Current artists: Amon Azizov, Wei Chen, Qiao Fu, Gao Min, Guo Kun Sheug, Artashes Karslian, Ji Yin Jin, Li Qun, Lin Ruo, Dean Lu, Ren Jien-Guo, Jorge Rivera, Sharif Sadiq, Peter Walsh, Xiang Yue Chuan, Dario Zapata, Zhuang Xuemin

Organized by Peter Walsh, Ongoing.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Horrendous along with the Exquisite

"Quite large numbers of LF's works founder.
'I could tell that it wouldn't develop into a finished picture. There's something wrong.'"

p. 104 in Martin Gayford’s Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucien Freud

Some of the drawings made for the Portrait Exchange are really gorgeous. Sometimes they were laid down on the paper so quickly that they seem to have been miraculously pulled out of a magician's top hat. Others - many of my drawings, in fact - are small catastrophes, neither good drawings nor accurate likenesses.

Should I just politely fold them into the kitchen trash bin and hurry them to the curb so they can be wisked away before they do more damage?

No. I don't think so.

You can see them all here on this blog. If the editor's creed is to "cut, cut, cut," what is to be gained by showing everything, the horrendous along with the exquisite?

Traditionally the artist cherry-picks the best work they do and discards the rest to give the illusion of mastery that builds the artist's reputation, their "brand" as we might call it today. However, when you don't edit, you get a full set of "data points" and when you share that set of data points, you allow the viewer to make their own conclusions about what's happening in the set. That's reason one.

I want to see all the drawings made in the Central Park Portrait Exchange because I really don't know what the drawings are going to look like. Who is in the park making portraits and what do they look like? If each one of them draws the same person under similar conditions but all the drawings are uniquely different, what is the relationship between these portraits?

At the heart of the matter is the ephemeral nature of human perception as it plays out within the tradition of looking at another person's face and translating that face into marks on a piece of paper. Editing out the "bad" drawings skews the data. That's reason two.


I was chagrined to see that someone has "favorited" one of the Portrait Exchange pairs on my public Flickr account and cruelly enough its the most hideous two drawings done so far! Qiao Fu and I had a truly bad day and now someone's cherry-picking our failures! Ouch.

Here's that "favorite" for your enjoyment:

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Panel of Judges Issues Preliminary Appellate Injunction on Behalf of Artists

A panel of New York State appellate judges has granted a motion for a preliminary appellate injunction barring the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation from enforcing its new rules restricting artists’ ability to make and sell artwork in four New York City parks.

The victory for the artists will be in effect until the judges can make a final ruling on their appeal against the trial court’s denial of a preliminary injunction. That ruling is not expected until April or May of 2011, meaning that the artists will be able to work according to the old rules until that time.

According to plaintiffs’ attorney Jon Schulyer Brooks, the litigation partner at Philips Nizer who argued the motion, “As a matter of law, the decision by the First Department means the artists demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of their appeal.” This is a high standard and bodes well for the artists’ case.

For an excellent recap of the entire ongoing stand-off between the artists and the city, see Geoffrey Croft’s  February 1, 2011 article, Judge Extends Artists’ Right To Display & Sell In NYC Parks” at A Walk in the Park.

Click here for a copy of the Appellate Court’s Order.

The five justices making the order from Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court, First Judicial Department are Peter Tom (presiding), Angela M. Mazzerelli, Diane T. Renwick, Helen E. Freedman and Sallie Manzanet-Daniels.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Glabella, Philtrum, Tragus, Caruncle: Do Faces Matter?

Lucian Freud with Martin Gayford. Photograph: David Dawson.
 “The artist who tries to serve nature is only an executive artist. And, since the model he so faithfully copies is not going to be hung up next to the picture, since the picture is going to be there on its own, it is of no interest whether it is an accurate copy of the model.”

Lucien Freud, 1954

Really, Mr. Freud?!

I’ve been reading Martin Gayford’s engaging new book Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucien Freud, just released this past October 2010 by Thames & Hudson. I was gratified to learn that the esteemed artist needed 40 sittings with his model Gayford, spanning 7 months, to complete the single modest canvas of the author’s head. Gayford explains it thus on page 145 of his book:

“Thus a painted image, certainly one by LF, is different in nature from an instantaneous image such as a photograph. David Hockney puts it like this: the painting of him by LF has over a hundred hours ‘layered into it,’ and with them innumerable visual sensations and thoughts.”

During the monstrous Bush II years here in the USA, I was appalled by the lack of accountability of those individuals running the Bush administration. They seemed to be able to break the law, in public, and get away with it. Yet at the same time, I was an artist, and claimed that right - to be unaccountable to anyone - for myself. Certainly I wasn’t committing crimes when I made art, yet still, if I demanded accountability of others I should be able to be held to account myself.

For me, portrait drawing has that quality of accountability. Anyone can visually evaluate a portrait’s accuracy, bypassing experts and holding an artist to account. A child can do it. We all spend our lives evaluating faces.

While it may be true that down the road, once an artwork has been released from the studio and sent into the world, each picture will be “on its own” with no original model to refer to, in the short run the work needs to hew closely to the world, even if a part of that world is the filter of an artist’s experiences and thoughts. Clearly Freud thinks so himself. Why else spend months looking at a particular individual’s face?

What I love about the portraits made by the dozen Central Park artists who have participated so far in the Portrait Exchange is, that they have created the beginnings of a physical baseline of drawings - using a particular face, in this case my own - that bypasses photography and that is calibrating the way people see and experience each other. A single drawing may be “on its own,” but the series as a whole illuminates the rigorous but imperfect manner in which artists evaluate the world.

Take another look at the drawings by clicking on the flickr slide show at the top of this blog.