Tuesday, 27 November 2012


Guillaume Bresson @ Nathalie Obadia, Paris - May 31 - July 21, 2012

I wrote briefly about Bresson last year and for some reason assumed his work was heading toward more stylised, maybe more Sci-Fi figures, a la Inka Essenhigh. I must have been out of my mind. I was not looking closely enough at those dark, hovering figures in gloomy underground or multi-story car parks. I was seeing some other movie in my head. I still think the paintings are very cinematic, but the intense chiaroscuro, near monochrome or grisaille tonalities and careful, intricate compositions were also pointing to a very respectable painting pedigree, one that has since taken on greater prominence in his work.

I’m prompted to correct my impressions as much by Barry Schwabsky’s review in November’s Artforum (p 285-6) as changes in the work itself. He too seems a little wide of the mark. Schwabsky seizes upon the classicist or pre-modern allusions and supposes a familiar Po-Mo trope (irony, excess, decadence, etc) mainly derived from Italian painting of the 80s. That ignores a strong Photo-realist influence that ties figures to contemporary standards for physique or proportion as well as tonal integration with settings. Not for Bresson the studied reversion to Bolognese ideals or Mannerist exaggeration; his brawling gangs owe as much to the cinema as say, Poussin’s exacting compositions. Is this then just another instance of Anacronismo? - The wilful introduction of contemporary subjects into an historical style or genre? If subjects were all that was at stake, one would agree. But where matters of lighting, proportion and the rigours of perspective substantially reform a pre-modern framing, we go beyond anachronism. Then again, the use of grisaille or monochrome is hardly typical of Hypermannerism or Pittura Colta, much less the pre-modern, but is prominent in 80s work ranging from Mark Tansey to David Salle and Gerhard Richter, if we want to dwell on the 80s for precedents. But it is the lack of recent precedent in painting for Bresson’s violent encounters between youths that probably suggests the cinema or television to me. I’m stuck for prominent examples of gang rumbles in recent or even modern painting, at best, perhaps Francis Bacon? Even when we broaden the category to warfare, I find myself reaching back to someone like Delacroix perhaps, whose facture did spring to mind in some of the earlier, freer examples by Bresson.

Yet Bresson is hardly illustrating celebrated moments in national history or literary legend. He’s picturing anonymous attacks amongst the immigrant and peripheral population, a furtive underworld that finds its perfect setting in deserted inner-city car parks. For better or worse, Bresson has become the poet of the multi-storey car park. Are such attacks photographed for You Tube or social media by gang members these days? It hardly matters, elevating the spectacle to painting amplifies this disturbing social practice, grants it a comic dignity. The new tribalism acknowledges the futility of appealing to some higher authority, instead turns vigilante with a vengeance. Or is it part of a tacit legitimisation or normalisation for a seething underclass? Perhaps Bresson sees such furious hostility as part and parcel of the status quo, the embarrassing underbelly of the France of today? - Of a ‘free trade zone’ run into the ground for remote and inscrutable interests? By any account, it is a picture of corruption.

The recent works exchange open warfare for some sort of negotiation or displace the violence into wholesale acts of redevelopment or ‘renewal’. The theme is broadened somewhat but the underclass still loiter undercover, conspire now for a truer or equal picture but can only add to inconsistencies. Schwabsky notes the lack of obvious support for the central figure to this composition (most of the works are untitled in the 2012 Obadia show) and finds this a device to heighten an emblematic or metaphorical reading to the group. I find the careful attention to pose and gesture, the unusual setting for recreational figures and selection of props, and indeed, intense tonality, all do this. The apparent omission of a seat for the central character, as with the slightly scaled-down car, together with the curious jumps in continuity between the two panels in the diptych featuring demolition spell some more structural message. Accommodation or integration can only go so far. Yes, Bresson can co-opt Ariadne from Titian for the foreground figure to the right hand panel, can deftly add designer underwear and trainers to traditional figures, that reel, alarmed at the demolition of their traditional storage tower. But at a certain point anachronisms, fashion updates won’t do. The foundations themselves must be rebuilt, even as the voyage is underway. It is a longstanding dilemma. A revolution tends to come full circle, the lunatics can take over the asylum, only to incarcerate further inmates. The problem in painting turns formal. Here Bresson’s virtuosity can only pause and signal an incoherence or incompleteness, at least for the moment.

In this, he is perhaps not so far from Neo Rauch, another painter occasionally drawn to grisaille or monochrome, intent upon inconsistencies to roles and situations. But where Rauch is increasingly drawn to 18th century Romantic figures for reliable tradition, a cornerstone or benchmark, Bresson one senses, takes a more expansive view, a subtler, more polished touch. The violence has so far been in hand-to-hand combat, and when defused, at least in brusque business deals or the pretence of sport. It remains to be seen whether the young artist (Bresson is 30) is prepared to allow it greater formal licence, concede greater damage.
This article also appears on Worldwidereview.com

Thursday, 22 November 2012


I originally planned to write about Hamilton upon his death last year, but with one thing and another have only got around to it now. In retrospect that may have been for the best, since the more I dwelt upon his works, the less enthusiastic I became and my views would have seemed ungracious as requiem or valediction. Hopefully a year is suitable pause before making more searching criticism. Warning: this essay is 5,385w.

Hamilton is an artist sorely in need of reassessment. His reputation as ‘The Father of Pop Art’ exaggerates his influence and seriously distorts the nature of the movement. It also obscures his real contribution, a sustained engagement with print technologies and their influence on iconography. The artist was reputedly difficult to deal with in person, insisting upon a degree of control over publications that many writers or publishers found prohibitive. Consequently substantial studies in his work have been scarce throughout his career, apart from those accompanying regular surveys. There is some anticipation that with his passing, greater encouragement and freedom may result in some overdue research. He now looms as a potential ‘growth area’ for scholars. It is with this prospect that the following article discards some of the myth that has clung to the work. I come not to praise the artist, but to bury him.
Hamilton’s art education began early, with evening classes at Pimlico from the age of twelve, then at Westminster Technical College and St Martin’s School of Art until he was sixteen when he enrolled at the Royal Academy School. Unfortunately the school was forced to close two years later, in 1940, due to the war.  He then retrained as an engineering draughtsman and worked as a jig and tool draughtsman first at the Design Unit then at EMI’s research department until 1945. In 1946 he resumed his studies at the Royal Academy School only to find its new reactionary regime unhelpful. He then completed 18 months’ national service and a brief course in fashion illustration run by Vogue magazine, before enrolling at Slade School of Art in 1948 where he remained until 1951. Although enrolled in painting, significantly most of time was spent in print making. In 1952 he began teaching design at Central School of Arts and Crafts, alongside Slade classmates Eduardo Paolozzi, Nigel Henderson and William Turnbull. In 1953 he was appointed lecturer in the Fine Art Department of Kings College, University of Durham (later University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne) where he remained until 1966.   
Hamilton’s development was thus patient, steady and largely conducted within recognised institutions. He was never a tearaway or maverick in this sense, no youthful quests to Europe or beyond, no tortured or splendid isolation. He remained quintessentially English by default, an insider by inclination. Caution and shrewd peer approval remain key traits throughout his work, yet ultimately limit his influence and scope. His interests were not firstly with popular or low culture, but rather with the relation of science and technology to art, especially printing, and with the dense multiple allusions available in the work of James Joyce and Marcel Duchamp. These too steer the course of his career.
Hamilton was an early and prominent member of the ICA and its Independent Group, whose broader interests ran to culture and social science. But like Paolozzi, Henderson and Turnbull, his starting point was really an awkward mix of Surrealism and Bauhaus, very much the tastes of ICA founder, Sir Herbert Read. Hamilton’s earliest works are usually given as a series of pencil and wash illustrations to Joyce’s Ulysses, these overlapping with his only forays in full abstraction, rather stolid exercises in point, line and plane that perhaps owe more to Klee than Kandinsky, such as Chromatic Spiral (1950). Abstraction was clearly not for Hamilton. But the problem of how to profitably engage with figuration was by no means clear at that point. He tried to step back a little and merge Cubism and Futurism in a series of paintings dealing with static subjects viewed from mobile perspectives but the results are predictably dry, academic. Interestingly, his colleague at the time, Reyner Banham saw them as a critique of the house style of his old art school, the Slade (presumably the faux Cezanne methods of principal, Sir William Coldstream) and Soviet Realism, possibly for the forced dynamics.  
In any case the following series, Hommage à Chrysler Corp (1957-8) persists with the Sladish facture but now adopts a more contemporary iconography (body parts for a latest car) and a distinctive compositional arrangement of discrete parts or objects upon a neutral ground, as a layout or ‘flatbed’ to use Leo Steinberg’s famous phrase. Car parts are semi-abstracted through restrained modelling or tonality, cautious outline, cursory facture as well as collage elements. The curves are sensuous yet measured; recall Surrealism’s biomorphic forms as much as contemporary automotive design and convincingly establish a more provisional, open engagement with subject matter and figuration generally. But whether this properly constitutes Pop Art, as is often asserted, is another matter.
In 1956 Hamilton contributed the amusing photo-collage Just What Is It….* to the catalogue of the very successful Whitechapel exhibition This Is Tomorrow. Together with his list of twelve features of popular advertising and entertainment, offered in a letter to Peter and Alison Smithson early in 1957, these are usually taken to mark the inception of Pop Art. But at best these indicate merely an iconography, at worst define a segment of advertising not fine art at all, as has often been pointed out. Iconography alone obviously does not qualify a work as Pop Art, since much of Pop Art is not concerned with consumer goods, topicality or glamour, while other, older works that use consumer goods or contemporary urban settings and technology, such as the work of Stuart Davis or Edward Hopper, not to say Futurism or Socialist Realism, are clearly not Pop Art. While the framed comic strip in the photo-collage anticipates Lichtenstein and Warhol to some extent – it is the painting of these, rather than merely the framing of them that will prove crucial. Other notable aspects of Pop Art – its bright colours, hard edges and flattened, minimal compositions, do not appear in the photo-collage. Hamilton correctly anticipates sources, but not treatment. Furthermore, photo-collage is not exclusively a feature of Pop Art either, since it is shared by preceding styles such as Dada and Surrealism. Indeed, Eduardo Paolozzi showed similar photo-collages of advertising illustration from as early as 1948 at the very first Independent Group meeting in early 1952. At the very least he deserves equal billing with Hamilton as a founding figure for Pop Art.
So what exactly is Pop Art? By looking more closely at the movement we are better placed to then distinguish key features of Hamilton’s work. A slight detour is thereby undertaken. Pop Art arises most notably in both New York and London around 1961-2. Yet there are crucial differences. The New York version is generally seen as stricter, more extreme or purer, the British version more informal, discursive and irreverent. Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol are the prime examples of American Pop Art but their work developed quite independently and along separate strains to 50s figurative painting. Lichtenstein commences from an interest in mythic imagery and increasingly looks to contemporary contexts (this not so different from Hamilton’s up-dating of Surrealism) eventually turning to children’s comic strips. These initially are treated in a loose, painterly manner, (that example from 1957) but Lichtenstein’s lack of conviction in facture soon leads him to simply attempt a ‘straight’ copy – seemingly merely transposing a comic strip frame onto canvas. The result, surprisingly, only underlines crucial differences between source and painting and is at once hilarious and subtly uncomfortable. Painting assumes a deadpan passivity to iconography, a cool indifference to expressive facture or nuance. Painting of printing, rather than just painting from printing or with (that is, collage), then grants graphic composition a new respect and precedence in iconography. Painting now finds its definition, not in the essentials of abstraction but in relative compliance with print practice. This becomes Pop Art proper.
Warhol held no such interest in contemporary myth or personal gesture. His starting point was really the work of Jasper Johns and an attention to vigorous facture applied to template-like, two-dimensional objects such as numbers, designs and maps. Johns commenced these in 1955. However, Johns’ work shares with Hamilton’s, an emphasis on process or incompleteness. Where Hamilton favours the tentative daubing of Cezanne or Coldstream, Johns adopts a heavy impasto in short strokes of varied direction, recalling perhaps Monet. These strokes variously comply with a design in colour and precision and result in a sustained detachment or indifference, an unsettling relativity to definitions or identities. Again, where Hamilton looks to an inclusive arrangement, simply combining tentative facture with stricter outline and indeed other materials, Johns paints everything with equal dedication or indifference. The effect is a statement more directly about painting, an attitude, paradoxically more thoroughgoing and focussed in its vacillation. Johns is essentially a formalist, Hamilton an informalist. Warhol’s contribution lies in seeing that Johns’ approach need not be confined to designs or an orthogonal picture plane, but applied equally to standard and familiar line illustrations. He too thus adopts comic strip characters such as Superman and Popeye while applying, not so much a distinctive paste or impasto, as a severely thinned pigment encouraging drips and dribbles. But he too was soon dissatisfied with the facture and tries a straight copy. If we compare two versions of Storm Window (1960 on left, 1961 on the right) we can see how the same illustration acquires a more unsettling attitude through stricter framing and absence of painterly facture. This too signals a vital break with preceding trends.
Thus Warhol and Lichtenstein arrive at virtually the same style at the same time, from slightly different directions. But notice also that Pop Art is not so much concerned with the popular, revered or preferred in this account, as the pedestrian and mundane, against which to measure overlooked or unexpected properties of printing through painting, and vice versa. This definition also allows us to distinguish more precisely between forerunners and actual Pop artists, indeed to discern some distinctive traits to painting throughout the fifties. Before considering British Pop Art, it is worth quickly sketching these. Figurative painting in the fifties is notable for a sharp break with the stylisations of Picasso, Klee and Mirō, on the one hand, with the pictorial conundrums of Ernst, Magritte and Dali on the other. It reverts to more familiar depiction in some ways, yet departs from them in others, for more dispersed and diffuse ends. The change in tone is away from an affirmation of the magical, mystical and musical, toward a more brooding acceptance of their inconstancy. It is a change that is understandable in the circumstances.
This change is characterised stylistically in three ways. Firstly, it arises through an arrangement of discrete pictures and sometimes notation within a larger map-like scheme, noted above as a layout or ‘flatbed’ – a term Leo Steinberg introduces in discussion of Rauschenberg’s fifties work. But layout is also a conspicuous feature of Peter Blake’s On the Balcony (1956-7) and similar works, various collages by Eduardo Paolozzi, as noted, Hamilton’s work from 1957 onward, of course, as well as Larry River’s work of the mid-fifties such as The Studio (1956). The second trait concerns radical supplements to pigment and medium that flag application where picture must gain purchase or traction against novel resistance. Examples here run from Johns, as noted, to Jean Dubuffet and Jean Fautrier to Antoni Tapies and even Frank Auerbach. Hamilton’s augmentation of painting with collage elements may be seen in the same spirit. Thirdly there is a fragmentation of subject (rather than layout) that stresses an ongoing process or its interruption; where revision and incompleteness are foremost. Examples here include Francis Bacon, Larry Rivers, Willem de Kooning, Alberto Giacometti, as well as Hamilton and Johns. Obviously one or more traits may be shared by a work or artist’s output. What name we give to this overall trend is not important for the moment, the aim here is just to distinguish a preceding body of work from Pop Art proper on stylistic terms.
British Pop Art proper is usually taken as commencing with the Young Contemporaries Exhibition in London, held early in 1961, where the work of six students from the RCA was controversially grouped in one room to draw attention to a shared aesthetic. Derek Boshier, Patrick Caulfield, David Hockney Allen Jones, R. B. Kitaj and Peter Phillips were not immediately hailed as Pop Artists, and others are eventually added once they were, (including Hamilton, Paolozzi and Blake) but this represents a tipping point for British critics for some reason, possibly because of developments in New York. Later additions do not significantly alter the character of British Pop Art. The Royal College group share two key traits. The first is the use of layout, in which discrete pictures or depicted objects in distinct styles are arranged upon a ground, the second is the use of shaped canvases, flat colour and hard edged geometry. The influence for both most directly points to the presence of Peter Blake at the college. Indeed, Phillips’ strictly ordered collages of pin-ups look particularly Blakean while the prevalence of shaped canvases in the work of Phillips, Hockney and Jones seems to extend the mockery of this aspect to Minimalist abstraction of the time (particularly the work of Frank Stella and Kenneth Noland, one suspects). This gentle riposte is also present in Blake’s work from the same time such as The Fine Art Bit (1959) Got a Girl (1960-1) as well as a tilt at Johns with, The First Real Target? (1961). Apart from irreverence, the point is really to ground so-called formal properties of full abstraction such as the flat, hard-edged stripe, circle or chevron in the world of commercial packaging and design. Once this is grasped, the project for British Pop assumes greater scope. Pop Art on these terms effectively denies any absolutes or purity of form for painting.
But we don’t quite get to the primacy of printing for painting by this route, as with Warhol and Lichtenstein. And ‘popular’ on these terms is more like just commercial signage or graphics. Photo-collage remains prominent at this time though, lingers invitingly. And where photography is not included, figuration assumes a marked diversity. Boshier, Hockney, Jones and Kitaj do not adopt popular illustrational styles, whether print-based or from signage, rather they vary styles of painterly figuration as well as styles of text. An implicit dismissal of absolute abstraction is thus combined with a bid for plurality or eclecticism. This gives the works a very different detachment or cool from New York counterparts. Where Warhol and Lichtenstein adopt a deadpan acceptance of banal print standards, British Pop Artists exhibit an insouciant switching and blending of familiar Modernist painting styles, a measured indifference to standards, an appetite for minor discord or disarray. The exception to the group in this is Patrick Caulfield, whose work does rigorously adopt the heavy even outlines of standard illustration and which does point directly to print standards. Yet Caulfield rarely confines himself to stock subjects for the style (such as textbook or instructional diagrams, say).  Instead he presses his formal resources to very similar stylistic conflicts or conundrums as arise in a Hockney or Kitaj. Outline struggles to register depth or texture, detail or motion for complex pictures treated on crude terms. While the least interested in glamorous, common or topical content, Caulfield is the closest to his American counterparts in temperament and soon exchanges layout for a more integrated picture plane.
British Pop owes at least as much to Peter Blake as it does to Hamilton or Paolozzi. But it is in the more casual and discursive tone that British Pop proper is to be distinguished from its precursors. The sense of cautious process or interruption to both Blake and Hamilton becomes a more carefree oscillation between modes, an opportunity for off-hand parody, impatience with decorum, dedication. The influence here is possibly to Larry Rivers, who visited the school around that time and was well received. In this respect British Pop is somewhat coarser, more diffuse than forebears. It is less focussed on low culture than the unruly array between the public and prominent and the eccentric and personal. ‘Pop’ in this sense becomes the endless connections we make between the two. Hamilton never really achieves this fluency as a matter of temperament and age. Even where he assimilates comic strip graphics, as in Ahh! (1962), the painted text is not enough – as it would be for Lichtenstein. For Hamilton it must be augmented with the mottled, tentative treatment of a car’s gear stick – for which later British Pop artists would have little patience.
When he can finally jettison the Coldstream touch, the conviction is less with painting than design. Hamilton’s subsequent work contrasts graphic with photographic qualities, as in the Towards a Definitive Statement series (1962), yet the role for painting now seems squeezed to the edge or back of design. He could paint over or around photographs but the results declare a stubborn difference rather than a porous interface. High and low culture can rub up against one another, but this only reinforces the gulf that separates print from painting. In the series of Interiors (1964-5) the photographs are not just shaped to the outline of a subject but now include broader arrays or perspectives. Here layout is deftly relaxed to permit a more integrated picture plane, or vice versa, and surely represents a signal achievement, one which he understandably reprises later in his career and one which surely owes its floating planes to the artist’s earlier work as an exhibition designer, which these days would probably count as installation. It is also notable that pictures such as Interior 2 (1964) contrast not just photography and painting but eras of fashion, periods of décor. The figure here is actress Patricia Knight taken from a still for the 1949 film Shockproof directed by Douglas Sirk, while the television and chair pointedly belong to later times, other places. The effect is not so much one of the timeliness or fleetingness of Pop but of a poignant dislocation, an unreachable figure amid an arbitrary setting. This dated quality is of course the antithesis of Pop. But perhaps this new melancholic note to the artist’s work can be understood in light of the tragic death of his wife of fifteen years, Terry, in a car crash in 1962.
It is photography more than print graphics that increasingly interest Hamilton and invite some rapprochement with painting. His famous collage of Marilyn Monroe’s approved photo contact sheets, My Marilyn (1965), which were published following her suicide in 1962, (the morbid undertone thus lingers) proceeds by careful stages, enlarging and tinting sections to the layout, amplifying the ticks and crosses with paint and eventually – brilliantly – revising them all as a photo-silkscreen. Printing the painterly additions finally gives the work the integration that has so far eluded him, levels the picture surface out into one continual process. Prints are really Hamilton’s forte, where his intricate technicalities finally synch with restrained fine art aspiration. They allow him to further standard publication processes while introducing private or public graphics seamlessly, effortlessly, ironically distancing them. His prints ought to be regarded as his best works, something even his most hostile critics concede. Yet prints are always a lesser art than painting, simply because of their wider application elsewhere. Probably it is this sense of compromise that paradoxically leads Hamilton to persist with painting as the ultimate goal – even when everything else about his oeuvre urges just this standing.
Similarly, the series I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas (1967) takes another conspicuously dated source – a still from the 1954 film White Christmas, actually set in 1944, starring Bing Crosby. Yet nostalgia is defused or delayed by colour reversal, as in a photographic negative. The image is carefully built up from hand-traced layers on clear cell, imitating colour separation for printing. The final painting, however, is less like Chuck Close’s obsessive airbrushed glazes (which adopt a similar process) and more forthright Photo-realism, than a quest for reliable foundation amid painterly embellishment. I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas looks back through the certainties of photography for something no amount of generous brushwork can compensate with, a lost harmony and confidence. The following series Swingeing London 67 (1968) is much more topical, based on a press photograph following the drug arrests in 1967 of Mick Jagger and Hamilton’s dealer (in art) at the time, Robert Fraser. It would be hard to be more Pop than this, except that it is by now 1968 and Pop has already dispersed. Add to this that the photograph is emphatically non-glamorous, indeed the identities of the two celebrities are virtually concealed. Hamilton’s distance and detachment from the movement could not be more explicit. As with I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas, the series is spread across painting and prints, silkscreens are now applied directly to canvas and subtly augmented but the impact is still one of excess and fussy dithering. The photographic processing to silkscreen is really sufficient but Hamilton cannot resist taking it one step further, one step too far.  
Photography, even when not particularly topical or dramatic inspires a different kind of reconciliation with painting. In 1965 the artist also commenced a series of extreme enlargements of a postcard of the seaside resort of Whitley Bay, Northumberland, usually titled just People.  The inspiration here was not only to address the half tone or dot screens used in mass printing, that Lichtenstein had made so prominent in his comic strip frames and subsequently are exploited by artists ranging from Sigmar Polke to Alain Jacquet and Gerald Laing, but to pursue these to greater abstraction, that is, to the world of fine art and painting. Significantly, Hamilton is not content to paint the dots or contrive a simple template for them, unlike his contemporaries, but instead greatly enlarges the source photograph as a ground upon which to then impose more graphic or painterly additions. The result once more is only weaker for the contrast and compromise. Had he simply painted an array of curved or biomorphic shapes with variously blurred or hard edges, various facture, the result might have been at least a diffident form of Pop Art, (perhaps paced the central conceit of the film Blow-up, from 1966) as it is, the results spell out a needless and heavy handed notion of painting, a Pop Art insecure in its own sources.
The artist does better when radically reprocessing more topical photography. His series of prints in 1972 based on television images of the student shootings at Kent State University in May 1970 enlarge and degrade the video image quality in photo-silkscreen until it acquires a muted abstraction or elegant stylisation that does everything the People series cannot. These have at once the banality, detachment and yet aesthetic echoes that make for a truly subversive nexus of high and low culture. They are kitsch and yet hip. They are right on, but only at a respectable distance. The political dimension to Hamilton’s work emerges with his 1964 portrait of Hugh Gaitskell a leader of the Labour Party (1955-63) who renounced a policy of nuclear disarmament, to Hamilton’s disgust. Politics becomes a more frequent subject later in Hamilton’s career simply as concerns with topical representation prompt deeper, more entrenched factors. The shift is slowly from fashion to ideology, inevitably to history. At the same time the interest in combining photography and painting shifts to painting derived from photography, but not in the obvious or meticulous ways pursued by Photo-realists. In works such as Soft Pink Landscape (1971-2) it is the blending of vigorous gesture with airbrushed soft focus, irrespective of depth or motion; that declares an expanded manipulation of photographic qualities. Iconography here still nudges advertising, with the placement of a toilet roll to the foreground, languid maidens to the middle ground, but all are enveloped in an Arcadian glade that owes as little to photography as it does to traditional painting. We glimpse a fleeting no-man’s-land, a formalist’s paradise.
However it is political works that dominate the latter half of his career. The trilogy, The Citizen (1981) The Subject (1989-90) and The State (1993) are his largest and most ambitious paintings, but sadly, not his most successful. All address the troubles in Northern Ireland through emblematic figures in more or less literal settings. All feature a free-ranging soft focus or blurring, either exaggerating or ignoring strict matters of depth of field or motion, and signal a deliberate revision of photographic qualities and more symbolic reading. The trilogy is no doubt meant to echo sectarian murals throughout the province, but in this they are simply not close enough. They are history painting, but can scarcely do justice to the history. No matter how laudable the subject, the paintings do not quite come alive. Given that these works emerge as Expressionism takes on new enthusiasm in the art world, they seem especially inert and inhibited. Stolid and crabbed paint handling, pedestrian drawing and composition, possibly limited scale all contribute to the disappointment. Unfortunately Hamilton overreaches, cannot quite give them the scope and daring they deserve. In granting the works roving soft focus or airbrushed evasion he cannot then give focussed areas more than a workmanlike photo-tracing to outline, more compelling design. Yet he need only have reviewed his Towards a Definitive Statement… series to find ample examples of graphic invention, stylisation and composition. Had the trilogy been confined to prints one senses the artist’s resources would not have been spread so thinly. As it stands, deconstructing Photo-realism proves too great a challenge.
Later paintings, such as the portrait of a kidnapped Mordechai Vanunu seem no more than diligent Photo-realism or stock illustration (ironically, the work is titled Unorthodox Rendition). Indeed, the work is scarcely recognisable as a Richard Hamilton. It is not altogether surprising the artist’s attention turns increasingly to digital developments in printing by the turn of the century. In fact he had designed a home computer - the sleek Diab DS-101 in 1986 and began using Quantel’s Paintbox in 1987 for a BBC documentary series Painting by Light, so the shift is hardly abrupt, but does underline his fatally divided loyalties. The late works are firstly digital composites, which allow Hamilton to combine various photographs with self-generated graphics or imported ones, 3-D modelling and animation. In other words it offers exactly the kind of integration of sources Hamilton has pursued throughout his career. But the results are still a print and Hamilton’s paintings based upon these suffer from the same old problems. The Photo-realism does not get any more impressive for having an inkjet provide the background. Ultimately he does not have enough to say about painting, or enough painting to say it with. The inkjet prints include political satire, such as Shock and Awe (2007) and the starkly informational Map of Palestine 1947-2011 (2011) but it is hard to see any richer reference, hard to see how we might regard them as art. Even as mere illustration their digital qualities are not particularly remarkable or inventive, especially given the formidable range of transformational tools available in applications such as Adobe Creative Suite.
Where the works attain some resonance is in restatements of abiding themes, such as interiors now rendered with immaculate precision to perspective and lighting, against which Hamilton can play off details of décor and once more enshrine femininity in domesticity. Hamilton’s sexual themes are routinely criticised for sexism, for a sleaziness and lack of respect. Hamilton might claim them as part and parcel of his advertising source material, but it is ultimately his selection of source material that is under scrutiny. The critic Muriel Julius found the sex throughout his work vulgar and misogynistic rather than frank and fun. The objection then is not to sex, but Hamilton’s cynical marketing treatment. Possibly to counter such criticism, Hamilton introduces more art historical allusion to bolster their pedigree. Works cite not just recent history or his own involvements, but Renaissance and Baroque masters.  The nude is a traditional subject, unquestionably. What Hamilton does not seem to have grasped, technically or artistically, is the gulf that separates use from abuse, art from commerce. Seeing a pin-up in the same tradition as a Titian or Courbet simply because it pictures a nude woman is precisely why the sociological or cultural approach to art fails. It is a tacit acknowledgement of a cultural blindness, a social insensitivity to pictures and women. Hamilton’s late erotic works achieve no more than kitsch status because he wants to keep too close to advertisements, in the safe middle ground between art and life.
His achievements then are modest, but not negligible. His contribution to fifties painting lies in his overtly procedural approach to semi-abstractions that cautiously build layouts upon an orthogonal picture plane. He is neater and slower than many contemporaries in this, but essentially this is the man. His contribution to British Pop Art rests with his advocacy of figuration within a layout along with certain discreet print graphics, but he is hardly the first or only artist in this. His inflated reputation here is largely the result of ardent promotion of the ICA’s Independent Group as the inspiration for Pop Art (in total) by some of its members and the artist’s own eager endorsements. This myth is usefully exposed by Anne Massey**. Hamilton’s later achievements include a layout more or less adhering to a common perspective, particularly for architectural interiors, footnotes to tone screen densities for mass printing, where their detail coincides with biomorphic abstraction and new complexity to photo-silkscreens, as repositories of gesture, expression and document. Hamilton also adopted topical and political photographs in which to play process degradation against aesthetic elegance. Unhappily, his standards for aesthetic elegance proved mediocre.
Finally, Hamilton’s work is not a compelling or easily recognised brand, as even his advocates admit. It lacks cohesion or focus. He does many things well but without greater distinction or quite making any of them his own. Marilyn Monroe belongs to Andy Warhol, tone screen densities belong to Lichtenstein when not Polke, Photo-Realism belongs to Chuck Close through to Gerhard Richter. Too much of Hamilton’s career was spent in clever asides to contemporaries. His strong suit was probably his interiors, with their intriguing intersection of décor and furniture with abstract planes, their array of fashions and periods, indeterminate functions and remote, alluring females. Needless to say they are hardly Pop in subject or mood but something more complex and elusive that one feels is in some way more personal for the artist. But even here the precision and ellipsis have a calculating, oppressive quality. Hamilton is always well mannered but devious to the eye. The works hold one at arm’s length; insist on a distance in the name of depth. Hence the early nudes are ruthlessly fetishist, half-car, half-mannequin. He must deal with sex without too much of a person. Marilyn Monroe is struck out unless suitably iconic; crowds identified as no more than blobs on closer inspection; Fraser and Jagger brandish their handcuffs; political prisoners are reduced to mute gestures. The overriding theme emerges as one of relentless control and restraint, a stifling concern with technique and finish that defuses and delays involvement.
 Hamilton never achieved the fame of Warhol or Richter, Hockney or Kitaj because he could never allow himself that kind of exposure, that much commitment. He will be remembered as the staircase Pop artist, second guessing those bolder, an astute and assiduous committee man. This essay has not considered his scholarship in Marcel Duchamp or reconstruction of The Large Glass, nor his sculpture, installations and work as a designer. The concern has been strictly with his reputation as a painter. Hamilton was an enormously ambitious artist and understood that painting still holds pride of place in fine art and that his best efforts must go into painting, if he was to attain true eminence. Unfortunately his technical inclinations lay elsewhere.

*A minor iconographic curiosity on this collage - recent research claims that the bodybuilder was Irvin Koszewski, who held the title of Mr. Los Angeles of 1954, while the woman on the couch is in fact American painter Jo Baer, presumably on a brief and lucrative modelling assignment, while a student. In the 60s Baer became a Minimalist pioneer, turning to figurative work and feminist themes in later years.  
** Massey, Anne – The Independent Group, Manchester University Press, Manchester and New York, 1995

Thursday, 8 November 2012

ARTFORUM 50th Anniversary Edition, September 2012

Artforum celebrated its 50th anniversary with a bumper September edition, running to 540 pages (not counting the pages of ads and still reasonably priced) surveying its history of editors, their changing ideals and aesthetics and devoting the remainder of the magazine to articles on new media. From its humble beginnings concentrating upon the West Coast scene in the early sixties, the magazine has moved from peripheral or radical concerns to the mainstream, broadening its coverage until it eclipsed its older, more established rivals, Art News and Art in America. These days Artforum does not so much boast a staff of bold critics as invite distinguished commentary from elsewhere in the global art world and consider general questions of philosophy or policy, which increasingly run to matters of culture rather than just art. Inevitably, it has become an organ of consensus and the establishment and one looks to its pages now for endorsement or approval of trends rather than protest or provocation.
This steady entrenchment hardly guarantees infallibility, naturally. If anything; sharpens scrutiny, raises the stakes of criticism. Since AF uses such an auspicious issue on which to advance the cause for new media, indeed, invokes the entire history of the magazine in support of advanced or progressive art, the claims duly acquire a certain weight and warrant careful consideration. This review takes issue with the history presumed, with the priority assigned new media and the historicism implicit in such aesthetics. Current editor Michelle Kuo spells out AF’s position in her introduction (p 66-9) and while aware of the pitfalls in building a case for technology in art, can no more than acknowledge the dilemma of ‘lapsing into a retrograde medium specificity or a technological determinism’ (p.66). But what else can a devotion to new media be, if not attention to specifics of technology? If not, a deterministic acceptance of the ‘new’ or ‘progress’?  Kuo would need to spell out what is retrograde about past medium specifics that are not so about current versions; and in what way an acknowledgment of technological progress is not then deterministic for her point to be persuasive. She does neither. Nor does it occur to her that it is the matters between the horns of her dilemma that need articulation; that resisting the excesses of formalism requires content of some kind. Again the omission fatally weakens her argument. She is happy to accept that technology prompts as much nostalgia as optimism, on the basis that the term media shares an etymology with the middle ground but the real problem is  media in themselves are not the basis for aesthetic judgement, nor strictly, even the established categories of the plastic (or fine) arts – architecture, sculpture, painting and printing.
Painting, for example, need not actually involve paint or brushes and where paint is involved, varieties of pigment and solution allow for quite distinct effects and finishes. Yet painting as a plastic art is not firstly sub-divided into frescos, oils, acrylics, watercolour, gouache, enamels or lacquers, for instance, nor by variety of application for these. Rather, painting promptly appeals to classes of content or genres, which often have historical, national or local constraints and then aid location of the work in terms of style, enable valid comparison, discernment of shared and individual traits. But again, these distinctions are rarely to do with medium. If we unpack painting as a fine art category generally, we at best recognise works devoted to two-dimensional representation. But is two-dimensionality sufficient to qualify as a medium? At best it begs further qualification. Then again a 'progress' in category looks even more doubtful on these terms. Is three dimensions more advanced than two? Then is four (as time/motion) better than three? Or for that matter, is two and a half an improvement on two and three? Actually they hardly make sense without the distinctions. Unless we know what two-dimensions are, we do not really know what three are. Is the same content strictly available to each category? This is a matter that has exercised analytical philosophy for some time. Here it is enough to point to a deeply flawed understanding of painting as a category of fine art. In truth, rigour of medium is rarely an issue in painting. Its long history records constant experiments in chemistry and supports, their acceptance and failures – when applied to various genres, styles and departures from them. Contrary to Kuo’s endorsement, medium is not the message. Actually the inverse is closer to art practice.
Why then the fixation on technology or materials? This is really the unfortunate legacy of AF’s formative years, when their team of young, radical critics, including Michael Fried, Rosalind E. Krauss, Max Kozloff and Barbara Rose, espoused a view of painting granting primacy to abstraction and in particular Minimalism.  Under this view abstraction was taken as an absolute which depended upon exclusive self-reference or the display of only intrinsic properties. This quest for a chimerical essence needless to say, could not be sustained and the notion of ‘medium specific’ properties soon fell into disrepute. This is why Kuo flags her disavowal of ‘medium specificity’. But rather than rethink abstraction, the tendency throughout the intervening years at AF and elsewhere has been to assume that it was painting had therefore run out of options, rather than critics, and that further development awaited artists looking to the next ‘medium’, understood as the next category or combination of categories of fine art. Partly this is the folly of a dedication to progress and an implicit historicism on the part of critics; partly it is a consequence of greater consolidation by AF within the art world. When an institution grows large enough, foundations tend to become too awkward to revise.
The result has been that distinctions within fine art are habitually pressed by hybrids, prized for adventure and inevitably fine art then eyes off terrain in the performing arts and literature, and where motion pictures are granted status as the seventh art, in film or video. But it is notable that such efforts are rarely reciprocated. Literature does not look to texts used or generated in exhibitions as a promising avenue of publication; performance rarely surrenders a reliable theatre and performable script or score for site specific composition. Cinema sees little profit as yet in multiple screens or channels, imaginative décor or setting. Yet this hardly condemns them to stagnation or obsolescence. Vital changes continue to occur across the other arts, are easily recognised without invoking an absurd exclusive means or relentless progress. As is sometimes observed, it is only in fine art that an anxiety with history accompanies valid interpretation; that there is the need for a history of art to underpin style and evaluation.
A commitment to making art history and a flawed theory of abstraction and its pre-eminence prove a fatal combination. Advocates cannot accept changes in abstraction following Minimalism, cannot properly applaud hybrid categories, without conceding a dependency upon traditional ones. Art history grows impossibly brittle and stunted for the period. For example, Kuo confidently glosses developments in 1967 as ‘when artists were attempting to leave behind the good old medium categories of painting and sculpture, the stuff of so many museum departments. It was the moment when innumerable artists traded flatness and turpentine for intermedia, language, video, systems, information, expanded cinema and theatricality’ (p 66-7). Could not these concerns be pursued just as validly in painting?  To assume their content is intrinsic to new technology sounds pretty much like medium specifics, surely? As for ‘Innumerable’ artists - is one to suppose this represented the vast majority of artists of the time, an overwhelming trend? Since it is an appeal to history, we are right to scrutinize such details. Was there really no more significant painting occurring? This will come as a surprise to Lyrical Abstractionists, Surface/Support painters, Photorealists, Funk artists, nascent Painting and Decoration, New Image, Neo-Expressionist and “Bad” painters. It will come as a disappointment to advocates of the Cubist years onward, that consistently expanded the materials of painting and sculpture, to embrace or integrate with architecture, interior and industrial design, (see the Bauhaus and similar), to find deft intermediates, such as the work of Schwitters or Rauschenberg, to broach kinetics for sculpture (from Duchamp to Giacometti to Calder to Tinguely, for example) exhibition to installation (Richard Hamilton’s Growth and Form exhibition at the ICA, London in 1951, say, or Lucio Fontana’s lighting fixtures at the Milan Triennale from the same year); expanded performance to happenings, such as John Cage’s Theatre Piece No 1 (or The Event) from 1952 at The Black Mountain College, where the spirit of the Bauhaus and integrated aesthetics were vigorously maintained. The ‘good old mediums of painting and sculpture’ actually seem to have been restless for some time. In short, 1967 does not figure as a pivotal moment in these developments, no matter how convenient it may be to Kuo’s purpose. Moreover, they are not the only or even the most important developments of the time – unless one wishes to advance some dubious notion of superior technology and Kuo all but concedes this removes the argument from the sphere of art, implies a disturbing determinism.
Unquestionably technology progresses; our instruments improve on those of the past. But that does not make them art (despite the common phrase, ‘state of the art’) and it does not make art that uses the latest technology necessarily more advanced than older versions, a point several artists make under the brief reports titled Media Studies, in the issue. An acrylic painting is not automatically better than an oil painting. Typing does not improve prose over long hand. A digital video need not be superior to an analogue one. As noted, key differences are decided by content or ends as much as medium or means, and these ultimately rest with appreciation of style and precedent. Art history actually need make no claim for progress, it is enough to discern differences and trace their influence and changes. To buy into a master plan for history is to buy into slavery. We do better to leave progress to science, and allow art to merely digress. It is not that AF is simply unaware of other developments in painting over the period; almost all of the examples from 1967 onward were reviewed there. But increasingly, there is a gulf between focussed reviews and loftier features or editorials. At the level of theory or policy, their model for innovation remains too crude to register vital differences within a category, an excess of ambition leaves them too longsighted to acknowledge the proximity of tradition.  Even as a model for progress it rapidly loses traction.
However, where institutions are held hostage to yesterday’s dogma and confined to gimmicks and gadgetry, the issue is greater than simply an inadequate art history. We lose a vital cultural confidence. It robs us of crucial sensitivity, engagement and judgement. A more sobering prospect on this occasion might have been how AF has consistently failed to foster a younger generation of critics, the equal in stature of their original team, and why those that did show promise, left. The exception is probably Robert Pincus-Witten. AF has moved on, not just from Minimalism or Conceptual Art, but from art criticism. In this regard the twenty three features dedicated to issues of new media and technology make for a depressing read, scattered across architecture, cinema, experimental film, photography, digital printing technology, video, web presentations, theatre and sociology, we have so many nerdish, inconsequential turns,  to even sweep them under the umbrella of culture studies is to grant them exaggerated scope. They are merely the upbeat capsules or friendly updates for those that do not have the time for more than keeping up appearances. Who reads AF these days? To judge from its sprawling concerns and fleeting attention span, it looks like the expansive generalist, the frantic cultural butterfly, and mostly an aspirant management sector. The art world has evidently moved on as well.

This article also appears on Worldwidereview.com

Friday, 2 November 2012


Valérie Favre @ Jocelyn Wolff, Paris

The Paris show – a modest venue perhaps - ends this week. The Wolff show is one the artist’s nods to abstraction, with a catalogue introduction by Marius Babias, a rising star in the Berlin critical scene. But the abstractions at this point are less interesting than her figurative efforts for me, so I’m not going to dwell on the Wolff show. Also, the Wolff site seems to be malfunctioning. Instead I’m mainly using the artist’s own site for examples, supplemented by her other current galleries – Barbara Thum in Berlin and Peter Kilchmann in Zurich. As with the review of Peter Gallo, I’ve linked directly to illustrations, mostly skipping titles and details for expediency. These can be gathered from the above sites.

Favre is an artist I’ve been meaning to write about for a while – since I was alerted to her work by
Michael Duncan’s review in AiA in 2009, really. Like Duncan, I was puzzled why the artist’s large (over 70 works) mid-career survey at Nimes and then Lucerne wasn’t accompanied by wider recognition – a leading gallery in New York or London, say – or inclusion in the Biennale circuit. That show generated a respectable book, as had a previous smaller survey in Munster in 2004, so her work has hardly suffered from lack of promotion. I don’t pretend to fathom the art world politics that goes on at that level of course, but the question of whether there is still mileage in what is essentially a Neo-Expressionist style, seemed worth considering.

Favre’s work is noted for its large scale, vigorously worked facture, restrained colour and tonality, elegant, relaxed drawing of gangly, mythic figures, most famously, a series of women with rabbit heads in swimming costume and high boots, titled Lapin Univers – Rabbit Universe. The effect is comic yet strangely agitated. As Duncan explained, the title plays on French slang for penis – ‘La pine’ - and perhaps signals a feminist agenda, certainly a sexual one. But this much is also clear from costume and traditional iconography (think Playboy Bunny Girls for starters). What is less obvious is their situation. They are not placed in boudoirs or bacchanals; the absence of ‘Bunny men’ – or
males of any kind for that matter – is conspicuous while the introduction of a low platform or pedestal in virtually celestial setting, upon which they cavort or jostle, grants their role a somewhat higher, more remote domain. A rabbit role here is more an opportunity for exhibition or extroversion than submissive sexual allure. The rabbit women are absurd yet the contrast between rabbit head (or mask) and sleek feminine torso not only perpetuates a longstanding duality but literally ‘truncates’ sexuality, resorts to an ‘animal’ attraction where greater identity fails or falters. In this respect it is notable that faces or expressions for the rabbit women are either fleeting or no more than cartoons. Facing up to some things seems to set off a frisson of facture. These are by no means straightforward satires on standard mythology or sexual politics. But more than subtleties of subject matter, Favre’s broad and broken brushstrokes, muted colour or tonalities, give the work a luscious but seething, simmering quality. Treatment is at once rich and confident, yet hesitant, subdued.

And such treatment signals a deeper level to the ambivalence; an unease not just with sexuality or identity, but ultimately with pictures. The artist paints, not because the imagery is unavailable in print – although, strictly it is not – but because painting offers greater opportunity to physically immerse oneself in their formation, to linger over and thematise or exemplify this proximity and commitment. Favre wants to get demonstrably close to her content, as a matter of attachment and to keep it close, as a matter of succour. Significantly, the artist sees her rabbit women as basically self-portraits and that said, there is
undeniably something a little rabbit-like and twitchy about her features! Joking aside, the paintings shimmer or vacillate around the degree of realisation or recognition to content, the painter’s freedom or care in respecting that. The paintings are about making the content credible in this sense, making painting and painter credulous.

The Expressionist heritage to all this is clear enough and any number of more celebrated contemporary painters draw from similar sources. Duncan cites Tuymans, Kippenberger, Baselitz and Dumas. I’d add Doig, Cecily Brown, Daniel Richter and Rauch, stressing the turn to allegory and myth rather than topical or political content used by Tuymans, Dumas and Kippenberger. This strand to contemporary painting tends to stretch technique and materials in announcing process, confounding stylistic norms yet resisting greater abstraction. And it’s fair to say the results are often dubious compromises, empty gestures and affectation. They overreach. Where print sources no longer provide obvious or reliable standards we return to all the old problems for painting. We look to basics, for better or worse. But now it is the sheer diversity of sources and means that trouble us, the profusion of standards that leave us with too many or none. Once, it was a single reductive tradition exhausted or expiring in exotic caprice and decadence. It hardly matters whether we consider this classical or modern. Faced with mounting excess at some point one turns fundamentalist, at least for a while. But it’s not so much a vicious cycle as a fiendish fractal. We never quite get to the bottom of it; never quite get over it or simply move on. Painting and its history refuse to sit still, lie down or go away. Digital options only remind us of the necessity of the analogue. Motion and audio options only remind us of the advantages of stasis, silence. Print or multiple instances only remind us of the value of the sole instance. Painting is a tradition we cannot help but renew, in light of other developments. No matter how cleverly we unpack form from content, iconography from technique, style from substance, we never quite have the full set of instances, the fixed and final perspective. It always entails more painting, other experience.

For critics dedicated to novelty, of course, painting is disappointing simply for remaining painting. Nothing short of complete substitution can satisfy their blunt criterion for progress. At the same time painters increasingly monitor art history for forgotten or obscure moments, rival developments and current technology. If painting is no longer enough, some part of it is at least necessary. The postmodern painter can appear a jack-of-all-trades or dabbler for embracing this breadth of concerns in the face of sweeping dismissal. Favre too has her side projects, her
flings at full abstraction, her salutes to Bonnard, Böcklin or Bresson. But these never really threaten her style or themes, on the contrary confirm them. Older abstractions are grouped as Balls and Tunnels, maintaining an intensely compartmentalised sexuality to theme, while the series at Wolff are titled Fragments and offer intimate spectral presences, dark encounters, perhaps ejaculatory moments. But these broader gestures actually flag the artist’s conservatism of means here, her standard canvas supports and pigment chemistry. Work of an older generation of American painters, from Larry Poons to Linda Benglis, has rendered such painterly licence tepid and tentative, frivolous or decorative, especially when prompting stark sexual metaphor.

Favre fares better where expansion of animal metaphor invites more elaborate setting as in
Quelle Am Bach 2005 (The Source of The Brook) or Peter Pan 2007, where facture is given more to work with and passing tributes to figures such as Bonnard or Ensor sit comfortably with a more free-ranging iconography. Equally, in the series of frieze-like processions grouped as Theatre, where figures are granted ritualistic interaction, painterly vacillation happily joins motion or animation, as in Secret Service for the Queen 2008 or Ladybirds 2010 (my fave Favres) and the elongated limbs take on a more overall rhythm or gestalt. A fetish shared is a fetish halved, perhaps. But the rugged finish alerts us to an effort to maintain the picture, the cost of commitment. Again, they are works that flicker with irresolution because there is a lot at stake. Not for nothing do these works feature death in their midst. Where sex is accorded an animal vitality at the expense of identity, alternatives quickly turn savage, morbid. Sex and death is a trusted recipe of course, especially for an Expressionist, but in Favre’s work it not only adds a funereal tone to moments of union, or elation, but confers even the slightest meeting with fatal consequence. There is no hiding in the crowd from this failing, no animal attraction strong enough to compensate for a lanced ego, a surrendered self. The paintings take the painter to the edge of her comfort zone, oscillate fiercely between grim options and celebrate the prospect.

Elsewhere Favre finds
the conjunction no more than insect-like, and there seems to be a growing interest in more schematic structure, that nevertheless acknowledges a phallic threat or arch accommodation. This is as much of her work as we need to survey for now. Her themes are familiar, possibly universal, but pursued with great imagination and sensitivity. I have tried to show a greater cohesion throughout the work than is generally acknowledged in commentary and where she may be placed in contemporary painting. Her contribution lies in a distinctive brand of comic and mythic themes, treated in a sensuous, discursive manner. Favre’s strain of Neo-Expressionism maintains metaphor and allegory, but its comic irreverence has less of a satirical edge than say Kippenberger or Immendorff. Rather, her iconography belongs to contemporary myth in poetic displacement. Her drawing and brushwork similarly carry less of a sense of parody or provocation than an attenuated, anxious engagement. The works are built not recklessly or ruthlessly but ardently, apprehensively. Significantly, several works cite Bonnard, an early member of the Nabi or Symbolists, given to erotic metaphor, but whose later bucolic and domestic scenes exchange myth for stippled colour fields of great delicacy, that often surrender depth for more striking orientation, keyed not by qualities of light so much as rich, overall colour harmonies. Something in Favre’s work aspires to a similar all-embracing approach, quite distinct from contemporaries. Finally, Favre brings a distinctly feminine, if not feminist, perspective to issues of sexuality and identity that provide welcome contrast to more doctrinaire rivals and moving insight into a vivid individual.

This article also appears on Worldwidereview.com