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Erik ReeL blog on visual culture


February 08, 2014
Notes from the studio
It's been quite a year, and 2014 promises to be even bigger and better.  A big thank you to everyone who has supported my art and shows.  There are so many interesting people who love this work.  You come up and talk about what you see and feel.  One thing about this work: a viewer can really bring a lot of themselves to it, it doesn't just lay it out there in an overtly obvious way for you. It lets you digest it on your own terms.  In a way, this is a challenging thing to offer a viewer.  It is a way of  trusting a tremendous amount to you, the viewer. This leads to a lot of fascinating stuff. I've had the same person on multiple occassions come up to me and talk about four different interpretations ... of the same work. Different days, different moods, different vision.  
This is, I believe, a big part of why a lot of people like to live with this work.  A quick glance in a gallery just doesn't do it for them. I forget who said that the depths of a great painting were best gained by living with it for a couple of years. I think it was Vollard.  He also said that living with a great painting was capable of teaching you everything you needed to know about seeing a painting. It's true, paintings teach us how to see. Not all paintings, but paintings of a certain type and quality. That is what I am after, and that is what I am hearing: people coming up and bearing witness to how much they see. It is an exciting thing to see.  
Recently I saw two young twenty-somethings heatedly discussing something in front of one of my paintings. They did not know I was the artist, so I could listen incognito.  I wondered  how they saw the work: after all, the visual and historical cues that they and  I have grown up with are so different, our visual experience has changed so much over the last half century.  Yet, these twenty-somethings were as excited as anybody about this particular painting and discussing it passionately. It's very gratifying to see that an entirely new generation is excited by the work.
LA Art Fair
Rhonda and I just got back from the LA Art Fair. A Korean dealer/friend was reminding us how different it is in Seoul and Hong Kong compared to the United States. "Over there, there are buyers, people come up and pay $10,000, $30,000 all cash just like that. Los Angeles is so dead." She's going to be taking work to Hong Kong this year. Rhonda has been to Hong Kong; I haven't. Looking forward to it someday. In general, our Asian contacts have been very receptive and open; very encouraging.  Otherwise, the LA Art Fair seemed short on quality, interest, and a lot of good people that have been there in the past are no longer coming. There seems to be a trend: These days it seems that once you get out of the Big Four, these affairs are becoming a local situation: instead of collectors from all over and the world's top galleries converging on a city, it is a mid-tier scattering of dealers converging on a city--Houston, Los Angeles, Seattle, wherever--trying to sell the locals their wares. The work is weak, over-commercialized; long on hustle, short on quality.  It's also a degraded environment for any kind of quality viewing experience. People talk about a resurgence and re-direction toward local institutions and spaces.  Stay tuned.  
Pure art is play. The deeper the play, the further we are from those who would enslave us if they could. Pure painting is food for those beaten down by life. Great art takes people back to their strength, their core. It stops and silences the noise and nonsense of life.

Each of these paintings is a doorway to freedom. Step through that door and be free. 
  • Now represented by Cecilia Nguyen of Houston.
  • Catalog out for Tabula Rasa exhibition at the 643 Project Space, text by Jae Carlssen [Art Dish, ArtForum]
  • May 2014 Exhibition: Erik ReeL and Nash Rightmer at the WAV Ventura California
  • Featured artist of the Ventura City Clerk [new program], exhibition at City Hall during January and February 2014
  • 100 Grand exhibition at Sullivan Goss, 5 Dec 2013 through 2 February 2014

Robert Hughes

January 22, 2014

Just finished reading Robert Hughes' book on Goya.  It's a great match: Hughes' earthy wit and eye are right at home in Goya's world. It is not so much a critical volume as a love song to a great painter, his spirit, and rambling tour through a critical phase of Spanish history. After all, Goya lived through the period when Spain's New World colonies broke Spain's rule over them. Colonies often retain a certain amount of the character of their colonial master's culture at the moment of separation.

I had the good fortune to dine with Hughes a few times. This was before he retired back to Australia, when he was the primary art critic for Time magazine. He is very funny and an exceptionally good conversationalist. He is one of those rare writers whose wit is more scintillating in person than on the page.  He thrives on the opportunities of real encounters and a live audience. 

In a recent article on the "Delacroix and the matter of finish" exhibition at the Santa Barbara Art Museum, I mention Delacroix's position as a key painter bridging the old masters and Modern painting. But the real crux point is Goya's mature work. It is in Goya that we see the definitive dropping away of an interest in finish and the more improvisational, open hand so admired by the early Moderns, particularly Picasso. As Hughes points out, Delacroix was aware of Goya, already singing his praises before he was hardly known outside Spain. So the painter's know who is who and what is what.

New Fall Season

September 18, 2013


To start off the New Fall Season we did the First Thursdays in Santa Barbara, the First Fridays in Ventura, then went down to Los Angeles.  The not-to-miss show was the lovingly installed Francisco Zuniga Centennial Tribute show at Jack Rutberg.  Rutberg's next show, Jordi Alcaraz will also be a not-to-miss show opening on 12 October [going to 21 December].  

Elsewhere,  there were the luscious big Cecily Brown's at Gagosian, which, in spite of all the hype, were worth the trip. She really does paint better when she goes big and stupid. In Culver city it was the usual madness at the Lurie brothers, clean serenity at Luis De Jesus, chicken at Gaby's, aural fun at Nye + Brown, and the usual intelligence at Walter Maciel's.  Cherry & Martin continues to drift--they looked completely lost--while NYC-connected George Billis continues their retrenchment back into the photo-based, seemingly abandoning their initial forays into abstraction. Surely the New Yorkers aren't going to make the old LA mistake of staying stuck in the late 70s as if Kaprow wrote his essay last year instead of 1977? or maybe that is where they think LA is at.  It's the market they say. Yes, but oh so predictable and boring.

Then we passed on the opening of Linder's soft-core at Blum & Poe to pursue other more personally lucrative opportunities and much needed libations downtown at our favorite hole-in-the-wall.  Art-wise, the Downtown Art Walk was spectacularly underwhelming.  Not even any dirty little secrets any more. Oh well, c'est la vie.

In Ventura, the Museum of Ventura County offered up an odd mix that taken as a totality reveals meanings that I do not think the new director and staff curators would want to intend, but nevertheless are there: The trio of shows start off with the much-needed retribution of the Moses Mora-HB Hanrahan Tortilla Flats mural project celebrating the multi-ethnic Tortilla Flats neighborhood that thrived between the courthouse and beach in pre-1963 Freeway Ventura. The show laments its demise and destruction with the intrusion of 101. The psychological impact of the show is enhanced by their new exhibition designer [an area the museum needed major improvement on].

However, the show is juxtaposed -- and I mean "no transition, difficult to tell if it was even a separate exhibition" juxtaposition--with a totally whitebread, no-where-near-museum-quality show of "party" wear worn in Ventura during the same time period. This strange duo was augmented by another George Stuart collection show in back.

So what you ended up with was a disturbingly politically dubious combination of three shows starting out with a show lamenting how powerful white men in suits destroyed and marginalized all the residents of color in downtown and Westside  Ventura [incidentally, or not-so-incidentally, the same area that is now Ventura's new art zone], followed immediately by an incredibly amateurish whitebread display of white-privilege partying [white-men and women in suits] during the exact same era--a show which, itself, marginalizes the very same ethnic groups celebrated 20 feet earlier, followed by the George Stuart collection show which is an unapologetic collection that is all about white, upper-class privilege.

No irony in sight, or admission of consciousness of the museum's role, which is itself standing on old Tortilla Flats land.

The juxtaposition produces a powerful possible reading of deep-set, unconscious racism and classism--explicitly supported by the museum, which has also benefitted from the takeover of the Tortilla Flats land. This surely wasn't the curator's intent- but oh, the audience saw it that way. 

The overlap of timeframe for the content of the first two shows only enhanced the more disturbing sub-text.  Not pretty.  

In a way, it's an incredible embarrassment for the Ventura Museum staff.  Museum's don't get to beg off by light of ignorance or lack of intention. They are cultural institutions and the very act of placing things in their public exhibits implicitly conveys meanings and contexts they need to be sensitive to and cognizant of. That is their job. In this case, it is a disturbingly unconscious re-contexting containing classist and racist sub-texts by juxtaposition. It is a terribly choice. What were they thinking?  I suspect they weren't. Thinking that is: the whole thing smacks of someone being asleep at the wheel. 


Art LA

January 29, 2013
A fun Saturday at Art LA, which has become more of a SouthWest US and Asia show.  Not much Latin American or European presence anymore, though Schubbe Projects brought a fine suite of Denmark's Per Adolfsen's riffs off of Edvard Munch's late paintings.  The other thing that was missing was the level of presence of the great printmaking shops that graced the show in years past.  No more Palladino prints for example. Things lke that.  However, the smaller scale of the show and dealers bringing higher quality work, helped concentrate, and in some attendees minds, improve the show.  With large Howerd Hodgkin prints on display, Graham over at Jack Rutberg's, and some lovely William Scott paintings at Denenberg, there was a noticable UK presence this year. The Hodgkin prints  puzzle me: OK, they want to go large, but the multiple sheet, plate thing looks klunky and awkward in this case. It adds nothing to the work conceptually or otherwise. And I'm a Hodgkin fan.

The Daniel Brice drawings at Bruce Lurie's looked great. In fact, the Lurie gallery had one of the best booths in the show. Jack Rutberg augmented his own booth by guest curating the sponsored exhibit of the show covering work with text or words in it. He also  hosted the related panel at noon on Saturday that was well attended. 

After closing we headed up to Hollywood, peaked in at an opening and ended with a quiet dinner at one of Rhonda's favorite old haunts on La Brea, then home.


Kenosis and abstraction

January 27, 2013

Wen I eliminate painting objects and take the viewer out of a literal space. What happens?  The markings start start to be read as defining the space, defining emotion. Now we’re in a subtler realm. Subtler things start to be triggered. The gateway to subtler realms, even certain nuances, is through feelings. But we’re in a non-literal space. So your mind just goes into this space. You’re just totally in a non-material space. There’s no material references, but the mind still creates space. It’s a very mental, psychological, emotional space and depth. 

Kenosis is a process of, originally a spiritual process of, in a monk emptying themselves out of everything of the world. They empty themselves out of the world and they reach this state of complete emptiness which the Gnostics called kenosis. Then the word was revived for aesthetic purposes by the great English art critic, Paul Berger, when he was talking about Modern art and certain modern masters’ process of abstraction, that what they were operating with was this process of kenosis, where they empty out meanings through a process of kenosis to get to this particular style of work. [Berger’s idea is different from the original meaning.* He uses it as a critique, the Theologians used it as a process].  They [the monks] actually empty out. Exactly what I’m talking about.  As the monk empties out, what they expect in that emptiness, is for, in their terms , God to come in.  The Gnostics tried to avoid the word God, it was always Gnosis, which means knowledge. So knowledge entered in.

So actually as you empty out of all this superficiality and interest in worldly things, you get this sense of emptiness and then everything else enters in. That’s where it connects to rasa:  Yogananda used the word rasa for what you get when he emptied everything out in meditation. What comes in is rasa [sublime taste], you become incredibly immersed in the richness of everything. You actually achieve superconsciousness.

The mystics in the Christian tradition and the Gnostic traditions were allied with the platonic, neo-Platonic Greek and they merged. The Hindu traditions and those traditions are trying to explain a very similar thing. And it is the same state I am trying to get people aware of in my painting. And that I am actually in when I am painting most of the time.

That’s why it takes me awhile to get into it, why it’s hard to get started, because I do get into a certain kenotic state where I cannot understand language while I am painting these things. People say:” where does this come from?”  It sounds like, it feels like, it comes from somewhere else. I have to get emptied out to do the paintings as well.

*Paul Berger also talked about the role of landscape painting in the history of subjugating and destroying the landscape.  Landscape painting is really about possession. Material possession.


The World as Will and Idea

January 24, 2013

If we make marks, and they start to be interpreted in terms of too-narrowly-tied-down meanings, there is a problem.

Schopenhauer made a comment on this in The World as Will and Idea.  He observes that if we see a painting, and are able to make a one-to-one map between iconography in the image and an explicit reading of a meaning for each form,  then that not only makes it easy to read the image, it also weakens the art in a very fundamental way.

Schopenhauer claims that visual art has togo beyond the intellect and get into the realm of Will. Will does not work within strictly mapped ideas. It is much subtler, it is much more powerful. It is a more fundamental reality. Good art needs to work in that reality, the reality of the will, not confine itself to the the realm of the Idea.

As I was getting to something closer to what I wanted; that these marks actually carried a lot of emotional content. Looking at them, the eye becomes more sensitive to color, and there is this sort of spatial moving in and out and all.

What was I doing?  As I was eliminating all these references, the work actually got richer. I realized what I was doing was tapping into what Schopenhauer called the realm of Will rather than the realm of Idea. And that the work got substantially richer. In a certain sense, this stops the intellect of someone wanting to make little maps to what’s referenced. Those are gone. In a certain sense, what’s left is nothing. Or another way of saying it is that it’s a process of looking for a more spiritual  point of reference in the content, or a subtler form of art—or what someone might call subtle, instead of spiritual. But it means something is there beyond the material world.

I was already looking for an art that was more of a critique of materialism.

We’re wrapped up in this materialistic, one-dimensional nature of things. The physical world.  Well, that’s a problem, when you’re painting. One of my problems with other painting is that a lot of painting just celebrates the physical, material world.

We’re a materialistic culture. We want to own things.  So we want to paint pictures of things. We want to have things. People are going for sensate sculpture and thing-ness. We want that thing-ness because we’re very materialistic.  We’re like the Romans, we want huge monuments and military power, huge wealth, huge amounts of material stuff, and we are empty on any subtler levels.

I wanted to clean out those [materialistic references], that surface. That’s the problem with reference as well. That’s the other problem: with reference, you start painting those tables and chairs and recognizable things, it just hooks into and keeps you on the material plane.

It just reinforces the crass materialism of American culture. American art has been reinforcing the crass materialism of American culture. And I wanted to get to the subtler level that is a critique of that.


60 @ 60

November 29, 2012

Trying something new. To kick off the re-launch of my site and exhibiting, I am hosting a little gathering, called "60 @ 60", sixty new paintings for my sixtieth birthday.  I've more or less neglected trying to exhibit my work. Time to change.

Erik ReeL: Swedish Fishing




Erik ReeL painting1432

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