pored over the various designs which were lavishly adorned with opulent golds and intricate designs. O' Keeffe showed me the essence of flowers by filling the picture plane through adjustments in scale. I loved her pull of the viewer's gaze, that in your face, don't ignore me attitude. These three artists caused me to think about content and techniques that interested me. Their works built on my immersion in the "female arts" that were an important part of my formative years.

One of the aspects of Kushner's work I study carefully is his use of colour. Sometimes it is controlled to the point of being almost monochromatic. This colour use can produce a piece that is delicate and calm or....


Iris Garden (2003) oil, metallic leaf on Japanese screen
Bellas Artes


the piece can be dark and somewhat ominous.

Trudy's Garden (2006) oil, acrylic, gold leaf, copper leaf on Canvas (3 panels)
DC Moore Gallery

His frequent use of black in work has different effects. In Trudy's Garden above I find it produces a denseness and fence like structure that keeps me out and I focus on the rhythm of it (as I should in patterning). Even his trademark gold foil doesn't help me enter. The black rhythmic pattern does work effectively to support the delicate pink blossoms that appear so fragile. In response to a question about the direction of his work in the 21 century Kushner states:

My work with a few exceptions has been in a very somber phase since 9/11. A lot of dark, sober colors, and a seriousness of intention. I try to make many of my paintings look like ancient survivors from a vanished unknown era.

I certainly feel this when I look at Trudy's Garden.

But you will still find works since 200o that are vibrant and beckoning, creating an almost chaotic dance across the work. This effect is certainly evident in his screen works. His trademark use of gold foil and the gridded application of it is a supporting structure which although visually obvious, produces a certain repetitious calmness.


Red Flower Scatters (2006) acrylic, glitter, gold leaf on canvas
His brighter palettes of pinks, vermilion and chartreuse more evident in his earlier paintings, interest me the most because they are exciting visually and rejoice in the colours of nature. There is always an obvious use of colour to move the eye through the composition.

Kushner sometimes used chance to determine his compositional structure. I recently found out on Kathy's site that Jan Arp was the first artist to propose this approach to composition when designing collage. To determine the exact placement of flowers in his large screen works, Kushner made a set of small paper squares each with an arrow drawn on it. Then he one particular flower and decides how many times he wants it to appear in the painting and then stands on a ladder, drops the squares on the screen and marks the spot with an arrow showing the direction the flower will face. The process is then repeated for each additional flower. I think I would find it very difficult to let go of compositional control in this way but it certainly works for Kushner creating great energy and movement in his screen works.

When asked in an interview for EuroArt if he considered his work erotic or if it was labelled such by other, Kushner responded:

I only know that I am creating to the best of my ability what I want to look at. I want each painting to sustain my own demands of visual scrutiny. I want them to be a refuge, a place to travel mentally to escape the burdens of everyday life. Escapist? perhaps. Necessary? for me, very much so.

I have always thought that my flowers were extremely erotic, a reflection in some ways of my personality. But not all people seem to notice the eros. Beyond our cultural associations, say with red roses for a lover or striped tulips as a signifier for tulip mania, in reality, the flower is the only reproductive, sexual moment for the entire plant. And that sexual moment is extremely brief, perhaps a few days. Thinking of this, I always show the "body parts" of the flowers, the stamens, the pistils as I find them always interesting.


In 2005 Kushner created “Spring Scatter Summation”, in the Great Room at Wystariahurse Museum in Holyoke, Massachusetts. The catalogue essay written by Peter Eleey notes that: “Maybe decorative painting can be an instrument through which we can harmonize the energies within and around us? Almost in spite of the horrors of the world, there remains a place to go, there is a refuge. There is, certainly, this room.

I see Kushner's work as a visual respite from what goes on around me. They pull me in to the rhythms of nature and hold me in that world where I move around and around . Even the more vibrant and chaotic ones have this calming effect on me the more I look at them. As I stated before pattern of every type eventually calms me. That is one of its greatest appeals. Applied pattern more evident in his newest work, where he uses cultural patterns with the pattern created by flower constructions added a new dimension to his work that really calls to me. This connection between the nature and culture is something that I have consistently examined in my work for the last several years.

12 Red Emperors (2008) oil, acrylic gold, silver and copper leaf on canvas.

DC Moore Gallery


I will finish as I began with one of his stunning work focusing on a single flower. I don't want you to think all his work is intricate, his simple compositions presenting one flower are commanding in their beauty and simplicity.

Lavender Iris (2001) oil, acrylic, glitter, gold leaf on Kakishibi Paper

Bellas Artes

Does my work look like Kushner's? The answer is no, but he has certainly influenced and supported my interests in pattern and the natural world. I have learned much about composition especially from his single flower compositions.

To see more of Kushner's work check him out on Artnet.

There is so much more to say about this artist's work. I am interested in hearing from my readers in response to what I have posted. That is where real learning occurs for me.

11 comments:

layers said...

Well, I love things Asian of course, and I can see why you are drawn to the calm poetry of Kushner's works-- thanks to you I am developing a strong appreciation of his work as well.

The Artist Within Us said...

This haas been a most informative article and one of the things that appeals to me is the concept of giving up control and letting chance dictate true random composition. The idea of Kushner's use of small pieces of paper cut to a square with an arrow to indicate direction and then dropped from a ladders height is fantastic; I cannot wait to try it out.

I have often contemplated the use of gold foil in a painting and though I did two large abstract paintings with silver foil, I still have not created the one that still remains dormant in my heart.

In my early twenties I was into the symbolist movement and I feel in love with Gustaf Klimt and though he has not influenced any of my work, he has left his mark.

As artists, writers, or any other profession, we are influenced by those we admire, excepting their vision and applying our own ideas to it, we evolve as does our trade.

Thank you for sharing,
Egmont

Kathy said...

Margaret, As you continue to unfold Kruschner's paintings and philosophy I become more fascinated with it! His comments about the nature of his work are interesting and reveal deliberation and experimentalism - reason and intuition. In this case, flowers are much more than just flowers. I wonder how the value of his work compares to his contemporaries in the NY galleries (I see that he's at DC Moore). Does subject matter have an impact, or does his stylistic approach overcome that?

Margaret Ryall said...

Friends,
I am glad you are connecting with Kushner on varying levels.

Donna,
I can tell from your blog that you would easily connect with Kushner. I am very partial to Asian influences.

Egmont,
I can't see myself giving over compositional control to chance. If you create any work using this method I would love to see it. Like you I am attracted to gold foil, but I haven't used it in any work yet. I have used metallic paints consistently but it's just not the same thing. I appreciated your wise words about artistic influences.

Kathy,
You ask the difficult questions that keep me hopping. As to the cost of his work in comparison to his contemporaries, I don't have an answer. I tried to get a sense of this for my own purposes but the galleries that have his work do not post prices. You can't check on Artnet because you have to be a subscriber which costs monthly. I don't know if there are any other ways to find out.
I have no answer to your great question. Perhaps some of the blog readers might shed some light on it.

Does subject matter have an impact (on cost), or does his stylistic approach overcome that?

hwfarber said...

Wonderful blog. I learn about the painters you admire and I learn about flowers. Not only do I look at flower paintings with greater appreciation; I will now think of flowers in a new way.

Tina said...

Margaret, I shall not add a boring comment below all those wonderful ones above mine, I just wish to express my thankfulness for your visit.
Best wishes, and keep warm.

Four Seasons in a Life said...

I should clarify Margaret that everything I have created in the past has been tightly controlled and that I would only give up compositional control would be on elements that require that natural random look that is most difficult to achieve without looking contrived.

However it would be an interesting project to undertake in which all the elements would be random, thought that would never truly be possible. I will have to schedule some time in 2010 as this idea is taking hold of me.

Four Seasons in a Life said...

I did forget to mention that on the Four Seasons blog there I show the painting whose entire surface was covered in silver foil twice before applying any textures or paint. You will find it under the label 'Industrial Wall.'

Margaret Ryall said...

Egmont,
Thanks for clarifying your statement about chance composition. I think it would be interesting to try it both ways. My problem is that I work so small it would have limited possibilities . Perhaps this would be a way to get me moving toward larger work.

I keep forgetting you have a second blog where I found the stunning Industrial wall. You used the silver foil in a very integrated manner. I never would have guessed it was there if I hadn't seen your step by step buildup. I've very attracted to your process. Kelly gave great response to the painting that I totally agree with. There's so much learning on a blog. Now I need time to scan through Four Seasons In a Life.

Mary Paquet said...

Margaret, I was just reading all your very thoughtful comments on Kathy Cartright's blog so I had to check out your blog. Fascinating! I was not aware of Robert Kushner's work, and I am very attracted to what I've seen here. Every now and then I seem to produce a piece that I especially like and is reminiscent of Matisse and other painters who use shape and pattern. I also enjoyed taking a workshop from Betsy Dillard Stroud who makes very interesting surfaces. I am following and will check in often.

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