Sunday, June 30, 2013

Comic Heaven

             ``I'm a little representational all the time. But when you're    
         painting out of your unconscious, figures are bound to 
           emerge.''  - Jackson Pollock

Marsden Hartley

I was speaking with a collector of Marsden Hartley's work recently and something they said took me by surprise. We were looking at a landscape of Hartley's and this collector remarked that Hartley's work was sad. And in saying that it was understood that Hartley was sad.

And I had to think about it, and in doing so Marsden Hartley's life flashed before my eyes, at least what I knew of it. Growing up in Ohio, then Maine, New York, Europe, New York again, PTown, Gloucester, Maine. He lost a lover to the war. He was always broke. The collector commented about how Hartley drove Stieglitz crazy with his money problems. Yes, there is that story about him auctioning off everything to raise money. About John Reed kicking him out of their flat in Ptown for being a slob. About him falling in love with some fisherman in a fisherman's family in Maine. Never finding a home. Never belonging. Yes, he was an American painter showing with the European avant-garde, being an abstractionist way ahead of the pack. But he always seemed lost.
Marsden Hartley

At one time I would have agreed; yes, Hartley once also struck me as sad. The way van Gogh might strike one as sad. But not anymore. I don't find sadness in his paintings anymore. I find love and peace. Serenity. I find beauty and a yearning for beauty that is heartbreaking in the most sublime manner. Maybe that says more about me.
Van Gogh

Obviously it does. But like van Gogh, I think what Hartley gives us in his paintings is such powerful emotion, such deep emotion, that that scares people.

Emotion gets that rap. When someone says that they are feeling really emotional, that's a bad thing. Negative. Negated. We all know this.

Civilized society is emotionally repressed. We have no freedom of emotional expression. None. It gets smacked down. It is like a fire that needs to be put out immediately before it can spread. Who knows where it could lead?

Marsden Hartley

There are not many opportunities in this world to live an emotional life. Art, however, is one of them. Marsden Hartley lived an emotional life. That is anything but sad. Sad is living a life free of emotion. Marsden Hartley made beautiful emotional art. Triumphant emotion art. It was profoundly happy in that. Yes, emotion is messy. Hartley was indeed a slob. But it is the John Reeds of this world that deserve our pity, not Hartley.

Art, and of course music, offers each of us emotional asylum. Either as the artist or the audience. It is why we turn to music and art.

Theater, film and literature do the same, but in a more literal even tangible way. Music and art tap into a level of emotion that we don't have to understand to appreciate.

Marsden Hartley

Abstraction took this mystery to a level we had never reached before, but I'm not going to get mixed up with aesthetics here. That's another story.

I'm interested in that way in which emotion experienced unimaginable heights, or depths, thanks to abstraction; I'm interested in the freedom that it offered, the escape from the literal and tangible. I'm interested in the ineffable. The place we don't know, or understand, but we nonetheless feel.

Marsden Hartley

This was the world of Marsden Hartley, and what is so interesting about this painter is that he came back from that edge, the void, the abyss of abstraction and kept painting, even though not abstractly. No one did that. No one came out the other side and could do figuratively what they had done abstractly,  only more so. Hartley did.

Philip Guston

Ok. Maybe Guston did too. That's it. But Hartley did it better, sorry. He was completely his own person. What they both had in common however, was the somewhat comic book character that their work took on. Uncanny similarity. Late Hartley and late Guston have that cartoonishness in common, and Guston must have had Hartley to thank for his salvation. Hartley must have shown him the way.

Max Beckmann

Dubuffet also comes to mind as well, but he was never really a serious abstractionist. The comic book character saved him from the void. De Kooning was much more subtle about it. He bounced back and forth. But you can probably thank the comic caricature for his survival as well. The yang to the yin of emotion. The balance. 

Milton Resnick

I remember when Bill Jensen told me he saw a comic face peering out of a painting he was working on in about 1981, and was confused and tempted by it. But he could not betray abstraction. Milton Resnick tried to come back with characters in his work, but they never made it into big paintings, not on the scale of his old ally in Monet's abyss, Guston.

Larry Deyab

Larry Deyab worked for both of those painters, and was their peer and friend, and he is a modern day Marsden Hartley, navigating that deep emotional place where freedom lives. Making great paintings too in that same utterly original and yes, strangely cartoonish manner. And d_d_dats all folks!

Addison Parks
Spring Hill

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


Anonymous said...

Funny you should talk about Hartley.I sailed down to Gloucester and with the rain decided to get off the boat and hang out on Main St.In one of the funkier cafe's where the owner has thankfully no sense of marketing, i bided my time with a frozen yogurt which was way to big.But it kept me busy while I perused a book that they had on Gloucester Artists from Fitz Hugh Lane to around the beginning of the millenium.Of course hartley is in it .In the text, there was a reference to him feeling out of place among the other Gloucester Artists due to the influence of abstraction on his work.Now I found it interestng that he did not find inspiration among the fishing boats in the harbor but up in the noman's land of Dogtown.My mother used to take us there for pick nicks .It looked still somewhat like Hartley''s rendiition of it,rocks and grass still mowed down by sheep.My friend Jim Falck went there recently and said it is all overgrown.No longer do you find the puctuation of hard outcroppings among the fields. Just lots of thorny vines. It is a sad place indeed full of foundations of the vibrant village that once existed there.In the time of Hartley it was inhabited by a few outcasts.Strange that he should look inland to this melancholy site.It reminds me of the poem "Directive" by Robert Frost another melancholic type like Hartley where Frost meditates on lives lived and the few foundatons and bric a brac that remain of a once lively village.I think Hartley must of loved the bullt in abstraction of the site and the fact that it was not a subject preferred by the local artists.It is inward looking and like so much good and great art it is a meditation on time: Geologic time with all the erratics placed there by the ice age and human time with all the cellar holes.It is dark and deep and far from the hustle and bustle and glitter of the sunlit harbor.

On a truly sad note,the skyline of Gloucester has been permanently marred by the construction of enormous aeolians that loom above the skyline once defined by the Portuguese Church and the tower of city Hall.

Martin Mugar

Anonymous said...

By the way - I just read what you wrote about Marsden Hartley - really good and on point. A very nice piece. Nothing I could relate to of course!
--Jim Balla