26 March 2017

Rain Blossoms: The Waters Of March

Drops of water pearled on pale blue flowers ... rain blossoms.   In March all flowers drip with rain  but capturing the phenomenon in photographs requires a deft touch.  The Viennese photographer Ernst Haas (1921-1986) was an early enthusiast of color photography, a medium he discovered shortly after he moved to the United States in 1951.  Haas became  a member of the Magnum Agency in 1949, the same year as that other underappreciated photographer, the Swiss Werner Bischof (1916-1954).  

Unlike some of his contemporaries who turned their noses up at color, considering Kodachrome a dirty word, Haas quickly became adroit at catching temporary effects, becoming the first photographer to receive a solo exhibition of his color work at the Museum of Modern art in New York City in 1962; there would not be a second such for another fourteen years.  Prejudices, however baseless or silly, fade slowly.  Just look at the Cosmo (below), its rain-drenched petals mimicking the shape of an iris for a moment.
The Errant Aesthete, subtitled Essentials for the Cocktail-swilling Set, was a website that  often featured the work of Ernst Hass, and although the website no longer publishes, you can still  explore Suzanne's archives.

1. Ernst Haas - untitled, date not given, Ernst Haas Estate.
2. Ernst Haas - Cosmos, California, 1981, Ernst Haas Estate.

21 March 2017

"A Singularly Lucid Spirit" - Eugen Gabritschevsky

Gabritscevsky is an « esprit singulièrement lucide » dont la vie a été « dérobée ». - attributed to Pierre Chave

My introduction to the art of Eugen Gabritschevsky was through seeing this portrait of his dog Luce almost ten years ago, and  its radiant affection and stylistic panache have  colored my responses to what I have seen and learned since.  Gabritschevsky has long been pigeonholed as an outsider by art critics, which gives permission to give short shrift to his work or condescend to him.  Now, the first major exhibition of Gabritschevsky's work  in New York City is on view.

I am not convinced that the term ‘outsider art’ explains much about Gabritschevsky's work or anyone's.  The term and its French equivalent (art brut or rough art) were coined by critics and artists  for purposes of marketing and exclusion exclusion, more than for aesthetic purposes. It's a hair-splitting distinction for describing much of 20th century art.   I suspect that artists - or anyone else - are called outsiders when someone is uncomfortable with sharing their corner of the universe with them.  Gabritschevsky was a tormented man but, as is often true when confronted with human vulnerability, this is about us, as much as about him. A brilliant man, confronted with a bleak diagnosis, who chooses a new outlet for his energies, is someone I want to share my corner with, just as he shared his with his beloved dog, Luce.

Why not call Odilon Redon an outsider artist?   Redon declared "Everything is done by the submission to the coming of the unconscious”  and that art was "the logic of the visible at the service of the invisible."   Redon created hybrid creatures that floated in air or grew from unlikely hosts.    Like Gabritschevsky, Redon drew freely on dreams and nightmares for his imagery and, again, like Gabritschevsky, he was keenly interested in evolutionary theories and in insects, botany and the world revealed under a  microscope. You could argue that Redon’s imagination was voluntary, whereas for Gabritschevsky's was the stuff of  emotional disconnect,  but how much of this is rooted in our expectations?   

Gabritschevsky’s  gouache images of winged insects, and fantastical butterflies,  are magical creatures, not monsters.. A series of precisely detailed abstract and geometric forms that blend into a harmonious whole, convey benign emotions unlike the artist's anxiety-filled paintings of human or hybrid human-plant forms, with their air of menace.  The backgrounds, filled with subliminal reminders of earth and sky, ground these extravagant flyers in a recognizable world.  The Russian-born Eugene Gabritschevsky (1893-1979) knew these flying creatures well.


He was a precocious student, drawn to entomology, the study of insects.  Forms, their appearance, their adaptation, their evolution  or their disappearance  were the stuff of his researches, the same ideas that preoccupied contemporary artists.  After earning  advanced degrees in biology and genetics in Moscow, he did postdoctoral research at Columbia University in 1925.  His work on mimicry and genetic mutations in insects earned him a post at the  Pasteur Institute in 1927 but  his  mental state deteriorated.  After being diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1929, Gabritschevsky was confined to a mental hospital in Munich.  Without a laboratory, he still had art

Even after two decades spent mostly confined and  and in relative isolation, Gabritschevsky could still summon imagined worlds other than the phantasmagorical ones he created using a signature device of his (seen here in attenuated form) the  proscenium or theatrical arch that distanced himself and the viewer from his more frightening visions.   Sometimes, they have seemed to me as though Gabritschevsky used - seriously and/or tongue in cheek, - the Rorschach tests (ink blot) that came into vogue during the 1920s, tests he might have undergone himself.   Although their validity has since been questioned, their ambiguity has kept them alive in the netherworld of pseudo-science, never quite debunked but never quite acceptable.  Rather like 'outsider art.'
For more about Eugen Gabritschevsky at The Blue Lantern read Artist Of Loneliness.

Eugen Gabritschevsky: Theater of the Imperceptible, on display at the American Folk Art Museum  in New York City  is the first in-depth exhibition of Gabritschevsky’s art,  composed of more than eighty artworks (gouaches, drawings, and watercolors on paper), a film, publications, and archival documents.

Images: are by Eugen Gabritschevsky are from the Museum of Modern Art, Toulouse, France, uhnnless otherwise noted.
1. Luce the Dog, 1947. 
2. Papillon, 1941.
3. untitled butterfly, 1941.
4. untitled, 1950, Galerie Chave, Vence, France.