‘Freight and Baggage’ was the theme for October’s MFA Painting seminar, looking at tradition and weight within painting. Students and staff contributed a range of references. Subsequently concentrated discussion followed beginning with old masters through to modernism and contemporary work. A brief outline of the discussion and selection of the images are above and below.
The discussion began with Michel Foucault’s opening chapter of The Order of Things (1966), an analysis of Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez, where the viewer is implicated as subject; an example of representation declaring the importance of the central figure; the significance of the mirror central within the painting. The materiality and physical scale of the painting were also discussed and reference was made to Picasso’s multiple versions of Las Meninas.
In the more recent, John Currin’s ‘The Old Fence’, we see evidence of multiple layers, referring back to the history of painting.
Politics and painting featured with Jacques Louis David, Death of Marat. T.J Clark described it as the first modernist painting for “the way it took the stuff of politics as its material, and did not transmute it”.
The endurance of painting was highlighted. Rothko’s later works appear cloudy and luminous sharing similar overlaps in materiality and atmosphere evident within the Caspar David Friedrich painting. How do we inhabit a space of a painting and how do you inhabit a space in which you place a figure? Painting as a window was considered; ‘The Monk By The Sea’ is a representation of meditation; the Rothko’s, a space for contemplation.
The frescoes of Piero della Francesca have similar materiality to the Friedrich painting; the gaps, cracks and missing faces are part of the way we see the images.
Expanding upon the weight and baggage of paintings history, the idea of paintings inherited marks began with a painting by Merlin James. Viaduct appears as speedily painted subject matter, although his paintings are often worked on for long periods. Within contemporary painting, whether representation, figuration or abstraction, the point was made that a brush mark is difficult to do. Further discussion developed with Picasso in the seminar and the development of Cubism and its legacy.
With Kiefer, reference was made to German history and the Holocaust; to the history of weight and guilt. Freight was discussed as a notion to carry within painting, as paintings project. Objects hang onto Kiefer’s paintings without making the canvas sag. The more weight added to the painting, the freight becomes analogous. Reference was made to Günter Grass.
Hard edged painting relating to the weight of mid century abstraction was prompted by Frank Stella with Jens Wolf. Wolf uses readymade colours, found on packaging within his paintings. Speculating if this is attempting to undermine the monumentalism of mid-century American Modernism: “How do you deal with debt? Is this a tribute to Stella or is it getting him off your back?”
The sculpture in Eric Fischl’s painting ‘The Sheer Weight of History’ is by Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1620, Sleeping Hermaphroditus. The boy under the sculpture doesn’t know how to react with it; he brings something past into the contemporary.
‘America’s most wanted painting’ reflected the question often asked of painters is “So do you do landscapes or portraits?” implying that if you don’t do either ‘what you do mustn’t be any good’.
Irwin has often said he wished to paint a painting ‘that didn’t begin and end at the edge’, producing perceptual experiences as opposed to images observed by the viewer. Further to Newman, who sought to make work free of subject matter, reducing composition, Irwin carries these ideas and thinking within his installations, in this case deliberately citing Newman’s title Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue. Doug Wheeler also works with the medium of perception and experience, using volume, space and light. Thinking Freight and Baggage within painting, Wheeler’s ‘Untitled’ also recalls Albers and ‘Homage to The Square’.
Posted by Kristina Huxley and Robert Armstrong