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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

“Tables for One”

posted by on September 24 at 10:02 AM

“Tables for One” is the title of Peter Schjeldahl’s essay in this week’s New Yorker on the single-minded painter Giorgio Morandi, on the occasion of an exhibition of his paintings at the Metropolitan. Reading the essay is going to be your pleasure, I promise. I wish I could be this clear and poetic and total.

On closer inspection, I discovered how strange the painting was, how the objects seemed to be fighting for each other’s space. One could not determine their size or location.

The ambiguity of “size or location” is key to Morandi’s indelible modernity. It’s as if he had set out, time and again, to nail down the whatness of his objects but couldn’t get beyond the preliminary matter of their whereness. (He didn’t much value the things in themselves. Photographs show that some were slathered or, in the case of clear glass bottles, filled with pigments—they were dedicated to painting the way animals are raised for food.) Morandi was free of the organizing prejudice of perspective. Go look at a Cezanne after seeing this show [Morandi at the Metropolitan Museum of Art]. It will seem old-fashioned. …

Infinitely refined, Morandi never succumbs to elegance. … That’s because the exigencies of rendering—tiny slippages between eye and hand—constituted, for him, a permanent emergency, requiring incessant adjustment. (Rose petals may jam up like large people competing to pass through a small door.) He did not have a style. He had a signature: “Morandi,” written large, often, to broadcast that a picture had done all it could.

Still-Life, 1951

Morandi, Schjeldahl writes, “has never been a popular artist and never will be” because he “engages the world one solitary viewer at a time.” His monkish devotion to the still-life is another reason why.

I’m always fascinated by artists who spend their entire lives working within incredibly small parameters. In the Northwest, geometric abstractionist Mary Henry is one of these people.

Another one is Denzil Hurley, a Barbados-born painter who spends his days and nights making subtle marks, getting them just right. And for what? How does he decide when they are right? What drives him to keep doing this year after year? Maybe it’s time to ask him.

His paintings are here.

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I noticed that the photo published with the essay appears to include a number of the objects seen in the paintings, on the tables to the left of the frame.

Sadly it does not appear to be online.

Posted by mike | September 24, 2008 10:12 AM

Hurley also teaches painting at the UW. He's a wonderful, intense prof. We worked on one painting for a whole semester, which maybe gives one a bit of insight into his method of working.

Posted by poltroon | September 24, 2008 12:51 PM

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