Sunday, 14 April 2019

The Unimpeachables 2

Sean Scully: the Trump of Painting

   For over two decades, I have considered Sean Scully as a champion of painting, as the living champion of abstract painting. It was enchanting to see how much his paintings were able to evoke, to suggest, how much tension they held, despite relatively modest means. His painting was all the more compelling because it seemed to reject not only virtuosity, but any prefabricated and superimposed meaning. The painting was refreshingly unhampered by any notion of a presupposed given reality. It was there, present, without vociferously claiming our attention. Rare qualities in contemporary art, and particularly contemporary painting.
   All this time I believed the painter's personality to reflect his work, to be unpretentious yet powerful, thoughtful and focused.
    Fortunately, I have been rid of this silly notion, courtesy of a tv documentary entitled Unstoppable: Sean Scully and the Art of Everything, (BBC Two, April 2, 2019).
   Without doubt, it is not difficult to imagine how hard it is for an artist, for a painter, to establish his  place (rightful, or less so) in the art world. A precarious livelihood, chronic menace of anonimity, rejection, lack of recognition within one's family and without, commercially treacherous entities, and ever vulnerable to mockery. It is high time that the painter takes up arms and fights for his rights.
   If one was not yet familiar with the artist's early days as a street fighter, Sean Scully gladly reminds us of them, repeatedly. Moreover, he is combative to the present day, at the age of 72. He is the great Martial Artist, generously displaying his fighting moves whenever there is a camera about. He is a true superhero fighting the dark and evil powers within the art world.
   Probably since Picasso we haven't known a painter willing and able to succeed to this degree, and of this international caliber. Picasso who did not search, but who found. Picasso, whose main artistic aim was to outdo Matisse (and in the process put lesser painters, such as Braque and Bonnard, in their place). Well, at the beginning of his international career, Scully set out “to be more famous than Matisse.” I believe that the only precedent for this courageous and professional attitude is Andy Warhol, who “wanted to be Matisse.” It shows just how mature and masterful Scully is.
   Scully has now reached a point where he can play the art world like a toy piano. He is the perfect strategist. He has truly consolidated his position, built a buffer against the capricious market of supply and demand in the form of a personal reserve of paintings (I have one of those), he has devised a profitable system of donating or selling works to museums and collections all over the world, and is an unrivaled marketeer of his own oeuvre, travelling the world in his private jet, ever on his way to address the converted. Painting, to Sean Scully, is all “distribution, distribution, distribution.”
   Moreover, no painter in art history has ever succeeded in thwarting critics as has Scully. To any criticism or unwelcome question, he replies: “I don't care.” When the press hack in question insists, Scully responds forcefully: “No, you don't understand – I don't care!” What better way to prevent sterile reflection, barren discussion of side-issues.
   I for one, greatly appreciate his Ghost Gun-series, his flaming indictment of the liberal US government policy on the bearing of weapons. At last, painting in its the truest essence, imbued with meaning, with emotion, bearer of a dedicated message. Away with the freedom of painting. In with the new painting that is saying something!
   Unfortunately, the documentary provides a voice to I believe two fault-finders, who dare to suggest that the Great Master should perhaps invest more time in painting than in building his career. Sour grapes, as ever. Fake news. Sean Scully is a radiant example to painters all over the world (not in large numbers, I agree), who are willing to fight for their careers, who are prepared to divert the necessary energy and time away from their stuffy studio's, from their unproductive pursuits. His contribution should be acknowledged by all, with gratitude.
   Finally, I should like to make modest proposition, inspired by Sean Scully himself. As he, in a briljant move, calls himself “the left-wing Trump of painting,” we might consider making it a criminal offence to criticize Scully's work, his ideas, his motivation. After centuries of insecurity, we all deserve, a last, a truly unimpeachable painter. And let us build that wall, together with Sean Scully, let us protect ourselves against the hordes of critics and lesser painters alike.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

The Unimpeachables 1

Niet gepubliceerde lezersbrief – reactie op artikel/interview met Luc Tuymans: “Wie dit mooi vindt, heeft er geen fluit van gesnapt.” (Knack nr. 13)

Het is treurig nog maar eens te moeten vaststellen dat Luc Tuymans opgevoerd wordt als “een van de belangrijkste schilders van zijn generatie,” een schilder onaantastbaar eenzaam op zijn Olympos Mons, en boven elke kritiek verheven. In realiteit is Tuymans een van de zovele hedendaagse 'schilders' die zich niet eens bewust zijn van het onderscheid tussen beeld ('imago') en schilderij, wier oeuvre daadwerkelijk op dit onbegrip gebaseerd is. Zij maken beelden in plaats van schilderijen. Je hoeft maar twee keer te kijken en dan snap je de betekenis wel. Raak je er niet uit, raadpleeg dan de 'beknopte gids'. Schilderkunst als 'beeldraadsel'. Handig ook voor recensenten. Nogmaals wordt een schilder geprezen als “virtuoos,” “meester in kleurnuances,” zonder dat deze achterhaalde termen en gemeenplaatsen daarbij zelfs maar verder geadstrueerd worden. Volstrekt kritiekloos wordt Tuymans op de hoogste sokkel gehesen, terwijl hij slechts, zoals zovelen vandaag, het noodlot van de schilderkunst bewerkstelligt waar schilders van de voorbije 200 jaar of wat, bijwijlen zo voor vreesden: de overname van de schilderkunst door de fotografie. Een schilder die vol onschuld, onwetend en onbeschroomd verklaart dat “hij steeds van eigen foto's vertrekt,” voor wie de realiteit aldus een rekwisietenmagazijn is, een plaatjesboek waaruit hij beelden selecteert en bewerkt - is dat een schilder? Als Tuymans werkelijk “een van de belangrijkste schilders van zijn tijd” is, dan staat de actuele schilderkunst er nog slechter voor dan ondergetekende criticus, sorry, “criticaster” al vreesde. Met zijn oeuvre, zijn ossuarium van versteende foto-realiteit kan Tuymans mijn “bek” alvast niet “snoeren.”

Sam Vangheluwe


It is sad to once again see Luc Tuymans being hailed as "one of the most important painters of his generation," a painter lonely on his Olympos Mons, and elevated above all criticism. In reality Tuymans is one of the many contemporary 'painters' who are not even aware of the difference between image and painting, whose oeuvre is actually rooted in this incomprehension. They make images instead of paintings. You only have to look twice and then you get the meaning. If you can't figure it out, consult the quick guide. Painting as a 'pictorial riddle'. Useful also for critics. Once again a painter is praised as a " virtuoso," "a master of colour nuances," without  further explanation of these outdated terms and platitudes. Without any criticism whatsoever, Tuymans is hoisted onto the highest pedestal, whereas he, like so many today, is merely bringing about the doom of painting, which painters of the past 200 years or what, so feared at times : the takeover of painting by photography. A painter who declares with such innocence, ignorance and frankness that "he always proceeds from his own photographs," for whom reality is therefore a warehouse of props, a picture book from which he selects and manipulates images - is this a painter? If Tuymans really is "one of the most important painters of his time", then contemporary painting is in even worse shape than the undersigned critic, sorry, "fault-finder" already feared. With his oeuvre, his ossuary of petrified photo-reality, Tuymans certainly cannot "shut my mouth."

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Comme une fleur inespérée

Combien fallut-il de toiles gagnées pour qu'une toile, enfin, lui fût donneé?
Parfois en cours de route, presque toujours au terme d'un long effort stérile, soudain le pouvoir de peindre surgit, fulgurant, de la fatigue, de l'abandon, comme une fleur inespérée.
Elle jalonnent ce long chemin obscur, comme une promesse de cette grande fleur qui lui sera peut-être offerte, au point extrême de ses forces.

Jean Bazaine, Exercice de la peinture, 1973

Complying finally to repeated requests by my scores of followers, I hereby publish the most recent acquisition to my personal collection: a landscape painting by Jozef Vinck (1900-1979). This is how I encountered it on the website of an auction house in Ostend:

The title, which I suspect is arbitrary, is 'Landschap met wandelaars'. "Hark," I hear you say, "how can this simple man afford such biblical wealth?" Well, the painting is signed, but not dated, which partially accounts for the low price, and therefore my ability to afford it. This is how it looks without the lot number. The colour balance of my photograph, however, is less satisfactory.

The fact that one can acquire a painting by Jozef Vinck for between 500 - 2000 euro, is a dreadful yet in equal measure fortunate fact. The true value of his work is inestimable, which would make it impossible for a man of humble means such as myself, to own one. Moreover, you would be hard-pressed to find more than a handful of his paintings in public collections. On show, that is. Currently, the (art) world is not susceptible to what is generically called the intimism of the so-called Animists. It is not loud enough, it does not showcase virtuosity, the 'subject matter' is perceived as being too pedestrian, it does not refer to, or defer to the monocular tyrant that is photography - it seems that most of us are blind to the painterly power, the eternal elements of light and space, that we are deaf to the 'chant' of a true painting. I feel slightly embarrassed that this situation allows me to buy his work at a knock down price, yet on the other hand, I imagine that Vinck would approve of me caring for his work.

Not being dated, one cannot but hazard a guess. My first landscape by Vinck supposedly dates from the early sixties, based on comparison with similar works. This is it - a winter landscape:

At a guess, the 'Landschap met wandelaars' could possibly date from slightly later, God willing from the early years of his retirement from his professorship at the Higher Institute in Antwerp, when his 'productivity' shot up, and his painting flourished, when Jozef Vinck was "au point extrême de ses forces."