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 person 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.
The resultant grand masters are a bickering, incredibly arrogant group of stunted individuals. Braque in particular sounds like a tremendous asshole. The men of The Artist In His Studio are compulsive, egocentric, and wittily urbane, to whatever degree befits their paintings.
This is the opposite problem of most. Usually 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 life. It requires the sacrifice of one's art, to whatever small or large extent, to perfect the day-to-day events of life. Although I had to drop Logic because my professor looked like a golem and there was warranted fear over whether or not I'd pass the exam, it follows that if someone has a great relationship with a loved partner or partner, they probably can't put together a sentence or landscape canvas.
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; a charge of reductionism would be justly levied. This grand master comes off as a paranoid, obsessed mash of a human being.
Liberman escaped Paris with his babysitter, who he later married. He worked at Condé Nast in the years before it became a backwards dictatorship for people who can barely read or write. 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 the haunted spaces of the dead. 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.
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 spaces seems a violation. I think we all remember the Redman episode of Cribs where we found out the guy blew his money and ended up in a two bedroom on Staten Island.
It is almost always a mistake to expect anything of anyone you admire.
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