Friday, April 26, 2013


Joan Mitchell(1958), oil on canvas, 190 x180 cm

I was looking at the work of Joan Mitchell and wondering just what it was that made her more celebrated than a painter like Milton Resnick, who remains comparatively and relatively obscure, a painter's painter for the most part, despite the best efforts of his New York dealers Robert Miller, and later Cheim&Read, both of whom represented Mitchell as well. These two painters were both the fiercest, most individualistic, most "felt" abstractionists of the 1950s. Hard to think of many artists who packed more into every single stroke than them. Twombly, Guston, de Kooning, Pollock? Sure. Maybe. But mark for mark I'd put my money on Resnick and Mitchell. It is something you can't teach or fake. Like people who can't lie to save their lives.

Milton Resnick EAST IS THE PLACE(1959), Oil on Canvas

The interesting thing is that Resnick changed. That may be the difference. Mitchell never did. Not really. She never abandoned the mark. It was always the mark. It defined her as much as she defined it.

Milton Resnick(2010), Cheim and Read Catalogue, "The Elephant in the Room"  

Resnick went somewhere else as a painter in the 60s. He sought to redefine painting, for himself, and finally, for the rest of us. I remember when I was trying to go out with an art writer in New York in the very early 80s, probably 1980. She kept me guessing and instead steered me toward writing about the Resnick painters, him and his followers. I was willing to do that because it gave me a chance to court her. I wasn't buying Resnick's redefinition of painting and I made her keep explaining it. I was never truly convinced but I went along with it because the frustration it was causing her put my courtship in jeopardy.

Late Resnick, Cheim&Read

Just for the record, she never even let me in the batter's box, let alone to first base. She had a mission, and she was willing to lead me on to a point to get some print for the cause. I couldn't help feeling like some Jean-Paul Belmondo was smoking a cigarette waiting for her around a corner so she could be done with this stupid American boy. I did visit some of the cool-aid drinking Resnickites with her, who all painted pretty much like him. I even wrote about one of them. I still remember that art writer carefully and painfully explaining the whole Resnick thesis in her bare little lower East Side apartment. Showing me step by step how the idea was that Resnick and his followers brought the experience of the painting into the space in front of the picture plane. So instead of depth of field and then flat painting, we now had this new dimension, that like some hologram existed in between the viewer and the painting.

Milton Resnick, (1982) Straw Series, oil on board, 40 x 30

Of course this was where I had a problem, the relative space between the viewer and the painting surface. How far did these 3d paintings extend? Five feet? Thirty feet? I wonder how she felt when Resnick abandoned all of that? And the other Resnickites? What happened when he turned back? I get no pleasure from that. I was cheering them on, even if skeptical. Not happy to see them get hung out there. When confronted about his followers Resnick dismissed them. Said they weren't artists and it didn't matter. Like puppies in a bag tossed over a bridge, according to his friend and one time assistant Larry Deyab. That no real artist would be a follower. True. Still pretty harsh stuff if its true that that was how he felt about his disciples.

Mitchell 1956

Of course Mitchell might have been even harsher if that's possible. Foul mouthed, she once apparently asked an artist loudly at that artist's opening "whose blank she had to blank" to get the show. Strong stuff. But she found a way to stay true to her work to the end. Did she end up just imitating herself, at least part of the time, is that what happened? Is that what made her self-destruct in alcohol and cigarettes? Or was the painting the genuine thing in her life, the happy thing in an otherwise miserable life, like a modern day female Van Gogh. The comparisons stop there of course. She was never exactly poor. Quite the contrary. And she was very well connected and art world successful.

Milton Resnick, (1959) AS.2,  oil on canvas,  82 x 80

I liked Resnick's paintings from the 50s, what he rather dismissively called his "pretty" paintings. The individualism went out of his marks and paintings as a whole by the early 60's. They became collective. The marks became more and more subservient to the whole. The paintings became slabs. Almost colorless, unless you got up close. Even then there was some larger entity burying them.

 Joan Mitchell, 1980,  Cypress 

Mitchell just kept finding inspiration. Monet, van Gogh. Living in France. The same inspiration Resnick had long since moved on from, or discarded, or sublimated, or outright rejected.

Joan Mitchell, (1982) Buckwheat, oil on canvas, 87 x 78.8

Mitchell and her collectors have been rewarded for either staying behind or staying the course. Resnick is still waiting for the light to shine on him. Apparently he felt that Pop Art had ruined everything, especially for him. Resnick might have gladly shot Andy Warhol for that. He outlived both Warhol and Mitchell and never found justice. He might still be alive today but chose to end it all on his own terms in 2004.

Early Resnick, Cheim&Read

I always loved de Kooning. My theory is you follow your gush. What makes you gush? Is that your life? It is not a question of luck. More a question of conviction. What are you willing to sacrifice for your gush? Family, friends, money, security, comfort, children? De Kooning had the gush. Love and art. The gush of paint. The gush of form. The gush of life. Resnick had that in the 50s. Undeniable. Came and went after that in my opinion. Mitchell had it to the end. But who's keeping score?
Addison Parks, Spring Hill

Resnick, 1979 

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, April 15, 2013

Being There: Martin Mugar's Fire

In the cold wintery gray of Boston, even as we approached the Bromfield Gallery on Harrison Ave, me and my friend, the painter Larry Deyab, were off to see Martin Mugar's new show, and we caught the bright warm glow of it from the outside and from way off. It was unmistakable. Like some mystical experience calling us. Some beacon of hope. It radiated this choir-of-angels light like some magic cave in the side of a stone mountain. Martin Mugar's work is like that. Elvish stuff. Again, magic.

Martin Mugar at Bromfield

As we got closer we could see him through the large windows, standing in the middle of his fire, in the flame of it, waiting for us at the center of the gallery, surrounded by his work. The wizard Martin Mugar. I've always said this about his work. That the energy, the light in it, combusts like some cold fusion machine, the particles circling around inside it until it reaches that critical mass and explodes. But some things have changed in the new work, and these changes have moved the experience along in a way that amplifies what we have come to expect from him.

Make no mistake, as physical as the work is, like sculpture almost, these paintings are a highly aesthetic, even spiritual epiphany from the word go. They are not, as they have sometimes been described in the media, a candy-coated, Willy Wonka pleasure ride, although the pleasure is there for sure, and physically they resemble taffy and chewing gum. That is their worldly form. It might be difficult to get beyond that for some, but when you get still with them, look at them, see them, listen to them, hear them, let them work their magic, well then, you get carried off into space, catapulted into the stars, like some hyperdrive, and will find yourself floating in some consciousness that is another world. The world of Martin Mugar. A rare world. A world like no other. 

And that is it. That is the true meaning of originality. The work takes you to a place that you have never been before. To a world with as much attention to detail and experience as our own. Some might accuse the work of being obsessive, as though he was gilding some lily. But his devotion to the work is the necessary attention paid to creating something complete, evolved, seen through in a way that doesn't just drop the viewer off on another planet, but makes sure that that aesthetic experience is sound and true. This is a vision. A generous vision. A loving vision. A lofty and masterful vision of great beauty and poetry and intelligence and feeling. 

Martin Mugar at Bromfield

The abstract nature of the work allows for that lofty vision. It is not candy land. It is that ultimate place of enlightenment and light. It is the climb to the top of the mountain. Each painting is a step. The thick waxy pastel paint couples together, compounds, like drops of water coming together to form a tsunami, diffusing, to flood the painting and the viewer in a symphony of music and light, to lift the viewer up like an El Greco into the ether, onto some higher plane, into the heavens. 

Larry Deyab, John Wronoski, and Martin Mugar at Bromfield

Standing there with Martin, surrounded by his paintings, was like standing in the flame. Another friend, the rare books dealer John Wronoski, joined us. We basked in the work. We stood and talked and it was as though we were in some ethereal turkish bath of fire. Healing while it danced around us. And Martin was happy. And why wouldn't he be? Everything he worked for was working,  for all of us, beautifully, like Swiss clock-work. All of that hard work. All of that hard seeing and sensitivity to the tint and temperature and hue and chroma and movement and juxtaposition and direction and correspondence of color, mark, texture and composition. It all came together. It all meant something. It all had a purpose, and we were all lucky enough to be there.  

Addison Parks
Spring Hill 2013

The Bromfield Gallery, Boston, Ma;  January 30 - February 23, 2013

Thursday, April 11, 2013

No Guilt. No Shame in Art!

Hans Hofmann, courtesy of

The following is part of a note I wrote to someone when they lamented that the digital images of their work failed to reveal the struggle. I hope it is worth sharing.

"I think it is clear that your paintings are the result of dialogue and some kind of journey. I prefer not to use the word struggle as it conjures up that old machismo that I think gives people a negative impression of painting. I like to say finding the painting in the painting.

Martin told me you were a fan of Leland Bell. I studied with Leland in 1975-76 and he was probably one of the most hands-on artists I ever worked with. I didn't share his distrust of a painting that comes too quickly though. I figure a painting takes as long as it takes. Minutes or years.

These days I tend toward years simply because I have really no interest in making another painting, just painting itself, so I watch them come and go out of the simple curiosity of where they will take me. When they come to a clearing that I want to know more about and think I can learn from, then I stop and let them be.

Presumably this is what we all do. After interviewing and writing about the arts and artists for over forty years I found that the overwhelming impression was that they didn't want it to get out that what they were doing was a good time, that in order to justify being an artist while everyone else was doing a job, they had to act like it was all this angst-ridden struggle and suffering, and when I got them to admit what a blast it was to be an artist, they felt betrayed.

It is like when you're in love, you have to keep it to yourself, because no one else is and they will hate you for it. That artists are in love is a stupidly disguised charade.

You don't have to look at Van Gogh or Hofmann or Matisse or Picasso very long to see that whatever else, they were in love with painting and that it was the love of their lives. Looks like the love of your life to me. I think Leland would have been a much happier guy if he had admitted that completely. No shame in love. No shame in art.

I tried to alleviate my students of that guilt as a teacher, and I try to do the same for my artist friends. Joan Snyder and Louise Fishman, painters I admire very much and used to know a little, seem stuck there and beyond redemption in this regard.  I got in a little trouble writing about both of them.

Makes me think of Camus's line about that there are two kinds of people, ones that are happy and ones that don't know it. Applies to artists too of course. But they have the third thing of never wanting anyone to know that they are happy."

I've just known too many artists that hang a "curing cancer" sign outside their studio door but behind those locked doors they are dancing around in their tutus with a brush in their hand. Sends a bad message to young artists. No guilt. No shame.

Addison Parks, Spring Hill, 2013

Monday, April 08, 2013

A Fine Line

Hans Hofmann

Some artists I know love to talk about tension in painting, and I find it annoying. We've all heard it. One suspects that it is the influence of artists like Hans Hofmann, maybe Albers, maybe Held. That it is Germanic. Aggressive. 

The function is clear enough. Life! But I always have the feeling that a lot of artists who thrive on tension spread the energy and maybe, spread the misery. Like people who can't sit still. 

Ultimately the question is what state does a work of art, let's say a painting, find itself in when it is finished? Has it run its race and then come to a stop? Does it come to rest? Or instead do we catch it in full stride? In action? Pose, pause, or freeze frame?

Seems to me this tension thing is yes, part of the physics of art, and yes, part of the physics of talking about art, either as a teacher, an artist, or a critic. Tension is the pulling force. One half of Hofmann's famous "push pull" in painting. A stick he used to beat his students, and his paintings to... life! And don't get me wrong, I love Hofmann. But seeing his work is probably instructional enough for me. I endured the Hofmann school of teaching from a student of his and that was plenty.

Hans Hofmann

At this point in my life I think I almost prefer Calder's contribution to the conversation a little more, since he was actually working with physics. His mobiles and stabiles found that fine line between rest and action which so many people like to call tension. They hung on that point. They lived on that point. 

Sandy Calder

And what was it really? Besides the pull of gravity? People will tell you that there is good stress and bad stress. They define it in terms of positive and negative stress. The first brings vitality, the second debility. Life/death. Maybe the difference between going for a run, and running for your life. Stress doesn't only play a major role in the physics of architecture, but the physics of all art as well. 

Tension is the same I suspect. Good tension and bad tension. Life/death. My complaint is that this distinction of good and bad tension is overlooked, and that tension is overrated as a result. When a painting comes to rest, when it is finished, we want it to be alive, not dead. I think too many artists confuse tension with life, and think that if there is tension then there is life. I think that what makes a painting alive is when it has light, and promise. These intangibles make a painting active. Active is the positive we like about promise. Granted, it is only a suggestion, but isn't that really all a painting is? A suggestion? Tension for the sake of tension is just tension. Instead it is the promise of something that creates positive tension. The promise of motion, action, change, even sound, that keeps us, holds us, even pulls us. Positive tension. 

Which brings me to stillness. The thing the tension folks can't achieve. Stillness is what we need to meditate, muse, dream, imagine, and think abstractly and in depth. In layers. Connecting dots, maybe an infinite number. In stillness we can imagine the possibilities. Infinite possibilities. A painting that sits still can point to those possibilities. Suggest those possibilities. Well beyond our reach. Tension pulls us back. Keeps us tethered. Keeps us on a string.

Calder with Nino Franchina, Rome
Addison Parks, Spring Hill, 2013

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

The HIGGS Boson; MY HIGGS Boson

Bow Street Drawing Installation 2006

I've been looking for something for several years now. Something at the bottom of it all. Something at the start. Something at the center. Something I'd always been looking for, really. Something that has crept into every idle drawing since I can remember, and finally took over in my work, first through conscious drawing, and then finally in painting. I have been true to this something and have been unable to stray from it. My portraits of it are curiously consistent on one point. Literally. There is one point. One center. From which every thing springs. i called them centering drawings at first. and then source paintings. Source! and always it was this thing. Fountain. Flower. Star. Plant. Being. Energy. I often thought of Carlos Castaneda(he would like this of course).

Constellation Flower(2010), oil on canvas; 36 x 60 inches

But imagine my surprise when a few weeks ago it was believed that scientists had found the Higgs boson. The prime particle. The God particle. Imagine my surprise when they showed a picture of it. What it looked like. What the God particle looked like. It was my one of my paintings!

Higgs boson 2013

That's it right there. The Higgs boson. Now here is one of my many, many paintings.

Party On; oil on canvas; 2013

This one is a month or two old. 2013. Canvas and paints my children gave me for Christmas that was meant to get me painting again, painting again after dedicating so much time to fixing and fixing up our new home. The inspiration for this one came from the birthday banners that they make for everyone. In this one I managed to stay true to the spirit of celebration. Both birthday and celebration seem so appropriate on so many levels now. I can't help but be grateful for all of it. All of it. Thank you.

Addison Parks,
Spring Hill

Bow Street Gallery; Addison Parks, Martin Mugar and Larry Deyab

Spring Hill Studio