Artists Anonymous: Old Game New
Johnathan LeVine Gallery
April 1 - May 3, 2014
By DOUG BODEL, MAY 2014
“…many think of the Art world as a sort of free-for-all, where anyone of any level of mental stability, at the slightest whim and for any reason, can jump in and call himself an artist. We sometimes fail to remember how extremely important high skill, craftsmanship, and passionate dedication were to painters of earlier times. Those attributes were far more than just admirable qualities. Art was a noble vocation and a way of life. Their skills were assumed to be divinely infused. Being an artist was their very identity, their reason for existing.”
- Richard Schmid, from Alla Prima II
When viewing certain contemporary art, you might say to yourself, “I could do that.” But if you visit the Jonathan LeVine Gallery in New York City this month, I promise that you will have a very different reaction.
From now until May 3rd, Jonathan LeVine Gallery is hosting a solo exhibition by Artists Anonymous (“AA”), titled Old Game New. It is fair to say that AA reminds me of all the qualities that Richard Schmid thought were reserved only for the best painters of the past.
From a technical perspective, AA is a talented group. In his letters to his brother Theo, Vincent van Gogh wrote, “It is impossible to attach the same importance to values and to colours.” It’s clear AA thinks otherwise, as their works demonstrate their ability to capture form and light while using vibrant colours. And I am simply astonished by their method of painting in the afterimage.
For example, in their multiple canvas painting, Borderlands, it looks like AA uses simple brush strokes of white and two shades of yellow to create the eyes of the woman on the viewer’s right of the painting. Yet when seen in Borderlands Afterimage, those same eyes are a realistic and piercing blue that stare straight into you. And that’s just the eyes of one model – the rest of the painting is just as impressive.
In addition to their paintings, AA included an immersive, Alice in Wonderland themed installation – something you might find yourself in after you fell down the rabbit hole. While visiting Old Game New, Maléna, an Associate Director at the gallery, kindly offered to take my picture. She then inverted the colours using an app called Negative Me. The picture above is the ghostly negative version of me standing in front of AA’s installation, the colors of which have been inverted into the positive.
But it’s not just AA’s artistic abilities that have sunk their hooks into me – it’s also their commitment and passion. You don’t get this good by treating art as a hobby.
AA begins its artist statement with, “Art is always an A [Grade], otherwise it’s no art; you are either very very good, or you fail. There are no shades of grey in art, no acceptable.” That is a demanding standard, one I think they point at themselves more than they do at others. Once you are that good, you set your own standards, and you don’t display anything less than your best. As Jony Ive, the head of Design at Apple Inc. said, “We did it because we cared, because when you realize how well you can make something, falling short, whether seen or not, feels like failure.”
Most people will see Old Game New and appreciate AA’s talents. But I draw and paint, so I now know how wide a chasm exists between me and them. It would be easy to be discouraged, knowing what it would take to be that good. But AA doesn’t paint to haunt me. They paint for the love of it, and they are an inspiration for those of us who also love it. So instead of packing up my palette and brushes, I’ll admire the dedication that AA pours into their art, and I’ll take the following advice – words that I believe will resonate with the members of AA:
“Modern man is conditioned to expect instant gratification but any success or triumph realized quickly, with only marginal effort is necessarily shallow. Meaningful achievement takes time, hard work, persistence, patience, proper intent and constant self-awareness. The path to such success is punctuated by failure, consolidation and renewed effort. It is wet with the tears of emotional breakdown. Personal reconstruction is art. Discovering one’s self, one’s talent and ambition and learning how to express it is a creative process so may not be rushed. What’s the hurry? Pressure to succeed according to a particular timeline comes from outside. If the goal is selfish self-improvement there is no schedule, no deadline. One’s rate of progress is influenced by the intensity used to address the task. Hard, intelligent work speeds us along the path. Neurotic obsession and compulsion may steepen the trajectory but usually lead to illness and injury. In the end, the process takes as long as it takes — you can’t push the river.”
- Mark Twight, from “Why”
Doug Bodel is an investment professional, writer and father of 3 boys, he writes about contemporary art,drawing and painting in particular and about writing itself. Born in Canada, Doug graduated with a B.A. from McGill University, and lives with his family outside of San Francisco, California.view all articles from this author