Wednesday, May 16, 2012

An old 2002 Review of My Graduate Thesis Show- By Art History Grads

Review of UW Graduate Thesis Show ; Grad Art History Students of Prof. Patricia Failing

Review of MFA Show, 2002 By Anonymous UW Art History Grad Student

Jamie Alan Andre Bollenbach has three oil paintings in the 2002 University of Washington MFA Exhibition at the Henry Art gallery. April in the Course of an Hour, Two before Windows, and Remnant of April, are large abstractions painted using painterly technique and rooted in art history. I will not aimlessly argue the content of this work which can never be concluded, but I will present the formal facts, those that can be pointed to. These formal facts give the viewer the tools to pursue the content of this work. Harold Rosenburg would examine Bollenbach’s work to determine if it is a result of “bad faith.” I know that Bollenbach, like any good artist, is concerned with making aesthetically appealing art.

Bollenbach’s thesis work belongs formalistically to early modernism. Like the work of Willem De Kooning, these three paintings are an evolution from cubism and impressionism and therefore have also evolved from the renaissance. Bollenbach is revealing the essential facts of his medium. Doing this is the act that primarily characterizes modernism as Hans Hoffman defined it (and is the Greenburg theory of modernism). But the works of Bollenbach clearly contain illusionist elements aas well as the essential elements of the act of painting. He is not reducing his work strictly to what is essential about painting and therefore his work is not truly modernist. Hofmann, justifiably the most modern and most notable abstract expressionist painter, “defied every norm of the art of painting.” Generally, “American-type” painters are best at making modern art by defying the norms of a medium, but this graduate is toying with breaking these norms while also maintaining the traditions of the illusions of three-dimensional space in his work.

The subject matter is each of these three pieces is, to varying degrees, semi-abstract and painterly in the treatment of brushstrokes. There is a tension between the abstracted nature of the subject matter, which appears to have been derived from the early modern and cubist exploration of viewing a subject from multiple perspectives simultaneously, and value contrast, perspective, and volume, all of which convey a sense of space in the composition. This tension is further extended by the painterly linear forms, which cut across the composition similar to the paint swashes that blur the sense of space in de Kooning’s work. Two Before Windows has lines from the center of each window that extend into the space perceived to be in front of the windows. One of the lines extends across the figure’s stomach.

Remnant of April is painted with perspective. The subject matter references interior architecture, and has linear and painterly lines that cut across the illusion of space. A fence-like image ins in the center of the piece and, although quite small,large field of rich light hues in the bottom fifth of the painting.

An array of colorful small brushstrokes and short squiggle-lines extend out from just above the center of the canvas in April in the Course of an Hour. The sense of space in this composition is articulated through the density of brush marks and interactions between bits and fields of color. The density of squiggle marks is concentrated at the area of divergences, and the bottom fourth of the painting is an arrangement of less packed, longer, vertical strokes. It is evident that the artist is concerned with achieving a dynamic composition, and is very intentional about the color relationships that contribute to this.

The richness of the colors in this painting gives it an engaging energy. The vibrancy of the colors resonates in an aesthetically powerful way. The subject matter of April in the Course of an Hour is uncertain, but the dynamic interaction of bits of color and the composition of density make this painting worth to spend time viewing. Bollenbach pays incredible attention to the effect that specific colors have next to one another, and this is evident in the pleasure taken in viewing the rich color of these paintings.

Two Before Windows conveys a clear sense of interior space with windows and curtains and a female figure standing in the room. The figure, presented naturalistically in proportions and perspective, demonstrates, again, the tension between the illusion and the obscurity that begins to reinforce the integrity of the picture plane. This is upheld by being true to the two-dimensionality of the canvas. The figure is painted a very dark but unnatural color that blends with the background coloring. The figure’s pelvis, hips and thighs, have a sense of being held up and would appear to be standing, but from the knee down, the figure dissipates into organic line-forms of color. The upper body of the figure is unarticulated, and the head, which is faintly visible, is floating above the torso. However, there is a sense that the mid-section of the figure is occupying space.

Formalistically, this work has a dynamic combination of organic painterly form and geometric and linear elements as well as an impressive resonance of color. All of these formal characteristics give Bollenbach’s work a powerful aesthetic appeal. Bollenbach does not maintain the integrity of the picture plain because there is illusion in his work. There is no mistake that what the viewer sees is a two-dimensional painting, but we are also presented with an interesting tension that insists that the view acknowledge a sense of three-dimension space.

My thanks to Prof. Pat Failing for securing permission for me to publish the work of this art history graduate student on my web. – J.B.