The painting is from 1881, by Eduoard Manet, and only appeared after his death. It had been completed, and remained in his studio, for two years. Unusual. The painting is now part of the collection at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, where we saw it last weekend. It is quite striking, a gorgeous display of Manet's mastery of dark-upon-dark color against a smaller set of lights; here is my photograph of the painting:
In short, I'd like to see an artist's statement.
I do realize that is not going to happen. But after walking through a number of galleries yesterday, and reading many statements, I keep thinking, "what if?" What if I could ask Roy Lichtenstein about this print:
Some artists do give us articulate, if all-too-brief, statements. Jasper Johns has said "Do something. Do something to that. And then do something to that." But --- how did he get to that?
Helen Frankenthaler told Henry Geldzahler (Artforum, 4., no.2, October 1965, p.37) that she remembered, clearly, how she had decided upon her artistic direction, despite coming of age in a time of (almost) too many possible influences: "De Kooning made enclosed linear shapes and 'applied' the brush. Pollock used shoulder and ropes and ignored the edges and the corner. I felt I could stretch more in the Pollock framework .... You could become a de Kooning disciple or satellite or mirror, but you could depart from Pollock." I love Helen Frankenthaler. How wonderful is her explanation?
So, artists' statements might base themselves on tension. Artistic tension, that is, not the kind that resides in your shoulder-blades. Frankenthaler mentioned once (to Gene Baro, in "The Achievement of Helen Frankenthaler," in Art International, September 20, 1967, p. 36) that she knew a painting worked, for her, when she sensed that it was "a play of ambiguities," what she called, in another interview, the "active" role of "negative" space up against the "positive."
And, if we think about it, that's where the Manet painting wins us over, and that's where the Lichtenstein breaks through. Two things, at gentle war with one another, confined in a small space. I saw many statements yesterday that indicated that the artists in question had come to accept a certain duality in their work: opposites such as high and low, painting and photography, line and color all vie for attention. And should. I find this idea quite reassuring as I go about adding my odalisques to my abstractions. It's the tension, really. Keep those statements coming.