A touch of Americana @ MoMA [permanent collection, part 6]

Speaking of American friends ~ since Labor Day was very inappropriately coupled with two very European artists, today we will appropriately balance it out with some quintessentially American art.

A vibrant painting where the artist is exploring his African-American roots:

Three Girls, 1941. Oil and pencil on wood panel || William H. Johnson

When the eye has to wander away from the target, and one begins to wonder which the real target be:

Target with Four Faces, 1955. Encaustic on newspaper and cloth over canvas surmounted by four tinted-plaster faces in wood box with hinged front || Jasper Johns

<<In the mid-1950s Johns incorporated symbols such as numbers, flags, maps, and targets into his paintings. Here, he transforms the familiar image of a target into a tangible object by building up the surface with wax encaustic. As a result, the concentric circles have become less precise and more tactile. Above the target Johns has added four cropped and eyeless faces, plaster casts taken from a single model over a period of several months. Their sculptural presence reinforces the objectness of the painting, particularly as the faces may be shut away in their niches behind a hinged wooden door.>>

The power of the thin white line:

The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, II, 1959. Enamel on canvas || Frank Stella

<<Stella used commercial black enamel paint and a house painter’s brush to make The Marriage of Reason and Squalor, II. The thick black bands are the same width as the paintbrush he used. The thin white lines are not painted; they are gaps between the black bands in which the raw canvas is visible. Stella painted the black bands parallel to each other, and to the canvas’s edges, rejecting expressive brushstrokes in favor of an overall structure that recognized the canvas as both a flat surface and a three-dimensional object.

Stella identified his materials and process with those of a factory laborer. About his manner of painting, Stella famously said, “My painting is based on the fact that only what can be seen there is there… What you see is what you see.” Instead of painting something recognizable, Stella’s painting is about the act of painting, and its result.>>

Is this a flag or a painting?

Flag, 1954-55 (dated 1954 on reverse). Encaustic, oil and collage on fabric mounted on plywood, three panels || Jasper Johns

<<“One night I dreamed that I painted a large American flag,” Johns has said of this work, “and the next morning I got up and I went out and bought the materials to begin it.” Those materials included three canvases that he mounted on plywood, strips of newspaper, and encaustic paint—a mixture of pigment and molten wax that has formed a surface of lumps and smears. The newspaper scraps visible beneath the stripes and forty-eight stars lend this icon historical specificity. The American flag is something “the mind already knows,” Johns has said, but its execution complicates the representation and invites close inspection. A critic of the time encapsulated this painting’s ambivalence, asking, “Is this a flag or a painting?”>>

MoMA, views from the permanent collection.

January 30th, 2017

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