The Easel

Archives: The-Easel

16th January 2018

Colour is Meaning

Acclaimed photographer William Eggleston has a “vernacular” style and “mundane” subject matter – not the hallmarks of great photography. Why then is he so special? A big part of the answer, says Morgan Meis, is the way Eggleston uses colour to communicate meaning. “It’s the dress. The green dress pulls the picture from the realm of cliché into something much harder to define. A natural green, tattered dress is what we might expect of a ‘documentary style’ photograph … Instead, Eggleston captured the dress of someone going to a party. It is the green of someone showing off. This study in green is therefore a study of a color at war with itself. Green is the color of nature here. But it is also the color of anti-nature. Green is a rural color. But it’s also the color of artifice, a link to the urbanity that hovers, unexpectedly, just outside the frame of this photograph.”

26th December 2017

“How to See the World Properly”: An Interview About Jasper Johns

A companion piece to Morgan Meis’ recent Gallery Essay.

The Royal Academy of Arts landmark survey of Jasper Johns work, “Something Resembling Truth”, was co-curated by Roberta Bernstein, a personal friend of Johns.  Johns has said about his work “I have no ideas about what the paintings imply about the world. I don’t think that’s a painter’s business.” Morgan recently interviewed Roberta about this famously elusive artist.

“He is a complex man and his art is challenging. The understanding of a painting as a real object occupying space was so vividly conveyed [by Painting with Two Balls (1960)] and made me think about art in a new way. [Johns] is, I think, struggling with (and also fascinated by) the impossibility of fixing meaning or meanings. He’s more interested in how the mind … constructs meaning.”

GALLERY ESSAY: Is The Painting Counting?

When Jasper Johns was starting out abstract expressionism reigned supreme, asking ‘big’ questions like ‘what does painting do’. Johns had different interests, painting mundane objects like flags. Such paintings, argues Morgan Meis, are elusive. “.. if I paint the number ‘2’ on a canvas, have I brought that number into existence? Is the painting now a ‘2’? Or is it a painting of a ‘2’?

Art does not uncover what is hidden, or resolve itself into clear, declarative statements – this means this, that means that. Rather, in art, meaning is a glimpse of reality, like something seen through a periscope. Periscope (Hart Crane), is not a puzzle to be solved. It is, in the end, a simple painting composed of simple images. Yet those images are resonant with metaphors of the sea, of depths, of longing, loss, secrets and the mystery of meaning.”

A major retrospective of the American artist Jasper Johns, “Something Resembling Truth” has just opened at the Royal Academy of Arts. This essay is reproduced with the permission of the Royal Academy and Morgan Meis.