Saturday, December 15, 2018

Wavelength: The Uncanny Work of Dénesh Ghyczy

When the Real Day Breaks, by Dénesh Ghyczy, 2018, 130 x 170 cm.

“The painter should paint not only what he has in front of him, but also what he sees inside himself. If he sees nothing within, then he should stop painting what is in front of him.”
– Caspar David Friedrich

We live in a world of binary elements, each competing for our attention, not so much in a conflict of opposites as in a dance, a conversation between components of a single whole which has been fragmented by our own dualistic perceptions. At the beating heart of the work of Dénesh Ghyczy is a basic dichotomy between the built and the unbuilt environment: the natural world of sleek proportional harmonies resulting from the reconciliation of opposing forces into inherent organic designs, and the human habitation world of gridded proportional harmonies resulting from our recognition of certain embedded ratios and balances as we build our dwelling places.

The fact that there is a window in almost every painting can make it easy to forget that every painting already is a window: one differentiating the viewer and the view by only the slenderest of threads, an experiential thread that also unites us all in the viewing. Windows within windows: looking in, opening out. A slightly voyeuristic frisson accompanies our watching Boy in a Window and When Real Day Breaks, for instance, since we are watching people who are watching. Perhaps someone else is also watching us watching them watching: we can all practically hear the day breaking.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Raw Material: Manasie Akpaliapik and Inua of the Seas

A detail from The Effects of Colonialization, Past and Present by Manasie Akpaliapik.

Manasie Akpaliapik has not had an easy time of it. An Inuit carver born in 1955 at a hunting camp north of Baffin Island, he suffered a devastating personal loss when his wife and young children died in a house fire nearly 40 years ago. He soon after used art to assuage the grief and alcohol to numb the pain. While his expressionistic carvings brought him a high degree of success (his work is in the permanent collections of Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Winnipeg Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Canada, in addition to other major national and international art institutions), the booze ended up dominating. By 2007, Akpaliapik, one of the greatest Inuit carvers of our time, was behind bars for disorderly conduct in a Southern Ontario jail, away from his people, away from his art.

But here’s the happy ending (so far). Akpaliapik is back. Now sober, the artist celebrated for his expressionistic handling of found raw materials like tusks, antlers and animal bone is once again carving whalebone – his material of choice – etching into its tough, tensile surface scenes from his troubled life. The most poignant of his pictorial self-portraits populate The Effects of Colonialization, Past and Present, a 72-by-65-by-30cm sculpture carved from a section of a 120-year-old bowhead whale skull.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Bio-Downer: Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Lee Israel was a freelance journalist who enjoyed some success writing celebrity bios (her 1980 book on the columnist Dorothy Kilgallen was a bestseller) before running dry and turning, in a particularly imaginative response to desperation, to forging letters by famous people and selling them to book shops with a sideline in memorabilia. Eventually the FBI tracked her down but she managed to escape prison – a sympathetic judge gave her probation – and the last thing she wrote, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, is an account of her odd and abbreviated life of crime. The title is from one of the letters she invents and ascribes to Dorothy Parker, in which Parker quips that her drunken escapades have offended so many of her friends that she ought to have little cards printed that beg their forgiveness. The misanthropic Israel was drawn to brittle, acerbic wits like Parker and Noël Coward and she had enough of a gift for epigrams to emulate their styles; her book, which takes about an hour and a half to read, is enjoyably nasty-minded. She juxtaposes samples of her handiwork with sketches about how she plied her illicit craft. But Marielle Heller’s movie version, from a screenplay by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, is somber and cautionary. It portrays Israel (played by Melissa McCarthy) as a tragic heroine, a reclusive dipsomaniac who is so terrified of rejection that she can’t sustain a romantic relationship – she’s still haunted by the failure of her last one – or even a friendship, and lavishes all her affection on her aging cat. (The movie begins with her losing an editing job because she imbibes at work and tells her supervisor to fuck off.) Moreover, as her editor (Jane Curtin, in a sharp-eyed cameo) points out, she doesn’t have the nerve to forget about projects no one in 1991 could care less about – her latest, if she can recover from a bad case of writer’s block, is a book on Fanny Brice – and write something that reflects her own voice. The idea that biography is somehow a dodge for a real writer should be news to, say, Gary Giddins, who just came out with the second volume of his study of Bing Crosby, which I can’t wait to sit down with. Toward the end of the movie, in a heartfelt statement before the judge sentences her, Lee owns up to the reason she has never taken her agent’s counsel: that she’s always been afraid of rejection on the literary front, too.