The Great Fraud, How Postmodernism Abuses Art

Michelangelo, Study of Haman for the Sistine Chapel, 1511, red chalk.

TuftsPUBLIC: Jenny Polak: ICE Escape Signs

Tufts University is running a protest against ICE–in the guise of being art. Everyone involved in this project may be well intentioned, but what does this have to do with art? The message of the protest has nothing to do with art, but as art it’s one I am disgusted by: the anti-conceptual degradation of art.

Art has a very special aura of the sublime, the ultimate, and the universality of a higher nature. The best in art is evolutionary. It elevates our knowledge, expands our emotional capabilities, and enriches our senses. For instance, Monet furthering our knowledge of colors of shadows and natural light. Michelangelo showed us what a fearless stance against huge obstacles looks like (The David), and he did so with his revolutionary means of transcribing touch to sight. And Polyclitus showed us how the science of beauty works through proportions. These artists and many more, both in history and contemporary times, amongst whom I am proud to count myself, contribute towards giving art profound meaning.

The Tufts project by Jenny Polak does two things that are now-classic postmodern sabotage. They use the esteemed status of art, made possible by great artists, to elevate a protest to a grander status. And by dedicating their reputation, resources, and their art department to juvenile protest posters scattered around the campus they suck the life out of aesthetic innovation, advancement, and the soul of art.

Michael Newberry
Idyllwild, July 20, 2019

Below is from the Tufts University website.

TuftsPUBLIC: Jenny Polak: ICE Escape Signs
Weems Atrium / SMFA, Media Wall / Aidekman
Various Locations throughout Medford Campus

JENNY POLAK: ICE Escape Signs is the 2018-2019 Tufts PUBLIC project, a program of yearlong, temporary public art projects designed for spaces outside the Art Galleries and throughout the school’s Medford/Somerville and SMFA campuses.

Jenny Polak makes site and community responsive art that reframes immigrant-citizen relations, amplifying demands for social justice. Originally from England, her work draws on her background in architecture and socially engaged projects, as well as her own family history of migration. She focuses on detention centers, racial profiling, and strategies for surviving hostile authorities. As an exhibiting artist in the upcoming exhibition Walls Turned Sides: Artists Confront the Justice System (coming to TUAG Spring 2020), Polak will work with the Tufts community to create a series of site-respondent signs throughout campus beginning in the fall as part of her ongoing series – ICE Escape Signs. A decentered public art project, ICE Escape Signs are designed for specific floorplans and draw attention to the fact that people are living in daily fear of being caught in a raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Crazy Journey Last Night – The Kiss

Newberry, The Kiss, oil on canvas, 24 x 36", 2019

Don’t Let the Moment Pass and Go For It!

Several months ago …

Last night I went to bed early after a  long day of painting edits, only some of which were successful.  While painting I had been streaming movies and TV episodes in the background.  One scene in particular caught my eye. It was of a couple kissing, joining lips in classic Hollywood fashion. The scene was stuck in my head when  I went to bed around 9 p.m. I woke up at 9:30 p.m., only a half hour later, with that image still in my mind, and I thought, “Why don’t I paint a kiss?”

Right then I messaged my favorite female muse, who lives in Hollywood, and asked her about the project. Then we discussed who would be the right guy for it. The face had to be stone-like in structure, a big nose (I like painting big noses), and masculine. I remembered a male model that posed for some of my other projects a few years ago, and he, I believed, lived in Hollywood. I messaged him about the project, and he told me that he was leaving Hollywood in the morning (today!) for good. He gave the actor’s dream everything he had, and he was also going to be a dad, and he and his mate were heading to a cabin in the woods in Michigan. I searched his FB page and saw pictures of a vibrant, beautiful woman. I asked: “Are you already packed? Would you, could you, pose with your mate tonight for the “Kiss” painting?” He said: “Yes!” My muse loved that I decided to do the project with them, but she also thought I was crazy for doing such a spontaneous thing.

Newberry, The Kiss, oil on canvas, 24 x 36", 2019
Newberry, The Kiss, oil on canvas, 24 x 36″, 2019
Continue reading “Crazy Journey Last Night – The Kiss”

Icarus Landing: Incorporating and Transcending Two Major Traditions in Western Civilization

Newberry, Icarus Landing, acrylic on canvas, 55"x36”, studio collection
Newberry, Icarus Landing, acrylic on canvas, 55"x36”, studio collection
Newberry, Icarus Landing, acrylic on canvas, 55″x36”, studio collection.
A tricky aspect to painting big-themed works is that they run the risk of becoming a mental construction. I painted the figure of Icarus alla prima, live from a model, giving the mythical figure a living flesh and blood presence. I particularly like the line of highlights extending from his shoulders to the tips of his fingers. That line gives a sense of kinetic energy and the indescribable feeling of a breeze pushing back gently to slow his descent. Hands and feet are, figuratively speaking, the high notes that make or break a work’s expression. I love the spatial movement from back to front separating his feet, and how his big toe is reaching out preparing for contact with the earth. This is my tribute to Michelangelo’s God reaching out to give the spark of life to Adam. Icarus’ dialog, in contrast, is between himself and Earth, just as my art is between me and the universe.

Freedom and Gravitas

For many people, the sexy, entitled lifestyle of living on the luxurious mile-long stretch of Pacific coastline in La Jolla, California in the 1960s was the height of success. For me as a kid it was exhilarating to build up a salty sunburned sweat, leap into the air, and be able to execute a brutal backhand overhead smash on the tennis court. (Later I ended up playing pro tennis to pay for my art education in Holland). Afterwards, to cool off, I’d ditch my shoes and socks and run a few hundred feet from the tennis court and plunge underneath the perfect wave crests made famous by the Beach Boys, All Over La Jolla … Surfin’ USA! The feeling of freedom was omnipresent; no rules, no school if you didn’t feel like going; no homework; and no curfew. It was as if kids had a built in automatic path, their destiny awaiting them, meanwhile they could do anything. There was also stuff you couldn’t talk about … which was way too complex for a kid to cope with. And later shushed because it involved people still alive. I lived in a world of physical fun with an ominous feeling that not all was well when you scratched the surface.

Continue reading “Icarus Landing: Incorporating and Transcending Two Major Traditions in Western Civilization”

Secularization of Hell: The Illusionists, Curated by Michael Pearce at Studio Channel Islands with TRAC2019

Dream of Art History by F. Scott Hess

The illusionist exhibition at Studio Channel Islands in Camarillo, CA. April 6- May 21, 2019

Oh god, the exhibition is a living nightmare. I prefer the worst/best of postmodernism, at least Duchamp cleverly matched ends and means. But, with only a few exceptions, this show is about classical technique with creepy content. You can see the show online on critic Joseph Bravo’s Facebook page.

Sandra Yagi
Sandra Yagi, photo Studio Channel Islands

It would be horrific if we saw a woman opening her chest to let birds fly out or the dancing skeletons of a pair of baby conjoined twins! But the technique is so bland and plastic-like that it leaves us feeling nothing about Yagi’s subject matter.

Continue reading “Secularization of Hell: The Illusionists, Curated by Michael Pearce at Studio Channel Islands with TRAC2019”

Facing the Postmodern Art World

Facing the World, Self-Portrait, 1998, acrylic on canvas, 16” x 12″ Private collection

Poets and Artists published this on September 2nd, 2018.

Romanticist in a Postmodern Art World

In 1998, the year of the above self-portrait, I was living in my rented two-story Turkish house/studio in the Old Town of Rhodes, Greece, which overlooked the Mediterranean and the town’s minarets and domes. Two decades before, as a 20-year-old American, I had started my focused art journey in The Hague, Holland. Between Holland and Greece I moved every few years seeking inspiration from a different culture, a beautiful place, or from a big city’s energy. Everywhere I lived I produced my own pop-up shows, selling enough to keep painting. I tried both New York and Los Angeles a few times, knocking on their art scene doors, but my aesthetic was incompatible with contemporary art institutions. I was a romanticist aiming for my definitive works to have the feeling of a Puccini opera. Meanwhile postmodernists were rejecting art’s evolutionary developments and seriously trying to create from a preoperational cognitive state of mind like Louise Bourgeois. Others like Duchamp, Creed, and Christo sought to be radically original by using shocking, unlikely, and unrepeatable mediums for visual art. Continue reading “Facing the Postmodern Art World”

Making Sense of Kant’s Senseless Sublime

1051px-Giovanni_Battista_Tiepolo_-_Rinaldo_Enchanted_by_Armida_-_Google_Art_Project.jpgGiovanni Battista Tiepolo, Rinaldo Enchanted by Armida, 1742 until 1745. Was this the kind of work Kant associated with charms and sensual delights of beauty?

Originally published online at The Atlas Society.

Making Sense of Kant’s Senseless Sublime

In the last decade of the 18th century Beethoven composed his 1st and 2nd piano concertos, Goya etched the series Los Caprichos, Jacques-Louis David painted The Death of Marat, and Mozart composed the Requiem in D Minor and the great Jupiter Symphony. These works coincided with the French Revolution, and together they guided European culture away from the extravagant art of Rococo exemplified by the sweetly-colored paintings of Boucher and Tiepolo, with their floating florid nymphs, cupids, silks, and princesses.

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Jacques-Louis David, Death of Marat, 1793. The period of the French Revolution marked a new period of art with more gravitas.

This was a paradigm shift from the superficial to gut wrenching passion, as if Western art was going back to its roots in the dramas of Aeschylus and Euripides; answering the big questions of what is the good and what is important while at the same time elevating the creative process by innovation and superlative skill. This wasn’t for the faint of heart. The artists would have to face inner turmoil and outer rejection as they attempted to get patrons to sponsor wildly dramatic depictions of death, war, and executions, which didn’t lend themselves to the decorative palace dining room.  Risking their livelihoods the artists bore down in this new direction. With this revolutionary spirit we can see the need for a new aesthetic to champion and reflect an Age of Enlightenment.

The Sublime the Absolutely Great
The year 1790, when Beethoven was 20, also marked the publication of Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgment. It famously compares and contrasts the aesthetic values of Beauty with that of the Sublime. The treatise identifies Beauty representing the lighter more sensual pleasing side and the Sublime addressing what is the “absolutely great beyond all comparison.” Kant wanted to free the Sublime from the constraints of art and launch it into the world of the mind unfettered by perception, form, or realization. Continue reading “Making Sense of Kant’s Senseless Sublime”

Reaching For the High Note, Venus Oil Study

Venus 3

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Venus 3: Reaching For the High Note, oil on linen, 46 x 26 inches. Studio inventory.

Venus was the most beautiful baby born, but she was cursed in two ways: First, no one knew who her father was, her mother deftly convincing the village that the father was Zeus. The second curse was that she was indeed beautiful. She drew looks of appraisal and sometimes envy from everyone she passed. But she felt tremendous shame because she thought they were staring at her because of her illegitimacy.

Continue reading “Reaching For the High Note, Venus Oil Study”

Venus of the Planets

Venus of the Planets

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Joy Riding

Decades ago at 2:30 a.m. on a back street in La Jolla, I was arrested driving my mom’s ’68 Firebird 400 convertible. I had our tiny mutts Nikki and Dinky as passengers. I was 12 years old. The feeling of driving was incredibly delicious. Riding home in the back of the cop car, I asked the two burly policemen what I did wrong. I obviously didn’t want to make that mistake again. They looked at each other, not sure they should educate me on the rules of the road. It turned out I was driving with the high beams on. After some prodding, they kindly explained what and how they worked.

My feeling for art is a lot like that adventure–it is hot, daring, and a beautiful experience. I wouldn’t trade that feeling for anything, including life and love. I didn’t have the words to answer people who tried to steer me towards business or a tennis career–it wasn’t going to happen.

Continue reading “Venus of the Planets”

An American Journey

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My show Intimacy at the White Cloud Gallery, Washington, D.C. Nov 3 – Dec 14, 2017

Art Universe

Last year I was painting life-sized nudes, mostly monochromatic, in my Idyllwild cabin with my dog Frida for company. It was like living in a dream, get up in the morning, enjoy my coffee, and then enter into the universe of art. As I painted, I would play music in the background, listening to complete sets of Beethoven’s Symphonies and Handel’s Oratorios, or binge on the complete series of Star Trek Next Generation and Voyager. I was exploring new and challenging ways to express love, myth, and beauty on the canvas. One challenge was how to paint an explicit lovers’ embrace in order to capture their primary feeling of love. Another challenge was creating the deepest space I have ever done. In creating this body of work, I felt my prayers to contribute to a better world being realized.

Continue reading “An American Journey”