Tag Archives: painting

Lucian Freud R.I.P. Dec. 8, 1922 – July 20, 2011

Lucian Freud with Martin Gayford in his studio Photograph: David Dawson

I was sad to hear that Lucian Freud passed away yesterday. He was indeed one of the greatest contemporary figurative artists.

Lucian Freud, whose stark and revealing paintings of friends and intimates, splayed nude in his studio, recast the art of portraiture and offered a new approach to figurative art, died on Wednesday night at his home in London. He was 88. He died following a brief illness, said William Acquavella of Acquavella Galleries, Mr. Freud’s dealer. – NY Times

The NY Times has published a great article about Freud by Michael Kimmelman here.

Freud’s paintings are puzzles and marvels, with their rich, layered, and reworked surfaces. The product of an uncompromising vision and decades of hard work, Freud’s paintings need no external explication to be appreciated, but I think this clip from a short film called Small Gestures in Bare Rooms by filmmaker Tim Meara reveals some of the intensity of thought and feeling with which Freud approached his art.

Film still of Freud's studio from Small Gestures in Bare Rooms by filmmaker Tim Meara

Tim Meara created the film over six months, interviewing members of Freud’s inner circle and re-staging moments from their stories as “silent portraits,” with a voiceover by the novelist Francis Wyndham. During filming the unthinkable happened—Freud agreed to appear on camera, prompted by the memory of the birds of prey he used to keep in his Delamere Terrace studio in the 40s. For half an hour, the painter allowed himself to be filmed walking along the canal in London’s Little Venice, a kestrel perched on his arm.

– from the nowness.com website

The full version of Meara’s short was to be completed as a feature in time for Freud’s 90th birthday. The short was on view at the Pompidou Center, as part of the museum’s Freud retrospective.

Night Portrait 1985-86 Oil on canvas 36.6 x 30 in (92.75 x 76.25cm) Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

The first time I saw Freud’s work in person was in London in 1991. The shock of his paintings was in their physicality, presence, and power. They are often heavy and oppressive, yet one is drawn in by the artist’s complete engagement with his subject – by the strangeness and the often tense, psychological dramas that exist in these seemingly simple subjects.

A Freud exhibit was up at MOCA in Los Angeles in 2003 at the same time as a John Singer Sargent exhibition was on view at LACMA. I went to both shows on the same day – two different times, just to experience how differently two brilliant artists wrestled with what they saw, how they saw, what they chose to include and focus on in their work, and the methods they used to bring forth their visions. Sargent’s paintings seemed made of air, Freud’s of the heaviest earth.

One of the things that I love about perceptually based painting, when done well, is the feeling that the artists are painting not so much what they see, but how they see what they see. And not in an abbreviated or cursory way. They are fully engaged. You can see the gears turning. You see the way that the world moves them. It takes artists of great ability to communicate that so strongly.

Freud was one of them.

Large Interior W11 (after Watteau) 1981-83 oil on canvas 73 x 78 in (185.5 x 198.25cm) Private Collection

What do I ask of a painting? I ask it to astonish, disturb, seduce, convince.

– Lucian Freud

Girl with a White Dog 1950

The painter’s obsession with his subject is all that he needs to drive him to work.

– Lucian Freud

Deep @ OCCCA

Portrait Elizabeth • Joe Forkan 2007 Looped Video (Oil paintings & Monotypes) Size variable

DEEP opens tomorrow at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art in Santa Ana, CA.The show was curated by Grace Kook-Anderson – curator for the Laguna Art Museum.

I have a video piece in the show. A portion of the looping video can be found here:

Forkan – Portrait_Elizabeth

The Opening Reception is Saturday: May 7, 2011, from 6 PM to 10 PM.

The Lebowski Cycle – The Oath of the Horatii

Oath of the Horatii • Joe Forkan 2006-2010 Oil on Linen 72" x 40"

David’s Oath of the Horatii was the painting that initially inspired the Lebowski Cycle, for reasons I explained in my first post on the series. It was also the first one I started painting after I planned the series and stretched all the canvases, so it has undergone a lot of changes in the four years it’s been on and off the easel.

Oath of the Horatii Jacques-Louis David 1784 Oil on canvas 326 cm × 420 cm (128" × 165") Louvre, Paris

I’ll post more about the process soon, but wanted to get this up on the blog.

Below is an early sketch playing with the rhythms of the compostion, and the overall palette of the painting.

Oath of the Horatii • Joe Forkan 2007 pastel on paper 24 x 18

The Lebowski Cycle – The Supper at Emmaus

Supper at Emmaus (After Caravaggio) • Joe Forkan 2006-2009 oil on linen 96"x 38"

This painting is based on Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus from 1601, which illustrates a dramatic moment from the story of Jesus’ resurrection. I was interested in Caravaggio’s take on the story because of his depiction of the moment of discovery, when the disciple’s “eyes were opened”, and for his symbolic use of the still life to reinforce the central idea of his painting.

Supper at Emmaus Caravaggio 1601 Oil on canvas 141 cm × 196.2 cm (55.5 in x 77.25 in) National Gallery, London

The symbolic references used in the paintings of this time period are somewhat obscure to us now, it is still clear from looking at the work that each figure, element, and gesture was an important consideration in the presentation of the story, all subsumed into the final image. One of the qualities that I most enjoy about narrative painting is that there is a clear story to be presented, but the specific events of the narrative give you great latitude for formal, conceptual or expressive shifts and digressions that can set a different tone or shift the story’s implications.

In my painting, I was looking to create a kind of visual and narrative tension between the figures, the dramatic space, and the still life, one that is suggestive of a larger narrative, and that hopefully moves beyond the specifics of the Jesus story, the Lebowski story, or the Caravaggio story, but retains a shifting, if uneasy relationship between all three, in addition to where I am trying to go with the content and the formal elements.

Detail from the Supper at Emmaus • Joe Forkan 2009

I hesitate to be any more forthcoming about my intentions for these paintings, in that I don’t want to set a specific read for anyone else. Painting is, after all, a language of its own and in this regard, I will let the paintings speak for themselves.

This painting was one of the most complex of The Lebowski Cycle. Its scale was daunting (96″ x 38″ / 243.84 cm x 96.52 cm), with 3 main figures that are slightly over life-size, and a deep space that I wanted to paint in a specific way. I wanted the background to be largely empty, but not in the way that Caravaggio’s paintings are empty, through the use of chiaroscuro (the contrasting effects of intense light and deep shadow). I was looking to represent space and to convey a sense of light and shadow through the relationships of large color shapes, rather than using a more dramatic recession into shadow.

This painting will be included in the Laguna Art Museums exhibition The OsCene 2010 –  Contemporary Art and Culture in Orange County from February 21st – May 16, 2010.

The Lebowski Cycle – Process: The Supper at Emmaus

Supper at Emmaus (After Caravaggio) • Joe Forkan (in progress) oil on linen 96″x 38″

Unlike most of the paintings in The Lebowski Cycle, I started The Supper at Emmaus using an indirect painting method, and worked up the image as a grisaille.

In the early stages of this series, I made a trip to Europe specifically to look at narrative paintings and Baroque era masterworks. I spent a lot of time with Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus (which is currently on loan to The Art Institute of Chicago). Many of the master works that I am referencing used indirect painting methods, and I was interested in employing this method to develop a strong play of light and shadow in this painting.

Process images from The Supper At Emmaus • joe Forkan 2006-2009

I worked up the main figures, the still life and the basic shapes of the background entirely in low contrast, high value gray and white, and then developed the figures from there with glazing and scumbling. However, I wanted the space to be defined more by color relationships than by the value relationships that tend to define space in Caravaggio’s work, so the space was built with more contemporary notions about color in mind. The ideas of Hans Hoffmann, Josef Albers and Albert Munsell, tend to inform my use of color in general (although painting from nature is always the best teacher).

The painting underwent considerable changes, especially in the background and foreground areas, with thicker applications of more opaque paint, although many areas are still handled more indirectly.

There is really no way to accurately identify in sketches and studies how color relationships will actually read once they are translated onto a large scale painting, so there was a lot of trial and error in the process of defining the space of the room in relation to the figures.

Two studies exploring direct and indirect methods based on The Coronation of the Virgin by Diego Velazquez • Joe Forkan 2001

It’s can be difficult to talk about painting techniques in isolation from the ideas that one is using the techniques to express.

At play in the paintings are the differing sources, stories and visual references, seriousness and humor, and a wide range of possible readings. These are subtle relationships that direct the evolution of the paintings, but everything is expressed through the language of painting, and the language of painting is also part of what I’m trying to talk about.

So the work grows based on the dynamics between these elements, rather than a march towards some premeditated notion of what the finished painting should look like. Sometimes that means the process ends abruptly, or months of work are obliterated and begun again. It may not be the most efficient system, but this approach does let the paintings evolve beyond their initial conception. I have seen painters who plan their work, and then basically start at one corner and work their way across the canvas, and once they hit the far edge, they’re finished. I’ve never had much success painting that way.

Detail from The Supper at Emmaus • Joe Forkan 2009

My early teachers always stressed working paintings up all at once. The idea was that everything is in play on the canvas, and each mark affects all the relationships throughout the entire piece.

At that time Neo-Expressionism was all the rage, so rough drawing, emotional color, and violent mark-making were de rigueur. The studio was more boxing ring than laboratory or atelier. Painting was to be done on the balls of one’s feet. It was a struggle and an endurance test and the smell of modernist, two-fisted Action Painting still hung heavily in the air.

Even Hans Hofmann’s famous “push/pull” theory, concerning “the visual tension between forces and counter-forces” in a painting sounds more like a wrestling move than an art theory. Push. Pull. Attack the painting. Charge the image. Lots of action verbs.

I like this physical approach to painting, but at the time, much of it was directed towards the production of very aggressive political paintings, which I wasn’t much interested in making. (I was a political cartoonist at the time, so I already had a place to grind that particular ax).

Many of those formal strategies have remained a part of my process, and I do think that this all-over approach can lend coherence and life to a painting, (and the studio still feels like a boxing ring some days).

An example of a more physical approach to painting from 2002 • Arcadia Joe Forkan

It’s probably not the easiest way to engage a body of work referencing old master paintings with believable figures in believable space, and I did dial it back a bit for this particular painting. There were still some dramatic changes in the process, however.

Part of the appeal of this work for me is trying to build compelling images out of the collision of so many ideas and methods that seem at such cross purposes.

I love this Chuck Close quote about painting from an interview he did with Charlie Rose:

“Painting is one of the most magical of mediums, maybe in my mind, maybe the most, because it transcends its physical reality. You know, its just colored dirt, on some cloth, wrapped around some wood strips. It makes space where there is no space, and it conjures up images from life experience. You know, paintings can make you cry, and its just colored dirt. If you think about sculpture, sculpture occupies a real space, you can move around it, and relate to it the same way you relate to this table …but a painting is a magical window, and it’s just the most fun to play around with and build these things out of colored dirt”.