Palingenesis, and the Art of Everythingism

Two important exhibitions in London last weekend: Natalia Goncharova Retrospective at Tate Modern, and Lee Krasner: Living Colour at Barbican.

In Goncharova’s famous painting, The Cyclist, the figure is willfully heading in the opposite direction to that indicated by the pointing authoritarian finger.

It suitably sums up Goncharova’s spirit. A leading figure of the new avant-garde art scene in Russia, she defied convention at every turn.

The Cyclist (1912-13), with its Futurist devices of depicting time and speed with multiple outlines, challenged the Italian Futurists obsession with machines by choosing a more peaceful mode of transport, a bicycle.

 

Born in 1881, the same year as Picasso, Natalia Goncharova was a generation older than Lee Krasner, with origins very different to that of Krasner’s Jewish parentage.  From a family of impoverished aristocrats, Goncharova learned about the lives and traditions of the peasants who lived on the family estate, which was to become a great influence on her work.

The first modern artist to have a retrospective exhibition in Russia, Goncharova had previously been charged with obscenity and had her paintings confiscated for daring to paint the female nude so explicitly.

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The breadth of her work is astonishing. Painter, printmaker, fashion and set designer, she also embraced and initiated art forms such as Rayonism. To indicate the diverse range of her work,  life-long partner, Mikhail Larionov coined the term ‘everythingism’.

She was one of the first Russian artists to perceive and value the high artistic merits of Russian national creativity, and some wonderful samples are shown in the exhibition. In Round Dance, 1910, for example, the artist imitates peasant woodcuts in paint. She portrays the peasants with faces like in icons, which has the effect of a attributing to them a saintly status.  She explained that ‘the need to go back to these naive forms of art, is necessary to find new forms’.

Natalia-Goncharova-Round-dance       goncharova

Folk art is not refined. But it is sincere, revealing the instinct of the tribe/community, the people unconsciously preserving the treasure of these primal concerns. Goncharova recognised this. She also recognized the power of folk tales and mythology, and her ground-breaking sets and costumes for Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera The Golden Cockerel (1914), produced by Diaghilev as a part of the famous Saisons Russes in Paris, are based on the Old Believer lubki’s subjects and colour palette as well.

I got the sense that Lee Krasner (1908-84) was just as determined, radical and brave. She also refused to develop a ‘signature image’;  being restless like Goncharova, she continued to experiment with different styles and forms throughout her life. It was most important to her that her paintings emerged authentically from within.

“I like a canvas to breathe and be alive. Be alive is the point.”

The show at the Barbican gives a rich overview of her life and career from early self-portraits and life drawing, showing a progression into the abstract expressionist works for which she is known.

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Siren, 1966

I was particularly interested in the ‘hieroglyphic’ images and her abstract alphabets, what she called her “mysterious writings”. They reminded me of Mark Tobey’s ‘white writing’ paintings:  dense, rhythmic nets of black paint over multicolor backgrounds or meticulously over-written in white like sacred scripts.

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It was after her husband died and she was able to work in the barn space that she really found her artistic identity. Here she could work on an unprecedented scale, tacking lengths of canvas directly to the wall. She then produced her ‘Night Journeys’ series of paintings, made during chronic insomnia using organic, umber tones because she didn’t like using colour in artificial light.

Vibrant colours returned some years later in a shift from soft, biomorphic shapes to more hard-edged abstract forms. Palingenesis, titled after the Greek word for re-birth was something Krasner considered fundamental for her practice.

“Evolution, growth and change go on. Change is life.”

Lee Krasner Palingenesis, 1971 Pollock Krasner Foundation_0

Palingenesis, 1971 by Lee Krasner

In another act of metamorphosis, she tore up work she wasn’t happy with and created astonishing collages from the fragments.

Burning Candles, Desert Moon, and Bald Eagle collages by Lee Krasner.

 

“Painting is a revelation, an act of love…as a painter I can’t experience it any other way.”

lee krasner painting portrait in green in her studio 1969

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Inscape/Outscape

My brother and I currently have work on display in Kemi’s cafe, Pontcanna.

We present work in dialogue with each other, working from very different perspectives. Matt paints plein air from landscapes around Somerset and Portsmouth, while my paintings emerge from inner imaginative worlds. I am interested in capturing fleeting moments from the mundus imaginalis, or Otherworld: the place where stories live and have an independent existence.

Matt studied art at Southampton Institute, and is interested in art as therapy, valuing the tranquility of mind that comes from painting the forms and colours he sees in the landscape while out walking.

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Get Well Cart

An old drugs trolley has been repurposed to dispense art making & utopian prescriptions.

The trolley has been adapted and fitted with printmaking equipment including a set of brass letters to print words and phrases. Gail Howard and I are delivering pop-up printmaking and basket weaving sessions around the hospital.

The aim of the project is to highlight the value of art making in relation to our health. Many staff, visitors and patients have been filling out alternative prescriptions…

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…and printing their words.

The results will be displayed in the Hearth Gallery, Llandough, and Arcade-Campfa in September. The project ‘A Brief History of Healing’ is funded by Arts Council Wales.

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Breathing Space

Recently, I have been working with the charity Valley and Vale Arts on their Social Prescribing project Breathing Space in Pontypridd.

It is a free, weekly, person-centred creative session for adults experiencing stress, anxiety and/or depression. Short mindfulness exercises help individuals to relax and find their creative flow. The work created can be about a real life experience or abstract. Meeting other people with similar experiences helps group members to not feel judged or isolated. In the sessions participants become artists, and leave their diagnosis behind, have fun and remember who they still are. It offers a strength-based approach with the focus on wellness. The group supports each other in finding their own solutions, and by celebrating each other’s success.

 

 

This week, we created a collaborative poem, each participant contributing a line after free-writing on the theme of Journeys.

Challenges, meeting new people

In my heart I feel the forest call me

Emotional through life with many ups and downs

today will be OK.

Calmness, support and love.

Going there to find here

Through falling, I see your light.

I’m listening to my heart.

I’m learning that the journey never ends

because the journey is life.

Sometimes we don’t know the way ahead,

but we keep moving. Step by step.

 

 

 

In the Studio

Two new pieces that are to be exhibited in the Hearth Gallery, Llandough from 9th July – August 1st, along with work from the other artists working at Kings Road Yard Studios.

Working on the backs of reappropriated carpet tiles, I begin with some expressive mark-making using gloss house paint. This is viscous enough to ‘write’ over the canvas using an old paintbrush to dribble the paint Jackson Pollock-style. When dry, a layer of dark paint is applied, and then partially scraped away to reveal the final, textured shapes. This sgraffitio technique is more widely used in pottery, glass and candle making, but surrealist artists such as Max Ernst experimented with it in the 20s and 30s as a way to explore freedom of expression, randomness of gestures and creative use of materials.

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Spirit Horses  – Mixed Media on Tile 50×50

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Guardians  – Mixed Media on Tile 50×50

Intuitive Collages

In this week’s Creative Wellbeing session, I asked participants to look though piles of old magazines, choosing and cutting out images that appealed to them, while trying not to think too much about why. The collection of images and/or words, could then be arranged and stuck down in a way that is pleasing to each individual.

One participant kindly brought in a pile of wallpaper samplers she got free from a home store. Being of light plywood, these were ideal for creating the collages on, and provided a bold background that may or may not have influenced the choice of images.

 

Samples of participants’ collages

The cutting and gluing and arranging of images was conducive to relaxation and general discussion, whereas going straight into a writing exercise can be inhibiting. Time seemed to pass remarkably fast, or rather, was forgotten about; a good sign of absorption and enjoyment.

Towards the end of the session, participants reflected on how they felt about the images chosen when they were assembled, and how themes had emerged, sometimes quite surprising, and sometimes providing fresh ways of looking at the self. It was suggested that the collages could be added to, and reformatted over time, and agreed that they would make a great stimulus for free writing if there had been time.