Albers in America, 2012
oil on canvas, 30 x 30"
Life Mask 2, 2008
oil on canvas, 30 x 30"
oil on canvas, 40 x 40"
oil on canvas, 30 x 30"
oil on canvas, 30 x 30"
Summer Studio, 2017
oil on canvas, 30 x 30"
Studio Scene with Visitors II, 2012
oil on canvas, 30 x 30"
Among my recent paintings quite a few are unabashedly about painting itself. In these I try to create scenes that invite the viewer not only inside the studio with the painter, his tools and accoutrements, but also inside the world of the painter's imaginings. An alternate universe of beings and non-beings takes shape in the fictive space around him in diaphanous, free-floating images that are variously familiar and fantastic, allusive and abstract. I use techniques of blurring and overlapping transparencies which are crucial to establishing a context of spatial ambiguity where realness and abstraction can coexist and merge.
- John Winslow
John Winslow and the Architecture of Storytelling
The problem with figurative painting is that it can be reductive. Details are lost, colors are confused, proportions are changed. Reality doesn't make it to the canvas. And even when reality does make it to the canvas, it is a photograph, a simple representation of a subject, and not very interesting. There is no art to the painting. Only a truly talented artist can give a peach a personality, or a chair a point of view. Abstraction, too, can be problematic. Seeking to explore something essential to reality or to modify it in some way, the abstraction can become completely incoherent or, worse, embarrassingly indulgent. Only a great artist can communicate the energy in a color or give meaning to a line.
John Winslow is neither reductive nor incoherent. He is, in fact, a very talented artist. He might be a great one. For most of his professional life, Winslow has painted figurative art that borrows from abstraction to achieve its visual power. There is always the interest in form, subordinate to but nonetheless evident in, all of his finished subjects. Perhaps Winslow sees the underlying forms in his images before painting them? There is also his application of paint to consider. In even his most representational work, Winslow's brush strokes are very important. It's as if he is more interested in and excited by the gestural activity of his painting than in the bold assertion of his subjects' material validity.
And while these characteristics are evident in most if not all of Winslow's work, in his more recent work, the artist's interest in process is a central, reoccurring theme—and reason for remarkable innovation. Painting canvases within canvases, images within images, Winslow has created works of tremendous depth and volume. The volume is important for the effect it has upon viewers, whom Winslow situates within his studio, implicated in the production of the artwork. We see the canvas before us, and can study it, the painted and the yet to be painted. The painted is context; the unpainted is pretext. Like the artist, we experience the summons of desire. We sit up in our chairs, notice, say, the attitude of light or the rim of a color. And then we begin to work, without apology or excuse.
In this way, what is private for Winslow-his unique introspection and personal history-becomes a kind of shared and public vocabulary. It simultaneously articulates Winslow's wonderings about himself and his work and gives us a narrative context to explore and wonder about ourselves. In this regard, the viewers "erase" the literal and symbolic elements in Winslow's work and then by that erasure make them into abstractions. These abstractions are then taken up by the viewers, who possess them, repurpose them, and give them new meaning. Whatever the words Winslow gives to us, the stories we make up and tell with them belong to us, and to us alone.
John A Haslem, Jr.
by JOHN WINSLOW
FRASER GALLERY (Bethesda)
October 10 - November 12 2003
Something like twenty years ago, I was talking to John Winslow. We were on the road from West Lafayette, IN, where I was a student at Purdue University, to Chicago, IL, where my mom, Washington art dealer Jane Haslem, was going to show some of John's work at the Chicago Art Fair. We were talking about art. John was already a fine, established artist, and I was the interested undergraduate. "So," I remember John asking me at one point, "does art imitate life or is it the other way around?" Luckily, I had a ready answer; I had studied enough of logic to know that John was presenting me with what is called a faulty dilemma, an either-or proposition like, which came first, the chicken or the egg? I grinned. "Both," I said.
Back in those days John was producing gorgeous still lifes of subjects he was finding both in and around his studio. One of my favorite paintings was of a young woman positioned on a chair so that you could see her profile, but not her face, which was turned away from the viewer in the direction of a window. Then, I understood the woman to be merely a woman; she was seated indoors and looking out through a window at something outside. I found the painting compelling because it was well painted and because I could try to imagine what was outside the window. It didn't occur to me that still lifes could transcend the literal or that objects might act as metaphors. After all, I was an undergraduate.
Today, though, I understand the painting as an extended metaphor. John wasn't painting just a woman, but rather a representation of his artistic desire in search of thematic vocabulary. The studio provided John a context, and the window established a point of view, or, more accurately, a point of departure. John was not so much studying his relationship with the woman as he was exploring his relationship with the world outside his studio. The word "relationship" is intended to imply a kind of communication model that is useful to keep in mind when looking at John's work. It involves John, his medium, and his public, which also includes John. The relationship is fluid and dynamic, and through it John can explore himself, his artistry, and the world in which he lives and produces his art.
It was this relationship which John explored in his earlier work and which he continues to explore in his most recent works. Take, for example, John's "Aerial Troupe." In this erudite composition, we see John poised between two planes. At his back is John's context: his urbane past or perhaps the artistic tradition out of which he is working. Before him, all on the same plane, are an aerial troupe and an audience. The troupe performs above a canvas which is being painted while the audience looks on. The troupe is John's thematic vocabulary: art as performance. It is bright, interactive, acrobatic, thrilling, and sometimes even a bit clownish. The audience is variously interested in John, in his work, or even only in themselves. Thus, what John has created in the troupe is a transactive medium through which he can simultaneously explore his past, himself , his painting, and the world in which he lives. It is a very complicated world, full of discrete and integral relationships.
In the past John was never so bold as to render in specific terms what makes being a human being so complicated. In his mature work, he is much more comfortable doing exactly that. What I find especially interesting about John's new work is that despite its specificity, the painting succeeds precisely because it manages to defy easy interpretation. Is John seeing himself from one painting to the next, between one artistic movement and the next? Is he interrogating the artist's relationship with his public, or is he examining the myriad conscious and unconscious elements which prefigure and figure ourselves, our work, our world? Does art imitate life, or is it the other way around? View John's work and decide for yourself.
John A. Haslem, Jr. Ph.D. ArtlinePlus Critic
John Winslow and his Work
What is John Winslow telling us? He is telling us he loves to paint. He loves the feel of brushes with oil being put on the canvas. He is telling us about himself and his place in the contemporary art world where painting is considered a thing of the past. For him, painting is alive and well and has moved to an altogether new dimension. He is talking to us about figuration, abstraction, balance, composition and color. Yet his images remain recognizable. They move together in an abstract pattern. Once more his figures jump in space, float through air where they know no gravity. They leap off the canvas in defiance of the flat painted surface. In this manner Winslow tells us about his thoughts, in a sense, everyman's thoughts, his relationships with his fellow mankind. And he is always included in his paintings as a sort of icon, watching, wondering, questioning, and thinking. His best works are created in a large format – it is as if he needs to spread his wings and fly with all those images in his head. He is inviting us, the viewers, to understand the wonder and beauty in life and to join in his ride through his great mixing bowl of thoughts, images, color and life.
To be recognized as an important artist of substance and maturity one must study, practice, and practice some more while always remaining focused on pushing the work being created to an ever higher level. Winslow has certainly done this, he has paid his dues. He has remained steadfastly consistent in this endeavor since receiving his MA in painting from Yale University over fifty years ago. He has done little to promote himself but rather applied all his energies, skill, and thorough knowledge of the art masters that have come before to continue in this great tradition of painting.
Jane N. Haslem
My strongest influencer in art, though I didn't realize it at the time because she didn't encourage it, was my mother, Marcella Comes Winslow, a painter and portraitist trained in the beaux arts tradition at the Carnegie Institute of Art in Pittsburgh. She, in her youth, had been selected by her father, John T. Comes, a classically trained liturgical architect, friend and contemporary of Ralph Adams Cram, who built Catholic churches, seminaries and related buildings all over the country, as the most artistically talented of his three daughters and decreed that she should become an artist. He was himself a talented draftsman and watercolorist who took his family on regular vacations to Europe where he painted watercolors of his favorite cathedrals.
Art education for boys in the forties and fifties was not considered a serious option and my mother, who was widowed in 1944, I'm sure wanted a lucrative career for me rather than that of a 'starving' artist like many of the ones she knew.
The result was that I never knew I could draw until I went to college. I started out as pre med. It took one course in biology to disabuse me of that, however, but when I saw what my roommate was doing in pre architecture I thought I would try that and instantly loved it. I found that I had an aptitude for visualizing spaces and perspective drawing so much so that the advanced students were asking me to make drawings for their presentations. I got a lot of encouragement from two architecture professors Heath Licklider and William Shellman and it was also around this time that Frank Stella, two years ahead of me at Princeton and who had been using the copious architecture studios as the place to make his paintings was selected to exhibit his black stripe paintings at MOMA.
That was when I got it in my head that I could possibly become an artist and that what I had absorbed by osmosis from being around my mother was an important part of my 'knowledge.' It was also around this time, my senior year, when Josef Albers came to Princeton and gave a slide lecture showing the paper collages his students were making in his color course at the Yale School of Art. I was smitten by the beauty and passion of his delivery and decided to apply to the school. My portfolio was meager but with good recommendations from my architecture professors I got in. While Albers was technically retired, the Yale art school was completely under his and his wife Annie's sway. The core courses were taught by his acolytes and former students Sy Sillman, Neil Welliver and Bernard Chaet. Albers himself, who lived nearby, visited and lectured regularly. In fact he and other great didacts imported from the Bauhaus after WWII are largely responsible for the shift in the way art is taught today everywhere with the emphasis on abstract rather than academic thought.
born 1938 Washington, DCeducation
public collections1963 Yale School of Art, Yale University, New Haven, CT, MFA1962 Yale School of Art, Yale University, New Haven, CT, BFA1960 Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, AB
American University Museum at the Katzen Art Center, Washington DCButler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OHCorcoran Gallery of Art, Washington DCWadsworth Atheneum, Hartford CONNFogg Art Museum, Cambridge MAInstitute of Contemporary Art, Boston MALauren Rogers Museum of Art, Laurel, MSMinneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis MINNMilwaukee Art Center, Milwaukee WINew Orleans Museum of Art LAThe Fort Worth Art Museum, Fort Worth TXSan Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco CAThe High Museum of Art, Atlanta GAThe Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn NYSan Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio TXIndianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis INTucson Museum of Art, Tucson, AZMuseum of Art, Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh PAPhiladelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia PA
In the galleries: An artist's past, present and future
By Mark Jenkins, The Washington Post, July 10, 2015
John Winslow. "The Armchair," 1990. Oil on canvas, 80 x 105 in.
The oldest painting in "Realism Transformed: John Winslow's Wild New World" is a portrait of three children. It was executed in a neo-classical style in 1973, the year of the D.C. artist's first local solo show. The picture is included in this American University Art Museum retrospective not to demonstrate what the veteran painter does, but what he can do. Of course, the more recent canvases also display Winslow's formidable abilities. But the directness of the early work has been supplanted by a multifaceted approach.
Acknowledging the theatricality of traditional studio painting, Winslow stages his paintings as scenes on sets, often seen from dramatically elevated vantage points. Since the pictures are performances of a sort, they may include actors, dancers and technicians. Figures from art history also can appear, and self-portraits are common. To convey the act of painting, and the thinking of the painter, Winslow incorporates spectral figures, geometric shapes and regions of sheer abstraction. As subject and form merge, everything is fair game. Yet realism is still the bedrock.
The least figurative pictures, such as 1990's "The Armchair," recall Cubism and Futurism's attempts to see every aspect simultaneously and to convey motion by exploding objects in multiple directions. But 2015's "Self" realistically depicts the artist on his studio floor, a painted small-town backdrop tilted behind him. This contrived yet entirely representational scene suggests an artistic journey that has carried Winslow back to a place that's both the same as and different from 40 years ago.