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The Gesture of a Fate
by Michael Helsem
A style we have learned to see as decorative is by definition dead. Few of us care to examine the reasons & the wars of the Counter-Reformation when we look at a Baroque painting; & none of us feels them.
I have said before that Abstract Expressionism is just another period style now. But i want to go into its reasons a little bit, because i think they are in danger of being lost.
Freudianism was a potent philosophy of determinism in the first half of the 20c. And the Existentialists seemed to promise deliverance from it. (Rock 'n' roll proved, in the long run, the hardier victor.)
Nothing could justify art under the Freudian regime. Those bearded priests had already defined it away as a neurotic symptom. Yet art had to continue somehow. It chose to embrace the Arbitrary as a signifier of the authentic.
Which is tricky. Thierry's fine analysis, in Monkey Painting, describes the genesis of such pictures as marks which disrupt marks. The sovereign arbitrary, then, proceeds as an automatic consequence of the initial accident.
Thus the purity of elephant painting, which our trance gestures can only simulate: for moments at a time. We know. Marks in which the agent is absent, are just as clear as sounds we instinctively know are nonhuman in origin.
The I and not-I at once: this is the very core of magic. No wonder it drove its practitioners crazy, when they didn't fake it. It was much like gambling, with vast odds against success — yet the art market demanded success after success...
Fast forward to the age of revivals. Can we even recover for a moment this creative tension, or do we even care? What i see is the strenuous imitation of a few smooth moves. I'm all for retro, really. (It's the next best thing to being a STUDENT of HISTORY.)
The question, really, becomes: is there any justification for this, beyond the fact that the real thing has become exorbitant? Exactly what would it mean for our own time? And i have to answer; i love these textures, whatever misprision fathered them... — What, then, is one to make of an Abstract Expressionist painting the size of a sheet of noitebook paper?
Many of Connie Connolly's, at Craighead Green, are. And seem to lose nothing by the reduction. A discovery that could not have been made much earlier, they seem to say: when the man-sized canvasses stood for Man's Fate. I think these aren't necessarily meant to make us see their predecessors as merely bombastic or overblown; simply, (to use a word that may or may not be helpful) to problematize them. Herein lies their postmodernity.
Many of these drew me back for a second look. The color sense, while iffy, is there. Portions are really excellent (whether of the large or the small ones). Falling Away From Pink, mostly in lilac & oranges, nicely balances violence & serenity. A knot of darker hues at the bottom charges the field with energy, while the upper part is suffused with the light of an early sun. In Suppressing Pink, there is a palpable aura of mystery & anxiety; this one made me think of certain Gorkys.
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