Wednesday, December 9, 2009

One man: Pattern and decoration -1

While the Pattern and Decoration Movement of the 60's and 70's was female dominated there were several male presences. In particular, I am attracted to the work and beliefs of Robert Kushner . His connection to the movement was not the result of any strong beliefs that he held about feminism. He was very interested in the universality of decoration and thought its marginalization wasn't useful . Unfortunately , his decision to treat a traditionally female and non-Western art with the same respect given to male Western art at times saw Kushner perceived as a less serious artist who was playing a dangerous "game".

In a interview in EuroArt in 2008 he spoke at length about how he saw his practice fitting in to modernity. Rather than falling from grace because of his interests, he felt that

" there were few great artists who could ascend from modernity to the decorative. I truly feel that it is just as difficult to make convincing, intelligent, sustaining decoration as it is to make good art". ....... decoration can more easily delve into experiences of visual ecstasy and profound seriousness than many other art forms. By fully and openly accepting the decorative traditions of the world as a valid source book, I think that artists (not just me) can learn from the masters, both anonymous and known, and build an art that is original, modern, heart felt, intelligent and even edgy. And Modern."

Kushner's early work in the 70's blended his love of Islamic pattern, French modernism, and the art of the Far East. In the fall of 1974 he set off on a three-month trip to Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan with his friend and mentor, critic Amy Goldin. This trip was the first of many that proved to be extremely important to his development as an artist. He later travelled to India and Japan.

Aurora's Chador, 1976

Arcadia Dreaming, 1984

In the early 1980s, he moved away from using strict repeating patterns and began painting using live models. He was interested in exploring the "furthest fringes of what could be seen as decorative". While the figure remained in the province of "high art", Kushner decided to treat it ornamentally to the point where the figure became a decorative motif.

Daphne 11, 1985

In 1986 Kushner began painting on canvas developing an extended series of flower paintings that were inspired by his own garden. He discovered that flowers were multi-faceted as subject matter; they were erotic and they could evoke memento mori, an awareness of the brevity of life itself. He took a perverse pride in depicting flowers because they were generally considered debased subject matter and often relegated to the status of practice material for amateur painters. Kushner is careful in his choice of flowers and is attracted to ones for which he has a strong association either in terms of history or personal memories.

Night Garden 2000, Acrylic, oil, gold and silver leaf , 60 x 60

Spring Scatter Summation Panel (2005)
Donald Kuspit wrote that
"no American decorative works have the visual richness of Kushner's paintings Spring Scatter Summation, 2005, and Seattle Summer Meadow, 2006. Far from being simply adornments for an environment, these works are environments in themselves. If, as Greenberg thought, "traditional Western easel painting ... subordinates decorative to dramatic effect," Kushner convincingly integrates the dramatic and the decorative, revitalizing a treatment of surface that had become stale and routine--not to say shallow--in so-called pattern painting. Each quality--drama and decoration--is given its due without the other being compromised.

"I really believe the public deserves something beautiful" - Kushner

For further reading about the Pattern and Decoration Movement and Kushner's contemporaries check out this article in Aesthetica.


Jeanette said...

Its interesting to see how this artist developed shapes and used objects to create decoration. His work is quite inspiring.

I love the human figure used as decoration. There's a very 'art deco' look about it in some ways.

I shall read the article, thanks for sharing it.

-Don said...

Thank you for this wonderful tribute to an artist I was not familiar with until now. I really enjoyed viewing his progression through the years. His works are a joy to behold. -Don

Kathy said...

Margaret, you wrote an excellent essay on Krushner, someone I'm not familiar with. His work is beautiful and definitely blurs the boundary between fine art and craft. I can see his influence on your work, as well. Thanks for bringing this to the forefront!

Margaret Ryall said...

I too enjoyed his explorations with the figure. I haven't been able to find too may examples of this stage of his work. I have two beautiful books about his work but it's the more recent stuff. Even if you're not that interest in pattern and decoration I think his drawings in the work are beautiful. But I just love all the lavish use of gold leaf. One of the best things about blogging is the introduction to new artists.

Don and Kathy,
You are both too kind. I find it interesting to see any artist's development and I just assume every artist does. While Kushner isn't everyone's cup of tea you have to give him credit for building a successful career creating work that often was perceived as less than whatever the current trend was. Kushner has influenced my work both globally an specifically. I like his subject matter and his method of building up layers. In a more global way his career gives me permission to created the kind of work that I am attracted to. I have to say that Kathy's "travels' and the excellent discussions that have resulted from them have caused me to examine where my beliefs come from. Now I have to check out Mile 10. I'm lagging behind because I have my granddaughter for 5 days while here parents are travelling. A three year old certainly puts everything into perspective!

hwfarber said...

This is totally new to me. I understand how his career gives you "permission." We often need that.

Lynda Lehmann said...

Fantastic educational post, Margaret, and well written. I didn't know about Kushner and you have piqued on one of my concerns.

So many of us have been subject to an attitude in which the decorative is debased. Yet surface, as your post points out, can BE an emotional and compelling environment.

In one of my articles I wrote (in so many words) that texture is, after all, the most ubiquitous level of form. To ignore its power is to me, a form of bias that cheats us of the perception of important dimensions of reality and fantasy, as well. Both the physical and metaphysical laws of the universe may be expressed in the topographies of nature.

Margaret Ryall said...

Great to have you dropping by. Thank you so much for posting your views of surface/texture as an important dimension of art making. I could never express it as eloquently. I sometimes find that the "art world" in general is very narrow in its reception of varied art practices. That's my way to being polite!

layers said...

I have to say that the last two--night garden and spring scatter..
are my favorites-- what a progression