Thoughts about painting

Update 3/12/22

The foundation of my practice is automatic drawing. Chance and intuition play heavily throughout the history of abstract painting and I embrace that part of this modality. Choice is perhaps our most precious resource, too, so I think it makes sense to engage it vigorously when possible.

I am interested, within my practice and my life, in the idea that two dissonant concepts or conditions can simultaneously be true. Painting is by nature flat (a surface) and can imply space/depth. Isometric cubes are 3 trapezoids so a pattern, and can imply a solid shape (given variation in tone betwixt them). In the case of my work, many of the cubes’ orientation in space can be understood from vantages which contradict each other.

Compositionally, the cube is an element and a structure. This framework gives constraints that are actually freeing and focus the use of intuitive, creative energy- spontaneity, the word artists use instead of play- inside a system.

Personally, cubes have additional content for me, whether from time (hours!) spent in childhood assembling blocks to time spent rendering simple spaces in first year of architecture school, or to the wireframe computer animation of the late 70s and early 80s that was an aesthetic cultural shift I got to witness.

At this point in western history we all see the cube as a representation of early, Modernist ideas of nonrepresentational painting. That intention works for me, as a place to enter the work. Formalism is what my practice looks like in the studio, and there isn’t an intent on my part to have the forms and systems in the paintings refer to something other than the work itself or to formalism more generally. The work is not just some sign sitting around waiting to point to something else.

The goal of or desire for an idea that’s this cute synopsis which begins “the subject of my work…” just doesn’t resonate for me. I prefer to address “my practice,” which I see as the socio-political content of what I’m doing in this moment in humanity’s time here, and my identity, and how they shape each other. Those are ideas and ideas are of course important for Art to be serious. The distinction between looking at the thing on its own terms and talking about that act of looking is important to me. This is also why I don’t title pieces before they are shown so the audience will engage first in looking.

Why foreground the act of looking? Because I am a visual artist, and wish for the visual to have primacy. The allure of creating objects that are an exchange of energy between the maker and viewer has motivated me since I began painting. And this exchange extends now beyond the rectangle, thanks to developments in Art in the last century- one of my favorite artists, Robert Irwin, abandoned painting to get at this magical exchange through new modalities.

Historically speaking, there’s nothing left Painting has to do. Focusing inwardly, on the work, becomes much less fraught in an era when that doesn’t mean a vacuous adherence to silly ideas about the true nature of things. I agree with Jason Stopa that self reflexivity is a path to criticality, and with Arthur Danto that Art is dead as well (in the sense that the object that is Art is divorced from its subject now and our historical imperatives have dissipated, not that Art as a cultural activity is over or not valuable). Does that mean nothing from the past is worth studying, or even carrying forward- absolutely not. Why else make another abstract painting ever (we know what my answer is)? I generally hope a true and deep love of all periods of western nonobjective painting is present and evident in my practice.

I think this all feels like we are freed as creatives! Worrying about whether what we’re making is Art is a waste of time and energy, since none of us get to live in the future anyway. With time, people down the road will decide what happened today that contributed enough to their story to continue to pass it forward (into history). The point isn’t to be a good and loyal descendent, it’s to be a cool ancestor.  

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