Spring 2021, Volume 30

From the Art Editor

One joy of being boss of almost nothing, in my case this column, is that I can try things that I haven’t seen sanctioned in tonier alcoves of the visual art world. Here goes.

I vote “For” Edgar Vaskanyan’s art in this issue of Verdad because, undergoing treatment for recurrent cancer, he’s quilted together an understated, endearing set of imagery that taken together feel singular, utterly personal, enigmatic. It’s a memoir, in other words, not an autobiography. He’s cared for certain things in his life, and he wants you know they're there. Fighting for one's life is harrowing, yes, but not reason by itself for an art exhibition. Allowing for that, and I hope he does well again this go round, I’m struck how quotidian AND mature Edgar’s work feels. Look! A fellow has used an everyman’s hammer, nails and wood to build the one house everyone in town can recognize is his.

“But Jack, his own Artist’s Statement cites vast art historical movements. After school days, isn’t loving art history, rather than making it, a concern?” Well, god knows how history will be made and then remade going forward. The best one can do as an artist is make the product that only they can make, that feels like them more than any influence.

If his tight cameos of society people have a cousin in Edward Gorey’s characters, Edgar’s color, framing, and in-the-moment narrative makes them his own. See how “Vase With Two Apples” mashes up: Matissean-Cezannesque fascination with patterning; a color palette that inspires David Hockney to praise his party; tipped up, compressed space common in Indian Miniatures and certain folk art traditions; and is further mashed up with his easy (it’s hard!) expressionistic drawing—his uncensored human touch—that is so compelling in Outsider Art or Naive Art. He’s no naif, though, and I hope he doesn’t feel more an outsider than many artists do.

Do you like a good tear-jerker? Don’t skip over the less showy recent abstract paintings. Duller, smudgier, non-narrative compared to the earlier work, they’re as heartrending in context as Willem de DeKooning’s late works where, despite illness, (in DeKooning’s case, dementia) distracting him, emptying him out, you still sense an irrepressible artist rising to his calling with all he has. Thank you, Edgar, for these.

                                                                                                                                     —Jack Miller