M I K E  S H A F F E R 










Art of course is a visual medium and while it is only reasonable that works speak for themselves (so to speak), there is no lack of words to add to the milieu. Do we care to know that Jackson Pollock collected stones (boulders actually)? Maybe not, but without tomes of trivia and tons of techno talk our love affair with art and artists would be merely middling.

Visual Art Today . . .

In museums and galleries that which is considered to be art has taken on an uncomfortable association with novelty and entertainment perhaps for reasons related to revenues. McLuhan's definition of art is now more relevant than ever. "Art is whatever you can get away with," he said.

Abstraction . . .

Compared to abstraction, art that is representational, by definition, has limits of course in terms of what it can be. Abstract work can be subjected to limits too imposed by the artist and by the materials used and its placement, for example, but by and large its composition is pretty much wide open and I find myself drawn by the vastness of the opportunity. I believe abstraction is the most creative form of artistic expression, especially within the realm of sculpture and painting.

Mondrian . . .

[Above Left: Composition with Red, Yellow and
Blue, 1927.] Mondrian came to his elemental
and now illustrious color scheme and horizontal
vertical format after spending considerable time
doing conventional landscapes and farm scenes
and later impressionistic windmills and trees
and cubist still lifes. In the end he drifted into
mysticism and sought universal beauty by
using a few basic colors and removing all
traces of subject matter, drama and
sentiment from his paintings. It is inspiring to
learn about the variety in his work and that
some of his most abstract paintings were
inspired by "the sea, the sky and the stars." Talking about painting Composition 10, he said, "Struck by the immensity of nature, I attempted to express its breadth, its tranquility, its unity." Looking at his abstractions, how could anybody possibly have known that, had he not explained himself. Art is clearly more than a visual medium. Should we judge work on its face—its appearance, its outward qualities, the impression it conveys? Do we need to know more? In this day and age, I think so.

Kirk Varnedoe . . .

Varnedoe was an impressive scholar with a flair for expressing basic concepts about the legacy of modern art, particularly abstraction and I am surprised by the relevance to me of the concluding sentence in his book, A Fine Disregard, What Makes Modern Art Modern. ". . . if you want to do something really important, the answer is not over the horizon. It is often right under your nose, lying right at your feet. And you do not get anywhere by kicking that around. You pick it up and run with it."

Henry Moore . . .

Moore had a large sculptural palette and a great deal of respect for total abstraction. "All art is abstract in one sense." he said, "Not to like abstract qualities or not to like reality is to misunderstand what sculpture and art are all about."

Agnes Martin . . .

[Right: Untitled #4, 1990] Martin has written
some of the most touching essays about art I have
ever read. She says her work is about happiness and
praise. "We make art work as something that we
have to do not knowing how it will work out," she
states in one of her catalogs. "When it is finished
we have to see if it is effective. Even if we
[are inspired] we cannot expect all the work to be
successful. An artist is a person who can recognize

Art Mutt* . . .

I admire the artistic gusto that must have prevailed in the Dada days of Duchamp et. al., the manifesto attitude. I like the idea of just finding something and calling it art, propping it up, putting it on a pedestal so to speak, looking thoughtfully at it in a different light, taking it out of context, injecting it into a new environment, giving it the old trash to treasure treatment, maybe cleaning it up or maybe not. Did I painstakingly cast and grind this striking steel sculpture here or is it actually something I found in a junk yard? Does it matter? How much do I hear for this beautifully smooth and sinuous work in white porcelain or is it a toilet?

*Mutt is the name Duchamp used to sign his 1917 urinal sculpture.

The Nature of Art . . .

I love rugged bronze and iron patinas, dark mossy earth under ferns in the deep woods, rough cement and the rain-swept crags of cliffs and outcroppings. I like the way nature smacks manmade materials around (absent personal injury of course) and takes control in the end. I like the way rust, corrosion, time and decay carves and manipulates its subjects and deterioration takes it toll. Earth to earth, dust to dust. I call it nature imitating art.

Art Outdoors . . .

Large-scale works of art, temporary installations or permanent placements, convey an aura that is missing from similar or equally compelling but smaller works. Consider the differences among trees and their surroundings—delicate dogwoods compared to towering oaks located in ornamental gardens or in a dense forest, for example. Successful outdoor projects stem from an awareness that allows the artist and curator to access the impact of a project in advance of its installation. Maybe success is the result of the same sensibility that leads to memorable architectural and engineering achievements but whatever it is, it is not the result of simply scaling up small works, even small works that are captivating as small works or locating large colorful things outside.

Artists Today . . .

The time when being an artist required the ability of render images, realistic or otherwise, has obviously long passed. Artists like Jeff Koons make no apologies for having their work made to order, contracting it out. Big name art is big business. One of the more creative artists working today, John Baldessari is all over the place and while he is more intimately involved with his work, he too has some of his ideas painted by someone else. Driving down the road he takes a photo out his car window then combines it with drawing and text to make a picture. He wants his work to be mundane and artless. Have we come full circle? Artless art. But, wait. isn't it just hype. Salle uses this trick too—say one thing while doing something else—and so did Mondrian; "I see no squares in my paintings," he said. On the other hand, pointless art is ubiquitous but who knows, the way things are going, maybe some day it will be the next big thing. Maybe it already is.

Influences . . .

I like the work of a lot of the artists that came into their own in the era of abstract expressionism and minimalism, artists like Rothko, de Kooning, Motherwell, Pollock, Newman and later LeWitt, Martin and Stella. Their efforts, forged at a time when these great directions in art were main stream, has no doubt been inspirational to many who have followed and I find it gratifying to consider myself among them.


Who Said? . . .

"Art is art and everything else is everything else."

"First I eat the fruit, then I paint it."

"I'm interested only in expressing basic human emotions . . . I am not an abstractionist."

"Painting is self-discovery, Every good artist paints what he is."

"Aesthetics is for the artist as ornithology is for the birds."

"In art there is only one thing that counts, the thing you can't explain."

"The artist's first creation is himself."