Janice Griffin is a painter living in Portland, Oregon (soon to be moving to New Mexico) and a reader of the blog. In exploring her website, Janic Griffin Gallery, I was captivated by her musings about art making. I offer her thoughts here:
A bit of autobiography, painters who have affected me and thoughts on the edibleness of pictures.
My first encounter with the idea that paintings could appear ‘edible’ came when I was interviewing for a place at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London. Lord Thomas Balogh, a noted Hungarian economist who taught at Oxford, had written a reference for me, and there I was in my black knee length suit from Etam, hoping I would measure up. My interviewer kept pressing, for he was looking for just the right word from me to describe the Venetian Rococo painting by Tiepolo I had been asked to critique. “Edible, edible! Don’t you see? Its edible looking!” Well, after that, I did see and I’ve been seeing it in painting ever since!
There was a countess in our Sotheby’s class who told me she shopped for her clothes in London, Paris and New York. I remember her buttery soft, sky blue leather jacket seemed as deliciously sensual as the sugared-almond pastels of French 18th century paintings by Boucher and Fragonard. I fell in love with paintings during those months in London. Nowadays, I’m fortunate enough to call myself a professional painter and it’s the voices of Vincent Van Gogh, Jackson Pollock and Howard Hodgkin that call to me so vigorously from art history.
Van Gogh used painting to keep his madness at bay but was always in his right mind when he put paint to canvas. After the moralistic and under your fingernail griminess of ‘Potato Eaters’, he moved to the south of France and fell in love with color. He understood its symbolic and expressive potential to convey the “terrible passions of human nature”. His frenzied and tumultuous paintings of intense complementary blues, yellows, greens and reds make a startling break from anything that had ever been painted. By the time of his death, Van Gogh was literally swallowing paint by the tube full as if his mental liability was caused by some dietary deficiency. Astonishingly, one of his last works, ‘Wheatfield with Crows’, was an all at once breakthrough and has been called the first modern painting.
The thing about art making is that it’s a process that requires a willingness to surrender to the unknown. Van Gogh was good from the beginning. His paintings from Arles evoke an almost religious reverence because of the throbbing luminosity of his colors. In the course of his life’s work though, we behold a fervent seeking, a reaching for something not completely understood but only sensed. In the 1940s, Jackson Pollock had that same intuition. Like Van Gogh, Pollock completed his best work toward the end of his life. He is famous for the claim “I am nature”, and his later paintings have been shown quantifiably to contain increasingly more of the fractal geometry that is such a hallmark of the natural world. Pollock didn’t know what he was looking for like his life depended on it; he just knew he had to find it. You only have to stand in front of one of his huge later canvases like I did at the Pompidou Center in Paris many years ago to know that find it he did.
Like Van Gogh and Jackson Pollock, Howard Hodgkin takes sensuous pleasure in the gorgeousness of paint itself. If Post Impressionist Van Gogh is the steppingstone into Abstract Expressionism, Jackson Pollock is the manifestation of this quintessentially North American movement. Howard Hodgkin is the contemporary painter who, for me, most authoritatively seizes upon the possibilities of expressionist painting today. Hodgkin employs both the expressive quality of the medium of paint and the color of paint to make “representational pictures of emotional situations”. Like Van Gogh and Pollock before him, he savors his medium and his small works embody a power that reaches out and grabs us even from across a large room. Close up, the surface of his paintings scream “touch me”, “lick me”, “eat me”. “Delight in the beauty that I am” I approach the act of painting with intention, an open heart and the knowledge of those who have painted before me. Often, when people come into the Janice Griffin Gallery to look at my canvases, they tell me that my figurative and abstract expressionist works are the first paintings they have liked. I always consider this a complement because, as much as anything, I want people to “feel’ my paintings. Art often grapples with complex issues and emotions that are better explored visually than in words. For this reason, I’ve always trusted that good painters have to be both fearless and a little mad. It’s that consenting to put our own understanding of experience open to public scrutiny, that extraordinary beauty of the truth, that people find so compelling. Thank you Vincent, Jackson and Howard for leading the way.
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