During my residency at FAWC last month we had three guest visiting artists. Over the next few days I will feature each one with his/her work and what I took away from the lecture and studio visit. Going in reverse order, our final visiting artist was Gregory Amenoff who is the chair of Visual Arts at Columbia University. His lecture was an overview of his career, and he touched on some themes that really resonated with me.

First of all, he is a self-taught artist. He never got a formal education in art, but holds an honorary doctorate from MassArt. He began his talk by saying “all paintings are the same from the back.” A pretty obvious, but delightful image when you consider flipping canvases over to reveal the stretchers and staples. He also said that painting is a conceptual art form because you start with nothing and make something that is believable.  Even if it is a highly abstract work, the viewer believes in its existence as an object.

He then led us through his career as a painter, showing both the successes and failures, something that most artists don’t want to talk about. For me, the works that I connected to the most were his Altar Piece for Saint Peter’s Church in Cologne, Germany and his “The Seasons” series after Pieter Bruegel the Elder in which each painting represents a two month period.

(images taken from Gregory Amenoff’s website)

Triptych for altar in Cologne, Germany

Triptych for altar in Cologne, Germany

View of paintings installed in Saint Peter's Church in Cologne, Germany

View of paintings installed in Saint Peter’s Church in Cologne, Germany

My two favorite Bruegel paintings depicting the seasons are “Hunters in the Snow” and “Corn Harvest”

Pieter Bruegel, Hunters in the Snow, 1565

Pieter Bruegel, Hunters in the Snow, 1565

Pieter Bruegel, The Corn Harvest

Pieter Bruegel, The Corn Harvest

Here are Amenoff’s take on these two seasons.

Gregory Amenoff, Solstice 2002-2004, Oil on canvas

Gregory Amenoff, Solstice 2002-2004, Oil on canvas

Gregory Amenoff, Keen as the Frost, 2002-2004, Oil on canvas

Gregory Amenoff, Keen as the Frost, 2002-2004, Oil on canvas

The horizon factors into a lot of his work. He talked about constantly fighting to let go of the landscape in his work, yet that horizon line often remains. He said once you get to the horizon it’s never great. It’s just another place. Summer has no appeal – too full of bloom. There’s no melancholy.

As June gets underway in New York I understand what he means. We’ve all been waiting for these warm, long days to arrive and everything feels vibrant and happening. But there is a looming horizon that promises in a few months we’ll begin to see that bleak return of winter.

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