Pittman, Dickinson, and Goya

In the January 18th New Yorker, this notice:


A typically complex, crowded Pittman, composed of disparate elements (see my discussion of Pittman in this 5/10/11 posting).

From the Gladstone Gallery’s announcement of the exhibition (January 16th to February 13th):

Gladstone Gallery is pleased to announce NUEVOS CAPRICHOS, an exhibition of new paintings by Los Angeles-based artist Lari Pittman. Known for dense compositions that merge bold graphic design with historical modes of figuration, Pittman intricately crafts paintings shaped by a collision of abstract, geometric, and figurative forms. The artist reimagines and renders cultural mores, imagery from the realms of politics, philosophy, and popular culture, addressing issues of identity and socialization with familiar imagery acting as narrative catalyst.

In this exhibition of eight large-scale paintings, Pittman pays homage to Los Caprichos, a suite of etchings by Francisco Goya, first published as an album in 1799. In these etchings Goya illustrates the brutality of human behavior to comment on oppressive social conditions in eighteenth century Spanish culture. Pittman offers vignettes in the form of painting as a vehicle to address a broad range of social political issues, updating and renewing Goya’s Caprichos as a contemporary response to increasing levels of violence collectively internalized.

In place of Goya’s staunchly critical voice, Pittman aligns his subjects with language from Emily Dickinson, employing the poet’s voice to express a secular vision of the body, pain, and death. Pittman sees in Dickinson’s proto-feminist writing a secular vehicle to ruminate on larger philosophical issues of contemporary trauma, while not essentializing pain for herself or within her body.

On Goya’s Los Caprichos, from Wikipedia:

Los Caprichos are a set of 80 prints in aquatint and etching created by the Spanish artist Francisco Goya in 1797 and 1798, and published as an album in 1799. The prints were an artistic experiment: a medium for Goya’s condemnation of the universal follies and foolishness in the Spanish society in which he lived. The criticisms are far-ranging and acidic; he speaks against the predominance of superstition, the ignorance and inabilities of the various members of the ruling class, pedagogical short-comings, marital mistakes and the decline of rationality. Some of the prints have anticlerical themes. Goya described the series as depicting “the innumerable foibles and follies to be found in any civilized society, and from the common prejudices and deceitful practices which custom, ignorance or self-interest have made usual”.

The work was an enlightened, tour-de-force critique of 18th-century Spain, and humanity in general. The informal style, as well as the depiction of contemporary society found in Caprichos, makes them (and Goya himself) a precursor to the modernist movement almost a century later. The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters in particular has attained an iconic status.

#43, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters:


One of a number of the Caprichos swarming with demonic bats, birds (especially owls), and other creatures (like the cat above). These are prominent in the Pittman in #1.

And then the Dickinson in #1, “After great pain, a formal feeling comes”, about responses to great loss:

After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –
The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’
And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?

The Feet, mechanical, go round –
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone –

This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –

Note the frosty touches in #1.

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