Magazine article Tate Etc.

Paint, Canvas, Action!

Magazine article Tate Etc.

Paint, Canvas, Action!

Article excerpt

A Bigger Splash at Tate Modern

Since Jackson Pollock's "action painting", Summertime (1948), artists have increasingly blurred the boundaries between painting and performance. Kazuo Shiraga's mud-writhing, Hermann Nitsch's poured blood canvases and Niki de Saint Phalle's shooting paintings all showed how the canvas and the body could become a stage for gesture and experiment - a notion further explored by the likes of Bruce Nauman and Helena Almeida. And, as Tate Modern's forthcoming exhibition 'A Bigger Splash: Painting After Performance' aims to demonstrate, more recent artists such as Marc Camille Chaimowicz and Lucy McKenzie have drawn on these histories and others to make compelling theatrical works

In 1950 German-born photographer and film-maker Hans Namuth recorded Jackson Pollock paint on to canvas laid flat across his back yard. Unhampered by the camera, Pollock appears agile and immersed. The film cuts to a moving brush stroking wet blue circles on to a pane of glass, shot from below. Three years earlier, Life magazine had published a photo-editorial on Pollocktitled "Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?" Now Namuth sought morethan his subject's publicity: this was an autonomous study of a painter's physical process. It proposed painting as not just an hermetic panel, isolated from daily life, but rather contingent upon its tides and weathers and as one manifestation among many of the purposeful, physical act.

'A Bigger Splash: Painting after Performance Art' departs from this emphasis on painting as a process to examine its role as a method or site of dramatic enactment, political action and crossdisciplinary refraction. The exhibition pitches itself across different terrains, from the footage and work of Pollock and David Hockney to the performance documentation and gestural abstractions of Japan's Gutai group (Gu meaning tool and tai meaning body). Established in 1954 by Jiro Yoshihara, these Japanese artists prioritised the ceremony of a painting's rendering over its pictorial outcome. A notable example was Kazuo Shiraga's use of his feetfor painting, sweeping across the canvas as he swung from a rope above. Afterwards, both canvas and photographic documentation provided different but equally important evidence of the event. Slightly later, "abject" paintings and performances by the Viennese Actionists, including Hermann Nitsch's poured blood paintings and Günter Brus's bodypainted street performances (for which he was briefly imprisoned), explored the body as a highly visible locus for bringing political action to public attention. During the same period in Paris, Tachisme tache meaning stain in French) or Nouveau Réalisme saw artists such as Niki de Saint Phalle using the canvas as a platform upon which to act. In her spectacular Tirage series (or "shooting paintings") she fired pellets from a rifle at paint pockets beneath a white canvas, their vibrant polychrome innards exploding across its surface once struck (theatrically lampooned in Hollywood's What a Way to Go! of 1964, directed by J Lee Thompson and starring Shirley MacLaine).

These bodily inscriptions or incisions on to canvas, fabric or other surfaces might be read as experimental or intuited responses to diverse collapsed or suspended social orders by the first generation of artists to buffet painterly traditions in the aftershock of the Second World War. And whilethe Japanese, Austrian and AngloAmerican post-war experience must have been immensely different, the photographic and filmic documentation of their actions was perhaps crossfertilising, once published in the picture editorials of international glossies. Speculatively, Pollock's Life article may have influenced some Gutai members, while Yoshihara in turn was reputed to have inspired French artist Yves Klein on his 1953 visit to Japan. And later, Klein's 1KB paintings, using nudefemale bodies as oversized brushes, undoubtedly stirred a generation of feminist artists on both sides of the Atlantic. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.