OK, so I have never been on TV or written a blog, and I am not even on Facebook (joining might mean being a jettisoned into Jerry's 5,000 friend world, where I might stay). I am lucky to get through my emails in a day...
By way of introduction, I own a gallery and run an art advisory service, spending my days looking at artwork. I do this for a living, mostly in private. My pleasure is talking to artists both in and out of their studios. On this show our conversations, for the sake of good TV, are whittled down into small bites (ugh). Jerry, Bill, China and our guest judges continued much of this dialogue even off the set. And, Simon waited in the judges lounge (his mobile office) to gab enthusiastically about the works, post viewings. We often joke that he has a half vote. As judges we are never invited into the studios, and have little contact with the artists, other than during the critiques.
In the process of getting to know Bravo, I have admittedly become a bit of a TV nut. Something is in the air when Friday Night Lights’ own cerebral quarterback, Matt Saracen, turned out to be a promising artist (his portfolio got him into the Art Institute of Chicago). Kick-off time:
Judith's Proud Pussy painting, a wordplay portrait of Jaclyn, was razor sharp and among the few conceptual works presented. While it dated itself a bit, I am sorry that this painting did not make the cut for the final round. Judith shows super power energy, and will be one to watch.
Nao's verbal assaults are edited to perfection. She comes to the show as one of the more established and practiced artists. Her medium, however, is video and performance, the former not permitted on the show. Rather than putting so much labor into the elaborate ink drawing, she might have fared better going on instinct. Nao's brand of body politics alongside Judith's 90s conceptualism might together need an update. But both Nao and Judith have a strong image bank from which to cull and translate into something new.
Ryan has presented himself as a Caravaggio-like character from a made-for-TV miniseries. So he is perfectly cast here. But a painter who aspires towards the masters becomes better with time, the skills taking years and years to refine. In John Currin and Elizabeth Peyton (two great contemporary portrait painters) we have seen a revival of realist style that merges old master with hack commercial portraiture. And while we look for a fusion of the esteemed past with the vulgar present, does Ryan have the conceptual rigor and cleverness to pull it off? This competition will test his ability to react quickly both with his brush and mind.
Did you happen to notice that the stripped background of Ryan's Abdi portrait was lifted from the studio walls? One does note how the space around the sitter is defined. But fidelity is not requisite. I would have liked to see a bit of embellishment - Ryan highlighting and a bit more of Abdi's playful persona.
When initially viewing Erik's clown painting on the easel in the galleries, I asked Michael, our uber cool hat-wearing on-site Producer, if I could take it off and hang it on the wall. Art needs a lot of help. A white wall is ideal for looking at a painting, even an amateur one. Michael responded that the artist had made this choice of presentation, so the easel must stay. Upon asking Erik what he was thinking with this easel, he said that it was Trong's idea to keep the painting on the pedestal. After a few harsh words, Erik's first lesson was learned - do not allow a fellow contestant to make such crucial decisions.
Erik spent a lot of time saying he was untrained, otherwise known as an "outsider artist." But in today's world, where images are so accessible on the web and Museums are found in most cities (or within driving distance), this excuse will not fly with any of us.
Abdi's painting of Ryan certainly lit up the TV screen, but it was Miles macabre portrait of Nao that was the most beautiful in person. The work gave off the aura of stopped time. It is not easy to capture this slippage from life to death, from natural to synthetic with such grace.
Lastly, I was really sorry to see Amanda be the first to go. I was excited to see her work after I heard her sing on her audition tape (she was complaining that music was not allowed in the studios - and I quite agree). There are challenges in the future where she would have certainly excelled. But if the portraiture's main goal is to represent a recognizable person, then her decorative portrait of Jaime Lynn was hopeless.