OK. Let’s get on with Chaim Soutine, who came up in reference to Bill de Kooning.
I’m going to begin it by reposting the painting below by Soutine that John was nice enough to point out. We’d begun by recognizing that the paint gives the feeling of flesh rather than going after a “photographic” depiction of it. I was reading Louis Finkelstein’s startlingly original talk on Soutine given in 1998, titled “The Logic of Soutine,” last night and I want to go into it at length. Soutine is a good way in to talking about things that were beginning to arise when we were looking at Turner, primarily the independent behavior of color and a kind of space that Finkelstein refers to as “geodesic space” in relationship to R. Buckminster Fuller.
I’ll just take a quote from the beginning of the talk to give a sense of his intentions and of course my own in trying to bring them more to light here:
Not long I read, in a publication that purported to be devoted to art criticism, the assertion that “coherence in a work of art is pretty much overrated.” When I recovered from my astonishment and rage, I reflected that such a statement is fairly indicative of many general aspects of our times, and that it is of a piece with similar statements that might be made about ethics in business, literacy in institutions of learning, responsibility in journalism and honesty in public life. However, I began to realize that there exists in the visual arts a special case where there is very little reason for people to have much use for coherence, mainly because they have had so little opportunity to become acquainted with it in the first place. This, of course, is due to the very low quality of teaching in general, and the abominable level of art writing, including most of which has been institutionally sanctioned. This low level of critical discourse derives from the fact that the art works themselves are not being examined and studied closely.
Chaim Soutine, Little Girl, 1918
The thing that I always notice first with Soutine is the incredibly rhythmic movement of his brush work. Note the feathering of the paint defining the edges of the arms, rather than how most painters simply have a contour line, the paint is active throughout its passage along the forms. One is immediately drawn into the sensuous vitality of the paint itself — the pure visual excitement of it.
This is what hits one on the surface and most viewers don’t begin to examine the structural elements of Soutine’s work–the color and space. Those are what Louis Finkelstein focusses us on his marvelous talk.