John Baldessari - Madame Cezanne's Hairdos

Page 1



J O HN B AL DE SSA R I AT GE MINI G.E.L. MADAME CEZANNE’S HAIRDOS

G E M I N I G . E . L . AT J O N I M O I S A N T W E Y L 212.249.3324

G E M I N I @ J O N I W E Y L .CO M

J O N I W E Y L .CO M

n ga.g ov/g em i n i — o nline cat alogue raison né


I

n the nineteenth-century bestseller L’oeuvre, Émile Zola, who was Paul Cézanne’s boyhood friend, effectively portrayed the artist as a washed-up failure without a sense of humor. Nearly all of the avant-garde artists who followed Cézanne disagreed (at least with the artistic side of this literary characterization), recognizing the French painter’s supreme importance to the history of art. Both Matisse and Picasso referred to Cézanne as their artistic “father” despite their divergent approaches to making art, and since then, countless more have looked back to him. It thus comes as no surprise that John Baldessari, an artist who constantly engages with the visual material of the past, would elect to model his latest print series after this leading modern master.

Drawn to the hair of Cézanne’s most frequent sitter—his wife, Hortense Fiquet— Baldessari begins his investigations by abiding by one of his fundamental principles, “which is to get a viewer to look at something by eliminating other information.” 1 In Madame Cézanne’s Hairdos, the obvious details of the subject—eyes, nose, and ears— are completely effaced, and Cézanne’s artistic gesture is totally removed. The contemporary artist has eliminated the swipes of the palette knife and the staccato modeling of features, leaving the viewer with only two simplified Madame Cezanne in a Red Dress, ca.1888-90 shapes on which to focus—one beige, one black. The smooth inward tucks and broad outward curves of this geometry make an inescapable visual impact. They cannot be contained by the three-foot-wide paper on which they are printed, and several of the graceful black forms are abruptly snipped by the edge of the paper.

“WHO ISN’ T INFLUEN C ED BY C EZA N N E?”

— John Baldessari

1

Quotes from Baldessari are from an interview with the author, 17 May 2016. Madame Cézanne in a Red Dress, ca.1888-90, oil on canvas, 45 7/8 in. x 35 1/4 (116.5 x 89.5 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ittleson Jr. Purchase Fund, 1962 (62.45)


I

n the nineteenth-century bestseller L’oeuvre, Émile Zola, who was Paul Cézanne’s boyhood friend, effectively portrayed the artist as a washed-up failure without a sense of humor. Nearly all of the avant-garde artists who followed Cézanne disagreed (at least with the artistic side of this literary characterization), recognizing the French painter’s supreme importance to the history of art. Both Matisse and Picasso referred to Cézanne as their artistic “father” despite their divergent approaches to making art, and since then, countless more have looked back to him. It thus comes as no surprise that John Baldessari, an artist who constantly engages with the visual material of the past, would elect to model his latest print series after this leading modern master.

Drawn to the hair of Cézanne’s most frequent sitter—his wife, Hortense Fiquet— Baldessari begins his investigations by abiding by one of his fundamental principles, “which is to get a viewer to look at something by eliminating other information.” 1 In Madame Cézanne’s Hairdos, the obvious details of the subject—eyes, nose, and ears— are completely effaced, and Cézanne’s artistic gesture is totally removed. The contemporary artist has eliminated the swipes of the palette knife and the staccato modeling of features, leaving the viewer with only two simplified Madame Cezanne in a Red Dress, ca.1888-90 shapes on which to focus—one beige, one black. The smooth inward tucks and broad outward curves of this geometry make an inescapable visual impact. They cannot be contained by the three-foot-wide paper on which they are printed, and several of the graceful black forms are abruptly snipped by the edge of the paper.

“WHO ISN’ T INFLUEN C ED BY C EZA N N E?”

— John Baldessari

1

Quotes from Baldessari are from an interview with the author, 17 May 2016. Madame Cézanne in a Red Dress, ca.1888-90, oil on canvas, 45 7/8 in. x 35 1/4 (116.5 x 89.5 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ittleson Jr. Purchase Fund, 1962 (62.45)


Though the schematic quality of Baldessari’s prints is ostensibly unrelated to Cézanne’s twenty-nine portraits of his most frequently used sitter, a close look at the portraits themselves reveals otherwise. Contrasting colors define flesh; thick, topographical strokes of a palette knife delineate a depthless line; and the creation of volume into a series of reductive geometries together magically materializes into faces, hands, and costume. Endlessly and impenetrably, Fiquet sits, the one subject who would continually conform to Cézanne’s painting sessions, no matter how uncompromising—a quality summarized in his famous quip about his reasons for choosing still lifes over portraits: apples never moved. The title of the series is the singular clue to the artistic tête-à-tête between nineteenthand twenty-first-century artist. Baldessari’s mercilessly flat shapes are essentially unrecognizable. Each resembles an asymmetrical Rorschach test, and at first glance, the artist appears to provide a clue to the shape’s identification by including a word beneath the reductive image. Yet, in his game with the viewer, such volumetric terminology as “Trapezoid,” “Sphere,” and “Cone” bears absolutely no relationship to the image above. The pictures are as flat as the paper on which they are printed. A tension immediately arises by this disconnect between words and pictures. Baldessari says he is energized by this “impact of slight visual confusion,” and the text/image combination of these prints is especially poignant when considering the work of Cézanne. The French artist was always searching for volume within the two-dimensional exercise of painting, and on the most basic level, he sought to deal with nature through the geometries of “the cylinder, the sphere, and the cone.” 2 The terms of both artists are literally the same. But more than this inquiry, Cézanne’s portraits are also purpose-built with tension. In artistic gesture, in palette choices, and particularly in the structure of the works, his success lies in the energy generated by negotiating between contrasts. It is in this series that Cézanne’s brilliant conflicts are on full view, and in this respect,

2

For the artist’s conversations on this motif, see Joachim Gasquet’s Cézanne: A Memoir with Conversations (London: Thames and Hudson, 1991), 163–64.

the reason for Baldessari’s choice to appropriate the portraits makes so much sense. Even though his absolute reduction of modeling and palette appears completely at odds with Cézanne’s persistent struggle for volume, in deploying his characteristic wit alongside the engagement of several of his core artistic goals, Baldessari expertly engages with the objectives of the nineteenth-century forebear of modernism. The energy produced by the tension in the images—whether by contrasting palette or word/image games—is what is at issue here. Without a doubt, Baldessari’s series showcases both his sophisticated art-historical understanding and his aesthetic sensibilities. But in the end, it is the fun of the works that makes these prints stand out. Bold and playful, the images reflect Baldessari’s humor and set him apart him from the French painter. Though Cézanne’s influence may have pervaded the creative psyches of many of the artists who followed, including Baldessari’s, this take on the French artist in Madame Cézanne’s Hairdos is uniquely Baldessari’s own. —Leah Lehmbeck, 2016


Though the schematic quality of Baldessari’s prints is ostensibly unrelated to Cézanne’s twenty-nine portraits of his most frequently used sitter, a close look at the portraits themselves reveals otherwise. Contrasting colors define flesh; thick, topographical strokes of a palette knife delineate a depthless line; and the creation of volume into a series of reductive geometries together magically materializes into faces, hands, and costume. Endlessly and impenetrably, Fiquet sits, the one subject who would continually conform to Cézanne’s painting sessions, no matter how uncompromising—a quality summarized in his famous quip about his reasons for choosing still lifes over portraits: apples never moved. The title of the series is the singular clue to the artistic tête-à-tête between nineteenthand twenty-first-century artist. Baldessari’s mercilessly flat shapes are essentially unrecognizable. Each resembles an asymmetrical Rorschach test, and at first glance, the artist appears to provide a clue to the shape’s identification by including a word beneath the reductive image. Yet, in his game with the viewer, such volumetric terminology as “Trapezoid,” “Sphere,” and “Cone” bears absolutely no relationship to the image above. The pictures are as flat as the paper on which they are printed. A tension immediately arises by this disconnect between words and pictures. Baldessari says he is energized by this “impact of slight visual confusion,” and the text/image combination of these prints is especially poignant when considering the work of Cézanne. The French artist was always searching for volume within the two-dimensional exercise of painting, and on the most basic level, he sought to deal with nature through the geometries of “the cylinder, the sphere, and the cone.” 2 The terms of both artists are literally the same. But more than this inquiry, Cézanne’s portraits are also purpose-built with tension. In artistic gesture, in palette choices, and particularly in the structure of the works, his success lies in the energy generated by negotiating between contrasts. It is in this series that Cézanne’s brilliant conflicts are on full view, and in this respect,

2

For the artist’s conversations on this motif, see Joachim Gasquet’s Cézanne: A Memoir with Conversations (London: Thames and Hudson, 1991), 163–64.

the reason for Baldessari’s choice to appropriate the portraits makes so much sense. Even though his absolute reduction of modeling and palette appears completely at odds with Cézanne’s persistent struggle for volume, in deploying his characteristic wit alongside the engagement of several of his core artistic goals, Baldessari expertly engages with the objectives of the nineteenth-century forebear of modernism. The energy produced by the tension in the images—whether by contrasting palette or word/image games—is what is at issue here. Without a doubt, Baldessari’s series showcases both his sophisticated art-historical understanding and his aesthetic sensibilities. But in the end, it is the fun of the works that makes these prints stand out. Bold and playful, the images reflect Baldessari’s humor and set him apart him from the French painter. Though Cézanne’s influence may have pervaded the creative psyches of many of the artists who followed, including Baldessari’s, this take on the French artist in Madame Cézanne’s Hairdos is uniquely Baldessari’s own. —Leah Lehmbeck, 2016


J OH N B AL DE SSARI MADAME CEZANNE’S HAIRDOS, 2016 A S E R I E S O F E I G H T 3 - C O LO R S C R E E N P R I N T S I N E D I T I O N S O F 6 0 PRI NT ED O N SAUND ERS AND WAT ERFO RD SM O OT H 600GS M PAPE R


J OH N B AL DE SSARI MADAME CEZANNE’S HAIRDOS, 2016 A S E R I E S O F E I G H T 3 - C O LO R S C R E E N P R I N T S I N E D I T I O N S O F 6 0 PRI NT ED O N SAUND ERS AND WAT ERFO RD SM O OT H 600GS M PAPE R


PYRAMID, 2016 46 X 36" (116.8 X 91.4 CM) JBA15-5382


PYRAMID, 2016 46 X 36" (116.8 X 91.4 CM) JBA15-5382


CUBE, 2016 44¼ X 36" (112.4 X 91.4 CM) JBA15-5383


CUBE, 2016 44¼ X 36" (112.4 X 91.4 CM) JBA15-5383


O C TAG O N , 2 0 1 6 40¾ X 36" (103.5 X 91.4 CM) JBA15-5384


O C TAG O N , 2 0 1 6 40¾ X 36" (103.5 X 91.4 CM) JBA15-5384


OVA L , 2 0 1 6 42½ X 36" (107.9 X 91.4 CM) JBA15-5385


OVA L , 2 0 1 6 42½ X 36" (107.9 X 91.4 CM) JBA15-5385


T R A P E Z O I D, 2 0 1 6 36¼ X 36" (92.1 X 91.4 CM) JBA15-5386


T R A P E Z O I D, 2 0 1 6 36¼ X 36" (92.1 X 91.4 CM) JBA15-5386


SPHERE, 2016 35¼ X 36" (89.5 X 91.4 CM) JBA15-5387


SPHERE, 2016 35¼ X 36" (89.5 X 91.4 CM) JBA15-5387


C0NE, 2016 41 ½ X 36" (105.4 X 91.4 CM) JBA15-5388


C0NE, 2016 41 ½ X 36" (105.4 X 91.4 CM) JBA15-5388


R H O M B O I D, 2 0 1 6 34¼ X 36" (87 X 91.4 CM) JBA15-5389


R H O M B O I D, 2 0 1 6 34¼ X 36" (87 X 91.4 CM) JBA15-5389


MADAM E CEZ AN N E’ S HAIRDOS

WORKSHOP NOTES

John Baldessari’s new series appear to be relatively simple screen prints. Two colors, three runs: a flesh-tone, black hair, and black text. But appearances can be deceiving; when dealing with large areas of flat color, a number of challenges arise—the primary being the issue of how the shapes interact with each other. In order to maintain registration (i.e. alignment) between printings, the second “flat” (in this case, the black hair) must have an area of overlap with the first (the flesh). This overlap can easily become a distraction—a visual interruption in the otherwise uniform color, a break in the curve. This is compounded by the elastic nature of the screen itself, as the stencil stretches and creates a slight variation in the size of the printed image. As printers, it is our duty to minimize this, to achieve the tightest feasible registration and maintain an even distribution of the overlapping area along the length of the intersecting curves.

The significant amount of ink required to produce the series presented its own hurdle, as the hue of the fleshtone is difficult to achieve precisely. We were concerned about the potential for variations between the prints, so five gallons of skin-colored ink were mixed in preparation for the project. This is as visually unsettling as it sounds. We unfortunately have about three gallons left over, and are now considering painting the printshop a lovely pinkish beige.

In order to give the series more of a visual punch, the black hair was “double-passed,” meaning a second impression is made immediately over the first, while the ink is still wet. This increases the density of the color, giving the black a rich, velvety quality. Keeping a consistent pressure and doing this accurately is always the trick, especially when dealing Richard Kaz (left) and Jeff McMane printing Madame Cézanne’s Hairdos

with the gigantic flats on Cube and Pyramid. The pleasure in working with Baldessari is solving the challenges presented and meeting his expectations.

Jeff McMane and Richard Kaz, Master Printers May, 2016


MADAM E CEZ AN N E’ S HAIRDOS

WORKSHOP NOTES

John Baldessari’s new series appear to be relatively simple screen prints. Two colors, three runs: a flesh-tone, black hair, and black text. But appearances can be deceiving; when dealing with large areas of flat color, a number of challenges arise—the primary being the issue of how the shapes interact with each other. In order to maintain registration (i.e. alignment) between printings, the second “flat” (in this case, the black hair) must have an area of overlap with the first (the flesh). This overlap can easily become a distraction—a visual interruption in the otherwise uniform color, a break in the curve. This is compounded by the elastic nature of the screen itself, as the stencil stretches and creates a slight variation in the size of the printed image. As printers, it is our duty to minimize this, to achieve the tightest feasible registration and maintain an even distribution of the overlapping area along the length of the intersecting curves.

The significant amount of ink required to produce the series presented its own hurdle, as the hue of the fleshtone is difficult to achieve precisely. We were concerned about the potential for variations between the prints, so five gallons of skin-colored ink were mixed in preparation for the project. This is as visually unsettling as it sounds. We unfortunately have about three gallons left over, and are now considering painting the printshop a lovely pinkish beige.

In order to give the series more of a visual punch, the black hair was “double-passed,” meaning a second impression is made immediately over the first, while the ink is still wet. This increases the density of the color, giving the black a rich, velvety quality. Keeping a consistent pressure and doing this accurately is always the trick, especially when dealing Richard Kaz (left) and Jeff McMane printing Madame Cézanne’s Hairdos

with the gigantic flats on Cube and Pyramid. The pleasure in working with Baldessari is solving the challenges presented and meeting his expectations.

Jeff McMane and Richard Kaz, Master Printers May, 2016




DESIGN: JOHN COY, JMCOY.COM PHOTOGRAPHY: DOUGLAS M. PARKER STUDIO PRINTING: LITHOCRAFT COMPANY



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