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Hillel Kagan
About this artwork
Transit II
oil on canvas
h.122cm w.122cm d.0cm
Jan 2003

Hillel's Description: And another.

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Hanjo Schmidt

JP Delaney

Olga Okaeva

Hillel's portfolio
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2006-05-24 05:00

Well, the transit series. Anonymous people, no one singled out, and melted into their surroundings. Just a collective movement. So far I can follow quite well. But then you use these semi circled brushstrokes as a pattern that covers the whole canvas and makes the painting look so ornamental. Why? But maybe I’ve missed the point.

2006-05-25 05:00

Well, I don’t want to compare the transit paintings with the ones that show individual figures. I think that working on the transit / commuter theme is very interesting for this is our daily life. The question is simply how to do it. If I got you right, your theme is exactly what I’ve said: Anonymous people, no one singled out, and melted into their surroundings. Just a collective movement. The danger is, as you pointed out, that when everything has equal weight everything disappears. To speak in colours you’ll get grey.
You claim that you actually see those semi circles but I guess what you see is all that glittering and all the reflexes you catch masterly in your paintings showing the inside of a subway. The semi circles I suppose are borrowed from F.B. and first used in your Rabbi portraits. And actually you use them now as a stylistic device. That’s dangerous.
In painting there still is that Renaissance dispute alive, line or colour. Renaissance decided drawing = line, the following Baroque decided colour. So did I. If there is a need for a line I go close to that area with my paint so any line will be just the leftover of the underlying colour. You are a master in colouring so maybe you should forget about lines. Those semi circles for me is kind of a lineament. Just ignite that firework of colours you are so good in. Perhaps this will show you how to solve the problem.

2006-05-25 05:00

You make some valid points and good suggestions that I will follow up on and I thank you for that. The circular forms don't come from Bacon. Actually I took Cezanne's advice of the cube, cylinder, cone and pyramid but changed it to the pure circle and square or if you prefer horizontals and verticals to be more truthful to the flatness of the canvas. I developed this form of projected measurement in my very early years.

2006-05-25 05:00

I attempt to activate the whole canvas and give equal weight to what you might refer to as the positve and
negative areas. The semi circles, etc are not a decorative contrivance. I actually see that stuff. In fact the whole canvas is constructed of such markings, each measured deliberately. I realize and your quite right that by isolating the figures against a simple ground the paintings would appear graphically more comprehensible and dramatic but that doesn't seem to be the goal I've set for myself so I keep trying. My dilemma is that when everything has equal weight everything disappears. I've lost many paintings that way so some comprimises have to be made in order retain any semblance of a readable image. It might be that what I want to do is imposssible and this painting another failed attempt. Thanks for your comments and sorry for the lengthy response.

2006-05-26 05:00

Excuse my edging in on your authoritative discussion gentlemen. I enjoyed it so much and was tempted to jump in - in my unlearned way - to rattle Hillel's cage a little :).
I'm in agreement with Hanjo's points on a masterful use of color (just looking at the portfolio page of all his works together is dazzling), and I agree with his impression of the apparant tendency to styistic device, as Hillel's ease with line strikes up a enclosing counter-effect that isn't easy to reconcile with the freedom of his color.
He seems to insist on maintaining the classic color vs. line conundrum (so well described by Hanjo), but I think he's not making much progress (that is - progressing, developing, moving on, growing the work) and instead get the impression that he's relying on his craft to come up with impressive works - but is probably capable of much more.
Personally I was struck by the circular painting "Swirling Figure I". I breathed a sigh of relief feeling he had that abandoned the repetitive pattern-making in that work, and didn't feel the weighty need to be faithful to the figure. It seemed the color was set free, and ends up dominating to make (in my opinion) a very successful piece that has a logic pointing to a possible way to the future.
- Just my two cents. Thanks again for a good read.

2006-05-28 05:00

It’s funny, I was only minutes away from writing a short comment about that it cannot be our business to tell other artists how to paint. If there is a tendency in my last comment it’s not what I had in mind. But I had the feeling that John-Paul walked a bit on that road. So I am very glad that you brought up that topic very clearly.

As for the Renaissance – Baroque thing I tried to put in one sentence a very complicated discussion that includes many aspects of aesthetical, religious, social, political, and last but not least technical issues. And of course Renaissance and Baroque were not that homogeneous as it may look at the first view. Claude Lorrain for example never really adopted a baroque attitude etc. But nevertheless the distinction line vs. colour is very helpful to understand the phenomenon. Line means rational, sober, intellectual, idealistic for to name just some items. Colour means emotion, ecstasy, devotion but down to earth and humbleness as well. It’s interesting, by the way, that the greatest masters in the beginning did not come from Italy but Spain and the Netherlands.
Well, Hockney described very precisely the influence of optical instruments that led to a more precise depiction of what was to be seen. In the first place what light does to a scene. To come back to what I am doing it is this „baroque“ attitude to only paint what I can see. No anatomy, no sceleton as construction, no drawings to find the ideal form etc. but surface and light. That’s why I use photographs as a model to catch the moment, the expression of one moment, alive and spontaneous and not frozen as with a model in the flesh half asleep. And of course I have to fight all that well known poses, those reclining nudes. And, for I paint the nude body all those erotic and sexual meanings unfortunately tied to nakedness. And so on and so on.

Freud, Pearlstein, Saville: Well with Freud I am ambivalent. I like his theme and his attitude but I have difficulties with his brushwork. Difficult to say. Pearlstein is too much reclining nude for me. I am not interested in this, absolutely not. But Jenny yeah. She is a goddess. I do not know any artist that handles paint like she does. In my opinion she is the master of the universe of painting. Every painting is a bath in paint ... incedible. She’s my only temptation and it’s hard to stay away from her and keep my own track. And besides her painting skills I admire her working attitude her addiction to painting her being a painter with every fibre of her body and soul. I am working hard, 8 hours every day, 7 days a week at least, but in comparison with her I am a distracted and lazy guy.

2006-05-28 05:00

Gentlemen, sorry for the delay in my response, I've been somewhat under the weather. Delaney, I appreciate your attempts to rattle my cage and bring out the best in my work. A more direct and urgently expressive approach is my goal for myself and I thank you for thinking me capable of achieving it. As individuals we all have different takes and sensibilities as to what constitutes modernity. For some its not even an issue so we have to be sensitive to what the artist is going for. It may not be our cup of tea and we have to be careful in our criticism not to project our own values.
I for instance actually differ with Hanjo on his take on the Rennaissance (linear) v.s. the Baroque (colour). To me Baroque is an extension of Rennaissance with a shift towards a less idealized sense of the human form. Yet the same perspectival devices and monocular vision remain. For me this is the antithesis of modernity. I recognized immediately in Hanjo's work a certain Northern Baroque sensibility. However he brings modern relevance into his work with his large scale imagery, the flattening of space and the concentration the figure or figures in unusual poses. I would like to hear from him his take on the following three artists. Not that I see any particular connection or influence, just that I think he must have given them some thought and it would help me understand his art a little better. They are Lucien Freud, Philip Pearlstein and Jenny Saville. There is no commonality between any of the three of them or to Hanjo (maybe Saville slightly) but I'd be interested.
As for you Mr. Delaney, not being an abstract artist myself I'm not exactly sure what you're after from your art, except that from previous discussions and your admiration for Guston I suspect its a more direct, expressive form of abstraction. Because I too think you're capable of your breakthrough let me just say that you seem to be caught in some kind of trap. Although somewhat reminiscent of Kupka and Delaunay you see to go round and round and the work goes into itself and becomes somewhat claustrophobic. Somehow you have to learn to break up the space, fragment the compositions and give yourself some more possibilities.

2006-05-29 05:00

No apologies necessary, j.p. It's all part of the dialogue, but I think my point was made. We all have a different take on this thing we call art and that makes life interesting.For instance, Hanjo's inspiration coming from the Baroque, (and I accept his viewpoint I'm certainly not going to argue with his scholorship in this area). Neither the Renaissance nor the Baroque played a role in my development, but interestingly enough we've come to pretty much the same conclusion. He says no anatomy, no skeleten etc. (I will add prospective). I call it the "innocent eye", to see like a newborn infant who has no experience in the world, yet to measure those perceptions like the creative physicist. In this, and this is for you, Delaney, you will find an endless supply of new surprising forms and configuartions that are not cliched or hackneyed, but it's a damn hard job.
Hanjo, thanks for your answer to my question about the three painters. I pretty much guessed what your response would be. I just wanted to see how many of our threads interwove. There is much connection but I have much less ambivelance about Freud than you even though I know his surfaces get pretty clogged up which for me would be a problem, it doesn't seem to be for him and he finds such interesting forms. I actually quite often like his mistakes better than his successes. I'm not as much of a sensualist painter as you are, paint and colour not being an issue for me, but I like it, I even love it when I see it. I see it in your work and of course in Saville's paintings which I also greatly admire. Actually what I admire most about her is how much she is able to see in those vast canvasses of almost total white flesh. Once again we are probably talking about the same thing using different terms. My disinterest in Pearlstein doesn't stem from what he paints but how. He is a painter with a system and that to me is deadly. Although he paints directly from life he is akin to Chuck Close and other photo-realist painters (I don't get their enterprise at all). When he starts a painting, he knows he will finish it and he knows what it will look like. No surprises, no anxiety, no life.
By the way, I'm glad you brought up Hockney. I'm not a great fan but I don't like to see him disparaged as so many do. He's a "scientist" and has contributed greatly to this endeavor of ours that I call Visual Philosophy.

2006-05-29 05:00

OK gentlemen... Hillel, apologies, I retract my statements. I should know better to try take on the big players. I guess it showed too easily I was a bit out of my depth. Nevertheless, when I've exhibited in the past, I was always more interested in the comments and criticism of those I considered my peers, and especially those whose work I admired. Therefore I'll ask you both for some suggestions on how to break free from this creative trap I've built for myself, as indicated by Hillel. It's a bit off topic here - apologies too for my attempts at hijacking the train of thought of Transit II. Maybe Hillel if you'd like to elaborate on what you were saying as a comment on a piece by me later on? Many thanks.

I'm enjoying your discussion.

2006-05-30 05:00

Well, you guys.. the more you write, the better the conversation gets. If you have any suggestions on how to improve the experience of the site, just let me know - every now and then I make changes based on input from others.
... And I'll be happy to sell the rights to the book when you've finished :)

2006-05-30 05:00

Hanjo all your points are well taken, sorry for my slight confusion and I definitely don't want to turn this into a book so I think we should end this one here. Thanks for a fruitful discussion.

2006-05-30 05:00

Well, your conclusion that my „inspiration is coming from the Baroque“ is pretty much off the track. So please let’s repeat just a few things for maybe my unexperienced English led you to think this way. Or maybe I have misinterpreted this sentence.
What I tried to say was, if you take it very simple, that there are two different points of view of how to go to work with painting. The one is to follow an idea, to make a concept, to construct it etc. The other is to look at something and try to find out what it is telling you. The first one is inventive the second one curious just for to name the main points. These two trends you can find since the beginning and you will find them in the future as well. The Renaissance discussion I mentioned and which Vasari reported did only show this issue and shortened it into the two terms line and colour. That was all about Renaissance and Baroque period. I have always seen me as an intellectual, devoted to enlightment, but in the course of time I became more and more suspicious of theories, ideologies and concepts. Being so much theoretical, ideological and conceptual makes me increasingly uneasy with most of the contemporary art (and politics etc. as well). So in general I prefer looking at things and trying to understand what they have to tell me than to produce an idea and telling things how they should be according to my theory. So when it comes to „inspiration“ it will be from taking in instead of introducing. When casually I find this attitude in many of the Baroque paintings it’s just a similarity I am familiar with. When you take all paintings ever made you certainly can sort them into these two categories. And Freud and Saville will obviously belong to the „Baroque“ category as well as the early Chuck Close. So if I like a painters work or if I dislike it it certainly will have do with that.
You call it the „innocent eye“ but I think that misses the point. I would prefer to call it the „humble eye“.

Well, so much for now. So as our discussion deepens (I have to scroll deeper every day (grin) I fear that we are going to produce kind of a book on this site and John-Paul is called to make plans of how to handle it.

2008-03-04 16:30

You do have excellent control over the medium... oils right? I love the colors... especially the reds. I'm in love with the left side of this work. I love the overlapping reds.


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