Friday, June 29, 2007


Jan Vermeer, 'View of Houses in Delft' known as The Little Street, 1658,
Oil on canvas, 54.3 x 44 cm, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

A twist to Most Influential Work of Art Of the Last 100 Years

I managed to get a copy of Newsweek from the local library and was leafing through the contents when an article titled Which Is the Most Influential Work of Art Of the Last 100 Years? caught my eye. The choices were the following:

A. 'Black Square' by Kazimir Malevich
B.'One (Number 31) ' by Jackson Pollack
C. 'Fountain' by Marcel Duchamp
D. 'Campbell's Soup Can' by Andy Warhol
E. 'Les Demoiselles D'Avignon' by Pablo Picasso

'Black Square' by Kazimir Malevich

'One (Number 31) ' by Jackson Pollack

'Fountain' by Marcel Duchamp

'Campbell's Soup Can' by Andy Warhol

'Les Demoiselles D'Avignon' by Pablo Picasso

Before looking at the answer, I pondered on this for a while caught up in the excitement of the moment. My initial thoughts were that they have missed out on a lot of other works there were equally if not more so influential. I decided not to argue with myself too much and just look at the choices and make a decision (one of the great outcomes when you are actually given something to choose from rather than just answer open ended questions)... Duchamp's Fountain was what sprung to my mind as it heralded an entirely new way of looking at art. Duchamp taught us that art can be pretty much anywhere and anything could have an artistic bent in its framework. Of course he also supplied the impetus for a lot of bad artwork to be created in the name of modern and post modern art – but, what the hell. So armed with Duchamp as my answer, I was actually surprised to see that the answer was ‘Les Demoiselles D'Avignon’ by Pablo Picasso.

"Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" depicts five nude women in a brothel. But the subject matter—which never seems to bother the busloads of schoolkids taking field trips to see it—is hardly where the shock comes from. In fact, "nude" here means only that the painting has lots of chalky, peachy pink in it; genitals are either abstracted or hidden by the poses. Even the paint application is art-school normal: two or three opaque coats, the kind of treatment a senior might give to a two-week project for a final classroom critique. What sticks in our esthetic craw, though, is Picasso's merciless mishmash of styles: a bit of Matisse (the older guy he was trying to dethrone as king of the avant-garde), some appropriation from African masks, a dash of casual realism in one of the hands and a fruit arrangement down in front, and a whole lot of cubism 1.0.

The article also goes onto say that the cubist outlook pioneered by Picasso (the sculptor Richard Serra has called "the crudity of initial effort") was a precursor to a lot of events downstream.

Without cubism, there would have been no 1920 dada photomontages or 1930 surrealist fantasies. Without those, there'd be no dizzying James Bond title sequences, "Matrix" movies, those animated promos in the corner of "The Closer,"

Armed with new found light I was browsing the excellent arts blog at Guardian last night where Clare Margetson detailed her take on the Newsweek article. Nothing new, just a little more reiteration of the same stuff. I was browsing down the comments section to see what people have said and amid the chatter, I found a really insightful piece that turned the entire premise of ‘influential art’ on its head. I am not too sure who wrote it as the handle that the person used did not make it too clear... I have reproduced the comment in full here.

What does one mean by "influential"? And influential to whom, what audience, constitutency? To art critics, fellow artists? If one gauges the "influence" an art work has on the public, it can only mean how that work impacts on their lives, how it has shaped they way they see themselves ethically, perhaps politically and religiously as well, who knows. So I would have to disagree with the learned art critics and historians. The most influential work of art in the past century was and is perhaps "The Sacred Heart of Jesus," the one with a bearded Jesus pointing to a flamingly red exposed heart. It's displayed lovingly and respectfully in millions and millions of homes around the world and it's viewed everyday. How many people know of or have actually seen Picasso's Desmoiselles or Duchamp's Urinal?

Now this person could just as well have been a religious zealot with an artistic bent of mind and was just bent on imposing her/his fundamentalism on us, but a flashlight did pop in my head and my mind went back to India. I remembered a time spent with my childhood friends (a majority of whom were Christian for some reason - maybe the school that I studied - I was one of a few Hindus there). I remember thinking that every time I would go to their homes and be treated to delicious food, I would notice this solemn piece of art done by some nameless artist hundreds of years ago. I remember admiring the clean lines and the nobility depicted in the visage. I also remember thinking how a human heart could exist outside of the body, be on fire and dangle in space, but I was too meek to ask. To a lot of people the ubiquitous nature of this image and the multiple reproductions and transformations of the same means that it has been absorbed in the collective psyche like a piece of furniture that you just get to see everyday.

From a non-religious, strictly objectivist viewpoint I think the person who made that comment on the Guardian blog was right to a large degree. Millions of homes around the world have this or some version of this in some corner of their bedrooms and I am sure that even if they do not see it as artwork, it must originally have begun its life thus.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Painting Post: "The inquiries never seem to subside"

Title: The inquiries never seem to subside

Medium: Oil on MDF

Size: 40" X 48"

PS: Rose Tisnado (57) is a transcriptionist, has cancer of the bile ducts (cholangiocarcinoma) and is currently packing up her NY apartment to move into a hospice where she is getting ready to die. I read about her in the New York magazine and then painted her likeness.

Read The Survivor Monologues here.

Meanwhile, the war rages on...

Every day the New York Times produces the tally of dead US soldiers that day. Every once in a while the list gets to me and I really don't know what to do...
Scanned below is the 'tally' for yesterday. Mind you, this does not take into account the deaths of non-military personnel, Iraqi citizens or nationals of other countries embroiled in Iraq currently.

Seen at the Venice Biennale:

Emily Prince "American Servicemen and Women Who Have Died in Iraq and Afghanistan (But Not Including the Wounded, Nor the Iraqis nor the Afghanis) 2004 to the present". Pencil on color coated vellum. Project comprised of approximately 3,800 drawings to be added to daily. Each image: 4 x 3 in. / 10.2 x 7.6 cm. Overall: 300 x 540 in. / 762 x 1371.6 cm. (Photo ripped from New York magazine)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

On the logic of pricing an artwork at 100 million dollars

Skull II, 1887, Van Gogh, Oil on canvas

There is no point in recounting the current brouhaha over the cost of Damien Hirst’s latest artwork or who its final buyer might be (the artwork "For the Love of God" is a life-size cast of a human skull in platinum and covered by 8,601 pave-set diamonds weighing 1,106.18 carats. It is still available in the marker for an asking price of 100 million dollars. It took about 20 million dollars to create).

What was instructive and was on my mind for all of last week was the interview that Mr. Hirst gave on artnet (linked here) and the following advice for up and coming artists. In this he essentially tells you the reason for charging the work 5 times its cost price and I must say that the reasoning is fairly solid. I don’t like the guy too much, but after this interview, I decided to pay a little more attention to what he says...

Copied here are parts of the interview that struck me the most. The interviewer was Joe La Placa of artnet.

At the time of writing this article, no less than six potential clients were competing to purchase For the Love of God. One client, wishing to remain anonymous, if successful in purchasing the piece, had already organized a two year tour, calculating he’d make a large percentage of the purchase price back from exhibition fees.

Joe La Placa: For The Love of God has a huge sale price of $100 million. . .

Damien Hirst: It’s too cheap! People really want it.

Joe La Placa: £50 million is too cheap?

Damien Hirst: Definitely! If the Crown Jewels were on the market, they’d sell for a
hell of a lot more than that. It’s just one of those objects.

Joe La Placa: Yes, but in relation to what other contemporary art has sold for, this
is over the top, particularly for a living artist.

Damien Hirst: Not really. What do you mean, living artist? That’s a bit of a fucking red herring really, isn’t it, a living artist? I mean, art lasts for thousands of years; it’s been going on for thousands of years and a human’s lifetime is less than a hundred years. There are only a few artists alive, relatively speaking. And the art market is, what, 2000 years old and beyond, of artistic activity? You need to forget about the living artist and just talk about art.

When I got into the art world, I consciously wanted to change it. I found it really annoying because it seemed like a kind of club where people would sell cheaply to investors and they’d make the money. Collectors would take the art off the artists and, because they came in early and they gave the artist a little bit of money, later, when the artwork got resold, it would be the collector who made the big money in the secondary market. And I always thought that was fucking wrong. I’m the artist, the primary market. And I want the money to be in the primary market.

I’ve always said it’s like going into Prada and buying a coat for two quid and then selling it next door a charity shop for 200 quid. It’s totally fucking wrong! Why are they doing it that way round? Art should be expensive the first time around. There shouldn’t be all these old boys making loads of money on the secondary market.

Joe La Placa: So you’re saying it’s the artists who should make the lion’s share of the money, not the dealers or collectors?

Damien Hirst: Right. We should have learned from what happened to Van Gogh. Art has a kind of value now! People fall for that old fucking vintage trick, don’t they? "Oh, it’s a vintage antique, so it must be expensive." But that’s another priority. When you go in someone’s house and see a painting on the wall, a new painting should be much more exciting than an old painting . . . and that should be where the money is spent.

I am sure that gallery owners and speculative hedge fund managers would not like it if this kind of a feeling took root. Imagine most of the galleries in Chelsea would be charging the final price of the artwork guaranteeing the artist maximum benefits and the buyer maximum pleasure from owning the artwork while simultaneously denying the buyer postprandial pleasure in selling the artwork for 5 times the original price in the futures market...

Of course, the above will never happen, but it always good to indulge in a bit of wishful thinking.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Painting Post: Born!

Title: Born!

Medium: Oil on MDF

Size: 48" X 48"

Our second son was about a minute old when I took this picture of him. I painted this from the resulting photograph. He is now a month old.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

BP Portrait competition at National Portrait Gallery, London

I had been following the BP Portrait competition for quite some time now and they announced their winner a couple of days back.
‘Michael Simpson' by Paul Emsley won top honors. The painting is indeed excellent, a nice mix of light and dark with a brooding countenance of the old artist. He almost looks like he wants to leap out and grab you from the shadows…

Paul Emsley (b.1947) lives and works in Bradford on Avon, near Bath. Paul has exhibited widely and won several prizes. His portrait is a large close-up of the head of 67-year-old artist Michael Simpson, whom Emsley often meets bychance in Bradford on Avon, each time struck by his appearance. “I find his face and head visually interesting and with a strong presence,” he says. “I feel it is essentially European, particularly carrying something of the history of Eastern Europe.” Simpson, who is portrayed with his white hair contrasting strongly with a dark background, has Russian ancestry and studied at the Royal College of Art in the 1960s. Michael Simpson is painted in oil on board and measures 137 x 112 cm.
I was a bit surprised this time to see that the four finalists chosen were all ‘realist’ type painters in this age of abstraction. You can see the complete list of painting that was short listed here.

I liked the winning entry immensly, but my favorite in the lot was the one below… A self portrait by the Canadian artist Jaemi Hardy.

Note: Images ripped from the National Portrait Gallery website.

A shorter name for this blog.

I have been mulling this for a while now and decided that now is as good a time as any other with respect to shortening the name of this blog. From the mouthful 'Musings On Neurology And Lenitives In Simplistic Art' (my OK attempt to expand the name MONALISA and still make sense), I have shortened the name to 'Simplistic Art'.

The original long winded name approximately conveyed my interests in recording random thoughts on neurology, its intersection with the arts and also serve as a showcase for my paintings. Of late, I have not been getting the dedicated time that is required to understand the nuances of neurology. I have been concentrating on the art world and on my paintings a lot lot more (and enjoying it immensely)... This also makes the 'neurology' part of the blog-name superfluous as the posts on this specialized subject seem to be dwindling. I would still continue to post the occasional bit about neurology/science every once in a while (if I get the time), but I would want to concentrate more on art as that is where my primary interests lie... Simplistic refers to the fact that art in my view should be simplistic (in a non-condescending, non-derogatory way) on the outside but still yield deeper layers of meaning on introspection and inspection.
PS: (The cartoon above has been shamelessly lifted off the net - I know, I know. I should not be doing these things...)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Creationistas running amok

I thought I will keep news of the creation museum in the comments section of this blog where Tree alluded to some of the whimsical aspects of this museum, but some of the stuff in the news recently really got to me so much that I had to post some of it here….

Some introduction first: Designed by a former Universal Studios exhibit director Patrick Marsh, this state-of-the-art 60,000 square foot museum called the creation museum (in Petersburg, Kentucky) purports to bring the pages of the Bible to life. It touts that the universe is about 6000 years old and God went ahead and created the whole thing in about 6 days. That is all ok (religious license), but what is galling is the fact that it purports to use scientific evidence to prove the above two assertions (and many others)...

Just how they use the scientific evidence is indeed fascinating - if you care to read on...

Patrick Marsh, used to work at Universal Studios in Los Angeles and then in Japan before he saw the light, opened his soul to Jesus, and was born anew. "The Bible is the only thing that gives you the full picture," he says. "Other religions don't have that, and, as for scientists, so much of what they believe is pretty fuzzy about life and its origins”

How do they explain dinosaurs? Since there are undoubtedly dinosaur bones and since, according to the Creationists, the world is only 6,000 years old – (a calculation devised by the 17th-century Bishop Ussher, counting back through the Bible to the creation, a formula more or less accepted by the museum) - dinosaurs have been shoehorned in along with the Babylonians, Egyptians and the other ancient civilizations. Patrick also said: "We do believe there were dinosaurs on the ark. They could have been small when they came on".

OK, please explain the Grand canyon: No problem: The canyon was created in a couple of months by the deluge that resulted from Noah's Flood.

What about the fossils then? Patrick Marsh had this piece of illuminating advice where he not only takes science and whacks it on its butt but also manages to give New Yorkers a sideswipe along the way: “There are no such things as fossils. Humans are basically as you see them today. Those skeletons they've found, what's the word? ... they could have been deformed, diseased or something. I've seen people like that running round the streets of New York."

Final footnote:
It also seems that they have a lot of promotional video and instructional material that you can use to study the story of Adam and the garden of Eden and the romps within. Turns out that one of the men picked by the Creation Museum to play Adam leads quite a different life outside the Garden of Eden - he is a porn star!! Eric Linden owns a pornographic web site called "Bedroom Acrobat." Of course, as soon as they learnt of the dreadful transgressions committed the videos were pulled out...

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the Bible or the ideas expressed (in fact some of the Hindu religious texts contain some equally outlandish ideas), but when money is used to subvert science and the minds of gullible museum goers (children especially), it irks me to no end.

Sunday, June 17, 2007


Title: Hari
Medium: Oil on gessoed MDF
Size: 48" X 48"

Our son Hari Sunil Nair turned three today.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Run for your lives - it is abstraction!!

Steve Durbin of Art and Perception has a good eye for photography. He photographs a lot of nature in and around his home in Montana. He knows about my interest in painting faces and about three months back on a whim he asked me if I saw any faces in this picture of his. He had photographed rocks outcroppings (I must say some of the shapes were pretty eerie looking) at an area known as the Devil’s Garden at the Arches National Park. Poetically he plans to call these 'Bones of the Earth' - a fascinating concept as the rocks indeed function as the 'bones' of our mater earth...

Original picture

I looked at the picture and told him that I indeed did see some faces staring back at me. Last week, he asked me if I could have a go at painting faces that I saw in the rocks and this is what happened.
I took the original image above, inverted it completely, studied the contrast levels by looking at areas that contain the greatest shifts in contrast and decided to paint faces that I saw in the inverted rocks.

Inverted rocks

'Zephyrus Cupid and Phyche', Oil on canvas, 24 " X 36"

I remember thinking that each of us sees the nature around us in different ways and this was just one way to look at it. I also remember thinking looking up to the sky on cloudy days and trying to decipher and attribute the wondrous figures that form ever so ephemerally in the ethereal reaches of the upper atmosphere and then so suddenly shift away in the winds. I saw Zephyrus Cupid and Phyche playing on the canvas when it was complete.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Results from my showing at the East Brunswick arts festival:

Well, I must say that the art show at East Brunswick, NJ (talked about it here) where I got a chance to exhibit some of my works went off very well. I ended up getting a second prize in the judge’s selection at the end of the show and this particular painting (image below) was what garnered the second prize. The first prize went a fantastic piece of a wooden sculpture where the artist managed to show a contorted antelope twisting its way out of a gnarled tree trunk... It was visually stunning.

I exhibited here more with a reason to find out what people thought about my work and how people would react to the same when my art was exhibited in public and the answers that I encountered are worth mentioning. Here is a sampling of some of them:

Husband and wife walking around: “Wow! these works are so big - and a little creepy if you ask me”. Notices me overhearing and the wife quickly nudges husband, they both quietly walk on…

Art aficionado: “Can you tell me the significance of the Indian Lady and why you decided to paint her lips a dark vermillion?”
I go through an explanation and I notice a certain glaze settling over the person eyes… I need to do a better job at explanations… Guess I need to adhere to the ‘Keep it Simple, Stupid’ philosophy…

General well meaning couple: “Don’t you paint anything smaller? I wish you did. They are very beautiful and the colors are striking

Officious looking gay couple: “This will look good on a corporate lobby. I do not think this will look good in our living room.”

Businessman in a suit: “How much do these go for?” (It sounded as if he were referring to bargain vegetables at a supermarket) - I told him that this was not for sale - he snorted and left.

Husband and wife team (looking obviously well off), the husband more interested in buying and the wife more interesting in enjoying the artwork: Man asks: “Are these for sale?” I reply: No, I wanted to only exhibit them. Man : “What?! they are not for sale.” (Gives me a look of "How dare you - you little cheeky thing" and stomps off - leaving wife in a confused state of appreciating the artwork single or following her spouse - she finally decides that it is better to take the latter course).

Two art students from the University of Rutgers: "Hey, that portrait of the ‘Coolie’ looks like you." I did not know if I should be flattered or hurt.

Young shy Indian girl: "Could you please explain the technique used?" After I took some time and explained the technique, she said that she would try it and let me know how it turns out. I said I would be happy to help.

On the whole, I think it was a good exhibition, well received and I got a lot of useful feedback and comments. The main thing I took away was that people were responding to the artwork and I think that is a very important first test that I seem to be passing.

Friday, June 08, 2007

My posts on Art and Perception

I have been meaning for some time to list my posts on Art and Perception and I finally got around to doing this..
- Discussion around two of my paintings 'Tangata Whenua' and 'Sandhya Ragam' here.
- A discussion on plagiarism with a focus on Joy Garnett's work here.
- A discussion on getting children into art early on in life and one of my experiments here.
- A post on the EU completing 50 years and the art festival that went with the celebrations.
- Discussion on my paintings 'Pilgrim' and 'Coolie' here.
- A review of Jordan Eagles at Merge Gallery and his 'blood' art here.
- An enlightening bit about Vanity galleries and my travails with the same.
- My thoughts of William Powhida’s work at Schroeder Romero in Chelsea.
- Some musings on photography here.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

On Origins - some video

The following website has a fairly detailed rendering of how humankind actually went about colonizing the earth. I watched the three minute video that tracks the migration of human beings from the 'cradle of civilization' - sub Saharan Eastern Africa from about 165,000 years ago. I remember thinking that a lot of this has been pieced together based on fossil evidence whose bedrock relies on the fact that there is no older fossil of a human being on the earth other than the one found in sub-Saharan Africa.
What if in the future someone discovers an even older fossil of a human at some other location - we would then have to reconsider and revamp the entire migration theory that humans emerged from Africa. The evidence that this whole thing rests on is pretty flimsy but nonetheless it is definitely a valid theory with fossil proof and we have to accept it for now…
I also noticed that the region where I am from (Southern India) was populated roughly 90,000 years ago. If you have the time, you should also check out the actual website of Bradshaw Foundation - they have some very commendable articles on human evolution.

Monday, June 04, 2007

An arts festival where I would be showing...

It has been a while since I posted - but rest assured - the time has been well spent in making sure that our newborn son is doing well (as is my wife).

I wanted to highlight the fact that this weekend, I will be participating in my first juried show - at the Annual Fine Arts festival at East Brunswick, NJ on June 9th (Saturday). I will be at exhibit space # 59. For those of you who are in the area, please drop by if you get a chance.

Details: FINE ARTS FESTIVAL (SATURDAY - JUNE 9, 2007 (rain date June 10) 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. EAST BRUNSWICK MUNICIPAL POND, Ryders Lane, East Brunswick, NJ 08816