Wynn Bullock at Steven Daiter Gallery
Wynn Bullock (1902-1975) started out as a successful musician and discovered photography in his late 20s. Influenced by László Moholy-Nagy, he experimented for many years with light abstractions and solarizations (the partial reversal of a photographic image during processing). Bullock turned to straight photography after meeting Edward Weston in 1948.
Though Bullock photographed many Weston-like subjects -- a nude in a barn, for example, and the beach at Carmel, Ca. -- his work is distinctive because it contains suggestions of time's passing. He once wrote that Weston focused on objects, but that he photographed events in space and time. Bullock's light is different too, for it seems to emerge from inside a womb of shadow and darkness.
Steven Daiter Gallery exhibited 33 Bullock photographs in December. This truly excellent show was a revelation to those of us who knew Bullock's work from books and scattered pieces in group shows. Daiter presented early experiments like the striking Solarized Nude (ca. 1939) and some Moholy-like light abstractions along with Bullock's exquisite nature studies.
Sea Plants (1952) shows the elusive patterns created as a light film of water passes over beach vegetation and sand. Sea Scape (1955) is a romantic view of the moon as it rises through dark clouds over the ocean. Lobos Tide Pool (1957) shows mysterious calligraphic patterns that sand and vegetation make in shallow water. Tree Trunk (1972) achieves abstraction. We see wood grain, waves, moving patterns, soft light, and much more, but have no idea of scale, location or a horizon line.
Bullock once said that his gift "is not just technical skill to reveal matter in a literal sense, but somehow to permit a person to be able to live, and live more in peace with the world he's in now." Photography, he added, "is more the language of this period than any other."
Dan Ramirez in Gallifa
Dan Ramirez, one of Chicago's premier mid-career artists, has created a visual language of great beauty and clarity. In his acrylic paintings, we see formal, geometric arrangements of vertical lines and blocks in pure color. The surface is flat and there's little suggestion of depth, but the color often fades slowly from one end of a block to the other.
Ramirez claims to be inspired by philosophy or music, but it's not always easy to connect his imagery to its sources. "TL-P," a body of paintings from the 1970s, responds to Ludwig Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Ramirez made etchings in the '80s that he related to the music of the French composer Olivier Messiaen.
In summer of 2002, Ramirez was an artist in residence at the Fundacio Tallers Joesp Llorens Artigas in Gallifa, a town near Barcelona in Spain. He worked there with Joan Gardy Artigas, a Spanish artist who is best-known for his 20-year ceramic collaboration with Joan Miró. Inspired by this new environment, Ramirez produced three suites of acrylic paintings on paper, which he showed at Printworks in December.
This is the first time within memory that Ramirez has put a brush to paper. The new work, which employs his familiar imagery is now enriched with brush strokes. While these works still have literary sources, they are more relaxed and approachable than his paintings -- and easier to read.
The "Gallifa" suite, for example, responds to the spectacular mountainous terrain in the town where the artist worked with imagery that suggests water and sky glimpsed through an open window. The "Veronica" suite, all rich reds and blacks, results from Ramirez' attendance at bullfights. A Veronica is a maneuver in which the torero diverts the bull's charge with his red cape.
The "Majestat Batalló" suite responds to a 12th-century Romanesque crucifix (unusual because it shows a clothed Christ) that the artist saw in the nearby Museu Nacional D'Art de Catalonia. Ramirez will return to the Gallifa workshop this summer for his first experience of ceramics. We await the results with enthusiasm.
What do they fear, those artists who've survived for 30 years and more? We got answers in December during a round table discussion at Klein Art Works that featured William Conger, Suzanne Doremus, Neil Goodman, Steve Heyman, Vera Klement, Jim Lutes, John Pittman and Dan Ramirez. The discussion accompanied "Chicago School II," a group exhibition organized by the collector Jim Klein.
Afraid of "making variations," Klement worries that she'll run out of ideas. "I don't allow myself to repeat," she stated. "I have no notion what my next painting will be." Heyman "keeps ideas brewing" in the background. "I have notebooks full of them, he said. "They're someplace to go when I finish a series."
Ramirez doesn't worry about doing variations, but fears having "too intellectual a program" in his work. "When I started out, I had my career all planned," he said. "I was going to make ads and went to school for that." Carswell confessed that he's done his "worst work" when he was "most oriented toward career." Doremus acknowledged that she's "more afraid to show than to paint."
"Everything we do is done with passion," Conger declared. Calling Post-modernism "once more without feeling," he said that fear "intensifies my need and desire. Fear is a stimulus. There's anxiety involved in making a work of art."
"As a young artist," said Lutes, "I was afraid of making terrible paintings, putting them up in public, and having nobody notice them. Later, I worried about making really good paintings, showing them in public, and still having nobody notice!"