Friday, August 5, 2011

L'Amazone and I

Having sat this Summer, for a portrait for which I was invited to wear my own habit, I can say that I know what it is to be subjected to Manet’s best method, and that I recognise those elements which rescue it from his worst. It is for this experience that I was fascinated to find that this extravagantly striking portrait claims my respect for precisely the methods I have seen exercised for mine. What interests me in this painting is not whether it resembles some subject matter or mode, but how it displays, in layerings of texture and stroke, technique to which I was exposed in weeks of written and oral exchanges, which painter-critic Julian Bell excitingly describes in his review of the Musée d'Orsay exhibition, just ended.

I appreciate the fertile ground for comparison of Julian Bell's remarks on modernism, his use of Manet to substantiate them, and the portrait techniques of P. Gaye Tapp at Little Augury. Let us logically begin then, with Ms Tapp's basic statement of what her interests are. As Bell argues, it is Manet's failures to resolve this question which account for his worst canvases, yet for heralding his name, by the trumpets of the Musée d'Orsay itself, as the man who invented modernity.  

She admits to an eye, always looking back to the past, in the hope of understanding what is authentic and what will endure; so we are amiably disarmed, if one may say, for the precipitation of diversified strokes - which, I would suggest, are false to recall only as novelties - toward which the other eye is constantly alert.

Often, Bell says of Manet, there lurks "a memo that reads: there ought to be a story here, but I’m not yet sure what it is." By saying that his intentions are not merely invigorated, but shaped by the degree of his possession of what he wants to say, Bell has opened a frontal attack on what he calls modernism’s “aestheticised halfheartedness.”

The implication could not be more plain, that a certain strain in modernism has simply drawn upon the more lethargic expressions of Édouard Manet to mount a new aesthetic:

There is a strong argument within modern art that halfheartedness ought to be aestheticised: it runs all the way down through Duchamp and Jasper Johns to Kippenberger and Basquiat .. [and] an enormous corpus of interpretation that insists: do not adjust your heart, there is a fault in reality. The 'modern' is the deracinating historical condition that makes it impossible to tell a proper story -- or to abandon the impulse to do so.

Such are Ms Tapp's methods in portraiture, that her animation by the terms of Manet's memo is quite palpable. There ought to be a story; there will be a story, and it will be found and told by those means which portray a breach of impasse, celebrated. Look at that face. Look at the sky of its multifarious framing; the density and sparsity of stroke, the reblending of hue. These are not vanities, but the narrative of a search literally piled, here in carmine upon the lips. Lay on, Bell writes, bring to the fore, maximise .. render the subject at its fullest, its most self-suffused. Let those cheeks be very, very bright .. [in a] robust, from the shoulder line of activity, like kneading bread or whisking cream .. all the while, driven on by an anticipation of pleasure.

One could tell.

Édouard Manet

Mark Rothko
Violet, Green, and Red

Julian Bell
The New York Review of Books©
July 14, 2011

P. Gaye Tapp
Little Augury©
July 27, 2011


  1. thank you for this story- where would we be without the story. It was a pleasure to paint you. We simply must do it in the way we want - as Manet did.

  2. I'm eager to see the story.

  3. Dear JtB ~ The story can be seen if you will tap (excuse me) the link in the footnotes, under Little Augury. If, however, you wish to see l'histoire de Laurent, then this page ought not to be overlooked. I, for my part, would take your Summer berry clafoutis as a reasonable substitute for the latter, and you inspire one to make a it a project of the page to show this to be so - always assuming you'd allow, a crème anglaise alongside a wedge of it, bleeding daubs of cassis reduction? I think I would dispense with the cocked leaf of basil - now so common - in favour of a blazing nasturtium, should the candles dim by then; but you and I would linger over an aging ripasso, taking the evening Piedmont air and exchanging lines from the Eclogues of our thoughtful host. One can read, you know, anywhere.