Sunday, June 10, 2007

Ocean Surface

Still thinking about John Cheever’s the Swimmer... if I were to curate an art exhibition on the theme of this story I would certainly want to include Ed Ruscha’s Nine Swimming Pools. I was looking at this last week in an exhibition at Tate St Ives inspired by Brian Wilson, where it is included along with Ruscha’s Thirty-Four Parking Lots (which I wrote about here). The exhibition has the poetic title If Everybody Had an Ocean, which is the first line of ‘Surfing USA’ (I now realise I always heard this as ‘everybody had a notion’ – which sounds pretty lame in comparison!) Of course Brian Wilson didn’t write the Beach Boys’ lyrics so the exhibition’s quotations from their songs are themselves the work of people inspired by Wilson’s music – Tony Asher, Van Dyke Parks etc. Anyway, it’s a nice exhibition which we saw on a beautiful sunny day when the sea was as blue as a Californian swimming pool.

One of the other artists featured in the exhibition is Vija Celmins, a favourite artist of Mrs Plinius, who enjoyed the exhibition of Celmins prints like Ocean Surface Wood Engraving (2000) at the Met a few years back. Celmins’ seascapes remind me of the Roni Horn river water images mentioned last week, as well as the seas photographed by Hiroshi Sugimoto (which I discussed briefly here). The PBS site explains that ‘Celmins received international attention early on for her renditions of natural scenes—often copied from photographs that lack a point of reference, horizon, or discernable depth of field. Armed with a nuanced palette of blacks and grays, Celmins renders these limitless space—seascapes, night skies, and the barren desert floor—with an uncanny accuracy, working for months on a single image.’ I was interested to read in the PBS interview how Celmins relates herself to CĂ©zanne, whom she sees as having had ‘a really gutsy relationship between the image and the plain flat object. He has such a wonderful way of pointing that out to you in every stroke. And also the fact—which I think was a great part of the twentieth century—that this is an invented thing, you know? That it’s not like a copy of nature, or a copy of photograph. It’s an invented thing that you have in front of you, you know? So I think I kind of have that in me somewhere, this relationship.’

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