This BLOG is a response to an article in Turpsbanana issue 17, Pat Passlof: only one F (Reed, 2017) featuring the artist Pat Passlof (1928-2011). The painter David Reed had visited the artist in her studio in New York, had viewed some of her latest canvases and discussed her work. Passlof was a dancer in her younger years, and her paintings remind Reed of jumping figures, full of animation and energy. The author describes her work as using complex exotic colours, having layers and glazes, and moving in between abstraction and figuration; not quite abstract expressionism, but using a combination of the abstract, figurative, historical references, and popular culture.
Passlof had written to her students “The best paintings are discovered – like continents and rivers – unexpectedly – in the working and from the working” (Passlof (n.d) quoted in Green, 2017), and Green draws parallels between her work and her teacher Willem de Kooning. More interesting for me, he says that her work is prescient and has close relations to many contemporary artists living and working in New York today. One such artist, Cecily Brown is a favourite of mine, and I have discussed her work before in Practice of painting 1.
I therefore decided to have a look at a couple of works by Passlof, and one by Cecily Brown, and talk about them, concentrating on my personal response.
Fig. 1 Untitled 2010-11
My first response to the painting in Fig. 1 is that I really like this work; it’s pleasantly balanced, and has enough ambiguity and texture to interest me. It feels just right, and has a calm beauty about it. It feeds my imagination because it’s semi-abstract and I wonder about who the figures are, are they men, women, children? And the figure on the viewer’s top right looks like a cupid or angel. And is it inside or outside? Or both? Overwhelmingly, the painting feels benign and calm, but also a little sad.
What was the artist trying to convey? I don’t know, but it could be a bathing scene along the lines of Cezanne’s The Grand Bathers (1900-1906), but more gentle and detached . Or these may be children, separated from the earth, perhaps children who are no longer alive? The feeling is one of these figures searching for something; something about themselves.
Fig 2. Untitled (circa 1950’s)
Fig. 2 is more violent, harsh, unstable, and frightening- in a sort of parodic way- like The Wicker Man – a film which feels ‘unreal’ throughout, but is shockingly dark and malevolent; and calculated. Viewing this painting is certainly not a restful pleasant experience.
The colours and tonal values are contrasting much more, and my imagination sees a malignant clown, colourful exuberant costumes, gnashing teeth, and a fight between strange creatures, but in a treacly atmosphere which prevents any escape. All that is a allowed is constant small sniping injuries; a war of attrition, and hatred. It reminds me of some of the Grotesque faces sketched by Leanardo de Vinci. Perhaps these are half human monsters.
If the picture were on a wall in my house it would unsettle me and upset me a little. I think it’s designed to shock or to reflect violence or unpleasant things. I ‘d prefer the first on my wall!
Fig. 3 Shadow Burn (2005-6)
Fig. 3 is more expressionistic and painterly, and quite abstract. It has a lot of energy as if the artist is trying to shock us – transmitted by heavy paint, diverse mark-making, fracture lines and planes of colour and tone. It seems like the artist really wants to shock us. She is confident, and impertinent – she knows her own mind, and is someone who’s not afraid to argue with us.
Though semi-abstract, I see a landscape, buildings, a body of water-it may be the country or the seaside. Now I feel there is a figure on the viewer’s left, probably a man, and he is being confronted by the scene, as if it’s a place or a memory that he needs to enter, to learn and to understand, and to move on from, through some trauma. The feeling here is one of memory, shaky psychological or dreamlike states; and complexity; and a desire to resolve something. It looks like a disjointed, abstracted, kaleidoscopic scene, which may dissolve at any second into a sweaty wakefulness, or a feeling of falling and vulnerability.
What do I feel links the artists?
- Very painterly and gestural
- Superficial confidence- with vulnerabilities close to the surface
- An other-world-liness
- A tendency to live within their heads, and be dominated by psychological phenomena
- Emotional restlessness, and searching
Fig.1 Passlof, P (2010-11) Untitled (oil on canvas) available online at http://www.thoughtsthatcureradically.com/2011/11/pat-passlof-recent-paintings-2005-2011.html (accessed 4th April 2017).
Fig. 2 Passlof, P (circa 1950’s) Untitled (oil on paper) available online at https://www.ehgallery.com/pat-passlof (accessed 4th April 2017).
Fig. 3 Brown , C (2005-6) Shadow Burn, (Oil on linen) online at https://www.gagosian.com/artists/cecily-brown/selected-works (accessed 4th April 2017).
Cezanne, P (1900-1906) The Large Bathers (Oil on canvas) available online at http://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/104464.html?mulR=4988 (accessed 4th April 2017).
Reed, D (2017) Pat Passlof : only one F available online at: http://turpsbanana.com/issue-pdfs/17/issue-17-preview.pdf (accessed 4th April 2017).
The Wicker Man (1973), (film) dir. Robin Hardy. UK, British Lion Film Corporation.