Art Term: Artist’s Hand

The hand of the artist (or artist’s had) refers to the evidence authorship in a work of art, identified by any evidence of the artist’s mark in the piece. For example, the brush strokes left in paint, the delicate modeling of a sculpture, and even the general emotive qualities of a piece and all be described as the artist’s hand and used to uncover the artistic process of creating the art. This the proof left behind that reveals or provides insight into the artist’s role in creating the art. An expert can spot an unsigned Picasso as genuine merely by identifying Picasso’s one-of-a-kind handling of every medium he ever tackled. There’s something deeply personal when an artist gives his hand, his unaccredited collaborator if you will, a cameo.

Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675) “View on Delft,” 1660

One artist that demonstrates perfectly the artist’s hand concept is Dutch genre painter Johannes Vermeer. Vermeer lived in the 17th-century and painted mostly domestic scenes; in fact most of his paintings are set in one of two rooms in his own home in Delft and the same pieces of furniture, decorations and even the sitter (generally women) can be identified from painting to paintings. He worked slowly and with great care, using bright colors and is particularly famous for his masterly treatment of light in his paintings. The recurrence of traits from painting to painting— style, light effects, furniture, location, subjects, pigments, materials, etc.— are all considered evidence of Vermeer’s authorship, or “hand,” in his paintings. But in particular, it is Vermeer’s use of color to recreate the effect of light hitting a surface that most distinguishes his hand at work. There is no other seventeenth-century artist who employed as lavishly, or as wastefully, the exorbitantly expensive pigment lapis lazuli, or natural ultramarine. Vermeer used these elements not just in naturally colored subjects, but earth colors like umber and ochre. Vermeer understood that warm light behaved within a painting’s strongly-lit interior by reflecting in multiple colours onto the wall. So he recreated this effect by building the warms tones with cooler tones and in this way he created a world more perfect than any one could witness, as exampled in “View on Delft.” Vermeer developed this method from his understanding of Leonardo’s observations that the surface of every object partakes of the colour of the adjacent object, meaning that no object is ever seen entirely in its natural color. Anyway, I say all this to make the point that artists can leave a signature trait behind in their work that distinguishes it as there’s, and these traits are referred to as the “artist’s hand.”

Below are two good examples of Vermeer’s “hand” putting authorship to his work. You can see that single out a woman, the floor is of the same tile, the composition is notably similar, some historians think the man is the same model (others believe “The Allegory of Painting” is self-portrait though), and colors and lighting are also similar as well as his expert treatment of the lush fabrics.

Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675) “A Lady and Two Gentlemen” 1659

Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675) “The Allegory of Painting” (or “The Art of Painting”) 1666

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think its worth pointing out that the Modern art movement developed largely around questioning the what’s, why’s, and how’s of art with the intention of challenging the academy’s authority to distinguish between “good” and “bad” art. By ignoring basic artistic conventions, the premise of removing authorship arose and thus artists began to omit their signatures from their work. No finer example of this can be mentioned than Marcel DuChamp’s readymades. The readymades are Duchamp’s answer to the question, How can one make works of art that are not “of art”? They are incredibly impudent and Duchamp’s method was audacious: he withdrew the hand of the artist from the process of making art, substituted manufactured articles (some custom-made, some readymade) for articles made by the artist, and substituted random or nonrational procedures for conscious design. The results are works of art without any pretense of artifice, and unconcerned with imitating reality in any way. The readymades included found objects, objects he chose and deemed art presented unaltered largely the way he found them. Again, these objects lack completely any distinguishing traits that could single out DuChamp as the maker.

DuChamp reasoned that if you want to break all the rules of the artistic tradition then you may as well begin by discarding art’s most fundamental values: beauty and authorship/artisanship. By removing completely any signifier from the work, he created art that was art only because he CHOSE it and presented it as such. His most famous readymade is probably “The Fountain.” (though he definitely had co-conspirators, most notable of which is Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, and she is a complicated post for another day) “The Fountain” was conceived for a show promoting avant-garde art, which inevitably excluded forward-looking artists. Under the pseudonym “R. Mutt,” DuChamp took advantage of the show’s lack of juried panels and submitted “Fountain” as a prank taunting his not-quite-so-avant-garde peers. And like all of his readymades, this was a calculated attack on art tradition. By signing the piece as “R. Mutt” Duchamp surrendered all claim to authorship of the piece, completely eliminating the “artist’s hand” tradition in the “The Fountain.” He defended the piece from accusations and even charges of plagiarism in an unsigned article in The Blind Man, a one-shot magazine published by his friend Beatrice Wood, replying that “Whether Mr. Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view — created a new thought for that object.”

And so, Modern Art was born and authorship— among other conventional definitions of art— became irrelevant.

In 1995, Damien Hirst defended his work with that very same rationale stating that, “It’s very easy to say, ‘I could have done that,’ after someone’s done it. But I did it. You didn’t. It didn’t exist until I did it.”

Well this post took a tangent toward Modern Art! But I suppose Modern Art is my favorite and I have been thinking about the period a lot here lately. I hope you guys enjoyed the extra art information. It seems that I need to to do a post on Damien Hirst and the Baroness soon.

So recap: Artist’s hand refers to signifiers of authorship, that distinguish the art piece as being by this artist.

 

https://www.lamodern.com/2013/05/peters-auction-pick-of-the-day-exploring-the-artists-hand/ http://www.julietmacdonald.co.uk/phd_files/Site_hand_eye_p/theartistshand.htm

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Jasper Johns

I found out that Jasper Johns has new work on exhibit at MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) and got all kinds of excited. And since I touched on artists who work and find success well into their advanced years recently (Maria Lassnig) I thought I would provide another example an artist pursuing his craft well inot his twilight years instead of retiring.

Jasper Johns is mostly known for his richly worked paintings of maps, flags, and targets that led the artistic community away from Abstract Expressionism toward a renewed emphasis on concrete subjects. But today the 83-year-old Jasper Johns is still hard at work and recently made two paintings, two etchings and 10 works on paper in a variety of media, all of which are variations on a photograph of artist Lucian Freud that appeared in a Christie’s catalogue, originally commissioned by Francis Bacon. While Johns does own a painting by Freud, he never met the artist himself, and only met Bacon once via telephone interview; Johns says all inspiration for the series came from the Christie’s photograph, not Freud or Bacon.  When asked how the works evolved Johns answers with, “It just began… There were drawings that were studies for paintings. I also knew I wanted to do a print, and so it went back and forth between printing, drawing, and painting.”

“Regrets” 2013. An altered photo from a Christie’s catalogue.

In the photo a younger, Freud, then in his 30s, sits perched on a bed raising an arm to hide his face. British photographer John Deakin took it around 1964 as part of a series commissioned by Francis Bacon, wanting to use the images as source material for his own paintings. Over the years, Bacon took that photograph of Freud on the bed and folded it, tore it and creased it until a pronounced dark patch dominated its foreground. Eventually Christie’s got a hold of the tattered image and shortly after Johns saw it in their auction catalog. The photo became the focal point of his latest project, inspiring him frays, creases, black patch, and all.

But in true Post-Pop fashion, Johns tore the image out of the magazine rather then buy it himself, and proceeded to trace, copy, mark up and in all possible ways obscure it into near abstraction. He also played with the negative of the dark patch to contrast the positive space, all while incorporating layers of his signature themes like crosshatching, numbers, gray palette and wire mesh. A signature of his work is simplicity that downplays the elaborate nature of his working process.

Ok, so now for a little history on Johns. A native of the South, Jasper Johns was born in Augusta in 1930, and raised in South Carolina. From the young age of five he knew he was going to be an artist. He attended college at the University of South Carolina at Columbia for three years, leaving for New York in 1948 at his art teachers’ insistence he move there. Johns attended the Parsons School of Design for a semester and saw numerous exhibitions during this period. For a period of two years  he served in the army during the Korean War, stationed in South Carolina and Sendai, Japan, only to once again return to New York in 1953. Johns soon became friends with the artist Robert Rauschenberg (born 1925), also a Southerner, and with the composer John Cage and the choreographer Merce Cunningham. During the mid-1950s, Johns along with Rauschenberg joined up with several Abstract Expressionist painters of the previous generation, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Barnett Newman to name a few.

“White Flag” 1955

During this time Johns grew frustrated with the results of Abstract Expressionism deciding that improv painting had arrived to all possible conclusions; or at least he appeared to become bored with where the technique was heading. Ever the control freak, Johns refocused on the the deliberate abstraction of widely available concrete subjects like printed media, or as he explains “things the mind already knows.” He became famous for repurposing quotidian icons of American culture; such as flags, targets, stenciled numbers, ale cans, and, slightly later, maps of the U.S especially the American flag during the 50s.  The difference between  Johns’ new painting style and Abstract Expressionism is that Johns stressed conscious control rather than spontaneity thus revolutionizing the allover compositional techniques of Abstract Expressionism. Johns’s new style engendered a number of subsequent art movements, among them Pop, Minimal, and Conceptual art. Johns’ early style is perfectly exemplified by the reserved, but lush large monochrome encaustic painting White Flag of 1955. The simplicity of this piece understates the meticulous and great amount of work Johns put into the piece rendered of beeswax on cotton panels he stretched himself.

Throughout his career, Johns incorporated certain marks and shapes into his art that clearly display their derivation from factual, unimagined things in the world, including handprints and footprints, casts of parts of the body, or stamps made from objects found in his studio, such as the rim of a tin can. This latest series of work seems to be a continuation of his exploration in abstracting concrete printed media in new and innovative ways.  I was able to find two more images of works from the show, but for now much of it is being kept secret for the opening; which was March 15th. So there should be more information available soon.

 

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/07/arts/design/moma-to-show-jasper-johnss-regrets-series.html?ref=design&_r=0

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/john/hd_john.htm

Maria Lassnig: Body Awareness

I realized that I have done y’all, dear readers, a huge disservice. I have failed to post anything on one of my FAVORITE artists in any genre EVER. Her name is Maria Lassnig, she hails from Austria, born September 8, 1919 in Kappel am Krappfeld, Carinthia. Lassnig built her artistic career by bravely exploring the insecurities associated with the internal sensations of the body by shamelessly exhibiting, for our viewing pleasure, her own body in paintings and drawings.

Since the 1940s, her self-portraits boldly explore “body awareness,” her term for these paintings, to reveal insights into Lassnig’s own feelings of sensations within her body. The viewer is invited to share with Lassnig, the senses felt within her own skin and we don’t just observe, we experience her fright, or timidness, or violence, or confusion. Her paintings are meant to make the viewer feel uncomfortable and the powerful effect of her images ironically comes from their vulnerability. Her naked, bald, and wide-eyed self-portraits brazenly posit her bare body for examination. Looking at them we see exposed, fragile, fleshy, soft fgures, naked with enlarged eyes full of feeling., and we empathize with these exposed figures.

Lassnig’s approach to painting is rooted in rendering only the parts of her body that she can feel while painting. Through this approach she has created an oeuvre originating with the recognition of the human body’s potential as a medium for generating images,  constituting a sort of autobiographical attempt to render her inner states on canvas. A lot of her portraits and later figures are shown without limbs, clothes, or hair because these are parts of herself she cannot sense while painting. In her large-format works Lassnig investigates themes like gender-roles, with figurative elements presented against monochromatic backgrounds in a colour-palette that  prominently features a neon-ish sea green, characteristic of her work. The spectrum of motifs ranges from a double-portrait (“Adam und Eva,” 2010) and the presentation of a couple making love, an amorphous green creature seeming to float above them (“Die Inspiration,” 2010), to a half-portrait of a young man who literally reveals his innermost, insofar as he opens up his chest with his own hands (“Der Jüngling,” 2011). Being completely unafraid of taking on unpleasant topics, Lassnig produced a series of paintings that places the violence of rape uncomfortably before the viewer, with the intention of allowing us to experience the victims’ terror and helplessness while simultaneously relating to the dominance and pleasure felt by the rapist. A lot of her self-portraits in later life are such dualities that comment on youth and age.  She exposes similar feelings of helplessness felt by the very young and the very old by juxtaposing a childhood companion, the teddybear, with her frail and aged body (“The teddy is More Real than Me,” 2002).

“The teddy is more real than me”

Following her graduation from the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts in 1944, Lassnig contributed greatly to the emergence of art informal in Austrian in the early 1950s. She met and befriended Arnulf Rainer and Josef Mikl and the three abstract painters exhibited in Vienna around this time. During this time she was part Hundsgruppe, which also included Arnulf Rainer, Ernst Fuchs, Anton Lehmden, Arik Brauer,  and Wolfgang Hollegha . The works of the group were influenced by Abstract Expressionism and action painting. Later, in the 50’s, she joined with Surrealist Andre Breton and Benjamin Peret. Lassnig’s early exposure to Art Informal, Surrealism, and Gutal left apparent influences in her softened graphic, but still brutally honest style. She remained singular from her contemporaries for the linguistic interests she pursued in her portraits. She also left her mark on the development of feminist art in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. In 1980, after living for several years between Paris and New York, Lassnig returned to Vienna for a position at the Academy of Art, becoming the first female Professor of painting in a german-speaking country. She was also the first woman artist to win the Grand Austrian State Prize in 1988, and in 2005 she was awarded the Austrian Decoration for Science and Art.

Lassnig has also exhibited extensively through the world.  She represented Austria, with Valie Export, at the Venice Biennale in 1980, and has twice exhibited at documenta. In 1996 a retrospective of her work was held at the Centre Georges Pompidou. For the  2005-2006 year she she designed the large scale picture (176 m2) “Breakfast with Ear” as part of the exhibition series “Safety curtain” the Vienna State Opera. In 2008 an exhibition of her recent paintings was shown at the Serpentine Gallery which also travelled to the Contemporary Arts Center in the Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, (2009). The exhibition was curated by Julia Peyton-Jones and Hans Ulrich Obrist in association with Rebecca Morrill and featured thirty canvases and seven films. Lassnig’s recent solo exhibitions include, It’s art that keeps one ever young, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich, Germany, (2010), ‘Maria Lassnig. Films’, Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York NY, (2011), and THE LOCATION OF PICTURES, Deichtorhallen; Hamburg (2013).

Finally, Lassnig received the 55th Venice Biennale’s Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, awarded at the Biennale’s June 1 opening, with the Italian artist Marisa Merz. Lassnig is now 93 and it is a great honor to be awarded this in honor of her long and prolific career. In old age, many artists are criticized for becoming soft, conventional, “losing their style/vision/fire/<insertcritique> but Maria Lassnig has proven that age cannot be held up as a barrier to art making, to impact-full art making, and she continues to produce art that pushes boundaries to expose dualities to reveal insights into ourselves, bodily and conceptually.