31 December 2023

Ocotillo Nocturne

Those long ghostly black fingers, visible in silhouette, are the branches of the Ocotillo cactus. The 'vine cactus' is indigenous to the desert of the Imperial Valley.  Tucked into the southeasternmost corner of California, Ocotillo  is a land of little rain.

"I want people to get lost in the work. I want to seduce people into it and I want people to get lost inside the world of the work. In that way the work is pre-Modernist. I throw all my obsessions and loves into the work, and I try not to be too embarrassed about any of it. I love gardening. I love watching birds and all that gets into the work." - Fred Tomaselli

His light-filled geometric patterns pulse with energy and if they appear familiar yet difficult to place in any known cosmology, this only intensifies our impression of deep time. Surely, this feeling is evoked by the desert at dusk.

Image: Fred Tomaselli - Ocotillo Nocturne, 1993, acrylic, synthetic, resin, pills, and leaves on wood panel, Whitney Museum of American Art, NYC.

24 December 2023

A Commedia del arte Christmas

Marionettes, (puppets controlled by strings), have been performing at Christmas markets since medieval times. These marionettes included characters from the commedia del arte, such Pulcinella. The name marionette means 'little Mary' in tribute to the Virgin Mary. 

Merry Christmas to one and all.

Image: Maurizio Faschetti - untitled, December 2002, photograph, Alinari Archives, Florence.

18 December 2023

Eileen Agar: Water Sprite

Try telling a fish about water. Dynamism radiates in all directions from Ondine. Underwater, she floats within a protective penumbra, rather like thee spikes of a porcupine. We also see a fish tail that will, in time, morph this water sprite into a mermaid. From fish to mermaid is an evolutionary transformation.  The human face is overlaid with vegetal growth in the red (blood) and green (vegetable) oval filigree. 

In the manner of a Renaissance portrait of a venerable lady, Eileen Agar's Ondine offers her left profile to the viewer. It calls to mind these lines from Undine :(1811) by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqe:
"... in each element there exists a race of beings, whose form scarcely differs from yours, but who very seldom appears to mortal sight ... you now see before you, my love, an undine." Faces in profile recur in Agar's work, caught in the act of amazement. And those round eyes remind me of Picasso's images.

Where can we situate the work of a surrealist like Agar? Historical painting shows an event that happened at a particular moment. Genre painting shows something ordinary that happens all the time. Surrealist painting suggests what existd beyond reality.

Eileen Agar (1899-1991) was born in Buenos Aires.  As a young girl she was sent to school in England. In 1926, she met her lifelong partner, Hungarian-born Joseph Bard. By 1930, Agar had begun to do art that was recognizably aurrrealist. She is buried in the storied Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

Image: Eileen Agar - Ondine, 1972, acryllic and collage on canvas, Kreps Gallery, NYC.

10 December 2023

In the Footsteps of Dorothy Parker: Wendy Cope


"At Christmas little children sing and merry bells jingle,

The cold winter air makes our hands and faces tingle

And happy families go to church and cheerily they mingle

And the whole business is unbelievably dreadful, if you're single."

            - Wendy Cope

Wendy Cope (b.1945) is a British poet, author of five published volumes, and the recipient of  an OBE.

Image: Joel Meyerowitz - untitled,, from the Pack Series, 1977, kodachrome, Pompidou Center, Paris.