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Natalya Hughes takes on the legacy of Willem de Kooning

Tuesday Night Painting #26

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Hello painters,


This week in painting, there are a couple of exciting shows happening. Overall, galleries seem to be picking up their pace again (or I'm paying more attention now that my transition to Texas is mostly complete). Some galleries are continuing to host online viewings, and some are exploring hybrid models that include online exhibits plus appointments for in person viewing.

One bright side to this development that I hope extends beyond our current locked down status is the way in which galleries are getting better at documenting their work and sharing it online. It makes things a lot easier for me to share things with you all. Galleries are also hosting online discussions and artist talks, which make things more accessible for people who can't be in that particular city at that particular time.

Galleries needed to respond to the lockdown in some way. Unlike at restaurants, where you could go dine out on the patio, it's hard for galleries to take advantage of good weather and show their work outside.

However, the gallery Northern-Southern is taking a unique approach. They have invited their artists to select a dead end or cul-de-sac or no outlet street somewhere in the city of Austin. Then, the artists must create some type of artwork and install it at that location. If I am able to go explore these pieces, I'll share my findings with you here. Until then, there's plenty of painting to share with you below.

First is this show at Sullivan + Strumpf, exhibiting the work of Australian artist Natalya Hughes, who is reexamining the work of Willem de Kooning and his abstract expressionist handling of the female figure. Art critic Julie Ewington calls Willem de Kooning (1904-1997), "the great anomaly amongst New York’s post-war ‘Abstract’ Expressionists". De Kooning's canvases were controversial upon their debut in the 50s, and the artist continued to receive criticism in the following decades regarding his depiction of the female figure. 

Natalya Hughes began painting her reinterpretations of the de Kooning Woman after the birth of her daughter. For Hughes, her interest in reworking these pictures lay in the way the female figure became an arena to enact male genius.

De Kooning's paintings of women became his signature, defining characteristic as an artist and an example of his artistic accomplishments. Hughes wants to reconfigure these paintings in her own visual style, reclaiming them as her own. Her clean, sharp lines combined with decorative patterns, texturally and physically miles away from the aggressively worked and reworked de Kooning canvases. Although the Hughes paintings are full of patterns and colors, they way in which the paint is laid down couldn't be cleaner and neater.

When the abstract artist grows tired, he becomes an interior decorator.
- Clement Greenberg, 1941

Hughes uses stylish, retro patterned designs to bring us back to the 50s. The critic Jacqueline Chlanda writes there is a "strange disjuncture" between the cleanness of Hughes patterns and the disfigured, discombobulated women taken from de Kooning. Hughes is using the typical samples of fabric patterns and wallpaper to reconstruct the woman of that era from her 1950s surroundings. 

In certain cases, Hughes removes the woman from the picture entirely. There are a number of smaller abstract pieces constructed from the same stylish 50s era fabrics and patterns. Click through to the show link where you can see some more Hughes paintings and read more about her approach.

It's a difficult job to reinterpret and rework the paintings of one of the titans of art history, and to do it in a way that makes it your own, to put your own stamp on it. But one thing this show might accomplish for you as the viewer is in getting you to reconsider who gets to be one of those "titans", whose genius is celebrated, and why.
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Tuesday Night Painting favorite Joan Snyder is back with an impressive collection of paintings at CANADA Gallery. This is the artist's first exhibit with CANADA, but readers/students will recognize this as one of my go-to galleries in NYC. 

It's a little bittersweet to see this exhibit announced for me because the paintings are mesmerizing and deserve to be see in person to truly be appreciated. The work that Joan Snyder has been putting in over the years has resulted in a painting method that is "wildly tactile" (as the press release puts it). The chunky, built up textures of paint are given a graininess and extra dimensionality by herbs and flowers that are pasted onto the canvas.

Click on this link to access the "online viewing" room so that you can see some behind the scenes images of Snyder working at her studio.

Online Courses
with Tuesday Night Painting

I'll be including reminders about my online classes leading up to our start date on October 5th. Click on the titles of each course to see a more detailed description and to register.

Landscape to Abstraction
6 Mondays, 7:00 to 9:00 PM Eastern
Class begins October 5th


Finding your Palette
6 Thursdays, 7:00 to 9:00 PM Eastern
Class begins October 8th
Fairfield Porter, Amherst No. 1, 1961
An example of some of the work we'll examine in our Color palette class. In this class, we'll meet online to talk about how artists assemble their color palettes, and what kind of color mixing information you need to know when you're creating your own. You'll be given a series of exercises to help you figure out how to find the colors you love working with. You'll also be introduced to a couple of tips, techniques, and tools that artists use to pick their colors.
Independent Study
8 Tuesdays, 7:00 to 9:00 PM Eastern
Class begins October 6th
I enjoyed reading about these utility boxes painted by the artist Destiny Palmer. Permission to paint these boxes goes out to a wide range of artists, and I assume that most cities have a program like this. And while this kind of program is common, it's not every day you see one covered in abstract art.

Palmer says painting in this format was a difficult challenge, trying to translate "these paintings gesturally on a small three-dimensional object. It’s more challenging than one might think."
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Quogue Gallery, located in the Hamptons, is showing some striking work that reminds me strongly of Diebenkorn both in terms of color palette and composition. These works are painted by Eugene Healy.
I'm always a big fan of artists who make these kind of bold compositional choices. It takes a little bit of courage to devote such an enormous area of your canvas to a single, slightly modulated color. But when it's done well, the effect is worth it.

As you know, Diebenkorn was working in California making his Pacific Ocean inspired paintings, so I imagine these as being companions but opposites, since they are being exhibited out on Long Island. The big decision of opening up the top part of these paintings leads to many important little decisions down below, as Healy chops up and collages shapes and paint together into thin little boxes and strips of color.

Click through to the Quogue Gallery website so you can see the interesting ways that Healy incorporates some texture into his paintings.
Finally from John Yau via Hyperallergic, this review covers the large paintings of Frank Holliday. These works are perhaps the exact opposite of the serene, pacifying works of Healy above. These are intense, aggressive action paintings that, similarly to Healy and Natalya Hughes above, lean on their art historical predecessors.
It looks as if Holliday is working hard to breathe new life into what remains of the abstract expressionists. These paintings may very well be working to revive the tradition that Natalya Hughes is spending her time in the studio slicing up and critiquing.

In his review, Yau asks, "Why don’t his paintings look old hat? How are they able to come across as fresh? What is it that makes these paintings his, and not derivative versions of historical works that have inspired him?" The answer, as you may have guessed, is not so simple. Read the review to find out!
That'll do it for this week, painters. Again, take some time to examine my course offerings and consider taking one (or two, or three) classes with me this fall.

For tunes this week, I'm primarily listening to these electronic ones provided by COMPUTER DATA:

Baum
Traumfolge
Alright

See you next time, and happy painting.
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