The Journey And Vigilance / by Lucas Novak

Paris, Saturday, May 9, 2015: There is a cool breeze in front of Centre Pompidou. It is after 9pm but there is still a pale sky. Yellow clouds of the sunset reflect off the glass structure. A guitar player nearby strums a pleasant rhythm, and his voice carries across the courtyard. Yesterday I visited the Marlene Dumas exhibition at the Tate Modern in London, and as she says, the art that chose me (painting) does not make people cry, like music, a book, film, or better yet, a bad film.

So what am I trying to convey with my art? What it means to be human: personal struggle, conflict, faith, love, hate, the intermissions, the unexpected, the unknown, what are we doing here, the purpose of our existence. The purpose of artmaking shares such questions with religion -- art is its own religion in that way.  

Paris, Sunday, May 10, 2015, After experiencing the work in Centre Pompidou: A memorable quote: “Every man experiences captivity in some way…” Excellent contemporary art here – standouts include a large painting by Adrian Ghenie entitled Pie Fight Interior, 2014; bags of rubble by Maurizio Cattelan, 1994 (from Milan’s museum after a bomb – a humorous interrogation of the art institution); 2014 painting by Herve Telémaque; rows and columns of globes with tumor-like growths called Outgrowth by Thomas Hirschborn, 2005; Hassan Dorsi’s replica of Casablanca’s Parc de l’Hermitage (representing its extreme state of deterioration and abandonment); and this video/music installation from Label Dalbin entitled Fire (listen to it loud!):

Louvre visit, Monday May 11, 2015: One “obscure” painting that stood out was a portrait by Frenchman Emile Deroy, an artist unfamiliar to me, as I don’t think I’ve seen anything else of his. He lived only 26 years (c.1820-46), and this particular portrait was from 1843. At 23 years old, he handled the brush similar to Degas, as if he was a pre-impressionist, or one who inspired the eventual movement. Too bad he died so young. I saw similarities too between Deroy and Delacroix, particularly, Delacroix’s small studies for his larger pieces, with quick brushstrokes to suggest shapes, shades, and highlights. The impressionists were initially criticized for their work as being like unrefined studies, but the invention of the camera forced painters to change, affecting other media, and later leading to Dada. The camera, which marked the end of a certain definition of art, now used as a tool to remember what it killed, as tourists wander the museum galleries photographing iconic paintings. I think it’s a good thing: the invention of the camera evidences the necessity of art to the human race; artists found a way to continue making art. Eventually cracks form and widen within the rock, and the water rushes through.

But I also suspect that artists were making weird shit all along, and only until the camera displaced conventional painting did the elite who control the art institutions begin to embrace the previously rejected.

The rejects are sometimes the genius, and I wonder how many amazing artists and artworks preceding Van Gogh never reached public view, now nothing more than dirt in the ground.

A common thread, however, runs between the good paintings from over the centuries. They portray the human condition in a convincing drama. Today, the emphasis has sometimes shifted from the craft, often focusing on concept or an academic discussion. Will contemporary art survive the centuries? As a movement yes, to remind us that we kept pushing limits, a necessary exploration to question boundaries. But what about individual pieces? Only those that can impact generations to come without the need for a treatise or manifesto. I think I must still portray the human condition in a convincing drama, and I think a high level of craftsmanship is required, since I am an artist not a philosopher. Humans marvel at what others have built. We are creators. The why and the how. For example, when I see a good painting by Titian, Velazquez, Picasso, Richter, or some of my contemporaries, not only will I question why he did that, but as an artist I am struck by the how. How did he frickin’ do that??? The color schemes, lines, textures, lightness, darkness, blankness, the convincing drama. It could be as “simple” as a Rothko color field or Sean Scully’s rectangles, yet I often find so much complexity there, and the how question arises. That is what my work should encompass. To enter a spiritual realm that transcends time. How to do it?