Revelation is divided into chronological sections that demonstrate the developing complexity of Olitiski's ideas and canvases. The stain paintings of 1960-'64 are represented by a press image of Purple Golubchik 2. The excellent small gallery guide that accompanies the show explains that "golubchik" (Oliktski was born in Russia) is "not only a kindly form of address, but also a humorous one" often translated as "sweetheart."
I am offering this image to my readers in the smallest and the largest sizes possible on this blog platform. The point I hope to make is that the scale of the photographs makes little difference in our perception or appreciation of what we call "the artwork." Does the larger size offer information that the smaller version does not?
|Jules Olitski, Purple Golubchik, 1962; Magna acrylic on canvas, 132 1/4 x 90 1/4 inches; |
Private Collection, Image: ©Jules Olitski Estate/Licensed by VAGA, New York; photo: Michael Cullen
But why ask any questions of a tiny photograph of Olitski's painting? The dimensions of Purple Golubchik are in fact slightly over eleven by seven feet—which is small in the painter's oeuvre. The painting is only in the most superficial way like this image. This photograph is to the painting what a sketchbook note would be: It jogs the memory; it in no way represents the features that attract they eye of a viewer in the gallery. The camera, rather than revealing, obscures the essence of the painting.
Jules Olitski, One Time, 1964
acrylic on canvas, 82 x 69 1/4 in.Olitski Family Estate, Vermont Warehouse Collection,
This yielding of management over the details of application meant loss of control of both edges and evenness of color absorption. Where we see in the photograph bold, uniform areas of red, green, and blue, we see in the live painting colored areas covered much less consistently. Some portions have received less pigment, others an extra swipe, so there is variety where the photo shows only monolithic sameness. And, as there is tension about the way the blue circle pushily relates to the exterior lines of the canvas, the bleeding of color at edges creates anxiety about the interrelation of the forms contained within the circle: Will they eventually touch? Is this about separation, or about creeping tendency to blend? Will the forms metamorphose, or lose their integrity if they continue to expand? Will their edges fade away and the color run out?
In the presence of Purple Golubchik, we find our interest occupied by a variety of stories, and they occupy us in different degrees depending on our proximity to or distance from the painting. We may appreciate it from across the room as a colossal drama of form and color; but from a foot away, any two-by-two-foot swathe is a microcosm of small, quiet actions. As pictured, it's easy to understand the whole as a draft for a Marimekko fabric print. In order to experience its life with the subtlety it actually possesses, you simply have to be in front of it. There is no compromise for the viewer's presence.
Photography can do a lot of things, but it doesn't convey scale without comparison. And even were there to be a human pictured beside an Olitski painting, that would do nothing to mitigate the inevitable massing of colors that the eye can and does isolate in person. Painters paint for eyes, not cameras. Olitski's stain paintings (Purple Golubchik, One Time) defy reproduction. To the extent that we experience them through photographic condensations, there is, simply, less and less to see. All the telling skips, pauses, and blanks that are central presences get eliminated in the compacting process.
Olitski's second series of work is spray paintings from 1965 through 1970. Again, a photograph offers a certain kind of information, but little of what the painting offers.
|Patutsky in Paradise, 1966; acrylic on canvas, 115 x 161 inches; Collection of Art Gallery of Ontario, Purchase, 1982;|
Image: ©Jules Olitski Estate/Licensed by VAGA, New York
Jules Olitski, Exact Origins, 1966
acrylic on canvas, 110 x 85 in., spray paintedCourtesy of Leslie Feely Fine Art, New York
From Olitski's final era of work, when he was in his late seventies, came the series called, "With Love and Disregard." Not enough can be said about the beauty, richness, and the impact that these paintings have on the viewer. They are not as monumental in size as the spray paintings, but, then, the surfaces do well to contain the seething motion, the multiple layers of paint that vie for ascendency, the contrast of super-saturated color with cosmically-black backgrounds.
|Jules Olitski, With Love and Disregard: Rapture, 2002; acrylic on canvas, 68 x 92 inches; Private Collection|
Image: ©Jules Olitski Estate/Licensed by VAGA, New York; photo: Michael Cullen
It's not the fault of photography that its products aren't truthful. And we should praise any particular photographer who strives anyway to document art accurately. It is very demanding work. When I post my own photos on this blog, it is inevitably with a heavy heart: I see vividly in my head the details that defied my camera from every angle and lighting. I have to discard "satisfying" images. If I look at an image and can't see what's missing, then I've forgotten why I needed that shot in the first place.
The history of art is founded on our acquaintance with the ghosts of great works. When we see the originals in collections, we may think that the artists blundered or falsified by adding all sorts of things that we never saw in Janson's History of Art. Whose authority is this, after all? Art's already been fixed forever in the photographs that we know from text books and slide collections.
I offer no solution, only a reminder of how profoundly proximate art images are. We need them nevertheless.
I am deeply grateful to the providers of images when I review shows that have, like Revelations, been assembled from a variety of public and private collections. All the contributors have their own parameters controlling the taking and the distribution of photographs of their work. The show organizers may release to the press only what crosses no boundaries in the whole field of permissions and restrictions. The images I post are the results of much work, courtesy, and generosity.
There are always more and better photographs that I want to use in my reviews.
But the most exquisitely photographed details of any work can never reveal what's important. What's important is and will always be the contact between an artwork and a particular viewer's eyes; that's where there's life because that's where there's an experience. No camera will ever focus like a viewer's vision, because that sort of sight is an experience, and that comes, like the artists's, from inside.
All photographs are courtesy of the Toledo Museum of Art.