August 31st, 2012
Carlon Alonso (b. 1929, Argentina)
La mujer del vestido colorado, 1956, oil on canvas
How are all you pups? Back with another Storage Unit. First up’s “La mujer del vestido colorado” by Argentinian Carlos Alonso. I just discovered the piece tonite, as well as the artist. I love the subject’s wan, moody sidelong glance, her large eyes, her pursed mouth, her androgynous features. The black-maroon jacket dress opened to reveal the swath of red heat beneath. Red, the color of anger, hunger. Herself revealed, like a patient worked over by a surgical team, viscera bared, skin pulled & pinned back. Her eyes, angles, and the smudge of red on her cheek reminds me a little of Schiele (always delicious for me). I like too how there’s some strange armor-like bulk to the fabric in the arm region; the subject could be some kind of dystopic mercenary with her future-polymer exoskeleton peeled away momentarily while she waits for her contact to arrive.
Satish Gujral (b. 1925)
SATISH GUJRAL 1965 COMPOSITION, 1965, mixed media on canvas
Gujral is a Punjabi-Indian artist. I just came across this piece on Artnet today. I love looking at this. Troubling and serene. I like the tine-like downward thrust of the object; how, left-offset, it anchors the work and gives it momentum. I like it’s strange conglomeration, like a trident after some kind of graphic-glitch youtube pixellation spasm. I like the barnacle-like encrustation of it. I also think of an underwater centurion, centuries dead, rusting away in his armor. Surrealist Yves Tanguy and his large scale underwater-alienscapes comes to mind — something in Gujral’s assemblage here has the same extra-terrestial presence for me as that artist’s works. Finally, I also think of Louis Nevelson sculptures, their stacked purposeful hodgepodges. Gujral’s is a rich work that rewards meditation.
Yayoi fucking Kusama. Look at that kohleyed dotter dot, look at her look right back at us. Yum. She’s such a good egg, and my recent trip to the Whitney to catch her retrospective there burnished the ecstatic obsessive glowy shrine for her I’ve set up in my mind even more than it already was. I don’t think I’ve posted about another artist as much on snailcrow as Kusama — see here, here, here and here — and I’m perfectly happy to add yet another passel o’ pics to the mix.
So much wowed me at her Whitney exhibit. First, the strength of her early 50s work. Just look at this trio:
Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929)
The Germ, 1952, ink and pastel on paper
Corpses, 1950, oil on canvas
A Flower, 1952, ink on paper
I first fell in love with Kusama by way of her vibrant polkadotted pumpkins, boxes and installations; and her ruminations on infinity in the form of mirrored chambers, pools of floating mirror-orbs. And I feel that stuff’s among her greatest work. But discovering these early-50s works with their expressive coils and streaks, busy cilia and numinous shimmers, and firmly-established visual character and impact was a revelation for me. It deepened even further my admiration for her capabilities, her power, her instincts from the get-go. She was already capitalizing at an early age on the themes and traits that obsess her now, & that would characterize much of her later output: dot-work, obsessive attention to small details (these early canvases were a wonder to stand near and scrutinize), fleshiness and biomorphic repetitions, hieroglyphic-like impact. I just can’t explain enough how rewarding this was to see in person.
Another thing I love about Kusama’s early 50s work is how some of these pieces conflate the micro and the macro — I can recall a piece at the Whitney that was sort of this globe-like dotted presence against a black background that felt either cosmic in scale, some kind of breathing judging mega-planet pulsing in deep space, or micro — maybe a nucleus, or a unicellular critter glowing in the guts of a spider. It was Kusama’s way of investing the object with force, with a weird sentience, and her use of lighting, glow and color gradation that gave it this dual citizenship as an entity vast and atomic all at once.
I think what got to me most was the fact that her early works are imbued with such vitality and personality, such confidence, just like her later, more celebrated works, and, as I’ll touch on, especially like her most recent pictographic canvases. Take “Germ” — in its halo of Klee-like colorwork, this great floating animalcule serenely pulses, either nebulon-vast or scraped off the tip of an eyelid and spied on under-lens, secreting benevolence and blood into the universe. And look at “A Flower” — that barbed wire whipping, that bulging eye, that tree trunk stalk. Not a flower but the spirit of a flower perhaps, staring out in alarm, flailing psychic feelers, or maybe whipping its field of attraction into inward-pulling net for passing bees. Made me think right away of P.J.’s hairwhip from the cover of “Rid of Me”:
And “Corpses”? This is such a great, creepy piece. I’m reminded of Kay Sage’s surrealistic work, with big metal eggs and geometric solids hanging out on platforms against vast featureless terrains. Here Kusama masses coiled viscera, like a close up of ropework on a shipdeck, against a featureless sky and the barest hint of sea or land. A bold statement of repetition, of vaguely uncomfortable and half-alien flesh that you find later in, for example, her phallic protuberances and tentacle-work. For me her “Corpses”-esque works remind me as well of certain late 60s/early 70s progressive rock album covers, take for example this back cover of a Comus record which in spirit and in execution (anatomically-vague mass against a flat background) came immediately to mind:
Now keep all this stuff in mind as you fast forward to her work from the last few years:
Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929)
Joy I Feel When Love Has Blossomed, 2009, acrylic on canvas —
Late Night Chat is Filled with Dreams, 2009, acrylic on canvas —
Eyes of Mine, 2010, acrylic on canvas
New visual language, and yet not so new at all. Note the familiar motifs and traits and tics: life-under-the-microscope biologic teem; the vacuoles, the lipid sacs, the paramecia, the cilia, the little wriggling virii and organelles, the ribosomal dots. The large tentacle-like shapes looming in from out-of-frame in “Late Night Chat is Full of Dreams”; the eyes in “Eye of Mine” echoing that in “A Flower”; the pictographic shapes and symbols in all three paintings. The stark, simplified heavy outlining and bold color against flat backgrounds. And of course dots, dots, O them dots. Some of what energizes and sustains these late works was prefigured in her 50s work, some of it draws from her obsessive gray-wavelet minimalist canvases, some of it suggests her polkadot pumpkins, some of it her giant dot-tentacle canvases. Such a rich drawing from herself here, such a diligent revisiting and refueling from her own abundance of expression.
I celebrate these late works too for their sheer color impact — they really need to be seen live (isn’t that always the case?) to have this aspect appreciated. In person, all those hot colors and contrasts stacked up close (three or four high and wide per wall if I remember right) present a joyous color- and meaning-kaleidoscope. At the same time, seeing all these at once can be a bit lysergic, can lead to an almost headachy troubling ecstasy. Dissonances arise, and the eye just gets bludgeoned with all those sharp densities of dot, dash, eye, wriggle and spike and recurring but context-less and seemingly meaningless symbol: starfish, woman in profile, coffee cup, spermatazoa, jellyfish, crustacean, you name it. It’s all like a bunch of Haring dudes fed Giza dust and Gary Panter blood and biology book plant cell insets and then turned inside out and their guts microscoped in on a day later.
What helped me vastly in absorbing and learning from all these canvases — and not just tolerating but embracing and integrating their visual heat — more than I would have at any rate — was Kusama’s titleing. Compare her 50s titles (“A Flower”) with these — “Joy I Feel When Love has Blossomed”, “Once the Abominable War is Over, Happiness Fills our Hearts” and “Shining Stars in Pursuit of the Truth are Off in the Distance Beyond Universe, the More I Sought the Truth, Brighter they Shone”. Sounds like Fiona Apple album titles (I mean that with all due affection, being a huge Apple fan). Having language like this in mind when trying to not just fleetingly glance at but study four, five, six of these in a row right in front of you helps enormously. Once I really took in the titles I was able to sit with these pieces, feel them, gain from them. Otherwise their volume — color-wise, but also as shotgunning of glyphs — can overwhelm, especially in aggregate in one big room.
For instance, when I was able to take “Late Night Chat is Full of Dreams”, meditate on those nouns and pair up what that language meant to me with the actual image, it opened me up to be able to accept and work with the visual language. This is the kind of stuff Pettibon has made a career of, and it’s fascinating to see Kusama open up her titleing and explore the possibilities in the space between text and visual. Sometimes that game can be superfluous for a given work, but in this case, with this artist, with these works, her rich — if at times a bit belabored — titleing really helps the viewer hold on to a kind of highly personal backstory/narrative when viewing/reading these late canvases. A narrative open to interpretation of course but which, to this reader and viewer, seems to be one of rapturous tribute to the gift of surprise love, and the optimism, wonder, mania and even paranoia that gift can bring.
I leave you with one last little Kusama bit — another one of her pumpkins, this one a squat adorable greeny:
Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929)
Pumpkin (Green) – from 5 Porcelain Pumpkins, 2002, porcelain
KUUUSAAAAAAAMAAAAAA at the Whitney here.
Check out Kusama’s page at Artsy.net here.
More Gujral works at Artnet are over here.
Finally, find Carlos Alonso at Wikipedia over here.