Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Can I Dance With The Girl I Brought To The Dance?

As I mentioned a while back I am reposting the working sketches for my McCormick Place commission in Chicago. The site is over 800 feet in length and approximately 60 feet wide. ( I have posted an architectural rendering of the space. The color of the rendering of the site is not necessarily the final color of the area.) There are eight paintings. Each painting is 8 feet wide and 13 feet high. They will be done on one-inch thick aluminum panels, each weighing approximately 350 pounds. The center of each panel will be about 40 feet apart. The medium will be acrylic and oil. They are due for installation in mid 2007.

It is very interesting for me to repost these sketches. It has been almost more than a year when I first introduced them in my blog. Since then I have done a number of projects here in the States and in Spain. Also during this period I have had an opportunity to discuss with many of you my views on art and life. Some of these discussions have focused on ideas of creativity, authenticity and the relationship of memory and the past.

My initial proposal was centered on a style of abstraction that was consistent with the growth of my work over the last 25 years ( I have also posted a portion of the initial idea.)
Although the selection committee that oversaw the project was enthused with the initial imagery they wanted me to do something with more color. They also wanted something that related directly to “Chicago History.” Given those new parameters I then focused on Nelson Algren, now deceased, a writer whose work I have always admired. Algren’s relationship to the history of Chicago ( among other things) was one of a watchdog type character with his pulse on the politics that ran the city. Never one to shy away from a good fight, his series of essays, under the title “Chicago: City on the Make” are a poignant and insightful critical rendering of the political structure of the city he loved so much. It is also a poetic rendering of the city’s aesthetic ambiance as well. ( I should also mention, for those of you who may not be familiar with Algren’s art that he also wrote “The Man with the Golden Arm", a novel about addiction that was eventually turned into a very successful movie, and "Walk on the Wild Side.") It is from this position that I have developed the work that was accepted for the project.

As I've been typing and rereading some of the passages that inspired the images, many of the questions that I have encountered in our discussions have affected my rereading. Because of this a number of new issues have surfaced. On the one-hand it is a bit uncomfortable at this stage of the game, so to speak. But on the other-hand it is very exciting. I would like to focus on only one of them at this posting. In my posting each image is accompanied by a selected quote from Algren’s book. I am curious as to how my readers respond to abstract images as means to convey what I have selected as an insight or appreciation for Algren's work.

The history of abstraction, as it has developed over many years, has taken a direction much more suited to a formal appreciation of the medium itself. I would argue that the days when color, shape, and space were understood in the context of synesthesia (color, sound, etc. emanating and eliciting specific moods) has, for the most part, gone by the boards in contemporary times. And I think primarily because it can’t “speak” in a way literal enough to confront political issues, a subject that is especially prevalent now. I don’t mean to imply that the abstract art of the Russian Constructivist’s (of course Kasimer Malevich and his “White Square’ comes to mind) wasn’t political. Given its time and place the “gesture” surely was a political one as well as an ideological one, but that was more than 80 years ago!

It’s not that I don’t trust where I am at with these images or that I don’t feel as strongly as I did when I made them. But I think given the passage of time and the discussions that I have had with some of you, it could be another instance for me as an artist to grow. So I guess my first curiosity is: CAN ABSTRACT ART HANDLE A THEME SUCH AS THE ONE I AM ATTEMPTING TO DO?

I have had to post all of the images at one time in order to have a reference to the initial idea without repeating it ad infinitum. Therefore, I plan to leave this post up for at least a week. Please feel free to comment on any one or all of them. Including the issues that I mentioned above.

I noticed after posting that the text for images #6 and 7 is posted a askew of the chronolgy from the first five. However, given how they are titled, I don't think it should hinder an understanding of the images. My apologies.


Blogger Brenda said...

Holy, holy, but these are amazing. Please leave them up. I will be back to re-read and to keep feasting on yours and Algren's art. What a stunning memorial that is truly a collaboration. xo

6:58 AM  
Anonymous Don Hollis said...


I was really impressed with your site.  The deep, intellectual thoughtfulness that went into the comments that describes the process that you have gone through is very impressive.  

I am not much of a blogger.  So, I only commented on one piece.

However, I absolutely LOVED the work.  I like it totally independent of any linkage to Chicago history.  And, I can definitely see the tie ins to the passages you selected.  I think the paintings are wonderful illustrations of the book and in turn, Chicago history.  

I had no idea that the scale of your commission was this huge.  This looks like it will keep you busy for a considerable period of time.  Based on what I have seen so far -- it may be your finest work to date.

11:32 AM  
Anonymous Natalie said...

Dan, the panels look stunning. It's hard to tell from the photos whether some of them incorporate lighting and whether some sections are mounted at different levels within one image -don't know if that's a clear question? What I mean is that there appears to be floating sections on some panels. But that could be a trompe l'oeil effect of the paint? Are these photos from smaller versions of the actual panels or have you already done the full-size ones?
As for the Algren inspiration, it obviously helped you to create the work but I don't think it necessarily matters to spectators who don't know that there's a literary and historical connection. I love Algren's words but your panels can stand independently of them.
The whole idea of "illustrating" text via abstract art doesn't really make sense, in my view, except as a stimulus or trigger for the artist. By the time he/she is finished with the work, the original verbal inspiration will have been so distilled and changed that it's hardly there in its original form. One of the main reasons for the abstract art movement was to get away from "illustration" of any kind and let the art stand only for itself. However, this doesn't invalidate the exciting collaborations that can sometimes occur between an abstract artist and a writer. You certainly seem to have succeeded in achieving a synthesis. It will be exciting to see pictures of the final work, in place.

2:29 PM  
Blogger Lhombre said...

Natalie,thanks for the insights and perceptive analysis of both the abstract art movement in general and the paintings in particular. As to the paintings, no these are not photo's of smaller versions. What I have posted are photo's of works on paper that were submitted to the commission panel. The images vary in size from 5in x 9in to 6in x 10in. They are acrylic and oil on Laquarelle drawing paper. None of the sections actually float. Some do have a kind of trompe l'oel effect though. The paintings will be very similar. But as anyone who paints knows, the final result is usually dictated by what takes place while the work is being experienced. I don't mean to imply that that is some kind of general rule for abstract painting or any other approach to painting, but that certainly has been my experience.

As to the Algren inspiration and how any kind of attempt to convey what one gleens from that moment, I agree that for an abstract painter that doesn't have to dictate some kind of literal interpretation; nor do I think abstraction can accomplish that. It is interesting though that there are some who will state quite firmly that they can see a literal connection/interpretation to some given thesis or whatever. Which I guess is one of the reasons I've posted the initial question. I don't know if it is a question that can be answered or needs to be answered. But when an abstract artist is asked, as I have been, to "convey a Chicago theme associated with its history" it can be daunting. Like you, I feel the work stands on its own. And I would like to think the panel thinks so too.

As to your comment that the abstract art movement was inclined to do away with illustration I would also agree. But as to the work standing only for itself I think that Rothko, Newman, Still, and many others would disagree with you. However, I think Cllement Greengerg would agree. As would those of the minimalist movement ( of which I have often been associated with and of course I am not) where metaphorical relationships of any kind that lay outside "the object itself" would be unacceptable.

Thanks for the great comment. I really need to keep reexamining my position on things as I continue to grow. And it is artists like yourself that make that possible. Thanks again.

3:08 PM  
Anonymous Natalie said...

Dan, this would be an interesting discussion to carry on in a Paris cafe or a New York bar. I wouldn't like to be in agreement with Greenberg who was responsible for much of the phony art jargon that passes as serious art criticism nor do I go along with minimalist concepts. I appreciate and agree with your not wanting your work to be lumped into the minimalist pigeonhole. What I like especially in these preparatory works is that they are *not* minimalist. It will be very interesting to see how they will translate to the full-size panels.
As far as I'm concerned, abstract art can still be abstract while referring to anything the artist chooses. The elements that constitute good or great art are always abstract anyway - eg a Byzantine icon, regardless of its subject matter, can be as abstract as a Mondrian (most people looking at a Mondrian are not aware that his mature work was inspired by Theosophical concepts).
But speaking of art jargon, there was a wonderful column in an art magazine here (now defunct) which used to quote passages from current art criticism so full of pretentious intellectual bullshit that they became hilarious just by being spotlighted.
We, of course, do not talk or write like that!

7:05 AM  
Blogger purple_kangaroo said...

What a great project. I enjoyed looking at the pictures and reading your thoughts.

Thanks for stopping by my blog, also.

7:10 PM  
Blogger Lhombre said...

Natalie, Ah! Yes! I can still remember reading my first Artforum magazine back in the mid sixties. Talk about semantical acrobatics and jargon! And then came seminars in Ontology, Epistemology and Phenomenology. Followed by Structural Linguistics, Structural Anthropology, and the numerous years I spent leading seminars on French Theory ( required). And guess what, I still don't understand Artforum. Oh, I understand what there saying, but I can't understand why? Or worse yet, maybe I do.

But...your right. Over coffee sometime.

I don't know that I agree with you as to Mondrian though. I think his association with Madam Blavatsky and the Theosophist's was pretty well known. What not enough of the public appreciated, as far as I am concerned, was his late works; such as Broadway Boogie Woogie.

It all makes for good talk And even though talk is cheap, the paintings that recieved attribution through all that "important" jargon wasn't very cheap!

As for the minimalist movement; I loved it. It was one of the great shakers for me in my formative years and will always find it one of the most interesting, and perhaps, the most interesting movement to be called a "movement" which it probably wasn't. It was probably just a "thing!"
Sip..Sip..Gulp. The coffee's down now.

Thanks so much for your stopping by. You always have interesting perceptions.

2:57 PM  
Blogger Lhombre said...

Thank you purple kangaroo. Nice of you to stop by. Hope you will drop by again some time.

6:57 AM  

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