The study of how an individual feature reflects a person’s soul, spirit, or personality is an old concern of artists. However, it is only at the end of the 19th Century and the turn of the 20th Century, with the advent of modern psychology, that artists became more cautious of physiognomic analysis. How can one forget Géricault’s powerful portrait of a kleptomaniac in the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent or Van Gogh’s painting of an old French peasant, Patience Escalier, from a private collection last exhibited at the great "Van Gogh in Arles" exhibition at the Met in 1984? Let’s recall Gertrude Stein’s portrait in which many friends had complained to Picasso that it doesn’t at all look like her. Picasso’s famous remark was: "In the end she will manage to look just like it." And she did.
Perhaps, in the light of contemporary portrait painting, the issues of working from life should be readdressed, not because it is irrelevant or unfashionable to the current taste, especially when mechanical reproduction and the manual virtuosity have created the possibility hybrid quotations and all sorts of superficial readings of past art.
The works of Elizabeth Josephson, in spite of their obvious kinship with Oskar Kokoschka, Willem de Kooning or Alice Neel, seems to utterly stand alone on the other side of the track of this particular genre. While lacking the sureness of the painterly eloquence of the artists she admires, Josephson proposes a beautiful option— the resonance of her own vulnerability. In this case, it becomes her strength rather than her weakness. However slow in speed and deliberate in building the subtlety of tones or quickening of pace in becoming more spontaneous, one can find in two of her works, Janice and Ethan and Margerete, that Josephson’s handling of paint has a poetic infelicity yet it feels genuine and not overbearing with unedited form. The work in general invites a psychological response rather than a pictorial critique. I wonder, however, if the later would be an impediment to the artist’s growth?
TOMASSIO LONGHI is a contributor to the Rail.
Erika Doss’s Spiritual Moderns: Twentieth-Century American Artists and ReligionBy Daniel Kraft
MARCH 2023 | Art Books
Through case studies investigating the role of religion in the lives and works of four 20th century American artistsJoseph Cornell, Mark Tobey, Agnes Pelton, and Andy Warholand through a short closing chapter discussing Christian imagery in more recent art, Doss demonstrates how reductive this dismissal of spirituality really is.
Lisa Slominski’s Nonconformers: A New History of Self-Taught ArtistsBy Jo Lawson-Tancred
JUNE 2022 | Art Books
Building on the history of Outsider art dating back to the 1970s, this book dives into the implications, limits, and paradoxes of the popular and problematic label. Placing the emphasis on the artists themselves and the formal properties of their work, the book foregrounds their practices over excessive biographic detail.
Our Selves: Photographs by Women Artists from Helen KornblumBy Ann C. Collins
SEPT 2022 | ArtSeen
Use of the photo image in reworking narratives lies at the heart of Our Selves, an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art of ninety photographs made by women artists.
Singing in Unison:
Artists Need to Create On the Same Scale That Society Has the Capacity to Destroy
JUNE 2022 | Art
Rail Curatorial Projects is proud to present Singing in Unison: Artists Need to Create on the Same Scale that Society Has the Capacity to Destroy, a multi-venue series of exhibitions that aims to foster social unity in light of the recent political climate and the COVID-19 pandemic. The works shown in these exhibitions exemplify the breadth of the creative world, with artists who are taught and self-taught, young and old, and hailing from every corner of the globe. Singing in Unison is a timely endeavor that celebrates the power of art as a public site to stage programming, including poetry readings, music and dance performances, panel discussions on the subject of democracy, and cooking performances by Rirkrit Tiravanija. All of this is done with the aim of enhancing the art of joining in our various communities and to bring people together.