Tag Archives: Hermine Ford

M/E/A/N/I/N/G: The Final Issue on A Year of Positive Thinking-7

The first issue of M/E/A/N/I/N/G: A Journal of Contemporary Art Issues, was published in December 1986. M/E/A/N/I/N/G is a collaboration between two artists, Susan Bee and Mira Schor, both painters with expanded interests in writing and politics, and an extended community of artists, art critics, historians, theorists, and poets, whom we sought to engage in discourse and to give a voice to.

For our 30th anniversary and final issue, we have asked some long-time contributors and some new friends to create images and write about where they place meaning today. As ever, we have encouraged artists and writers to feel free to speak to the concerns that have the most meaning to them right now.

Every other day from December 5 until we are done, a grouping of contributions will appear on A Year of Positive Thinking. We invite you to live through this time with all of us in a spirit of impromptu improvisation and passionate care for our futures.

Susan Bee and Mira Schor

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Note to email subscribers: the videos in this post can only be viewed if you are online, they will not run in your email program.

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LigoranoReese

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Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese collaborate as LigoranoReese. Their body of work includes  public events, videos, sculptures, installations and  limited edition multiples. They installed their most recent installation The American Dream Project in Cleveland and Philadelphia during the political conventions.

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Joy Garnett and Bill Jones: “No”

Joy Garnett, “Yellow Scarf,” 2016. Oil on canvas, 12x9 inches

Joy Garnett, “Yellow Scarf,” 2016. Oil on canvas, 12×9 inches

Video: Bill Jones, No, no. 2016, music video animation (1:16 minutes)

Joy Garnett is a painter and writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Her most recent solo exhibitions were held at Slag Contemporary in Brooklyn, NY and Platform Gallery, Seattle, WA. Bill Jones is an artist and performer who lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.  Jones was a seminal figure in the Vancouver School of conceptual photography along with such artists as Rodney Graham, Ian Wallace and Jeff Wall. 

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Aviva Rahmani: Blowin’ in the Wind

No. NO. NO!

No. NO. NO!

About hope or solace now, I know very little.
After 50 odd years of an art practice, I still believe the answers are in art.

This is the fast phase of climate change, accelerating geometrically.
The planet will adjust to over-consumption dispassionately.

In 2007, for the “Weather Report,” show at BMCA, the paleoecologist Jim White and I used regular recordable desktop sharing sessions over a period of several months to analyze stress on global biogeography (the aggregation of living and non-living systems in the landscape, and their relationships to each other). In a series of maps, using Google Earth and Photoshop, we layered that information with data about population concentration, resource depletion, and the probable effects of increased climate change on those regions, with particular attention to sources of fresh water, or as a threat to human populations from sea level rise or extreme weather. Our conversations were about what elements needed to be prioritized based on scale and drama of impact, for example when drought leads to geopolitical disruption in Egypt or the Sudan, due to competitive conflicts over water loss, or how sea level rise in Bangladesh or the Gulf of Mexico would lead to a likely trajectory of massive human migrations to other parts of the globe, as I drew real time into the maps on the screen. This applied raw material into a transdisciplinary complex adaptive model (a way to study disparate agents in relationship to each other based on how complexity theory works) to determine predictive results (i.e., subsequent events in Sudan and Egypt).

In 2015, I realized the only solution to impending global ecosystem disaster was to stop using fossil fuels immediately. So then I designed The Blued Trees Symphony, copyrighted installations in miles of proposed natural gas corridors, intended to challenge eminent domain takings with sonified biogeographic sculpture.

I knew it would be hard to be the kind of artist I intended to be, but I didn’t know how many ways I could trip over myself. The confusions I feel are more complicated now than they were fifty years ago.

I thought more people would respond when we all yelled, “fire!”

I pay more attention than ever now to formalism.
The sun still sets and rises with exquisite clouds.
Indigenous practices inspire me.

If I’d known how much writing it takes to survive as an artist, I would have paid more attention to grammar when I was eleven.

I detest banality but realize in retrospect how often it has seduced me.

Sometimes I cry.

I still love snow as much as I did when I was three.
Small joys, blessings and miracles give meaning to life.
The grand surges of joy and inspiration make life worthwhile.

I wish travel were easier. I’m writing on a late flight from Denver to New York City. The pilot just asked us to please tell him how the crew could make our flight more enjoyable. I think he has to be kidding. Let me count the ways. Let’s start with isolating the man with the bad head cold sneezing in the seat next to me and calming the crying baby.

So, I’m coming to the end of my life, in a handful of years or a couple decades. I intend to go out as fiercely as I came in.

Beauty and love will always stir me.

We are all grasping at straws in a tornado now.
I think we must be like bamboo bending in the wind, trusting our roots in common soil.

Thank you both for making this frame for our thoughts to be shared.

Aviva Rahmani’s The Blued Trees Symphony was awarded a 2016 Fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA). Her “Trigger Points/ Tipping Points,” premiered at the 2007 Venice Biennale, and contributed to Gulf to Gulf (2009- present), a NYFA sponsored project accessed from 85 countries. Rahmani is an Affiliate with INSTAAR, University of Colorado at Boulder.

 

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Aziz + Cucher

Aziz + Cucher, Some People, tapestry

Aziz + Cucher, “Some People,” cotton tapestry, 74” x 124”

Aziz + Cucher, Some People, tapestry, detail

Aziz + Cucher, Some People, tapestry, detail

Aziz + Cucher, Some People, detail

Aziz + Cucher, “Some People,” tapestry, detail

In 2002 we had a sort of epiphany when we encountered the first of two extraordinary tapestry exhibitions at the MET called Tapestry in the Renaissance, a survey of northern european tapestry production between 1460-1560, curated by Thomas Campbell. This show opened our eyes to the rich tradition of pictorial storytelling embodied in these woven masterpieces, and it challenged us to conceive of ways in which our own practice as artists in the XXI century might embrace allegorical narrative and materiality as a way to represent contemporary battlefields and geopolitical conflict.

Aziz + CucherAnthony Aziz (b.Lunenburg, MA) and Sammy Cucher (b.Lima, Peru). Anthony and Sammy have been living and working together since meeting as graduate students in 1990 at the San Francisco Art Institute. Their projects have been exhibited and published widely, including shows at The New Museum, New York; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid; Photographer’s Gallery, London; Fondation Cartier, Paris; Nationalgalerie Berlin; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Aziz + Cucher are recipients of a 2015 New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Digital and Electronic Art. They are both members of the Fine Arts Faculty at Parsons School of Design /The New School in New York City and recently were artists in residence at the Frans Masereel Centrum in Belgium where they worked on a series of prints as well as a set of digitally woven tapestries in collaboration with Magnolia Editions based in Oakland, CA.

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Erik Moskowitz + Amanda Trager

Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada is a location that is central to our lives. We have spent time there each summer since 1999. Over the years we’ve created narratives that utilize the location but we have not, up until now, referenced Cape Breton explicitly in our works. Erik originally came there in the mid-70s with his family and an extended community that included creative luminaries such as Joan Jonas, Philip Glass, Richard Serra, JoAnne Akalaitis and Rudy Wurlitzer, all friends and collaborators from the downtown art world in New York City.

Until the 1970s many families in Cape Breton, with twenty or so children, lived without modern plumbing and electricity. It is still fairly common for people to raise crops, fish, trap and hunt for sustenance, build their own structures and heat their homes in winter by hauling wood from family lots. Because of Cape Breton’s remoteness, its local traditions have abided to a remarkable degree — until recently.

Due to the ever-increasing need-for-speed of neo-liberalism, global trade and environmental degradation, the days of traditional living are waning. High-speed internet (widely introduced just four years ago) and world-class golf courses augur a move towards homogenization, materialism and hierarchy. Moreover, the summer artist community’s post-minimalist practice — Modernism’s last act — also appears to be terminal in its urgency and agency.

It appears that we are at a tipping point.

Witnessing this change and conveying what Cape Breton and its people mean to us now carries an urgency that we could not have anticipated before the horrible realities of Trump’s rise. In moments of gratitude and in our worst nightmares it exists as a place of refuge. The generation of artists and back-to-the landers that arrived there in the ‘60s and ‘70s might have thought of Cape Breton as an emergency escape hatch, but that idea has now perhaps been subsumed by the contemporary world-order.

We’re moved to consider Cape Breton Island within the realm of the symbolic, and to consider its alternatives within a speculative framework. If we can agree that the current situation feels like science fiction, we can then posit that a science fiction has the imaginative capacity to define answers to the planetary dilemmas we currently face.

In this we are guided by the science fiction of Octavia Butler and her reformulations of kinship structures. While anticipating how various oppressions increasingly structure lives and worlds, she simultaneously delineates emancipatory understandings of family that upset the usual barriers presented by race, gender, class, and age.

Discovering and developing connections between these disparate narratives constitutes the work of this project, offering possibilities for re-considerations of the role of culture in spiritual and emotional survival beyond the maintenance of bare life. Because expression is necessary to survival, not an addendum to it. Feeling already flung into an era of rapid destabilization on many fronts, this sentiment must now be considered within the context of a long view, and with a hopeful eye towards imagining identity in terms of dispersion and dissolution.

Erik Moskowtiz + Amanda Trager, Island, video still (work in progress)

Erik Moskowitz + Amanda Trager, “Island,” video still (work in progress)

Erik Moskowitz + Amanda Trager, "Afro-Surrealist chart," 2016

Erik Moskowitz + Amanda Trager, “Afro-Surrealist chart,” 2016

Erik Moskowitz and Amanda Trager are collaborators who make film and installation works. Both were born and raised in New York City. Their work has been shown at venues that include the Centre Pompidou, Participant, Inc, Museo Reina Sophia, Beirut Art Center and Haus Der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin.

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Michelle Jaffé: Soul Junk

Who’s in Control? © Michelle Jaffé 2013-2016 from Michelle Jaffé on Vimeo

Who Makes That Choice? © Michelle Jaffé 2013-2016 from Michelle Jaffé on Vimeo

SOUL JUNK is a 1, 2 or 3-channel video / audio installation that explores raw emotions, power & intent conveyed & betrayed by the human voice & facial expression. SJ places people inside a mind at work.

To view these works in full screen mode please go here for “Who’s in Control?” and here for “Who Makes That Choice?”

Emotionally raw confessions about family trauma are juxtaposed with observations about the cocksure attitudes of those in power.  Authority is assumed to be right.  However, just because it holds the seat of power, does not make it so. In Soul Junk, I was compelled to move through my own understanding of power structures & an individual’s power grab in the age of the selfie. How those systems get played out in the family, through power brokers, government, and corporations.  I process narcissistic & patriarchal behavior through the rhythm of my own lens in an effort to understand the political, economic and ethical landscape of our time. Those in power often prevail at the expense of individuals, families, & communities.

When & where are the borders between terror, abuse & negligence blurred & crossed? How do personal behavior, corporate & national interests, & armed terrorist groups drive politics? I expose my pain, doubts & frustration in an effort to make sense of the world we live in and to stimulate conversation for change. Soul Junk is a catalyst for social justice.

Michelle Jaffé creates sculpture, sound and video installations, immersing people in an experience that transforms their sensory awareness. These participatory encounters create a moment where a synaptic shift in attitude is possible and new neural connections can be made. Her work has been exhibited at Duke University- Power Plant,  Beall Center for Art + Technology at UC Irvine,  NYCEMF,  Morlan Gallery at Transylvania University, KY, Bosi Contemporary, NY and UICA, Grand Rapids.  Solo exhibitions  at Bosi Contemporary,  Wald & Po Kim Gallery, Susan Berko-Conde Gallery, Brooklyn College, Harvestworks Digital Media in NY, among others. Since 2008, Jaffé has been a fiscally sponsored artist of the New York Foundation for the Arts.

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Hermine Ford

Nov. 22, 2016

Dear Mira and Susan,

Today I had lunch with Mira and saw some shows together in Chelsea. The kind of day that old friends who are artists often share. Did it feel “normal”? No. We talked about the art we were looking at, we talked about how neighborhoods have changed. We talked about growing older. And we talked about the election. We looked back over other “the worst of times” in our lives: WWII, the assassinations of JFK and MLK…both felt like the end of America. And of course 9/11. As an artist I need to do my work in order to be coherent and functional in other areas of my life. I need also to feel my friends, my community around me. I hope that my work makes a contribution to them, but I can’t depend on that. I need to choose when I will participate in group actions to defend democracy, and I need to make a more specific contribution by volunteering to help open the swinging door that would enable very young people to walk into my world of reading, writing, making art, a doorway into a big wide world full of adventure and deep beauty, and through which I may have the privilege of entering their world. This is my survival plan for myself and I am grateful to M/E/A/N/I/N/G for always having provided a place where these kinds of musings can be shared.

Love,

Hermine

Hermine Ford, “Yellow Star,” 2016. Oil on cotton muslin on panel, 33 1/2 x 41 in.

Hermine Ford, “Yellow Star,” 2016. Oil on cotton muslin on panel,
33 1/2″ x 41″

Hermine Ford grew up in NYC. Her childhood neighborhood was 23 St. down 2nd Ave. to Houston St and points east. She lives and works in NYC with extended stays in rural Canada and Rome. All three locations, in an annual roundelay, inform her work.

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Further installments of M/E/A/N/I/N/G: The Final Issue on A Year of Positive Thinking will appear here every other day. Contributors will include Altoon Sultan, Erica Hunt, Jenny Perlin, Julie Harrison, Noah Fischer, Robert C. Morgan, Roger Denson, Susan Bee, Mira Schor, and more. If you are interested in this series and don’t want to miss any of it, please subscribe to A Year of Positive Thinking during this period, by clicking on subscribe at the upper right of the blog online, making sure to verify your email when prompted.

M/E/A/N/I/N/G: A History
We published 20 print issues biannually over ten years from 1986-1996. In 2000, M/E/A/N/I/N/G: An Anthology of Artists’ Writings, Theory, and Criticism was published by Duke University Press. In 2002 we began to publish M/E/A/N/I/N/G Online and have published six online issues. Issue #6 is a link to the digital reissue of all of the original twenty hard copy issues of the journal. The M/E/A/N/I/N/G archive from 1986 to 2002 is in the collection of the Beinecke Library at Yale University.

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Day by Day in the Studio 13: August 15

Tomorrow August 16, the exhibition Abstract Marriage: Sculpture by Ilya Schor and Resia Schor opens at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum. This exhibition brings to fruition a project I first thought of about five years ago. People have suggested to me that this will be a very emotional experience for me. Of necessity, in order to function, I have tried to discount this and see it simply as work to be done, but, as the works are installed, I am overwhelmed.

I wonder if people who look at art or who look at the artworld, and that includes young artists at the beginning of their life as an artist, know how much, practically speaking, it takes to get anything, however modest, done as or for an artist, how much psychic energy it takes to believe in artworks and to make others believe in them, particularly the degree of intensity of belief that at least one person must feel for artwork in order for it to survive after an artist’s death.

It is hard enough to maintain that belief in yourself as an artist and to act upon it in the face of the many rejections that most artists encounter, but to maintain that belief in artists who have died is even more difficult. You have to surmount the stasis their oeuvre and reputation fall into: as in a game of musical chairs or spin the bottle, the person’s reputation at their death is set at a mark, and then, unless the artist was already world famous and iconic and even if that is the case, the oeuvre is as much a burden as it may be a joy to the heirs and the reputation generally begins to recede from that mark achieved in lifetime. If the mark is slight, no matter the quality of the work, the person left with the responsibility of the work must go against the tide of history and of the market to maintain the work and bring the reputation back to the mark or forward to transform the recognition of the work. It is very hard to do. You become the custodian not just of the artist’s qualities and talents but also of that artist’s doubts and even the verities of their reputation. It’s hard enough for the artists to do in their life and harder to do for those who continue.

Several of my friends are artists whose parents were artists: like me they carry the double burden of belief, in their own work and in their parents’ work. Mimi Gross has done an incredible job developing The Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation, Susan Bee has curated exhibitions of the work of her father Sigmund Laufer and her mother Miriam Laufer. I spent several years editing The Extreme of the Middle: Writings of Jack Tworkov. Tworkov’s wife Wally and then his daughters Hermine Ford and Helen Tworkov had worked for over twenty years to have these writings edited and published. Jack died in 1982. Selections from his writings were included in the catalogue of Jack Tworkov: Paintings, 1928-1982, held in 1987 at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. I began serious work on the texts in around 2003, The Extreme of the Middle was published by Yale University Press in June 2009. I did the work because I loved Jack and believed fiercely in his work and his writing.

My father died in 1961. My mother did everything she could to keep his work secure and his name in the world. She died in 2006. Included in Abstract Marriage are works by my father that were last exhibited in the retrospective of his work held at the Jewish Museum in New York in 1965 and that are unknown relative to other aspects of his work and works by my mother that have never been exhibited before.

In the next few days I hope to write a post about my parents’ show, but today I mark Jack’s memory with a drawing I did on his birthday, August 15, in the summer of 1982, as he lay dying at his home in Provincetown. The drawing is called For Jack’s Leaving. Jack loved the bay of Provincetown, the sand flats, the daily swim. In the drawing, I depicted that moment when the outgoing tide pulls water out of the bay through shallow channels, rivers two or three inches deep running out through the sand flats. The figure goes through a narrow channel towards the open sea, like a reverse of birth.

In his diaries, Jack wrote on his birthday August 15, 1953

August 15, 1953

Technically my birthday. The idea had crossed my mind today that I am in every way a self-made man. Even my name and my birthday are self-made. To be fair, I simply mean that my birthday was only a rough approximation like my name.

Typically scrupulous, he later corrected himself, he had written that entry into his journal a couple of days early. But then, on August 22, 1953, he reflected on the great cultural leap he and his sister Janice Biala made after they were brought to America as children.

Janice and I are the first in our line. Our parents are as distinct from us, as the American Indians. It is impossible to convey to a western mind what my mother is. The distance between her and me can only be counted in centuries. But not only time stands between us but differences in adaptation as vital as that between sea and land animals. In fact I think of Janice and me as having become land animals in one jump. As if our parents had been utterly sea animals. Yet we are only land animals of one generation with all the weaknesses that implies. I was brought up to regard timidity as if it were the first rule of life. And the cancer of indolence was planted in me in the cheder. I was brought up the first ten years of my life for another environment. My mother is to this day sealed in that environment, and she has no crack, no window, to look out upon the world. My own distinct situation, the inner break from my mother, did not become apparent to me till so late in life. Did I become aware too late? If I were willing to take all the risks could my life still become vigorous? Or is that question itself a sign of my still unsolved problem? Should a man dream to change the caste of his life when he is past fifty. Does maturity mean to live with one self whatever the self is?

The summer my father died, the Tworkovs invited my mother and me to spend a month with them in their house in Provincetown. Jack wrote in his journal of my father’s death but also of how the work of the artist lives on after his death:

August 8, 1961, P’town.

No place in this notebook have I so far noticed the death of my beloved friend Ilya. His image hovers in my mind. His lovely gayety, the sparkle, the aliveness of his eyes, the humor that played on his lips like honeybees on flowers. Now Resia is here and Mira. We sat long over our coffee this morning talking about people and gradually we drifted into talking about Ilya, each of us displaying our love for him as if he were alive and with us. Even through her unbearable grief her face suffuses with light when I praise Ilya. […] She said something remarkable recalling Ilya. She said, the test of a work is does it speak for the artist after he’s gone. In life the artist persuaded us by his personality, but after he’s gone only his work is left to persuade us.

 

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September 5, 1981: prehistory of a history

After I had completed my first major read-through of the diaries and papers of the painter Jack Tworkov in preparation for editing them into a book of collected writings, Jack’s daughter Helen Tworkov asked me if I had discovered anything that had surprised me. I could answer with frankness, no. That is, Helen and her sister Hermine Ford had given me the privilege of access not only to Jack’s writings about art, texts that he had either published in his lifetime or had saved because he must have known that they were of some art historical interest and, most importantly, because they were of personal use to himself in his studio work, but also to his most private thoughts, or at least those he had put to paper and preserved over a nearly 50 year time period. I was infused with the complexity of intimacy that comes from being immersed in the full drama of studio and career struggles and of the private details even of his married life in ways neither he nor I could never have imagined, but, overall, I knew the stories, the struggles, the aesthetics, and the sensibility deeply, for I had observed Jack and his work with admiration and love for all my life.

Indeed, my work as the editor of The Extreme of the Middle: Writings of Jack Tworkov, published in 2009, had a deep back-story. I could not remember a time that I did not know Jack and his family, since my parents and the Tworkovs became friends when I was, as far as anyone remembers, still a toddler. The Tworkovs were incredibly dear to my family during my childhood and all the more so after my father Ilya Schor died in 1961 and Wally and Jack Tworkov took my mother and me into their Provincetown home for a month of that summer and the next. Though Jack would have been very surprised that the little girl to whom he had taught the dog paddle, or the teenager he had found so rough and recalcitrant, and the young artist about whose work he had continued doubts, ended up being the one to finally shepherd his writings into print and to create in effect the autobiography he had never written as such. But it seemed to me finally that it made the most perfect sense, though I sometimes in those six years rued the day I had ever taken on such a massive task and such a  daunting responsibility. I cursed him for writing so much of interest that I found hard to cut!

I set out to structure the many different types of texts so that the complexity and totality of the life of an artist and a particular man would be as transparent as I could make it. I did not make what I knew would have been the more conventional choice, to edit down to what history already thought was important, which in Tworkov’s case would have been exclusively his writings from the New York School period. I wanted to address his role within that history, but I thought his writings on the death of his mother were as beautifully written and as important to the meaning of his work as his long description of a conversation with John Cage, I knew his remembrances of the painful experience of immigration deepened one’s understanding of his landmark 1950 essay, “The Wandering Soutine.”

With in my mind a reader who would perhaps also be a painter, or perhaps a young artist confronting the huge challenges of how to continue to make art and have a personal life, or perhaps an older artist continuing to work seriously in the studio despite the frequent disappointments careers bring, I used the richness of levels and types of writing Tworkov had produced to situate him and the reader in a vast human field and historical period of art making. I tried to give the reader a sense of what it means to engage in a lifetime struggle to be an artist and a man.

As I went through his diaries and letters, I occasionally found references to my family and to me…not always flattering, much to my dismay. I also found reference to events in which I had been a participant, particularly in later years, which I not only remembered clearly but which, being every bit as inveterate a self-documenter as Jack, I had also noted in my diary.

For example, Jack wrote in his journal on September 5, Saturday (1981): “I picked up Resia and Mira and drove them to Hermine’s place on Highhead. We walked to the beach with Hermine, Bob  and Erik. We watched the huge waves sweeping the shore. The park rangers put up signs to keep cars and people off the beach. We came back and had tea. I got in a talking mood and reminisced about my childhood, about school and college, about Janice and Ford. We saw Bob’s drawings and drove home. […]”

My diary entry for the same day, Saturday, September 5, 1981: “windy day. Jack took us out to Bob & Hermine’s–walk to ocean, very nice visit, Jack very talkative.”

I had not forgotten that day, our being together. I remember also quite clearly that we looked at Hermine’s drawings too! And that we all enjoyed the way his son-in-law the painter Bob Moskowitz had prepared eggplant!!! But if you had quizzed me about what Jack had talked about, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. But I listened and I heard, probably not for the first time, and the stories were embedded so that when I rediscovered the details in his writings, I already knew.

[References above are to my mother Resia Schor , to Jack’s eldest daughter Hermine Ford, his grandson Erik Moskowitz, and to Robert Moskowitz, Janice Biala, and Ford Madox Ford]

That summer Jack was in remission from cancer. He was preparing for Jack Tworkov: Fifteen Years of Painting, a major exhibition of his paintings at the Guggenheim Museum, which opened in early 1982. Earlier that summer he wrote a letter to Andrew Forge, then dean of the School of Art and Architecture at Yale, where Jack had been chairman of the Department of Art through the late 60s, as part of a dialogue to help Forge write a catalogue essay for the exhibition. Here are some excerpts of his letter to Forge:

So for me geometrics, however simple and elementary, is a connection with something that exists besides, outside, myself. It is a small comfort, perhaps, indeed; but it is less hypocritical at the moment than the apparent ecstatic self-expression that a more romantic art calls for. Geometrics or any systemic order gives me a space for meditation, adumbrates my alienation.

There was a period when I felt connected. It was in the late forties and early fifties, the time of the club. It coincided with that short period after World War II when I really believed that, after the sacrifices and horror the world went through, we were embarked on a better world. There were a few years of euphoria. America emerged as a world-saver in spite of the shadow the bomb on Hiroshima had cast on that image. The abstract-expressionist movement, although negative in its rejection of all tradition and especially of the French art of the first half of the century, did reflect this positive element, the postwar euphoria, the sudden feeling of strength both physically and spiritually. As we know, that spirit did not last long. Pop came along with two tongues in its cheek. On the one hand, it took, as the living symbols of American culture, the hot dog and the hamburger–it was hard to know whether in praise or disgust. On the other hand, it revived a form of Dada revolt against art as the dress-up culture of the fathers. Only by then, the middle class, more than ever, was beyond shock or outrage and was led by the art market, which dealt primarily in names rather than esthetics. And name-making absorbed a good deal of the energies of the artists.

I have sometimes dreamt of painting my hatreds. If I didn’t, it was because of the fear that I would end up hating my painting. I’ve hated films that had the excuse that they were a true reflection of society but which I thought were themselves a contribution to the disease they were trying to depict.

The spectator who in front of my paintings will ask, “What does it mean?” has foregone the chance of seeing it. For the only meaning in the painting is in the seeing of it. But that is true in looking at any painting. If you only see the landscape, you are not seeing the painting. If you only see the portrait, you miss the painting.

There is an element in painting which I have often referred to as true, by which I mean not truth in a moral sense but the concern similar to that of a good carpenter who supports his eye with the try square and level, on which all other qualities base themselves. The spiritual essence we draw from art is the absence of falseness; it teaches us not only about art but how to judge anything in life, from the clothes we wear to the food we eat, from what the preacher says to what the politician says and does. Art can become the true square and level of all things–provided it is itself not askew.

It is not beauty that is the first concern of art and certainly not entertainment–but justness.

Where justness exists in a work, the artist’s personality disappears because the painting is the presence and not the painter.

There is another quality in a painting that cannot be described: it is the residue reflected in the painting of the artist’s pleasure in the making of it, especially the pleasure, the joy the artist experiences in the stages when the painting uncovers itself to his eyes. This is an internal experience of the artist which the attentive spectator can extract. It is something precious I get from a Cézanne, knowing very well he did not make it for me but it is there for me to have.

Trueness and pleasure add up to the most fundamental quality in a painting. If the artist cannot paint himself out of the picture, if he is caught up in attention-getting devices, if he becomes concerned with his effects on the audience, he cannot achieve justness. You can admire his devices but you cannot live with them. You cannot draw joy from them. At their worst such artists exploit the same world as the advertising fabricators: clever, ingenious, eye grabbing, but false.

Am I stressing an esthetic morality? I am. It’s what I get from Bach, Velázquez, Blake, Cézanne, Mondrian–and is rare in our present.[…] from The Extreme of the Middle, 8.47

Selections from this letter and other of Jack’s writings were later reprinted in Jack Tworkov: Paintings, 1928-1982, the excellent catalogue of his 1987 retrospective at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts that first made me aware of his writings, as I had by then just begun to write about art also and that ultimately led to my taking on the pleasure, the task, and the great responsibility of editing his writings. These are all included in The Extreme of the Middle.

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Today, September 5, 2011, exactly thirty years have passed since that afternoon by the ocean. Jack died almost exactly a year later to the day, on September 4, 1982.

I thought today to look back to what he had been thinking thirty years before September 5, 1981, to bracket my brief reflections here. The closest entry is from October 24, 1951:

Did it ever occur to Sophocles to write a play about himself? Had the thought occurred to him he would have banished it as sacrilegious. He wrote about Ajax, Antigone, Oedipus, and Electra.

Could Ajax have written about Sophocles? Could Ajax have been an artist and still been a Hero? Ajax could have written about himself without becoming less of a hero only if what he wrote was not art. It was in the nature of Ajax that he could not contrive anything. He therefore lost to life but won his immortality. Only Odysseus of the heroes was different. He did tell of his own life only to make a work of art out of it. Ajax was noble. His nobility lay in the disdain of life on any terms except his own to a degree that was a challenge to the immortal gods. Odysseus was enamored of life and was not beneath embellishing its excitement with fine details from the imagination. He was a compromiser. He took life just as he found it. In order to cut a fine figure he used art to embellish it. He used art but he was no artist. He could not create anyone except himself. He was beloved of the gods because he resembled them enormously–since they were the creations of ordinary men.

Some artists, too, are the creations of the ordinary man.

Sophocles writing about Sophocles would have been lost in a maze of echoing mirrors.[…]

Everyone who is an artist does it at the expense of being a hero. When the artist conceives himself a hero, he ceases to be an artist and proceeds to destroy himself. Sophocles was a great artist because he endured. The artist to become an artist suppresses the hero in him. [from The Extreme of the Middle, 3.13]

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Despite the many years I knew Jack, I thought there was not a single picture of him and me together. But I recently found a group of slides I took that day, September 5, 1981. And among them was a picture Hermine must have taken with my camera of Jack and me standing together looking at the big waves from a distant storm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Remembrance: Sarah Wells (June 6, 1950-June 6, 1998)

This post is inspired by two aspects of the life of the artist.

First, friendships are very important to artists, perhaps because the nature of being an artist often includes necessary aloneness in the making, the thinking, or the ideological position, within an atmosphere of bracing but sometimes corrosive competitiveness so that it is essential to survival as a practicing artist and as a human being to have a core of friends who know and understand your work from its roots and who can suspend their tendencies towards competition enough to support and advise you.

As a teacher, I see my students start their professional lives in little clusters: graduating classes of MFA students or Skowhegan participants from a particular year move into neighborhoods together, share studios, curate each others’ work into shows, get each other jobs, support each others’ achievements. After a while career paths, changing ideologies, and private lives sever some of these bonds, but some continue to sustain for a lifetime and are one of the most precious resources one can have. One may strive for historical importance but at the bottom line one’s practice rests on the shoulders of a few friends who know, understand, and believe.

Second, many of my friends are, like me, not only artists themselves but they are the children and sometimes also the parents of artists: we are all responsible not just for our own work, which is work enough, but also their work, their memory, their reputation. If running your own career is difficult, maintaining the career of a dead artist is even harder, whether the artist was famous or not. For us, there is an ironic tension, a valiant sense of quixotic absurdity, between the necessity we feel to produce our work (I don’t mean the commercial necessity, I mean the creative necessity) and our unique awareness of the burden that any artist’s productivity imposes on the maker and those who end up responsible for it–perhaps contemporary artists currently engaged in post-medium, post-object social practices will leave behind a minimum of stuff but even very successful artists who are lucky enough to sell the majority of their work still often leave their heirs with very problematic estates.

Among my friends, while working on their own art work: in the past decade Mimi Gross has led the development of the Renee & Chaim Gross Foundation, while Susan Bee has exhibited  her mother Miriam Laufer’s work, packed up her father Sigmund Laufer‘s work in printmaking, and supervised two exhibitions of the photography, and the publication of books and catalogs of her daughter Emma Bee Bernstein‘s photography and writing. Since 2001, I edited The Extreme of the Middle: Writings of Jack Tworkov, a project long nurtured by his daughters Helen Tworkov and Hermine Ford, I’ve begun archiving my parents Ilya Schor and Resia Schor‘s artwork, made The Tale of the Goldsmith’s Floor, a video documentary about their art produced for the conference “The Lure of the Detail,” in honor of my late sister Naomi Schor‘s signal 1987 book, Reading in Detail: Aesthetics and the Feminine, which with the help of many of my sister’s friends I was able to have brought back into print in 2007, all this while working on my own painting and writing as well as archiving it in order to create a comprehensive website.

I think also about all my parents’ friends in art school in Warsaw in the 1930s, a whole fertile world which perished, how my parents lost that initial loving context, and how much my mother tried to keep their names alive so that now I am the only one who remembers anything about them.

Art students at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts and friends, Warsaw c.1936: far left, a friend at whose house the group often gathered, last name Mackover (spelling uncertain); third from left with the burning blue eyes, Fishel Zylberberg (known also as Fiszel Zber, 1903-c.1942-43), a wood-engraver and from all accounts and appearance a magnetic and brilliant man. They all perished in the Shoa except for my father Ilya Schor, far right, leaning on the easel.

Young artists have fun in every generation, and perhaps young artists can imagine what it would mean if they suddenly lost those with whom they now share such companionship and joy. I think the artist Wermus is in the middle, bottom row but right this minute I'm not sure.

Etching from the 1930s by a friend of my parents, last name Wermus, Polish artist, killed in Russia before WWII

When I was packing this fall for my recent move, I found an etching upon which, sometime in the past for when I would find it in just this way, my mother had scrawled, “Wermus our best friend in Warsaw perished in Stalins cleaning of Jews in 1938-39 in Moscow.”  So there was once a Polish printmaker called Wermus who went to Russia to work with a master engraver and who perished in Stalin’s purges just before the beginning of the Second World War. As far as I know he and his wife, who also died, had no children, and perhaps now I am the one living being who knows he once lived. The least I can do is make a tiny place for the memory of this  artist here in the present.

I have unpacked every box that was moved from my loft on Lispenard Street and at the moment it looks like everything made it intact except for one group of, as luck would have it, absolutely crucial, irreplaceable archival material that for the present seems to have vanished, including all the black and white documentation of my work up until the 1990s, among which were many many photos and negatives by the sculptor and photographer Sarah Wells. I had scanned some of the pictures but that’s not the same as having her original prints and the negatives.

Sarah took this picture of me in 1993 at my studio at the Marie Walsh Sharpe Foundation Studios, then in Tribeca, with in the background some of my work, a segment of War Frieze in the wall, top,and some of my punctuation mark paintings.

The editors of M/E/A/N/I/N/G, Susan Bee and Mira Schor, 1991, photo: Sarah Wells

Sarah was a dear friend, a lovely person, a very talented artist, and she made her living as an excellent photographer of other artists’ work. She has been much on my mind these past few weeks because of my realization that this material is, I hope only temporarily, lost, and especially today: we were born the same year, 6 days apart, and often celebrated our birthdays together. Her tragic early death from cancer came thirteen years ago today, on her 48th birthday.

In another instance of trying to celebrate the work of an artist, Sarah’s friends, among them Medrie MacPhee and Judd Tully published Sarah Wells, a catalog for a retrospective exhibition of her work held at the Edward Hopper House Art Center in Nyack, New York in 2000. I wrote the following essay for the catalog. Indicative of the special problems in maintaining histories in the digital age, I can’t find my Word files from that period so I have scanned my essay and a few reproductions from the catalog. I hope the text is legible enough.

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