Toby Mott’s collection, “Loud Flash: British Punk on Paper”, is being shown at Haunch of Venison (6 Burlington Gardens, London) until the end of October. “Loud Flash” includes works by Linder Stirling, Jamie Reid, and others.
Mott: “This exhibition seeks to capture punk’s cataclysmic collision with the cultural, social and political values of the time and show the enduring legacy it left in its wake.”
There is a certain precision to be found in William Maxwell’s prose that is breathtaking and arguably without equal. Maxwell, however, may be best known for using atypical points-of-view to distill an experience down to its barest essence. Essentialism can be a loaded term, especially in academic circles, but I am using it here to highlight Maxwell’s aperture for experience, which he opens as wide as possible to take in every aspect of a moment in time. Essentialism in this case equals universalism.
Maxwell’s essentialism is evidenced in the following, heart-breakingly beautiful passage from The Château:
“In the first luminous quarter-hour of daylight, the Place Pierre-Joseph Redouté in the 16th arrondissement of Paris was given over to philosophical and mathematical speculation. The swallows skimming the wet rooftops said: What are numbers? The sky, growing paler, said: What is being when being becomes morning? What is “five,” asked the birds, apart from “five” swallows?”
The Château is, of course, Maxwell’s endearing novel of a young American couple abroad in post-war France. It is early morning in Paris and Maxwell begins with as wide a lens as possible to capture the moment before Barbara and Harold Rhodes awaken. He continues:
“The French painter and lithographer who belonged in the center of the Place and who from his tireless study of natural forms might have been able to answer those questions was unfortunately not there any more; he had been melted down and made into bullets by the Germans.”
Here is war’s destruction rendered completely in one terse independent clause. It is just after daylight and the couple is still not awake, and yet:
“The huge block of rough granite that was substituting for him said: Matter is energy not in motion, and the swallows said: Very well, try this, then, why don’t you… and this…”
Here is action without depiction; a painterly vision of swallows diving in the post-dawn light.
“Though proof was easy and the argument had long ago grown tiresome, the granite refrained. But it could not resist some slight demonstration, and so it gave off concentric circles of green grass, scarlet salvia, curbing and cobblestone.”
The solidity of matter again as a refrain, and even the pissoir has its say: “Everything that happens, in spite of the best efforts of the police, is determined by the space co-ordinates x, y, and z, and the time co-ordinate t.”
The lovers toss and turn and dream. Harold gropes for Barbara who evades him in her sleep. The sun rises. The rain has stopped. And then:
“Crowded to the extreme edge of the bed by his half-waking and half sleeping lust, she turns.
‘Are you awake?’ he says softly.
‘We’re back in Paris.’
‘So I see.’”
Here is a moment so exquisitely rendered that it almost defies interpretation. The timelessness of the moment is palpable in its simplicity. These passages are beautiful because they are simple and tender and also because they are universal.
The following passage from earlier in The Château highlights Maxwell’s method and needs no commentary, only a short preface.
Barbara Rhodes and Alix (a girlfriend) are swimming in a river. Harold turns to see the girls wading deeper into the water, their white thighs exposed.
“There are certain scenes that (far more than artifacts dug up out of the ground or prehistoric cave paintings, which have a confusing freshness and newness) serve to remind us of how old the human race is, and of the beautiful, touching sameness of most human occasions. Anything that is not anonymous is all a dream. And who we are, and whether our parents embraced life or were disappointed by it, and what will be come of our children couldn’t be less important. Nobody asks the name of the Greek vase or whether the lonely traveler on the Chinese scroll arrived at the inn before dark.”
A great piece by Julian Bell on the progression of Lucian Freud’s work. Here follows a brief excerpt (please read the full piece at the NYRB website).
“Freud has also returned repeatedly to the dumb delight of making paint look like things. “Dumb,” I say, because whenever Freud renders mattress ticking, armchair leather, or floorboards (his daily vegetables: “My world is fairly floorboardish”), his brush naively falls in with the grain of the material; and that runs quite against the grain of the Old Master “painterliness” he is sometimes alleged to revive. Yet it communicates a primal, childlike interest in objects that can be truly moving. No other modern painter, again, is more eloquent about a flower, or a pattern on a blouse, or water twisting from a tap. How wholehearted, however, is his faith in material facts?”
This is all clearly visible in much of Freud’s work. For example see Factory in North London and Interior in Paddington. The first of these displays a reverence for and a fascination with the material world. The second, the complex relationship of humans within that world.
In reference to Freud’s Large Interior w9, Bell continues:
“On the floor beneath the mother and the lover, one observes a pestle and mortar. When I returned, a little older, to that picture, a nasty suspicion dawned on me: Was the Freud who hated symbolism here to be found toying with Freudian symbolism?”
Freud’s naturalism is imbued with mortality. Freud’s tactile representation of human flesh is very much an attempt to capture not only the character of the subject and place it on the canvas, but also to preserve a precise moment in fluid time.
On September 16, The Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University continues its series on art and vinyl with an artist talk by Xaviera Simmons followed by a performance by Superchunk.
Trevor Schoonmaker, curator, on The Record:
“Since the heyday of vinyl, and through its decline and recent resurgence, a surprising number of artists have worked with vinyl records. The Record presents some of the best, rarest and most unexpected examples. The artists in the exhibition use the vinyl record as metaphor, archive, artifact, icon, portrait, or transcendent medium.”
New York artist Adam Pendleton on New York photographer Xaviera Simmons.
Simmons, as an artist, doubles down. She captures the fiction/truth dialectic as well as anyone, dis-articulating assumptions about the quietly composed and staged images she makes. She’s a Brecht of the photographic endeavor. In her work, Simmons is not so much documenting the performance before the camera, but the performance itself. In one image from the series If We Believe in Theory, Simmons captures a young girl in the woods dressed like Little Red Riding Hood. It’s an example of Simmons using the suggestion of performance to capture the explicit and contradictory nature of individuality. Her subject becomes herself, and also a dismembered characterization of what we’re accustomed to look at. Still, it is not simply Simmons’s understanding of the imagistic theater of photography that is useful, but her way of using form to acknowledge that image is at the center of the creative construction of collective and personal histories. Simmons is a lexicographer who fuses live material and conceptual conceit; she deconstructs and retains a relation to specific times and places. Perhaps paradoxically, she often achieves this through unabashedly excessive detail, like in One Day and Back Then (Standing), where her character stands in a field of sea reeds in blackface, looking out at us, wearing all black (including stiletto boots), ready for a night out on the town.