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bas at snitzer, rayne at bruk, rodriguez at castillo

Post #659 • November 14, 2005, 6:41 AM • 34 Comments

Hernan Bas, whose work is currently up at Snitzer Gallery, has flaws galore, but fewer than I was expecting.

He chokes when he draws the figure. He can do it, but his figures tend to be the least interesting parts of his work. The brushed out areas of sky, forest, and water contain passages of legitimate paint-handling that I did not think he could manage. There's even some palette knifing that shows decent command. If he could render his waif-boys with the same authority, the paintings would become much stronger. Instead, he noodles them fearfullly. They come out as if he really, really wants them to come out a particular way, to their detriment - that illustrative style for which he has become known, I think. The style itself is not the problem - his handling is.

He cannot make a dark painting function. Painting needs a certain amount of light to operate. Without it, the pressure increases to pull it off by some other means, and he doesn't have other means. His dark paintings come off as black rather than shadowy, an effect that could work but doesn't for him. There was a near-perfect correlation between the tonal value of his images and their pictorial success.

I've observed before that his compositions weaken as they increase in size - there's proof in the Rubell collection. This is the scale at which he operates well - about eight to twelve inches on a side. Even then he's not a brilliant composer, but he's not a disasterous one either - he can get the job done.

That job, of course, is an extended fantasy about boys, and some kind of existential concern expressed via a kite, like in the Peanuts cartoon. He can communicate that enough for me to recognize its existence but not enough to make it land on me. Yes, even as a hetero, I insist that I should look at those guys and think they're hot. I don't, for the same reason that the kite trope comes off looking silly - there's not enough force behind them. Particularly in the videos. Bas needs to stay far, far away from video.

But all that said, he has talent, and he continues to improve. He has enough going on in his painted work to take it seriously, or at least to make it the subject of a serious hammering. The boy's as hyped as can be, but that's neither here nor there - eventually all that will blow over, and reveal this work to be a product of its time, one that valued a lightweight style. I don't mean that pejoratively - it's just how it is. Eventually he'll reach an age at which his work will remind us less of gayness and more of pederasty. Balthus dealt with a similar issue by transforming his Lolitas into angels, icons of perfect, depilated beauty. Balthus, however, didn't freeze up when drawing the figure, and could work eight feet by eight feet if he felt like it. It will be interesting to see how it all turns out for Bas.

Regarding Blake Rayne at Kevin Bruk: a little Rosenquist, a little neo-geo on top of it, a little color range, a lot of inert canvas. They don't work, but I'll credit them with not working in a distinctly 1970's way - stylistically, they look like the faux-seriousness of Rosenquist when he's way off of his game. Something in that can be salvaged.

David Castillo was showing Arturo Rodriguez, which allowed me to pay back a karmic debt. Twenty years ago Ramon Mestre wrote an article about Rodriguez for the Herald. I read it when I was in high school, maybe junior high, and it was one of the first times that I became aware that people went out into the world and became painters. That article pointed me down the right path. Saturday night, I got to thank him.

Castillo is showing a big collection of Rodriguez's work from the last few years, mostly doll-like figures in softly painted architectural settings. In one of them a female figure lies contorted on a bed while a male leaves the room, creating a psychological atmosphere of mixed playfulness and anxiety. The most recent works feature people with wildly distorted heads. I decided after a while that they did work, as strange as they were, and they had more fuel in them than the handsome but safer works from '02 and '03. It was interesting to see them back to back with Bas - I think it shows where Bas is off in putting an image together, and by how much. It's not a chasm, but he still has a gap to close.




November 14, 2005, 9:23 AM

I am impressed that you know about Mestre. He was actually my Spanish teacher when I was in High School.

Do you remember when he critiqued Bedia’s work as being “calculated primitivism” in the Herald? The guy is not afraid and he is brilliant.



November 14, 2005, 10:12 AM

having seen bass at several venues over the past few years, i agree that he is improving. the space and light and atmosphere in paint continue to trump the bland illustrative figure rendering.... i suggests that his drawing skills should be improved. but it is clear that he has some wonderful moments in the pulling paint around and making discoveries that give the work its worth.

i wonder specifically what you mean by bass's compositions? what is different about the large scale vs. small scale work?



November 14, 2005, 10:29 AM

Franklin, you are picking at stale fruit cake for the tasty bits. Being starved for good art in Miami does not justify temporizing about the mediocre. This stuff sucks, period.

Who is this Mestre? Is he still writing? if so I'd like to know about it. Or did he get thrown aout of the critic fraternity for criticising Bedia.



November 14, 2005, 12:07 PM

Well done Old Pro ! This stuff sucks.



November 14, 2005, 12:27 PM

well done gravity and oldpro, this stuff really does suck !



November 14, 2005, 12:44 PM

Gravity and LOCK, could you be more specific? There is no way to read #4 or #5 and know whether they are intended to be sardonic or affirming. Try some more complex combination of words to say something that can be responded to intelligently, if not actually understood. If for no one's sake but Franklin's, who is trying to gain readers not lose them.



November 14, 2005, 1:03 PM

I think Gravity means it, Ahab. I don't know about LOCK. Sometimes the irony gets pretty thick around here, for sure.



November 14, 2005, 1:07 PM

What I meant to say was, well done old pro, this stuff sucks.



November 14, 2005, 1:47 PM

Franklin brought up an interesting point with regard to Balthus. Bas's paintings aren't sexy (but maybe to him they are), however why should we celebrate this fixation on seeminly ten-year old shirtless boys? I know....Jock Sturges, Sally Mann,etc, it just seems to go unmentioned.

As for his handling of the medium, the paintings are awkward, but not deliberately. They remind me of Rainer Fetting or Salome, but without knowlege of how the body looks. They're neutral, all the same, like potato chips. And Fetting has moved on to landscapes so we'll see where Bas is in a few years.



November 14, 2005, 2:38 PM

Franklin, To my jpeged eye, of the three exhibitions, the paintings by Arturo Rodriguez at the David Castillo Gallery looked like they were the strongest, was this your observation also?



November 14, 2005, 2:38 PM

Good point Juan. i''ve often wondered at the seeming double-standard of the ol' shirtless ten year old boy fixation in not only Bas' work, but many others as well. as a straight (whatever that means) male, i'd certainly be crucified if i began a series of scantily clad pre-pubescent girls. i mean, am i nuts for thinking this? does this make me a homohobe? am i just seriously repressed or something? how do others feel about this?



November 14, 2005, 2:39 PM

ugh.. i meant homophobe. obviously.



November 14, 2005, 4:01 PM

Maybe you meant homohope, Craig. (just kidding)

You are right, though. We have a lot of implicit double standards floating around here. If you collected photographicimages of young naked boys you could be put in prison and hounded the rest of your life. If you paint pictures of them you are a culture hero. Go figure.

I like "neutral, like potato chips" Juan. Pringles, no less.



November 14, 2005, 4:13 PM

I think Robert Hughes pointed out that if Mapplethorpe had painted some of his racier subjects instead of photographing them, no one would have cared.

Answering Fan's question above, from what I've seen of Bas's larger works, chez Rubell, is that his compositional abilities come apart when faced with a surface more than 18 inches across. The smaller works cohere better.



November 14, 2005, 7:08 PM

Franklin re#14: You remarked his compositional abilities come apart when faced with a surface more than 18 inches across.

Suppose we detach that idea from Bas and just look at it in general.
Would you infer that taking the composition in an 18 inch drawing and blowing it up larger wouldn't work? I haven't seen the paintings so I don't want to talk about them directly but I'm curious about the distinction you might be making about the work is scaled up. I think anything decently composed at a smaller size could be scaled up rote and work. So you seem to be implying that either this isn't happening or that he is trying to compose the picture full scale and losing it. YN?



November 14, 2005, 7:31 PM

George, you must know, as an artist, that size in painting is not just a matter of "scaling up". A larger picture is not just larger, it is diffrerent. Size is an ingredient of painting, just like color or surface. When you go larger everything else, including your hand and arm and your tools and everything gets smaller. In particular you cannot "scale up" a painting that is loose and painterly, as Bas's paintings are.

I don't know exactly how to go about explaining this in this context. You have to do it to know it. In the studio it is obvious to any student, to any artist, in fact, who tries to take a successful picture-making method larger. I encounter this daily as an instructor and have a couple of students right now who are struggiing with it. This is basic.



November 14, 2005, 7:39 PM

Op, I'm not talking about scaling up the "painting", I'm talking about scaling up the composition which is an entirely different matter and has ample precedent historically.



November 14, 2005, 7:41 PM

George, scale is imperative - surely you're just trying to get someone's goat. Well you can have mine:

The perception of any thing is dictated by the relationship of one's body to the thing (among innumerable other factors, of course - some unknowable). What works at postage stamp size does not necessarily work at billboard size and proably doesn't at all; a toy train does not convey the equivalent detail or emphasis that a full-size locomotive does. I'm surprised you would suggest that "...anything decently composed at a smaller size could be scaled up rote and work."

Do you think one of your faceted surface paintings would work as well at 1:6 actual, or 6:1 actual? There's no rule saying it wouldn't, but if it did it'd be due to differing reasons for each scale change and not because the maquette was bad.

Maybe you've been looking at thumbnails and jpegs too much recently, huh?



November 14, 2005, 7:49 PM

Ahab, I'm not questioning the effects of scale.
Certainly a head at lifesize has a different perceptual and psychological effect than an oversized one like say, Chuck Close. Franklin mentioned the composition was problematic relative to scale and in this particular case (giants;-) the actual difficulty may be more complex. As criticism, useful criticism, I had only wondered if Franklin had a more precise explanation for his observations.



November 14, 2005, 7:49 PM

Public commissions (paintings or sculptures, not to mention architecture) are so often bad because the artist has made an awesome proposal at 1:10 scale, with impressive drawings and models, but is not aware of how the thing will change at full size. Or even that it will change. And that's how one win's commissions, by making a really good scaled proposal, not by making a great full-scale thing first.

Actually, I can't speak to how one win's commissions.

Sorry for saying the same thing on that last post, oldpro. I don't preview my posts and sometimes get caught lagging.



November 14, 2005, 7:51 PM

Composition cannot be separated from material or handling or context. Scaling up the composition scales up the other factors, and it changes significantly along with the rest.



November 14, 2005, 7:52 PM

The only way something can be scaled up successfully is when the plan is to make it at the larger scale in the first place and if it is possible to make all other factors equal.
You can do this, to some extent, with an engineering project, but even engineers will tell you that an ant will not work at an elephant's size no matter what.

You cannot just simply "scale up" without a tremendous amount of readaption which increases with the extent of the change. You could "blow up" a Bas composition, by projecting it, for example, but you cannot very easily scale it up.

This amounts to a law of nature. I don't see how you can be a practicing artist and not know this.



November 14, 2005, 7:58 PM

I just thought of an example to illustrate what Ahab just said: Claes Oldenburg's sculpture.

The maquettes look so interesting - a peeled orange, a baseball bat - and then at full scale the entire effect is lost .The sculpture does not even look like the object any more.

Princeton University was "given" a Picasso sculpture years ago which was actually a sketch of a sculpture done on a photo of the site. It looked pretty lively, but after a Swedish design team worked it up to full scale for over a year it came out stiff, ugly and as dead as a doornail.



November 14, 2005, 8:12 PM

Although the Chicago Monument by Picasso was made very very large from a very very small original (not a maquette) and it turned out pretty damned good.



November 14, 2005, 8:14 PM

George, I think you could scale up something rotely (?) and come up with something rote, but I'm more talking about the ability to manage large scale. We tend to want our great painters to be able to pull off something large-scale, at least once in their careers.

Large works reveal strains in the artist's compositional ability. In Bas's case, I've seen him take figures about the same size as in his small works and populate a larger landscape with more of them, and the results were unsuccessful. It can be done - the Chinese used to do it all the time - but the small idea doesn't often work out large. I don't think there's any guarantee that a good small work rendered large would also be good. People didn't used to do color studies and drawings for nothing, but getting those elements to coalesce on a big scale is like conducting an orchestra - you have to marshall a thousand little competencies into one great one.



November 14, 2005, 8:24 PM

Well, I think the scaling process has to be fractal. Fractal means self similar across the range of scales. If we consider what we mean when we say "composition" I would suggest we are talking about the creation of a harmonic relationship between the parts. Classical compositional models used simple mathematical relationships between areas in the painting including various geometries.

I think these aspects tend to be invariant under scaling (fractal)
The next question is: do we make the head twice as big, increase the size of the background or add more heads? all within the overall fractal structure of the composition. If we are designing the cartoon for a large painting the probable answer would be to increase the granularity by adding more heads. If we are designing a billboard we might decide to just scale the image verbatim and increase the granularity of the marks. When I was designing image processing software we had a technique called "fat bits" where we made halftone dots a half inch across because, on a billboard from 500 feet away, no one would know the difference. Close up the 20 x 50 foot prints looked indecipherable and odd (of course I loved them)

In the case of painting, this translation in scale can be problematic if the artist hasn't worked in a large scale before (yo, gimme the fat brush;-) One of the aspects underpinning DeKoonings better paintings is that, while they are large in scale, they maintain a fractal presence, that is the details feel like they are a part of the world of the larger objects and that when scaled down, as in reproduction, the experience of the overall granularity of the details is maintained.

I wasn't just asking the question can I make it bigger.



November 14, 2005, 8:39 PM

re#25, Franklin, I think you could scale up something rotely (?) and come up with something rote

As in my previous comment, it depends. If you just blow something up bigger, point for point you get a bigger picture. Depending on how you execute the details you increase or decrease its surface granularity.

If you start rendering skin pores, like a Hollywood movie, you get more granularity and more surface detail but still within a big lump context. Or, you could blow it up and ignore the pores, achieving a lower granularity and increasing the abstractness of the image.

On the other hand, if you design to the larger scale, increasing the image granularity, you end up adding more objects into the scene and maintaining the surface granularity at some constant level.

I don't think one is better than the other but if the two get mixed you get mush.



November 14, 2005, 9:49 PM

I was tempted to preempt your use of the fractal lesson, George, but decided to let it rest. I wish you would have too because it does not illuminate problems of scale because it is a theoretical model, the micro/macroscopy of which is a visual trick. The fractal image we're used to seeing as a screensaver is a simplistic visual illustration of a mathematical anomaly. Profound, yes, but not suitable for reverse-engineering a scaled artwork to preserve it's key qualities.

You ever stood in front of a building-sized mural of a fractal pattern? I'm sure that it would hurt my eyes in a completely different way than one on my 17" screen.



November 14, 2005, 10:19 PM

re#28: Ahab, no you are reading me incorrectly.

First, I'm not giving a fractal lesson, rather I'm using the fractal as a model for a formal way of looking at a particular artistic situation. I think what you are thinking of as a fractal, are the images created from computational models, the most famous is the Mandlebrot set (also see Benoît Mandelbrot) This isn't what I meant by the use of the term "fractal".

As I understand it, one of the major characteristics of a fractal is what's known as "self similarity" When an object is "self-similar" it acts as it is "invariant under scaling" which, in plain English, means it looks remarkably similar at different sizes.

A classic example of "self similarity" are coastlines. The precise shape of a coastline with a particular resolution, may be unique but it also posses the a characteristic of fractal identity. A fractal identity means that a coastline would have the same look (but not be identical) at different scales.

A prior comment mentioned some Picasso sculptures which were scaled up from small models as being less successful when enlarged. What I would suggest occurs here is that the granularity (degree of detail) is coarse, moving from small to large directly, with no intermediate views considered. I would suggest that this gap or coarse granularity is disruptive and lacking a spatial harmonic. I have a hunch that if Picasso had followed a path of gradually enlarging the smaller maquette his final large scale resolution would have been different.

You could call "self similarity", "oneness"



November 14, 2005, 10:42 PM

I have a hunch that if Picasso had followed a path of gradually enlarging the smaller maquette his final large scale resolution would have been different.

That sounds reasonable enough. Pragmatically, there would have been more opportunity for correction on the way up.



November 14, 2005, 10:51 PM

Fractal or no fractal, a large painting is different, not just bigger.

I think Picasso was dead by the timke they made the piece at Princeton. In any event, he had nothing to do with it except make a 5-second sketch.



November 14, 2005, 11:29 PM

This is for Franklin:

A painting of a young boy and a giant, both of whom he should know extremely well, by someone tolerably capable of handling the figure:


Marc Country

November 15, 2005, 1:18 AM

ahab post #28
I was tempted to preempt your use of the fractal lesson, George...

george post #29
re#28: Ahab, no you are reading me incorrectly.

First, I'm not giving a fractal lesson, rather I'm using the fractal as a model...

So, I guess ahab should have wrote "your USE of the fractal lesson"... oh, wait, that IS what he wrote... so, who's doing the misreading here?

And to make it worse, after that, George gives us a fractal lesson. Yeesh.

I think someone other than Picasso was responsible for the scale-up of the Chicago piece too, and was not presented simply with the problem of "blowing up" the small Picasso, but of deciding on appropriate scale differences (in terms of thicknesses, etc.) that were non-existant in the smaller work. A whole new set of decisions, with no instruction from the model.



November 15, 2005, 6:49 AM

Rodriguez's work looks like warmed over Max Beckman without the bite.



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