Author Archives: edgarbelgi

McClusky’s Circus Collages @ INTUIT

However specific what we know about him may be, a distinct lack of further biographical information builds up an aura of mystery around C.T. McClusky’s works covering the walls of the backroom at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art.Image

He’s known to have worked as a circus clown in mid 20th century and his artworks are rooted directly in the unique atmosphere of his surroundings. This complete set of works were discovered by John Turner in 1975 at a flea market , then working as a curator for the now closed Museum of Craft and Folk Arts in San Francisco and it’s easy to imagine his delight upon coming across a beaten up suitcase full of drawings and collages reminiscent of Toulouse-Lautrec’s scenes of European night life and the ruckus of a transitional period, where the early modernist/revisionist agenda and romantic decadence were at play in fairly equal measure.

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The modestly sized works on display are McClusky’s reflections on the lively nature of daily circus life. He’s role is one of an observer, peaking in other entertainers practicing their tricks, girls and elephants glorified to no end. A couple of pieces have large newspaper clippings, detailing the competitive nature of the camp from the perspective of a reporter. But despite the festive nature of this environment, an unmistakeable

air of melancholy is present within each picture. Pictures of animals are cut from cereal and cracker boxes, while candy wrappers are employed to take care of special effects. Cowboys on horses, office workers and ballerinas are placed around the stage in one picture, while another combines a plate of sausage and beans with barely dressed dancers. One can feel McClusky’s longing for the conventional lifestyle of American families as a couple of drawings compositionally pit bundled up groups of animals against merry families with children on bike rides or walking into idyllic pastures. The artist is fully aware of his seperation from these norms but still manages to appear victorious by owning up to the curious nature of his occupation.

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These collages are child like and naive one second yet appear to be expertly put together the other. Materials and dimensions of the work help the immediacy of the narratives at place. It is easy to feel transported right next to McClusky, as if everyone has taken a break and the best thing to do is try and write a letter to those at home, unfortunately there is no other home or a recipient on the other end. Lastly, adding to melancholy of the whole show, is the suitcase found at the flea market. Curiously it is not placed centrally but despite being shut close,bulky and powerful it trembles with vitality as all the drawings are now matted and framed, but the suitcase claims its space silently, scuffs and dents all over it, pointing back to a world weary traveler, who was truly alone.

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emre k.

I’m not buying, (couldn’t anyways) / T. Nozkowski @ Russell Bowman Art Advisory

Nozkowski is problematic in a sense by being so un-problematic. He’s now an older generation artist, with a massive web of connections to world’s most prestigious museums and collections, which have been eating up his modest size abstractions since an early 70’s first show with pleasure.

Current show on display at Russell Bowman Art Advisory is the first group of Nozkowski’s to be shown in Chicago over 20 years, which sounds like someone was bound the see the opportunity at hand to make a quick buck offloading some small abstractions to less in-the-know midwesterners –no particular offense to globe-trotting collectors of Chicago. Gallery 1 offers a display of “larger” works, oil on panel and oil on paper pieces subtly varied in size from 22’‘x28” to 22 1/4” to 30”. Gallery 2 contains a mix of pencil and gouache works along with a few smaller oil on paper pieces. These smaller works do not provide he usual dynamic of “in the grand showroom we have the large masterpieces, and if you go the room behind the curtain you shall see the studies”, since they are finished works too, equally dense as large ones, with similar paint application and sizes Nozkowski painted in the past decades insistently.

When I look around the room, I see an endlessness in variety and invention, which makes me grow suspicious when I’m face to face with work that cherishes these qualities in abundance. In his interviews, Nozkowski often alludes to magical qualities of optical play between shapes and color, maintaining a purified relationship to making and generating information. He says, speaking of a Pisanello painting he found inspiring as a child, “I was trying to find out why those elements work. How could a pale yellow disc have such a strong effect?” , or when asked if he ever did figure out what makes things work, he replies: “not in specifics. I mean, if you could figure it out, it would lose a lot of its magic. You’d possess it too closely. What I did come to understand was the possibility of working out of a feeling rather than a formal direction.”

This mystical speak which comes up too often when artists over 50 are questioned about their work, is banal to my young eyes and mind. I was shaken with a similar sensation at Judith Geichman’s talk at Carrie Secrist few weeks back, when the content of the work was described as  “the moment”, even the “momentary moment”, or “my life experience”, “my way of seeing things”. Although we all possess a dreamy idealist, mid-century romantic deep down somewhere, these romanticized notions simply don’t cut it for my fresh out of grad school mind, especially coming from estabilished artists.
Indeed, artist’s who have had their start three or four decades ago are not expected today to make work to look as if they are 25 years old, but as in Nozkowski’s case
, when hundreds and hundreds of “young artists” today are churning out similarly modest sized, similarly colorful and eager to invent work, potency of his masterly persona is lost (this persona born in the aftermath of promotional efforts, gallery and institution support, art historical elbow rubbing)

Yes, these paintings are lively and colorful and yes, abundant biomorphic shapes clash with possible signifiers and architectural grounds all over the pictorial space, but at the same time they remain too closed off, predictable and non critical.

-this review is (clearly) based on subjective musings and meant to ignite possible discussion.