Sunday, February 19, 2012

Infinite vs. finite

Yves Tanguy was one of those guys whose lifespan is easy to calculate, born in 1900, dying in '55, at the age of 55. When I was young there were a lot of such figures, including my maternal grandfather, who were born around that time. It was always easy to know how old they were when they died. Now it takes better math skills to calculate lifespans.

I hadn't thought of Tanguy for some years, but his paintings were intriguing and important to me early on. Even when I was 7 years I gazed at this enigmatic painting, featured in a small art book:

The title, too, was strange:
"Mama, Papa is Wounded!" (1927)

Why are his paintings so accessible and intriguing to even the youngest minds? Perhaps it is because he used a variety of traditional strategies. He created a real world, full of great detail, sculpted with a uniform light source. Perspective is also uniform and linear, most evident in the shadows of the biometric forms.

This posting is actually inspired by reading an article by the art critic Herbert Reed, who interpreted this era while it was still avant guard. I especially like this photo of him gazing at a strange sculpture.  "Biomorphic form" was big then; we were fascinated by archetypes and the world of Carl Jung and the surrealists. We invented and distilled forms, rather than merely copying and quoting images as we tend to do now, in this post-modern time.

The visual world sure had a lot of bite in those days. The space in paintings looked infinite.  
Alfred Hitchcock was a filmmaker who liked to use artists who mastered this infinite sense of space, as shown here, a backdrop by Salvador Dali. He used backdrops and hanging miniatures to great effect in his films. That they were painted made his films not less real, but more real. The impression was visceral. I have the feeling now, when I look at art or film, that space is not so much infinite, as it is finite: numerical.

Many of the image-makers who come to the forefront now have some keenness as artists, but I have the increasingly common suspicion that they have gotten to their position not through their experience with the painter's palette, but more through their experience with number-crunching and codes. 
For example: the current series Spartacus, despite its wish to impose a visceral feel (certainly enough guts splashed about!), leaves us with a removed, gray feeling. Space is digital, numerical. No longer are video games looking more like movies; movies are looking more like video games!

Friday, February 17, 2012

"Dare Ya" Conrad Still Alive

The other day I watched another beloved early Columbo episode, Exercise in Fatality, 1974. The guest star was the once ubiquitous Robert Conrad, not only a good character actor, but lead role of a few different series, the best being the surreal Wild Wild West.

In the Columbo episode he played a cocky health club owner and money launderer turned murderer. Conrad was perfectly cast, the actor exuding cockiness and vitality. A bit later on he became well known as the guy who "dares ya", to challenge him, sporting a battery on his shoulder.

I wondered if he was still alive. I hadn't heard or seen a scrap about him in decades; such a vital man long silent in the public ether does not portend well. But lo and behold, when I googled him, I found him to be still in the land of the living. Apparently his shyness toward the public eye is due not to age, (of which there is some debate), but to a drunk driving crash in 2003. Driving a jaguar, he veered into a head-on collision. Like the Columbo episode, it turned out to be an exercise in fatality for the other driver, who eventually succumbed to injuries after years (according to his family.) Conrad seems to have recovered. 

I find it strange that I hadn't heard about any of this; Mel Gibson's incident got a huge amount of air time, chatter in the cultural ether, despite being more trivial. Perhaps it was the Iraq War, clanking into top gear that year, that overshadowed the interest.