Studios of the Damned
by ALEX CARNEVALE
There are two kinds of painting, hard and soft, with and without the discipline of an imposed dimension. Painting is very difficult. The good painting is the solution of all these difficulties and differences of space, tactile value, and color. Strange how in parts of the world where there is stone you have sculpture, and in the countries of light you have painting.
- Georges Braque
The photographer Alexander Liberman, for his 1960 book The Artist In His Studio, ventured to collect an appraisal of the art and persons of the major painters working at the time, beginning with the deceased Expressionists. There is something almost sociopathic about the result, like reading a yearbook of a senior class that never matriculated.
These grand masters are a bickering, arrogant group of stunted individuals. The World War I veteran Braque in particular sounds like a tremendous asshole. In a 1910 article in The Architectural Record, he said: "I couldn’t portray a woman in all her natural loveliness. I haven’t the skill. No one has. I must, therefore, create a new sort of beauty, the beauty that appears to me in terms of volume, of line, of mass, of weight, and through that beauty interpret my subjective impression. Nature is a mere pretext for a decorative composition, plus sentiment. It suggests emotion, and I translate that emotion into art. I want to expose the Absolute, and not merely the factitious woman." I wonder if he believed this bullshit or if it just sounded a lot better in French.
Picasso originally set up a sculpture studio in Boigelsup, outside of Paris, in order to have a discreet place to cheat on his wife Olga with seventeen year old Marie-Thérèse Walter. Eventually Walter met Picasso's other mistress, and not wanting to choose for himself, the two wrestled for his approval. The men of The Artist In His Studio are compulsive and egocentric, in a way that tends to befit their paintings.
This is the opposite problem of the one we regularly have. The vast majority of the time, you have to overlook how horrid's someone's art is so you can respect them as a person. The studio itself, in Liberman's photographs, becomes an explanation for the malformed behavior. It is the idealization of all hoarding, of all self-representation.
An artist is rarely a success in his other life. It requires the sacrifice of one's art, to whatever small or large extent, to perfect the day-to-day duties that are required. As he became more famous, the subject of his studio became more dominant in Pablo's work. Increasingly, in his last decades, he viewed the studio as an escape from the rest of the shit he had to deal with.
Liberman's visit with Picasso is particularly revealing in this context. Picasso shows him a furtive series of portraits of one woman. He comments, "You see this one. I made three of her. In the third one I dominated her, and it is the best; in the others she dominated me. Women devour you!"
Such insights into the artist are humorous but a little jarring. It may be folly to verbalize what happens in one cortex of our brain with words from another, to measure visual artist by the inanities that emerge from his limps. Picasso comes off as a paranoid, obsessed mash of a human being. The sight of his hidden cave reduces him to less than he was before his work appeared out of thin air.
Liberman escaped Paris during the second World War with his babysitter, who he later married. He worked at Condé Nast during its golden years. Throughout his ass-kissing book, he is incredibly unprepared to interact with his own idols and models. Never a gifted writer, Liberman's mastery originates in his photography and, to a lesser extent, his painting.
There is a fascination with haunted spaces where the formerly living once practiced their most essential work. At the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam and Monet's garden at Giverny, ghosts present paintings, as if by doing so they might entrance the passerby and so become alive again. These are places that no longer exist for the purpose they were intended, and so they must necessarily resemble coffins.
Liberman writes of the scene below:
Kandinsky’s Paris studio as he left it at his death in 1944. On an easel next to his painting cabinet, which he called “my keyboard,” stands a large serene composition, Two Green Dots, painted in 1935. The two oils under glass, done in 1911, are among the first abstract paintings. The photograph on the wall is of Kandinsky, taken in 1933.
Like MTV's Cribs and that time you saw where your girlfriend's father lived, entering these private rooms seems a violation. I think we all remember the Redman episode of Cribs where we found out the guy spent all his money and ended up in a two bedroom on Staten Island. I almost cried. In contrast, Master P had a chandelier of solid gold.
Learning more about such people turns them into pathetic representations of themselves, something like drawn figures in a painting, less real, less solid to the touch. Years ago I worked as an assistant for a writer who resided in a cluttered apartment in the Lower East Side. After seeing his bedroom, where a television lurked at the foot of his bed, paired with a VCR he could barely operate, across from a kitchen where he took his meds, I could no longer take his fictions the least bit seriously.
It is always a mistake to expect anything of anyone you admire.
Content is a glimpse of something, an encounter like a flash. It’s very tiny — very tiny, content.
- de Kooning
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The new album from Ford & Lopatin, the duo formerly known as Games, is called Channel Pressure and will be released on June 7. You can pre-order the album here.