I have long admired the work of John Asaro and been intrigued by the story of his disappearing act into a depressive mist, dropping off the LA art radar after considerable success, becoming by popular myth a recluse. Every great artist MUST have one of those periods. I am working on mine. Hope it comes soon.
So it was great to finally meet local legend John Asaro (www.johnasaro.com) in person this Sunday at his Bergamot Station mega exhibition 'Bella Donna' featuring over 60 life-size figurative oils in all the colors of the rainbow, see previous post. For a guy in his 70's, he sure looked incredible and much younger than his years.
This guy knows how to do high-key color and apply it to the female figure in variously twisted large contorted compositions. Lots of warm and cool 'color interplay' in the skin. Lots of hard edges. Lots of lost edges. He uses red acetate glasses he told me to check his values. You can tell he is holding on to his value pattern, and then applying wild color combos on top. But he never lets go of his values. And that is what makes it all work in my opinion. Squint and it was all clear.
Some paintings are quite 'in your face'. But I was very impressed. His art voice is original. I thought some of his earlier work a tad too Sorolla-esque, many of the 'mother and child' images and beach scenes of old, featured in his now out of print book "A New Romanticism". NO, it will not be re-released. He is 'over' all of that now, he shared with me. Glad I got the book when I did. Offer me a good deal and it's yours.
Asaro taught a generation of LA artists at Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, from 1974 to 1981. He invented the Asaro planes of the head, head, to show how light falls on a face in plane form, still used in art schools today.
It was good to see the show was benefiting fine art scholarships at Art Centre. It was not so good to see that only four paintings had sold as of Saturday afternoon (mostly small ones including two of his daughter which probably means he was keeping those anyway). The show was closing just three days later and we all know that most paintings in a show are sold either before the show opens by special preview or on the night of the reception.
I felt depressed for him actually. There is only one reason an artist is hanging out at a huge gallery showing his work on a Sunday afternoon outside of a reception. To sell paintings. His show catalog, which he was graciously signing if you had paid your $30, was selling like hot cakes.
This is Asaro's big comeback. In an interesting docu-film playing at the show he said he has found his calling, painting the female figure, and through it quit depression. Dark days gone. I personally would have expected these paintings to fly off the wall. But the prices were generally high going all the way up $300,000 mark. Usually you have to be almost dead to command those kind of fees. I am glad he is not.
A lot of paintings were huge. My husband said quietly to me, he should have painted them smaller. Who can hang things this big except a museum and a few billionaires? Who can afford them in this economy? Except a museum and a few billionaires. Also, those 'in your face nudes', might have put some off. Not quite right for the dining room.
Maybe sales were not his agenda. I suspect not. But this collection took three years to paint he told me. Everyone needs to eat. I loved one clip in the film where he squeezed out a whole tube of Old Holland red on his palette in one go. He obviously gets through a lot. NO skimping on materials here.
Asaro is as superb a draftsman of the human form as any I have seen. His color is glorious. . His value range killer. His cast shadow treatment, merging in and out of the human form in shadow, magnificent.
So I was determined to have a bit of a chit-chat with him. But I could see, as other people approached him, he was not effusive in nature. A man of few words for a stranger. A bit guarded. Mine was a very one-sided chat really. I have seen clams in hot garlic broth open up more. But I kept on at him.
Fortunately I was wearing a big hat so he just thought I was one of those menopausal crazies. He had no interest in me at all despite me clearly knowing quite a lot about him and surprising him with super-intelligent questions. Knew for instance that he had used Sara Streeter in a lot of the work, see previous post, and other tid-bits of Asaro history. It was also obvious I knew a few people in the room and was in the art world, not a stalker.
I would have thought that would have sparked at least just one 'two-sided' sentence. A flicker of interest. Alas, no.
The only time I saw a real spark in him, was when one of my students who I bumped into at the show, came up to join me trying to converse with him. She is VERY beautiful, think Angelina Jolie, and he instantly wanted to paint her of course. Gave her his card...come up and be in my etcings...ah....the life of a male artist. He perked right up! Charming.
To tell you how good the show was for me, after I left I found myself going back for another hour just to really study his work again. Now he really thought I was stalker status. There was so much to learn from him. He is still a great teacher. And Asaro's new direction in his art speaks for itself. Wonderful.
If I had the space and money, he would be hanging on my walls.