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January 02, 2003

Moran, Turner and "Influence"


Does it ever strike you that the topic of artistic influence seems to be a touchy one in today’s culture? For an artist to be seen as being “influenced,” especially by a famous predecessor, is a sort of reputation-lowering event, unless he or she either “transcends,” “subverts” or otherwise “overcomes” the predecessor. To use a medical analogy, it’s as if there’s a sort of taint connected with influence that must be disinfected.

The oddities of this cultural attitude have been brought home to me over the past few weeks as I have pondered the art and career of landscape painter Thomas Moran (1837-1926) who was profoundly influenced by a famous predecessor, J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851).

Moran was originally born in England, but he ended up in America when his father, a hand-loom weaver, was “economically displaced” by industrialization. The family arrived in a small town near Philadelphia when the young boy was seven. After Moran completed grammar school, he immediately—presumably for financial reasons—began an apprenticeship with a local engraver. He didn’t complete his apprenticeship, however. When his older brother, Edward, decided to pursue a career as an artist, Moran abandoned the path of prudence and joined Edward in his studio. Other than his brother’s lessons and what he had learned as an engraver, Moran’s artistic training consisted solely of informal lessons from several Philadelphia painters.

However, this didn’t stop the young boy from harboring a mighty ambition—to become a great painter. It was especially mighty for a boy whose family had been squeezed out of England, and who was living in semi-poverty in the culture boondocks of Pennsylvania. His ambition was stoked to a still-higher pitch when Moran fell in love with the work of the recently deceased British artist J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851). Lacking access to Turner’s paintings, Moran’s infatuation seems to have been fed with prints, engravings and—most of all—with Ruskin’s Modern Painters, then being published in multiple volumes.

In the pages of Modern Painters, Ruskin represented Turner as the high point of artistic evolution. The writer based this claim for Turner’s greatness on the painter’s unsurpassed fidelity to nature, declaring that Turner painted more of nature than any man who ever lived. Throughout the several thousand pages of Modern Painters, Ruskin urges young artists to follow Turner’s example in accurately depicting nature:

Every class of rock, every kind of earth, every form of cloud must be studied with equal industry, and rendered with equal precision…It is not detail sought for its own sake…but it is detail referred to a great end, sought for the sake of the inestimable beauty which exists in the slightest and least of God’s works, and treated in a manly, broad and impressive manner.
J. Turner, The Upper Falls of the Tees, Yorkshire (engraved by E. Goodall) 1827

(Note--as always, all illustrations are thumbnails and I would urge you to check out the illustrations at a larger size by clicking on them.) In his book, Ruskin illustrated Turner’s supreme truth to nature by demonstrating that one could perform a geological analysis on an engraving produced under Turner’s supervision from his drawing of “The Upper Falls of the Tees, Yorkshire.”

With this drawing before him the geologist could give a lecture upon the whole system of aqueous erosion, and speculate as safely upon the past and future states of this very spot, as if here were standing and getting wet with the spray. He would tell you at once, that the waterfall is in a state of rapid recession: that it once formed a wide cataract just at the spot where the figure is sitting on the heap of debris; and that when it was there, part of it came down by the channel on the left, its bed still marked by the delicately chiseled lines of fissure.

Ruskin quite accurately noted that Turner’s works were obsessed with the:

…operations of the great laws of change, which are the conditions of all material existence, however apparently enduring.

Moran was undoubtedly also inspired by Turner’s artistic career. Like himself, Turner had begun as a commercial artist. A precocious draftsman, Turner had been hired while still a teenager to create renderings of proposed buildings for architects. It took several years before Turner could rely on a market for his landscapes in watercolor, and a number of years further before he became established as an oil painter. Although Moran began to exhibit highly detailed landscape watercolors and oil paintings by his early twenties, and was acquiring the rudiments of geology, he still craved drinking from the well of inspiration itself.

In 1862, after scraping together sufficient funds, Moran and his brother Edward traveled to England, where Moran spent many weeks at the National Gallery in London copying pictures by Turner. (Several of these quite literal copies survive.) While this may seem like a typical “study tour” to the Old World by an aspiring American painter of the 19th century, it was actually a very unusual one. Moran had come to England for sole purpose of studying one artist, and moreover an artist whose reputation, despite Ruskin’s valiant efforts, was far from its peak in 1862.

Even during Turner’s lifetime his late manner of painting had not been well received by the public. From around 1840 onwards his work had more critics than admirers, and was frequently ridiculed. Turner himself was irritated to read, in a newspaper review of the 1842 Royal Academy exhibition, that “Snow Storm—Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth” represented nothing but a mass of soapsuds and whitewash. The elderly painter was overheard to say:

Soapsuds and whitewash! What would they have? I wonder what they think the sea's like? I wish they'd been in it.

Ruskin was in fact among the few contemporaries who admired Turner's late style (and even his comprehension of—and sympathy for—the very late works was limited.) A decade after Moran’s visit, the British painter William Powell Frith summed up the commonly held view that Turner’s late work represented nothing but “decline”:

When I say that Turner should be the idol of painters, I refer to his earlier works and not to the period when he was half crazy and produced works about as insane as the people who admire them.

Frith’s comment actually overstates Turner’s influence on the British painting of the 1860s, which appears to have been almost nil. Moran’s visit coincided with the heyday of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Sir Edwin Landseer and of the landscape specialist B. W. Leader—none of whom owed an artistic debt to the older master.

B. Leader, The Churchyard, Bettws-y-Coed, 1863

So what did our star-struck 25-year-old painter see when he finally confronted Turner’s paintings “in the flesh?” Moran would have seen in Turner an artist whose early paintings had involved a considerable dialogue with other paintings (chiefly, those of Claude Lorrain) before finding their own unique way—a prototype of the approach Moran hoped to follow. From the standpoint of working method, Moran would have seen in Turner a painter who prepared his paintings by making drawings and watercolor sketches in the field, and who then extensively reworked these from memory and imagination in the studio. In 1862 this was becoming a slightly behind-the-times methodology for landscape—the French Barbizon painters painted before the motif and even B.W. Leader began his paintings that way. However, I believe that Moran, who knew all about painting directly from nature, realized that the two-step method had been essential for an artist like Turner, whose work (at least in oil) was often based on radical transformations of the “visual facts.” (Moran and his brother had followed a route along the coast of England which allowed them to see many sites rendered by Turner; their biggest impression of the trip was not Turner’s “truth to nature” but rather how great the liberties the older painter had been prepared to take with the local geography.)

But the real revelation Moran received in front of Turner’s paintings was Turner’s unique compositional methods. Along with an extreme sensitivity to light and color, and an unprecedented willingness to adapt his painting style to emphasize the physical characteristics of his painting mediums, whether watercolor or oil, Turner’s unorthodox compositions constituted the heart of his artistic legacy. Three examples may suggest the nature of his compositional innovations. The first was a painting based on a real storm witnessed by Turner on the Continent during the short years of peace between the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars:

J. Turner, Snow Storm: Hannibal and his army crossing the Alps, 1812; composition study of same

Michael Bockemuhl, in his book “Turner” notes that in this painting:

…one notices that it is not only the drama of a stormy landscape that is portrayed, nor is it only the figures which are subordinated to…the great structure of light and dark…The dark areas at lower left combine with the zones in the right-hand third of the painting and the upper edge to form a huge, compact element, one dominating the entire area without exception.

Turner was hardly the first painter to compose a picture by grouping his lights and darks. What is unusual is the unstable, cyclonic shape he relies on to energize his picture, and the way in which he deliberately unites within the continuous zone of darkness different substances: clouds, falling snow, a mountain-side, the floor of the pass, the soldiers, their civilian victims and the foreground rocks. Turner, at the age of 37, is still being a bit obvious in his visual metaphors: the giant black shape is obviously a pair of ravening jaws closing on Hannibal’s army. Also, if my reaction is to be trusted, the eye travels over the dark shape clockwise from top to bottom, which isn’t perhaps ideal in helping us imagine the dynamic movement of the storm. (On a purely “literary” level, however, the painting was a great success: exhibited in 1812, the British public immediately—and with great satisfaction—read it as referring to Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia.)

Seventeen years later, Turner created a mythological painting that Ruskin felt was perhaps his finest accomplishment (and which was duly copied by Moran—a copy that hung in his studio for the rest of his life.)

J. Turner, Ulysses deriding Polyphemus—Homer’s Odyssey, 1829; composition study of the same

The mythological subject matter here allows Turner to “personify” nature more gracefully than in the previous example. In this episode from “The Odyssey,” Ulysses, having put out Polyphemus’s eye and escaped with his surviving crew from the Cyclops’s cave, is making for open sea at top speed, while the wounded giant has been blindly throwing great boulders in an attempt to sink the ship. Knowing his prey has escaped, however, Polyphemus craftily asks the name of the one who maimed him. Ulysses, blinded in his own turn by pride, names himself, not realizing that Polyphemus will ask his divine father to take revenge on the wily Greek. As Michael Bockemuhl points out, in Turner’s painting the “divine” elements of the story are pictorially identified with the energies of nature:

Polyphemus—at upper left—can hardly be distinguished from his surroundings, almost disappearing into it…Nereids and a number of mythical fish may be seen in front of the ship’s bow. These figures, too, cannot be clearly distinguished from their background. The effect of their transparent forms…is as if they were woven from the foam, the sparkle and the reflections of the water’s surface, half-figure, half-glittering wavecrest.

But what I suspect most caught Moran’s eye is that Turner has managed to compose this picture so as to create the same rotating, energizing movement of the spectator’s eye without the heavy-handed visual metaphor of the Hannibal picture. As the composition study shows above, the eye travels around a “diamond shape,” starting from Ulysses’ ship, following a diagonal downwards past the rising sun to the sea, up along the sail of another ship, then bouncing off the edge of the canvas and running up along the gold-flecked clouds, finally dipping downward past Polyphemus on the hilltop, half-obscured with mist, and down to the dark note of the Cyclops’ deadly cave. In doing so, the composition incorporates the not-very-visible protagonists into the larger pattern of the landscape about them, underlining the theme of the picture: that human nature is merely one part of the dynamic “natural order.” The same energies that drive the tiny human Ulysses also drive the huge monster Polyphemus, while the thrust of the hero’s escaping ship echoes the rising sun. Moreover, while Turner presents us with a glorious, golden-toned landscape as the setting in which an adrenalin-drunk Ulysses stupidly forgets himself and blabs his name, the painter does so to remind us that Nature, even when it presents itself as benevolent, hides a threatening power that will ultimately humble the pride of even the most heroic of men.

Thirteen years later, the 67-year-old Turner created a more radical composition still to express the sensations he had felt in a terrible snowstorm at sea, when he had persuaded the sailors to lash him to the mast to observe it:

I was lashed for four hours, and I did not expect to escape, but I felt bound to record it if I did.

The painting, of course, doesn’t represent the scene from a passenger’s perspective; in fact, Turner seems to adopt the point of view of the storm itself, in which the vessel is barely large enough to be just dimly visible and humans go completely unrecorded. The colors are dull, ugly greens, blacks and greys, relieved only by traces of blue; all these colors are driven through one another by extremely aggressive, visible brush strokes, to which Turner has added strokes of his palette knife. The horizon line is rotated a good fifteen degrees off plumb—an unusual tactic, even for portraying a storm at sea. But the key innovation is the way Turner uses his pattern of lights and darks and his superimposed gestural “lines” to direct your eye around the picture, as I have diagrammed it below in the composition study.

J. Turner, Snow Storm—Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth Making Signals in Shallow Water, and going by the Lead, 1842; composition study of same

The resulting pattern follows, as Michael Bockemuhl observes:

…the movement of a wave. The same could be said of the cloud formations, the streaks of snow and rain, the play of the reflections in the water, and—not least—the pitching of the boat. It is not through the labels defining them but through the observer’s active experience of them that the elements represented here receive meaning. The motion of the clouds and waves is not deduced from the “fixed position” of things in the painting…The observer experiences the motion of things as his own observational activity.

Turner’s “advanced” compositions are designed to convey meaning. In “Hannibal” Turner shows us an image of about-to-close jaws in order to suggest the fate of the Carthaginian army; in “Ulysses,” he pushes the viewer’s eyes around a diamond shape to integrate man, god and nature into a unified structure; and in “Steam Boat” he shows the savage power of wind and water by leading the eye through a compositional echo of snowstorm’s fundamental unit, the wave.

It appears, on the evidence of his most important painting of the next few years, that Moran had absorbed the concept behind Turner’s advanced compositions by the time he left England:

T. Moran, Children of the Mountain, 1867

While this is often mistaken for one of Moran’s western landscapes, it was in fact a combination of nature studies with an imaginary mountain tossed in. (As of 1867 Moran had never even crossed the Mississippi River, let alone laid eyes on the Rocky Mountains.) While the lack of a “factual base” for the painting results in its overly rhetorical tone and its quality of being assembled-from-fragments, Moran has built his image around a central, brightly lit diamond which leads the eye around a series of natural forms: cloud, mountain, river, trees and naked rock. While he still needed a subject to give coherent form to his concepts, he seems to have known what he was looking for by this point. In any event, the real significance of this painting (which was exhibited at the Paris Exposition of 1867) is that Moran used it four years later as collateral to finance a life-altering trip to the American West.

As soon as he laid eyes on Yellowstone in the summer of 1871, the 34-year-old Moran realized that he had finally found the landscape that he had been dreaming of for twenty years. He urgently set about wrangling an invitation to serve as a staff artist on the first government-sponsored survey of Yellowstone. Traveling via the newly completed transcontinental railroad, Moran joined geologist Ferdinand V. Hayden, the survey’s leader, in Virginia City, Montana. Although he was so skinny that he required a pillow on his saddle, Moran was delighted with the rugged life of the survey, either sketching or helping the survey’s photographer William Henry Jackson from sunup to sunset and camping out under the stars every night. He shows up in several photographs to provide a sense of human scale for the unearthly geologic forms of Yellowstone, known colloquially as the place where “Hell bubbled up.”

W. Jackson, [Thomas Moran]At the Mammoth Hot Springs: Gardiner River, 1871

During the two months of the survey Moran produced a stream of watercolor studies that would serve as the basis for numerous studio paintings. He also absorbed a great deal of geology from Hayden; written notes on borders of his sketches and his letters home often discuss the type of rock formations portrayed. These watercolors were the first color images of Yellowstone ever seen in the East, and were later used to help persuade Congress to pass legislation protecting the area as the first national park.

T. Moran, In the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, 1871; T. Moran, Great Springs of the Firehole River, 1871 (detail)

At the end of the survey, Moran hightailed it back to his studio, ordered an immense seven foot by twelve foot canvas and set to work on the painting that would transform his career.

T. Moran, The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, 1872

As Rebecca Bedell notes in her valuable study of the Hudson River School, “The Anatomy of Nature,” the great laws of change that Turner had illustrated became the focus—in the form of geology—for Moran’s painting:

The paintings that resulted from [the Hayden Survey of 1871] emphasize the metamorphic character of the extraordinary region. They are pictures about change, about the dynamic, evolutionary character of the earth, and about the transformatory powers of nature and art…[Moran’s] concern with the geological history of the site is evident, for example, in his chosen style, which evokes the processes of creation as much as their products. The wavering, trembling, crackling lines and the liquid brushstrokes, even the continually gradated shifts from light to dark, announce the unstable, transitory nature of the scene and the changefulness of matter. Other aspects of the picture remind us of the rock-creating work of igneous forces. Besides the winding band of solidified lava in the foreground, the picture’s hot colors—the incandescent white and sulphurous yellow of the canyon’s walls and the bright blue of the river—together recall the colors of flames and remind us of the fiery temperatures of volcanic forces. Meanwhile, on the cliffs, long strokes of oily pigment—streams of molten gold—run down toward the water. These strokes describe the avalanches of soft, crumbling volcanic rock that tumble down the canyon walls, but at the same time they suggest the lava that once spilled over the land.
T. Moran, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, 1872 (detail)

The composition of the painting graphically illustrates the dynamic interaction of rock and water. The eye enters at the upper right, traveling down the brightly lit slope toward the river as both rainwater and eroded rock would travel. The eye then passes up the far slope and into the sky, intimating the upward travel of evaporating water vapor. From the sky the eye then passes downward along the great plume of mist into the central nexus of the falling river, the great engine of excavation for the entire canyon. Beyond a literal recapitulation of the action of water in the Canyon, the inverted-triangle composition provides the picture with a dynamic, visually unstable element that energizes the massive rock architecture of the canyon. As a result, the impression is both monumental and energized, heavy as the earth itself and as light as shifting patterns of light on the canyon walls.

Composition study of The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, 1872

Moreover, the painting’s intellectual infrastructure not only incorporates geology, however, but likewise the doctrines of the most significant American philosophical movement of mid-19th century, Transcendentalism. As Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Nature” makes clear, the underlying unity of all things was one of Transcendentalism’s tenets:

The granite is differenced in its laws only by the more or less of heat, from the river that wears it away. The river, as it flows, resembles the air that flows over it; the air resembles the light which traverses it with more subtile currents; the light resembles the heat which rides with it through Space…It is like a great circle on a sphere, comprising all possible circles; which, however, may be drawn, and comprise it, in like manner. Every such truth is the absolute End seen from one side. But it has innumerable sides.

This quote could be appended to Moran’s picture as a caption. While I have no evidence that Moran was a committed Transcendentalist, he certainly seems to have intended his picture to arouse feelings of a religious nature, and in so doing certainly was in step with the religico-philosophical ideas of his time.

With this picture Moran showed himself to be very possibly the most intelligent and thoughtful analyst of Turner’s legacy on the planet, and the only one—to my knowledge—who was seriously attempting to further aspects of it.

(If this seems an extreme statement, consider as a contrast another painting produced in the same year which also constitutes a direct references to Turner’s work.

J. Turner, Looking East from the Giudecca: Sunrise, 1819; C. Monet, Impression: Sunrise, 1872

Monet (1840-1926) who had spent a year in England avoiding the Franco-Prussian war, had obviously taken a close look at Turner’s watercolors, and has created a kind of oil painted version of Turner’s layered color washes. But I don’t see this as a significant engagement with Turner’s artistic issues; it’s more the act of a talented guy who has casually appropriated a neat trick, and a trick, moreover, that never really becomes central to his own art.)

Shortly thereafter the U.S. Congress made history a second time by paying $10,000 for the purchase of Moran's Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, a step that did wonders for Moran’s career. When Moran followed up his artistic investigation of Yellowstone by serving as staff artist on John Wesley Powell’s 1873 trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, Congress purchased the resulting canvas, Chasm of the Colorado, as well. Finally, Moran completed the trio of his most famous western landscapes by painting Mountain of the Holy Cross, a view of a famous Colorado peak in 1875. He hoped to exhibit all three of the canvases as a unit at the Philadelphia Exposition of 1876, a plan that was frustrated by Congress’ refusal to lend the two paintings it had purchased. Nonetheless, he intended the three paintings to be hung as follows:

T. Moran, Grand Canyon of the Colorado, 1872; T. Moran, Mountain of the Holy Cross, 1875; T. Moran, Chasm of the Colorado, 1873-4

In this arrangement, clearly patterned after an altarpiece triptych and centered on an explicitly Christian symbol, the religious dimension of Moran’s Transcendental landscapes is unmistakable. Regrettably, however, Transcendentalism had only a few years remaining in which to illuminate public perception of Moran’s art. Never possessing enough adherents to become a significant religious sect, it had fallen apart as an organized movement during the Civil War and was literally dying out by the 1880s. (Orestes Brownson died in 1876, George Ripley and Jones Very died in 1880, Emerson himself in 1882, and Bronson Alcott in 1888.)

T. Moran, Cliff Dwellers, 1899; composition study of same

Although he continued to produce Western landscapes throughout the remaining four decades of his career—including the compositional masterpiece, “Cliff Dwellers”—a significant shift in public mood, religious expression and artistic taste began after the Civil War and picked up speed in the 1880s. Moran proved capable of responding to this new environment as well:

T. Moran, Lower Manhattan from Communipaw, 1880

The foreground of the painting, Communipaw’s waterfront, had been the site of a 1609 landing by Henry Hudson where he was greeted in a friendly manner by a tribe of the Lenni-Lenape or Delaware Indians.

Composition Study of Lower Manhattan from Communipaw, 1880; composition study of same

The diamond shaped composition links the degraded shoreline of Communipaw to the distant view of coal-burning and smoke spewing Manhattan, dimly visible through its wreath of pollution. Presumably Moran is implying that the Lenni-Lenape Indians (the last of whom living in the area had died in 1802) might not have been so friendly had they realized what Henry Hudson’s visit would ultimately entail.

In 1892, frustrated with public incomprehension of what he was trying to accomplish, Moran told a reporter in Denver:

I prefer to paint western scenes, but the Eastern people don't appreciate the grand scenery of the Rockies. They are not familiar with mountain effects and it is much easier to sell a picture of a Long Island swamp than the grandest picture of Colorado.

He then set to work demonstrating that his theme of the religious unity of nature was not some oddity experienced only in the great geological upheavals of the West, but a phenomenon that visible anywhere, even in a Long Island swamp or meadow:

T. Moran, Autumn, 1893-7; composition study of same

Utilizing a highly selective beam of light to illuminate an otherwise dim autumnal scene, he has created a monumental image in which a stand of trees is linked visually to the power and majesty of the earth below and the turbulent sky above.

Moran finally died in 1926 (like his close contemporary Claude Monet), continuing to paint enormous canvases to the end. Intriguingly, his longevity meant that he was still active when abstract painting arose. One conjectures that if the first generation of abstract painters had been able to get past their Theosophist anti-materialism they might have found a great deal to interest them in Moran’s painting, and perhaps through him worked their way back to Turner. It would be a shame if current notions about the “taint” of influence were to continue to prevent contemporary artists from accessing such a vital tradition.



posted by Friedrich at January 2, 2003


What a gorgeous posting, thanks. A great new way of illustrating your points about composition too.

Not for the first time, I can't help wondering whether one of the reasons for the general avant (haha) garde art-world dislike of much 19th century art isn't that it just seems so darned uncool -- all that four-squareness about the Divine, etc.

Do the avant (haha) gardists feel chagrin about Theosophy, do you know? Ie., love the abstractions, embarrassed by the thinking that gave rise to them?

Turner was so amazing. How would you describe what it was he was trying to convey in his images? Sensations? Beliefs? Experiences of a certain sort?

Over the holidays, I was leafing through a book about Turner and wound up fixated on repros of the watercolors he did at Petworth -- all those glowy, numinous interiors. Amazing things, and so much less overtly turbulent than the exteriors and oils that he's mostly known for.

I was fiddling around with some thoughts about Indian religion and art at the same time and found myself thinking, hey, there's a similarity here, in the sense that Turner so often has you feeling that you're just on the verge of seeing through the appearances of things (the maya) and right into the Divine essence of them (the Brahman). Also that all individual, discrete things (boats, mountains, clouds, whatever) are in fact emanations of the same One great force.

But maybe I'm hallucinating.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 2, 2003 3:46 PM

I would agree that there is something rather Eastern about Turner's sense of "things" being more processes than isolated, stable units. (In talking about him with somebody last week I described him as a kind of visual Buddhist; it's kind of interesting to see you doing the same thing.) With Turner, everything seems to be part of, merging with and mixing with everything else, at least viewed on a long enough time scale. (That may, of course, explain his rather cursory draftsmanship in "the details" as he got older.) One of the nice things about studying Moran is the way he led me back to Turner, who is one of those artists I had never found it easy to understand--Michelangelo I immediately get, Turner (for me) requires study. But it's a great joy being able to see Turner's work a bit more clearly, and I'm sure it will repay further study many times over.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on January 2, 2003 8:14 PM

Well, Michael wants comments on the longer and meatier posts, so I'll try to oblige. It's very good, Friedrich, very good indeed, but I'm not sure I buy your hook about influence being tainted. How many modern artists would deny being strongly influenced by Duchamp, say? And although Moran placed himself more directly in Turner's lineage, as it were, can't you see strong echoes of Turner's later works in, say, the wilder and woolier abstract canvases of Kandinsky?

I think the biggest problem with Turner was that he was too advanced for his contemporaries, and too old-fashioned for the modernists who succeeded him. There's nothing clean and simple about a Turner canvas: it's dense, and messy, in the way that we didn't really see in modern art until the likes of Robert Rauschenberg and Anselm Kiefer. (Hm... Kiefer... now there's someone who could teach Moran a thing or two about oversized canvases...)

Posted by: Felix on January 4, 2003 11:12 AM

Actually, it's funny you would mention Kiefer, Felix--I had actually thought about trying to make that connection explicit before I came to my senses and thought, "Hey, this is way too long already."

As for the ability of modern artists to acknowledge the influence of Duchamp, well, he's a special case. (His art constitutes a deliberately-set boobytrap for critics, and they know it.) But just try quoting Picasso in a painting if you want to get savaged.

I spent a while looking at Kandinsky, too, and I'm not sure he's quite so Turnerian as he might appear, although I'm still making up my mind on this. I want to re-read "Working Space" by Frank Stella and spend some more time thinking about abstract art before I comment. Odd, isn't it, that Moran could lead one not only back to Turner, but also forward to late-20th century painters like Stella and Keifer? And yet I don't see Moran as just some kind of conceptual bridge; he brings a kind of weightiness into play that it seems (to me) that abstract painting could benefit from. Sorry if this seems vague; I'll try to be clearer at some point in the future.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on January 4, 2003 5:14 PM

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