Waking up this morning in country Connecticut. A torrential heavy, heavy downpour, cats and dogs do not apply here. This was tropical, Shakespearean, nearly biblical, in its thrust and manner. The rain so heavy and steady kept the puppies sleeping and me awake. The internet is down, the TV is down, the iPhone does not work. Luckily the coffee machine does and did, and the lights most important.
What to do now I thought? I grabbed an umbrella and marched up the green slope of a hill to my studio where, no matter what the wreckage of the night has been, dreams tossing pillows all over the bed, I could find my sanctuary, my place of calm and contemplation. So I began without much ado to put together a checkerboard like cake painting on paper. Stacked cakes I have been calling them. This one a pale yellow in some quadrants and a creme white in others, alternating pale yellow with creme, back and forth and back and forth, curiously the pale yellow was very close in color to the Alfa Romeo that I own, as the story ties together a trade we made for a painting with a collector on the lake who loved my work.
The stacked cake painting, yellow and creme with white, now waits for me, not me for it, but it for me. Up in the studio as the rain finishes what it does, what it is meant to do and the TV still sleeps as do the puppies. Shortly I will get up, grab my coffee and march up the hill and paint this stacked cake, pale yellow and creme with white. Come hell or high water, the work goes on.
Many people, whether collectors, curators, gallerist or appreciators of the visual arts, don’t fully realize or realize at all how much the ‘unexpected’ plays a part in painterly abstraction. For me, as I work without a prefigured plan of any kind, the painting leads me as much as I lead the painting. Allowing for wide sweeps of the brush, paint has a tendency, if you allow it, to create movement and drama with relatively little direction. In fact, if you control things and ‘lean’ on the painting, areas of great fluidity can go quite dead. Painters have long known this, but in earlier centuries, when figuration was a desired goal, the end point was to make an image that the viewer could read and understand, whether a barn, a cow, a road, a tree or Jesus on the cross. Mistakes, changes of heart, erasures of sorts, or whatever you choose to call them, were not desired.
Picasso and Matisse, amongst others, opened the door to the use of the accident and the unexpected in their work. While both these painters may have had an image in mind, whether a still life or a seated woman in front of a window with palm trees on the beach, they allowed for accidental movements, marks, and gestures to breathe unexpected life into their work. When Komarin paints a painting, he allows for the unexpected and even welcomes it.
The drip, the soft edge versus the hard edge, the overlapping planes of color, a tornado of color, a reduction in color — all of these are embraced rather than denied. The painter works with the unexpected and drives down the winding road, allowing for this or that turn, this or that acceleration or deceleration, until he arrives at a location filled with life, good energy and the unexpected.
I have been painting cakes in one format or another, on paper and canvas, tall and lean, square or rotund, light or dark since the mid-90’s when I was invited to show with jean Michel- Basquiat, Phillip Guston and Bill Traylor in New York. The question of drips or no drips in the cakes comes up quite often more often than you might suspect. The curious thing is that whether doing an abstraction of a cake, which in effect all of the Komarin cakes are large, small or lean and tall: some cakes have more drips, some have few and several have nearly none at all.
A drip can mean many things to many people and there is something odd or wonderful in human nature that some see a drip as positive, a good thing, and others the opposite. Not just cakes, but in real life or daily life, that drip that occurs when the icing is perhaps too thin or too hot when applied, but when you think about it, all liquids drips, whether water, blood, milk or wine. A drip can be watched or recorded nowadays as it moves along a flat plane of a painting or a woman’s dress as a glass of wine tumbles about at a boisterous dinner party or a rocky ship. Humans weep and those tears are drips and water flows over steep rocks and those are drips too. Are they beautiful, ugly or somewhere in between? Deliberate or not, they have energy, they move, and they are unpredictable.
A brand new Mercedes fresh from the factory does not want to have dripping paint on the side doors, of this we are quite sure. So the question becomes one of context and reference point. A Komarin cake painting can be beautiful with drips and beautiful without. Best nearly always when the drips occur ‘organically’ though sometimes they need a bit of help. A drip can be seen like someone sliding down a grassy slope. Too much, too fast, a bit dangerous. Just a little and no mean crash at the end entirely beautiful and wonderful the world drips and spins on its axis as the morning sun comes up.
A painter, whether abstract or not, makes marks on the surface of the canvas. The brush hits the weave of the cloth and leaves behind marks of some kind, whether broad or short or drippy or creamy or wide or narrow, thick or thin. But what happens, often in a quite magical way, is that a certain drama begins to unfold ‘under’ the surface, in that repeated layers of paint create a whirlwind of forms and energies and swaths of paint, that can speak to the viewer, collector, and admirer……in ways that are somehow even more poetic and oblique than what sits on the surface.
One thinks of a person, a human being who has an outer surface, a certain physicality, color, tone, texture, skin – smooth or rough , hair – long or short or in between brow furrowed or smooth, wrists thin or thick. There are nearly infinite possibilities. And yet under the surface, there are things seen but also ‘felt’ that have as well – a life of their own, and we as sensitive beings can feel and somehow know this under the surface world. It can be an angry person under a calm visage or a shy person under a rumpled outer layer…..or any number of combinations.
An abstract painterly painting can in fact, have yet more going on visually and emotionally ‘under’ the surface than on the surface the viewer must engage with the painting, breathe a bit or a bit more slow things down and come to know the under layers where “life” with all its attendant joys and sorrows plays out for all who have the patience to watch and feel and even listen.
Collectors often ask about the titles of Komarin paintings, or more specifically the relationship between the titles and the paintings intrigues many and questions often arise. As mentioned in assorted interviews and catalog texts, I keep a box of titles in the studio in a plain hand built hand painted simple box. In this box are snippets of poetry, street names, sections of novels, and assorted words and phrases that seem to happily come my way. Recently while reading an email from a friend in the country, I realized that in her haste to write out the email she had somehow written the following “ever nice the last time you were looking for him.” This was a somewhat unintentionally oblique sentence that hinted at a meeting of two people, but poetic and somewhat hard to decipher at the same time. This is what I liked about the line! It reminded me of abstract painting in that a certain painting moment or phrase or form can allude to one thing and then another and then yet another. In an abstract painting, such overlaps and incongruities are part of the delight and charm and beauty of the piece, not the opposite. Complete clarity is not the desired goal at all. Hence this line, so very simple and poetic made its way to my hand painted box of titles and will soon marry a particular painting that may yet not have been brought as yet to life.
I am quite thrilled to be doing an exhibition by invitation for the first time in my career of the cakes. This exhibition to open January 13, 2018 was curated by James Salomon in New York. I have been doing cake paintings on paper and canvas since 1996 when I first showed with Jean-Michel Basquiat in New York. This exhibition is titled: Cakes Stacked / Stacked Cakes: From 24 Cakes at Kit Mandor. The cakes developed organically over time and were never ‘directed’ or intentionally or theoretically developed. It happens that my father was an architect who trained in Europe and worked in New York, while my mother, who was a Viennese writer, baked a good many taste cakes while we were kids growing up in New York. The cakes therefore are a marriage of sorts between the architectural and the domestic.
Barry Schwabsky, a New York based writer and art critic had written that the he felt that the cakes were more architectural than they were about something ‘sweet’ and that the armature of the cake, in a similar fashion to Josef Alber’s squares and Mark Rothko’s floating cloud shapes, allowed me to play with color and space, and the tension and/or harmony between the two; i.e. the armature of the cakes and the variations on color of armature and ground was what kept the cakes alive and intriguing.
For me, the rather amazing aspect to the cakes is how very much ‘variety’ I manage to squeeze out of a format that I have done many, many times. One writer in New York termed this – “the solace of repetition,” and there is clearly something wonderful to repeating said format (think Matisse’s back series or Picasso’s painting of the bull, amongst others.)
One never knows which way the brush will drip, whether the paint application will be a bit thick or a bit more liquid. The drawing may be thick and sluggish of rail thin and moving fast, but for me, the magic and the mystery continues to be that while I may start a painting knowing it will be a cake, I never really know how the cake will come out. We all wait in suspense.