catharsis

Recent Scribblings on Art by Chris Hall

Notebooks with sketches and writings with studio detritus...

Although I haven’t posted in this blog very much lately, it hasn’t been for a lack of want.  I am always thinking and writing on art.  Here are some fractured thoughts from my notebook and various Facebook postings…


1.  On attending Flux night in Atlanta:  So, I enjoyed going to Flux night yesterday.  I enjoyed the Fast Food Mascot Fight, the Disarm sound work made of old weapons, the Spelman College Choir, and the large drawing of Civil Rights Activists.  I was a bit disappointed by Yoko Ono's work.  Too frequently she relies on the good intentions of others to complete her work. I love and respect her idealism, but sometimes it comes across as hopelessly naive.  I saw this in the way many people were butchering the spirit of her work by smearing the ink and drawing inappropriate things on it.  I respect her never failing optimistic take on life - but it is a place I cannot go to and settle in for any length of time.  But Yoko Ono is a sacred cow in the art world - and I doubt anyone would criticize her art in print.  And maybe I'm fine with that.  Although I cannot make an art that is so blindly optimistic, I am glad someone is.  We definitely need more of that.


2.  I think I make more interesting work than great work, and by great I mean sublime and profound.  I want to make more great work.  More often I make an art for the now, though sometimes I want to make an art for a forever.


3.  Last night I wanted to be wild.  I knew I wanted to be wild.  No one would join me so I went out alone.  It paid off.  I had a drunken epiphany as to why my current painting isn’t working.  I can’t wait to work in a bit.  Didn’t Hemingway once say, “Compose drunk, but edit sober?”


4.  In response to the stabbing at the recent Art Basel Miami:  Hello art world, please think about this sentence pulled from the attached article: Some patrons thought the stabbing was a performance art presentation. Others believed the police tape cordoning off an area of the convention center was part of an art installation. ------ this statement speaks to - 1. the current over conflation of art and life in contemporary art - and 2. a kind of jaded attitude where nothing is genuine or sincere and everything is suspect or a performance or a facade of some kind.... time to wake up my friends, and learn some sincerity, some trust, some wonder, some belief . . . some empathy.


5.  I am king of the night!  Now, if I can only master the day.  Good night everyone!


6.  So, this is 40:  a good a time as any to take stock of one’s life, I guess.   For those of you who know me well, you must know that my life so far has been . . . challenging.   But despite these challenges, I have zero regrets.   I’ve always done what compels my heart, I’ve always done what needed to be done, and I’ve always tried to do the right thing.  Perhaps it is because of these things that my life has been so full of challenges.  I can honestly say without any exaggeration that I would not be here without you, my fantastic friends and family, who have given me support during the many, many, and many less than ideal times in my life. . . But the lesson here is not how many bad times there have been, but how many times you all have come to help me out!  And remembering these times, these are sweet, rich memories!  I will never forget this, and I am eternally grateful to you all!  Thank you! 

Ahab (1998), oil on wood panel, 24x48.


7.  I recently sold an old favorite of mine to a good friend and collector.  The work?  Ahab (1998).  Obviously it is referencing Moby Dick, one of my favorite books.  Looking at this painting I remember a line from a poem popular with 19th century American whalers... "Death to the living, long life to the killers." How metal is that!  This painting used to hang in my parent's house where it would scare the neighbor's kids.   I picked it up tonight and am giving this old friend a good bye.  It will be in good company with two other Moby Dick themed paintings.


8.  I use a lot humor in my work and it pleases me to make people laugh, but I also want to make art to move people spiritually with beauty, and also to challenge people to think.  Art is such a strange thing.  There are still other reasons why I make art, and some more altruistic than others.  Selfishly, I use art as a catharsis to help with assimilating pain, but also to confront my shadow side, the potential madman, killer, chauvinist, dictator in me.  I often manifest my darker self in my art so that it doesn’t manifest itself as much in my life.  I know that I can never be perfect.  It is silly to try.  But if I confront the darker aspects of myself and acknowledge it in my art, I can at least attempt to be whole.


9.  I’ve been working a lot on some older works lately, the earliest dating back to 1999.  I honestly thought this might be harder than it is.  I thought that I wouldn’t be able to do this out of sense of respect or sacredness to a moment long past.  I am finding destruction can be just as integral to the process of making art as creation.  I feel as though I am taking some great risks here.


10.  Work on the dictator series continues, but I am already planning ahead for a future body of work, strangely enough on Art and Art Making.  I am pretty excited about this.  Of course there are other sketches for works that don’t quite fit into this plan – I hope I can find time to actualize a few of them.  And then there is the backlog of over 100 topics I’d like to write about for this blog, reworking my book, etc… Time is a bastard-bitch.

 

Early Influence: Edvard Munch by Chris Hall

Edvard Munch was a Norwegian painter and printmaker born December 12, 1863.  The themes of much of his work include love, anxiety, infidelity, sexual humiliation, and separation in life and death.  His work is viewed as an exemplar of the fin-de-siècle anxiety and apocalyptic attitudes of the time as they show not physical reality, but psychological reality.  

Munch believed himself born into a cursed family.  Munch’s mother died of tuberculosis in 1868, and his sister Sophie died of the same in 1877.  Munch himself was often ill and spent a lot of time away from school.  Supported by his father, who was a medical officer in the military, the Munch family grew up poor, and they frequently moved from one small apartment to another.  Mental illness also ran in the family.  Another of Munch’s sisters was diagnosed at a young age, and Munch would later spend 8 months in a hospital in 1908.

Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that Munch needed art to help explain suffering.  Munch would write, “In my art I attempt to explain life and its meaning to myself.”  Munch’s choice to be an artist was not supported by his father or his community, who frowned upon his bohemian and non-traditional ways.  Munch began by painting in a more Impressionist style, and based on his talent his secured a scholarship in France, where he would see the work of Gauguin and Van Gogh.  Both became very influential on his work. His new work showed signs of what would be later called Expressionism.  His stated goal was "the study of the soul, that is to say the study of my own self.”  At first Munch sold very little, but managed to make a little money by charging entrance fees to people who just wanted to see his controversial paintings.  He was also a little loath to part with his work, which he called “his children,” because he viewed his whole body of work to be a single expression.  In order to make sales he began transcribing his work into wood-block prints and lithographs.

In 1893 Munch painted The Scream, generally thought to represent the universal anxiety of modern man.  Concerning the genesis of the work Munch would write:  

"I was walking down the road with two friends when the sun set; suddenly, the sky turned as red as blood. I stopped and leaned against the fence, feeling unspeakably tired. Tongues of fire and blood stretched over the bluish black fjord. My friends went on walking, while I lagged behind, shivering with fear. Then I heard the enormous, infinite scream of nature."

He later described the personal anguish behind the painting, "for several years I was almost mad… You know my picture, 'The Scream?' I was stretched to the limit—nature was screaming in my blood… After that I gave up hope ever of being able to love again."

Munch met with some success, particularly in Berlin with his Frieze of Life exhibition in 1902.  Of this time in his life Munch would write in his journal, "After twenty years of struggle and misery forces of good finally come to my aid in Germany—and a bright door opens up for me."  Life seemed to be finally going well for Munch, and he even almost married the wealthy and “liberated” Tulla Larsen, but Munch’s self-destructive and erratic behavior caught up with him and he began to spiral out of control.  There were heavy drinking, fights with other artists, and even an accidental shooting that lead to Munch losing the use of his middle finger on this left hand.  

In the autumn of 1908, Munch began to hallucinate and hear voices.  His anxiety and depression, compounded by heavy drinking, finally forced him to enter a hospital under the care of Dr. Daniel Jacobson, who prescribed for him a new form of electroshock therapy.  He stayed in the hospital for 8 months before being released.  Meanwhile, Munch’s work was beginning to be appreciated abroad.  He had a show in the United States and even conservative Norway started to warm to his work.  Munch could finally return to Oslo and support his remaining family.  As shown in his 1909 painting The Sun, Munch’s Dark Night of the Soul was over.  

After his stay in the hospital, many felt Munch’s work changed.  Art history would show that much of his great work was behind him.  World War I saw Munch’s loyalties divided.  He loved France, but many of his friends were German.  He nearly died in the Spanish Influenza pandemic, but would survive to make more art for two more decades.  In the 1930’s Hitler’s Germany declared Munch’s art to be degenerate, and removed his work (82 of his paintings) from all their museums.  His German patrons, many Jewish, lost their fortunes and some their lives when the Nazis came to power.  Fortunately for Munch, he began to find new patrons in Norway.  Most of Munch’s work would avoid the flames and would be sold back to Norway.  

In 1940, the Germans invaded Norway and the Nazi party took over the government. Munch was 76 years old.  Norway’s Nazi puppet government offered Munch the figurehead position of its Honorary Board of Norwegian Artists. Munch refused and the Board was dropped.  With nearly an entire collection of his art in the second floor of his house, Munch lived in fear of a Nazi confiscation.  Munch died near Oslo in January of 1944.  He was 80.  Munch bequeathed his estate and all the paintings, prints, and drawings in his possession to the city of Oslo, who would erect a museum for him in 1963.  In a strange twist of fate, the Nazis in Norway hijacked Munch’s corpse, and instead of a simple burial in a family plot, Munch was given a state funeral with gigantic Nazi insignia and flags, giving the people of Oslo the impression that Munch was a Nazi sympathizer, which he clearly was not. 

Edvard Munch was very influential on my own work as a young artist and student.  I would honor his approach to painting as path toward self-examination and discovery.  I was not interested in physical realism, but psychological realism.  I would even emulate his style, using his sinuous, radiating line work and his apocalyptic color in some of my paintings.  Although Munch informed much of my early work, I would like to think I have grown away from making work based solely on my own reality.  I still create artwork for my own self-discovery, but I also want to be critical of my times as well.  Hopefully this new work will fare better than Munch’s work after 1909.  

Art and Catharsis by Chris Hall

Almost all crime is due to the repressed desire for aesthetic expression.  Evelyn Waugh.  

I'd be an ax murderer, if I didn't paint. John Alexander 

I wonder if Waugh’s proposition might be true.  In my artist statement from 1999 I wrote, half jokingly of course, that:  I paint because if I did not I would be a detriment to society.  I’d probably burn your house down.

Would I be a criminal if I did not have art?  No, probably not.  I would like to believe that my moral compass is too strong.  But I can never know this for certain because making art is almost like a bad habit I can never be rid of.  It is ingrained genetically inside my DNA.  Making art is not a choice for me, but a natural activity and response.  Daffy is a duck and a duck swims.  I am an artist and an artist paints.  It is that simple, really.

But can making art prevent criminality in other people?  I can not say for certain, but I do believe making art is a healthy expression and a therapeutic outlet for pent up emotions.  Catharsis is a natural part of being a human being.  It shouldn't be such a dirty word, as it too often is the academic art world.  

Below is my 1999 artist statement:

I paint because I haven’t any choice but to.  It is a strange kind of possession, something very primitive, preternatural, supernatural even, that burns through my blood.  It oozes slow like lava and boils over, suddenly exploding, like a volcano.  It is the occasional earthquake of the soul that has to be dealt with.  Art is my way of making sense of the world; it is a catharsis.  I paint because if I did not I would be a detriment to society.  I’d probably burn your house down.  Art allows me an outlet that safeguards me physically, mentally, and spiritually.  Art allows me to explore avenues of experience that would otherwise be denied to me because of poverty, law, and the physical limits of humanity.  Art is absolute freedom and absolute freedom is what I live for.  I don’t want my art to reflect life, I want it to be life, always growing, unpredictable, and out of control.

Art: The Uncommitted Crime by Chris Hall

“Behind every work of art is an uncommitted crime.” 
Theodor Adorno

What does Adorno mean by this?  Is crime a metaphor for an action or protest against the state?  If so, then is he implying that we should put the paintbrushes away, and instead work using more practical tactics toward making a change in society?  

Is painting doomed to only produce feelings of catharsis or nostalgia in the artist and viewer?  

Is art but a release of pressure from a steam kettle?  

Can art ever change the world?

No, art can not change the world, not directly anyways.  Art can not force change, it can only influence change.  Art changes people, and people change the world.  

So the question is, how effective is art at changing people’s perceptions?  

I haven’t an answer for that, yet.  I’m still hopeful that art can have some kind of impact on people, inspiring them to action, to work towards the good of all humanity.  This is why I still paint.  

A Thinking Man's Expressionist by Chris Hall

Once upon a time, after seeing my undergraduate exit show, an art history professor came up to me and said that I was a “thinking man’s Expressionist.”  It was meant as a compliment, but I got to thinking, was he implying that most Expressionists are unthinking, their art solely produced through a knee jerk reaction to outside stimuli, like some kind of animal?  It distressed me that some people might feel this way, that cathartic art lacked any intelligent discourse, and that he privileged rationality over emotion.   

The Enlightenment will come to a bad end.  The head is much too heavy, and the pelvis way too frivolous.  

A Celebration of the Abject and Grotesque by Chris Hall

Today let us celebrate the abject and the grotesque!   

This is the life of the carnivalesque body.

Why do I make art on the absurd, the dirty, and the impure?  Perhaps it is the last refuge of those who refuse to assimilate.  Hell, no one really paid me the money I wanted when I painted flowers anyways, so why the fuck not make art about all the things which you consider ugly and depraved?  Perhaps, this body of work is my revenge on society.  But this is only my catharsis speaking, my own personal take on things.  So you want to learn about a theory that considers the art of ugliness?  Let us look at the ideas of Francois Rabelais and Mikhail Bakhtin!

Here, all that is rejected by and disturbs the rational, social reason has its time in the sun, and it is here, in this abject space, that conventional identity and cultural concepts are challenged freely and without consequence.  It is liberation through humor and chaos.  The merger and commingling of the sacred and profane, heaven and hell, masculine and feminine, and other such ideas of mutually exclusivity, allows for the free exchange of opposing ideas.  In such places cultural, and, perhaps, political change can occur, as all hierarchal positions are destroyed.  Purity is the enemy of change, the enemy of life, of progress.  

So we must cross boundaries and take risks.  We must transgress against what is thought to be holy.  We must celebrate life, with all its messiness.  Death is stasis, where there is no movement, and we must have movement in order to progress.  We must turn the world upside down, if only for one night.

“All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned” Karl Marx