WILLIAM ANTHONY Ironic Icons IIby Dan Tarnowski
CHRISTOPHER HENRY GALLERY | MARCH 8 – APRIL 8, 2012
A LETTER TO PICASSO
FROM DAN TARNOWSKI
I saw an art exhibition today that made me think of you. The small paintings in William Anthony: Ironic Icons II were done in a primitive style that reminds me of the stuff you were working on in the early 1900s. Remember when you became interested in African sculpture and started simplifying your forms in paintings like “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” (1907)? Anthony captures a similar innocence, only I don’t see much African influence in his work. His work seems especially influenced by, well, you!
“Good artists copy; great artists steal.” Remember when you said that? Perhaps not, but the day is bright as cadmium yellow in my memory. We were in your studio and you had just knocked off one of Matisse’s compositions—a woman leaning on a table with her head on her arm—only you outlined the woman’s face with one circular zip of the brush and made the skin bright pink. I always wondered if Matisse was steamed by your attempts to one-up him! Anyway, Anthony seems to have taken your comment about copying quite literally because he has repainted many famous paintings in his own playful style here.
I wish you had been at the gallery with me, as you would’ve had a good chuckle spotting the famous pictures. For instance, Anthony painted George Bellows’s “Dempsey and Firpo”—remember that painting of the boxers from 1924, back when some of those Americans began painting scenes of daily life in poorer neighborhoods? Bellows’s image of Luis Ángel Firpo knocking his foe clean over the ropes has always reminded me of how you described finishing a painting. Remember your remark? You said, “To finish it means to be through with it, to kill it, to rid it of its soul, to give it its final blow, the coup de grâce for the painter as well as for the picture.” Anthony certainly gave Bellows’s painting his own ending, by turning his boxer into a harpy with pale green skin and hair on end, like Frankenstein’s bride from the 1931 Hollywood movie.
Anthony even copied your paintings! His “Picasso Pair” (2011) is a recreation of your painting from 1901 of a young man in profile, the man curling his fingers around his face and sitting next to a young woman who looks at the viewer. I remember you were fascinated with harlequins back then. Anthony captured the same clownish lasciviousness with which you imbued your faces at that time, and he brought that cheekiness to many of his other pictures too. Do you know what the most amusing part of the exhibition was, Pablo? This artist’s style—bright colors spontaneously layered over pale backgrounds, with figures surrounded by thin, dark outlines—reminds me of one artist in particular. Why, your old friend Matisse! Boy, I sure wish you had been there.
Your friend and apprentice,