Re: the article in the February 6th New Yorker magazine – The Whitney revisits the nineteen-eighties.
1983 – Some better-known modernist artists around town, represented in the Art Gallery of Ontario, were reaching for new ideas, but ending up with simplistic abstractions.
Art critics tried to define an elusive term called “post-modernism”, which, in visual art, came to mean collectives (two heads are better than one), mixing and matching styles old and new, more recognition for woman artists – an end to the “myth of the male genius”.
The term, post-mod, is here to stay; and means much, much more. It is hard to keep up.
Over thirty years later – 2017 – there have been many ‘block-buster’ shows at the AGO, but little to indicate art that could be called mainstream, except photography, constructions and conceptual art. In painting, anything goes. “Paint to Sell” appears to be the dominant philosophy.
Art Dialogue 1986
a.e. Almost ten years have passed since our last chat. What’s new ?
A radical change occurred in my life. I moved out to urban wilderness and realized I must rediscover nature. That meant abandoning abstraction. Also, I began to paint in watercolour almost exclusively. The paintings dealt with objects around me, seen in terms of my infatuation with the spectrum and the idea of light as energy – electro-magnetic waves. Positive/negative rhythms conducted the eye around the paper or canvas like an electrical flow.
Because there were so many windows in my house, I was always aware of back-lighting – a definition of objects by a thin white line that seemed to provide information about three-dimensionality. As time went by, the white lines became more pronounced and created patterns of their own throughout a painting. This seemed right and proper since all colour comes from white light.
a.e. More about the white lines…
White became the matrix, a structural support for a spectral painting, one in which pure colour is used almost exclusively. There was a pointillist sensibility, minus the pointillist goal of optical mixing that ended by creating a greyed view of the world – serene and somewhat lifeless as in Seurat’s “Sunday on the Grand Jatte”.
a.e. You often said that was your all-time favourite painting.
Yes, I still love it, but here is where opposition comes in. Like the pointillists, my painting was made up of broken colour, but patches that were meant to vibrate energetically, not meld. The pure colour was developed in such a way that it could be seen as slayers or strata, penetrating into the canvas.
a.e. But the main goal of contemporary art at the time was flatness, according to Clement Greenberg; and you did not disdain mainstream art in the seventies.
Because the colours I used were equally pure, I could maintain that sense of two-dimensions – the actuality of canvas or paper. This process leads to a kind of automatism that comes from the unconscious, and is thus more abstract.
a.e. Full circle!
a.e. How about your goals of ten years ago?
The main one – working in series – occupied most of the decade, and revolved around my little five acres. I have always enjoyed painting from life but never developed a series relating to the human condition, except once – my first show at Nancy Poole’s Studio in Toronto, called “Unmade Beds”. The beds and their settings referred to many moods and lifestyles.
I tend to concentrate on familiar objects and the impersonal world of nature. This is a cop-out, and I am trying to deal with it.
Re “Elitism is not inevitable”, I believe the goal of art is to uplift and give pleasure, but the artist has a duty to be honest about his feelings even if they are negative and horrific. In the long run, I feel this will produce greater depth and beauty.