Tag Archives: exhibition

HI, HOW ARE YOU?

You really have to be in the mood when getting in touch with Daniel Johnston for the first time. I was not. It was 4-5 years ago when I watched this documentary, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, and couldn’t understand why everybody considered him a genius, and highly influential on many artists and musicians. It’s taken me long time to realize what is a fact, and Johnston’s universe is definitely worth investigating.

Few days ago I heard of an exhibition of his drawings in Barcelona, and since I’m currently having plenty of time, scheduled my visit early this week, one morning I didn’t have much to do. Timing was perfect, I had just received bad news and was in low mood, so I really needed something to divert my attention and escape, and this hyper creative universe was perfect to do so.

Symbolical Visions is a compilation of letters, posters, flyers, magazine covers, illustrations with ball pens and markers, which gets us closer to his so called art brute. As Daniel defines himself

I’m a baby in my universe.

In his universe the sense of two opposite visions is clearly marked: good and evil, black and white, there’s no place for grey. Superheroes, creatures of experience, the frog of innocence, good monsters, evil creatures, women and creatures of redemption are in essence the inhabitants in his head.

There are recurrent characters, Joe the Boxer, the eternal fighter against evil, Jeremiah the Frog, Captain America, the hero he’d love to be, Casper the friendly Ghost, Frankenstein, the Duck, Sassy Fras the Cat, the Vile Corrupt, Laurie, his all time crush, and the Devil.

Listen up and I’ll tell a story about an artist growing old. Some would try for fame and glory others aren’t so bold

According to the documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston, at early age he wasn’t an average kid, showing an inborn talent, way over those next to him. He used to play piano, record short films, write songs telling stories…  It was music which made the difference, but we could say he is the example of the Do-It-Yourself philosophy, starting self promoting, drawing cool posters for events. It’s a fact the effort was worth it, and he succeeded.

In the exhibition there is an area of tape players, with four of his works:  Hi, How are you? (1983), Songs of Pain (1981), Continued Story (1985), Retired Boxer (1984).

In the digital era, listening to rough tapes, with no mixing at the first take, it’s a difficult experience, especially when Johnston is not the average artist featuring a neat way of playing any instrument, nor a powerful and beautiful voice. It’s the content and the message what really matters and is valuable, not the receptacle. Once you assume this, you realize the awesomeness of Johnston. I reckon.

Jeff Tartakov, probably the hugest collector of Johnston’s and his former long term manager, was also the consignee of many letters and drawings during the artist’s recurrent stays at mental hospitals due to breakdowns and crisis caused by schizophrenia and substance abuse.

Johnston’s mental condition got worse together with his increasing popularity. Smoking pot and his experiences with LSD made him lost his mind completely. Religion was present in his life, but there was a turning point, enhanced by drugs and insanity, in which it became an obsession. Dressed in white, he used to burst into tears during his performances and talk about how he had lost his soul to the Devil. He was self-portrayed as in constant struggle, trying to get away from some situation or place.

His unique personality is complex, obsessive and twisted. His art would be a kind of trench against the real world, and his need to free his demons so badly, would result into this art brute I was mentioning before. Plain and simple, full of chaotic messages and concepts.

Great point the fact that I visited the exhibition at a weird time so the security guard was busy speaking on the phone, the staff was arranging some other event to be celebrated, and the two rooms were deserted. Photos were forbidden, and I took at least 15…

If you’re in Barcelona, this exhibition will be available till mid November. In case you’re not, I recommend you check Johnston’s art, music and the documentary to understand his circumstances better. It’s weird, chaotic, and sometimes even ridiculous, yet rich and intense.

MR. HOPPER, DELIGHTED TO MEET YOU

Wow! This has really been a hell of a break! Reckon I needed it, in order to disconnect from real world, and put things in order a bit, especially setting some strategies to get a job as soon as August is finished, as if I was getting back to school.

I can’t really tell how many times I’ve been to Madrid, 10-15? I don’t know, the truth is that I’ve never behaved as a proper tourist visiting monuments and that kind of stuff. My short visits to the big city have consisted on going out for tapas, attending gigs and getting booze in Malasaña, meeting friends on the way, of course.

I wanted to do something different for a change, and in order to enjoy this getaway in the lowest cost style, I was looking for cheap plans. On one hand, my sis Agnès asked me to take some pictures of her wearing different outfits for her blog. Also we scheduled a visit to the temporary exhibition of Edward Hopper’s paintings at Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum on Friday.

You know I’m more into photography as a way to reflect reality, and love its most extreme views. Sometimes I find difficult to comprehend the meaning of many paintings and there are waves or tendencies I simply don’t connect with.

Nevertheless, I’ve always felt attracted to Hopper’s work, for its reality, its immediacy, the captures of the daily routines, the representation of the society habits … quite close to pictures.

Things have changed much since the times I used to go to Museums with my teachers. There was a rule never to be contradicted under penalty or punishment, and that rule was Silence. Well, last Friday the museum was close to an open air market. Kids running, posh ladies speaking on the phone, and people just commenting out loud just to show their knowledge about Hopper and art in general. Agnès was getting terribly upset  and  I decided to take it easy and enjoy the contents of the exhibition, otherwise I’d be isolated by my headphones listening to some inspiring music. This is the way I’m visiting museums, on my own, and with my personal soundtrack.

With the experience abroad and the attempt to get kids close to art and other fields such as science, technology and history, it’s true museums have become more interactive, and I support that, but can anyone tell me what a 6-year old kid has to do at Hopper’s exhibition but getting bored and make noise? And what’s even worse, why didn’t the parents take any actions to quiet them down? Dear parents, it’ll be too late the day you realize about your wrong educative methods. It’s a direct link between cause and consequence, thus misbehavior and bad manners among adults are likely to be transmitted and inherited by the following generations, thus, don’t complain the day you realize your children are assholes. You are the principle responsible for creating little unbearable monsters.

Once my outburst has lowered and eventually vanished, and avoiding an attempt of exert my art criticism and analysis skills, I’d just like to share with you my positive impressions regarding the exhibition and Hopper’s work in general.

Many of his most remarkable paintings were missing, but still there was a generous bunch of enjoyable material at the ground floor of the museum.

There were a couple of remarkable aspects that immediately caught my eye, related to his earliest work.

On one hand, the series of covers he delivered for The Morse Dry Dock Dial, an in-house publication for NY employees at the Dry Dock and Repair Company. Very industrial and rough, it’s still interesting to observe this commercial point of view from the artist.

On the other, not only he produced pieces painting oil on canvas, which in fact he perfections later, but also watercolours on paper and etching on wove paper.

The Lonely House, East Side Interior, Evening Wind, Night Shadows…dated between 1918 and 1923. Acquainted with the the artist’s background, and the major work he produced, the etchings were the confirmation of Hopper’s trademark. He starts using the light in a dramatic way, as to transmit certain emotions which had to to with isolation, loneliness, mystery…

The collection also featured some pieces belonging to other painters, such as Walter Sickert, Degas, or George Bellows, sharing the same style, and in some cases the visions of North America in those times.

Nevertheless Hopper has a preference for scenes including very few people, as to reflect this isolation and loneliness I was talking about. Two on the Aisle, or First Row Orchestra, would be good examples of large settings  almost empty.

Characters in his paintings could be defined as grotesque somehow. They are sinister, their faces angular, and in most cases, the eye sockets are just black, empty, depriving them of expression, aimless.

Hopper had a taste for American Landscapes. Lighthouses, prairies, gas stations in the middle of nowhere, sea sights… but also the city. He was great defining NY corners and grey walls, providing them with a sense of alienation. You can see one of his paintings and be able to identify the city of New York. And those uncommon threatening places everybody tries to ignore, such as cargo platform train stations, so real many people wondered why he wanted to record them.

In many cases, the scenes reflected in his paintings are so transitory, Agnès and I were discussing about Hopper’s techniques. Did he painted by heart? Did he take pictures with a camera first? His captures very often seem shots, for their reality and immediacy. For landscaping, not involving movement, that wouldn’t be a problem, and in fact, that kind of painting is very accurate, but what when it involves people in motion? Some of them had to be images coming from his mind, having the setting frozen, and developing his self-creations , he’d easily manage to put them together in an harmonious way. But when you stand in front of paintings such as Apartment Houses you can’t help but wondering…and I can only think of Hopper as a master recovering daily routines.

The lighting is fascinating. The important role of the windows for indoors scenes is outstanding, for both day or night. I must admit night captures are definitely more intense and I prefer them.

It’s curious that, regardless of urban or country settings, characters in their paintings are extremely static, even though sometimes are depicted as if chatting. Hopper’s subjects are the reflection of frustration, isolation and boredom once again. Couples seem unhappy and distant, and everybody seems to be diving deep into their own worlds and thoughts.

There are so many aspects that come to my mind again as if brainstorming regarding Hopper and his paintings, I could be writing here for hours, thinking of the endless details he was able to catch. It’d be for the best you could visit any of his temporary exhibitions if it was possible, to enjoy an overwhelming experience of emotions and feelings hard to describe. It’s true you can observe and analyze the paintings via internet or just purchasing a book with his most outstanding works compiled, but at the end of the day, it’s the direct impression, the impact of an image in front of your eyes, what really counts.