Friday, January 23, 2009

TWO GUILTY PLEASURES: STELLA AND CALDER


People are going to hate me for this. I'm about to admit to a guilty pleasure that for most of my friends is the equivalent of dog torture or child molesting.  That guilty pleasure is the painting and sculpture of abstract expressionist Frank Stella.



To be honest, I don't know why I like it. I admit up front that it sometimes seems uncomfortably safe and and restrained, the kind of thing you'd see in banks and dentist offices.  You don't get the feeling that some rebellious genius worked on it.  And yet....
 


I have to admit that some of Stella's older pictures haven't aged well.  Like everybody else at the time I thought the picture above was a profound and dazzling revelation when I first saw it. Now it seems like a logo for a bus company. 



So why do I like this stuff? Maybe because it makes me think. I get ideas every time I look at it. It's all about order in the middle of chaos.  Other artists manage to juggle a few incongruities and make them work...Stella manages to take a really large number of them and not only make them work, but actually find meaning in it all. And life is a jumble isn't it? I spend an enormous amount of time trying to figure it out, and so does Stella, only he does it better than I do. 

Stella's work is an interesting blend of the intuitive and the intellectual.  It's very human in that respect. It seems to me that a real understanding and enjoyment of life requires that we use intellect and intuition simultaneously. When I walk down the street I, and probably everybody else, take in both kinds of information. I'm amazed that the brain can process all that, and still allow us to count our change at the grocery store. Actually, the job might be too big for our brains because few of us ever come to a conclusion about the things we see, but you get the feeling that agonizing over it is somehow good for us. Stella seems to understand that.

 

Here (above) he seems to have been influenced by Hockney, or maybe it was Hockney that was influenced by Stella. Very happy and pretty.



In recent years Stella's gotten interested in architecture. He does a lot of sculptures that seem like they could be buildings. The idea isn't to create finished models of workable buildings, rather it's to provoke the viewer to come up with his own ideas. For example, what do you see in the picture above? Me, I see a dark matrix that contains a house made of glass walls, and even glass floors.  Then again, I sometimes think of the matrix itself as the building. It's one continuous skyscraper, a city-size building that snakes along, and has offshoots that take different paths.



Even this sculpture (above) seems architectural to me. I don't know why, because there's no hint of walls or a roof.  I usually don't like Frank Gehry-type architecture that looks like sculpture blown up large. It wastes space, and often has disappointing interiors. In spite of that, I like Stella when he does the same thing in miniature. Maybe it's because Stella doesn't attempt to force his design solutions on us. He's just asking questions.



Above is what looks like the love child of a bag of fish tails with a stationary store.  I don't don't know why I like it, but I do. 



I wish I had a poster-size picture of this (above) abstract chaos for my bedroom wall.



On a completely different subject, let me ask if you've seen this book (above) yet. It's way overpiced, but it contains a lot of Calder's best wire caricatures.
 





Imitating Caulder, I did some of these myself and hung them in windows. It's a great effect because the wire is so thin and delicate that you're not even aware it's there at first. It's a treat for people who randomly happen to change their focus while looking out the window, and are rewarded with seeing a face that no one else sees. 



The trick is to use one continuous piece of wire. 



Here's (above) a student effort. Not bad, huh?

24 comments:

Jenny said...

Do you know Mo Willems, Eddie? I mean his work? He's quite a successful guy.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Jenny: MO WILLEMS!!!!? (!) (!!) (!!!!!) !!!!?

Colin Kahn said...

Wow! So glad you posted this. I'm a Stella fan as well. Have you ever read his book 'Working Space'?

Phantom Spitter said...

Who's Mo Willems and why is Eddie crazy now that Jenny mentioned him?

Michael Sporn said...

Why a "guilty" pleasure?

J.R. Spumkin said...

For a little academical thing here in San Antonio, I went to a special arts college for a day. The students did a lot of those wire caricatures reminiscent of Calder.

Brubaker said...

Wait wait wait...THAT Mo Willems? The guy who created "Sheep in the Big City"?

And with that, I'll admit my guilty pleasure and say that I liked the Sheep show. For a Cartoon Network series it was pretty sophisticated and clever. Unfortunately the show's rather odd humor may have led to its quick death.

But yeah, that student effort is definitely Mo's. His signature style is all over it.

Anonymous said...

I just read John K's post on bc/wizard of id. I remember finding an anthology from the sixties for those strips and being shocked at how funny they were. They're all travesties now.

What do you think of Saul Steinberg?

Chip Butty said...

I really like the first two by Stella. They're chaotic but appealing. I think I grew up on bad corporate imitations of them, though, like "Trapper Keeper" binders. The color scheme feels very 1980s. When VH-1 does their "I Love the 80s" junk, the promotional graphics have pieces of the shapes in those Stella pictures. Or was he just piecing together what was around at the time?

M. R Darbyshire said...

Yikes, at first glance I thought I saw Lisa Frank!

Deniseletter said...

Hi Eddie,In first place,I understand your friends feelings,not the abstract art Lol!!! But reading your explanations I begin to agree of what you are create your own picture image of these art by a different point of view,some with life filosophy.That way it become interesting to know.Thanks for share Frank Stella is new to me,some of them the more colored ones are in some way similar to the rest of pieces of wall posters or wasted material one found some in buildings about to be demolished etc.Here is a link with another excellent Calder's work for your imagination (This art is on the roof):

http://www.ucv.ve/villanueva/nueva%20data/Ciudad/Edificios/edif10.htm

Hans Flagon said...

I like the Calder that looks like Captain Beefheart.

Mo Willems is a way successful childrens book illustrator, perhaps among other things.

Mo WIllems is a student of who?

The Calders I have seen are the huge mobile in the IM Pei desgnied wing to the National Gallery on the Mall in DC, and the airliner with his paint job design. I may have seen some of the wire sculptures as well, there was a documentary on PBS sometime in the past 30-40 years that shows him just whipping those wire sculptures out left and right.

It is very nice when what you would do for your own pleasure becomes a low pressure livelihood. Its like being an old man on the bench whittling, and being provided room and board for others having the privalege of watching you whittle.

Enjoying abstract expressionism is a guilty pleasure among friends who often rail against many signs of modernity, or at least the trends they created that may have worked against craftful draftmanship and skill. I leave it up to you to determine which of Eddies friends might rail so.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Colin: Thanks! The book sounds interesting! I'll see if the library has it!

Michael: Stella is a guilty pleasure only because I have friends who dislike him, and I can never put into words why I disagree. Maybe I shouldn't have applied the term to Calder. The problem with Calder is that his worst work is what usually gets into magazines and books nowadays, and a whole generation has judged him by that and found him wanting. I wonder if those inferior pieces were favored by his wife or children.

Hans, Brubaker: I haven't seen the Willems show. I'll look for it on youtube.

The source I got the final wire sculpture from identified it as a student work, and I didn't notice the name on it til Jenny mentioned it.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Denise: That's a great ceiling and stage. I'd love to see it! Even so...I hate to nit pick but if you take the hanging shapes away the interior is pretty conventional. A building should have interesting interior structural elements.

Hans Flagon said...

I think it is the way Calder has sold his work which prevents his better work from being seen as much, large corporate and institutional clients and patrons tightly control the beauties they own; the chaff gets collected in infrequently published books.

Brubaker said...

Unfortunately, Sheep was taken off YouTube and it's not available on iTunes anymore, either. There are clips here and there, though.

If you do find a Sheep episode, but you don't want to sit through the entire half-hour, skip to right before the end credits for the "Ranting Swede" sequence. Some of the craziest animations I've ever seen in modern cartoon.

That's because the "Swede" sequence was always animated in-house at Curious Pictures, the show's production company (the rest of the episodes was outsourced to Korea). The animator always took advantage of this by having fun drawing them. Easily one of the best things in the show.

The first episode of "Sheep" (the pilot) was also animated in-house. Seeing them makes me wish Cartoon Network invested more money into having the show animated stateside.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Hans: Interesting!

brubaker: I'm really curious about this now. I'll look out for the Swede sequence!

Mariana said...

Hi, Eddie! I really liked this woman's face, I think you'll like her too!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/gatochy/3226985240/

Jorge Garrido said...

The Ranting Swede footage from the Sheep show is here. You have to skip to the 20:07 mark.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Mariana: Great picture! She looks contemporary, and the curls were funny. I wonder what the artist intended?

Jorge: Thanks much for the link! I like The Swede! They should have done a whole show like that!

Deniseletter said...

I agree Eddie,it is conventional!!Long time ago I was thinking the same when I visited this building,but with the exception of the ceiling Calder's hanging art.
Is what I like.

Gordon said...

incredibly thoughtful and thought provoking...

Chris L said...

Funny how when I'm with my cartoon-lover friends, Fine Art is my guilty pleasure and when I'm with artsy-fartsy friends, cartoons and comics are my guilty pleasure.

It is getting easier and easier to reconcile the two though, and I think part of my senior thesis might involve that conflict. I've long since stopped apologizing for liking things that other people don't appreciate though.

Ilona said...

I liked this article/post thing and i was getting some other peoples ideas on Stella as an art project. I was just wondering if someone could name the paintings in this post. That would be great thanks xxx