Thoughts about painting

I started painting because it was what I wanted to see in the world.

I hope to entice the viewer(s) to un-construct the relationship of space and surface (these are definitely places in addition to surfaces).

Each  painting is a record of what I was “thinking” for a moment in time. Really, it was intuition- “feel” (rather than knowing in an intellectual sense). All of the compositions start with a single isometric cube, and then develop “outward” from there. The journey of working through the composition is, for me, like automatism, in a way- the “action” part of the painting, if you will.

The three “sided” isometric cubes imply dimensional space of course but I also, intentionally subvert that structure by the use of color, tone and line.  I don’t actively try to compartmentalize illustrating and painting techniques. I also sometimes use painter’s tape or a mahl stick, but not out of a desire to be “fussy” about the work. In other words, I don’t utilize geometry to imply order or discipline. For me, using geometric tools like cubes as “action painting” tools (rather than the conventional, gestural “mark”) underscores that the artist’s prerogative and specifically choices- moving through the creation process as a series of reactions to what transpired directly before- is part of the subject of this work.

Basically, I’m a (reformed) Modernist working in a formalist tradition who is trying to give contemporary people an experience that’s grounded in their senses. We obviously can’t recreate the cultural moment of, say, Neo Concretism, but I can relate to many of the aspirations of the early Modernists, which resulted in the modalities to which I’m drawn. Shorter- duh…

I’ve always felt a bit pretentious placing myself in the historical context of Art with a capital “A”, and/or abstraction as a project. Like all serious post-modern artists, I take inspiration from where I see fit, whether that’s video games or a certain school of painting. In fact, I would be thrilled if someone said “I feel like, aesthetically, this work lives in some place “between” early modernism and early computer age.” The cube is foundational to both and is literally a foundation in this work.

Also- being serious doesn’t mean focusing on trying to carve out space in the canon for yourself. History decides what is art, not artists (our only job is to create).

 

In regards the first sentence in this post/essay: I believe we have to create the world we want (again, a sort of romantic, Modernist conception). If I want a world with abstract painting in it, I have to participate by making, talking about, sharing and seeing this type of cultural activity (also including teaching btw). There’s also a lot generally to unpack in a sentence that clearly has layers of meaning and implications, especially about power structures since not all of us have the same socio-economic ability to self-actualize. Because I take those concerns seriously and it requires, and merits, directness, I find it worth noting that making the work I want to see in the world is not some clever metaphor about society.

Related to power- it is hard to overstate the influence that the group of artists known as Abstract Expressionists had on me during my formative years as a painter. They were not without shortcomings as individuals though, specifically their exclusion of some great women painters who were eventually recognized as part of the canon, with no thanks to most of their male counterparts. While my motivations and inclinations about painting are much different than they were when I made my first abstract painting in 1992, the full historical context of the Abstract Expressionists’ work should never be ignored.

This period of American painting was/is also a pivotal contribution to the idea of a master narrative in Western painting. The irony that the project of Modernism, and the very idea of a master narrative in fact, found it’s illogical conclusion as a result of this project is not lost on me*. I feel fairly confident in writing/saying that it’s clear, with the distance of almost a century since the notion of the avant garde was introduced to discourse about the arts, that it is bologna. Don’t believe me- then ask yourself why jazz still happens as an art form. Though I am not a jazz consumer, at least in any dedicated (again, “serious”) kind of way, jazz shares with abstraction a modality where form and content are the same. Music was transformed by all of the same notions as visual art in the last century (Elsworth Kelly is to painting as John Cage is to music, etc.). And yet- does anyone ever say “jazz is done?” Maybe- I’ll offer that anyone who does is boring and unserious though. People keep playing, and I plan to continue “just” painting.

*I, personally, think the installation work of Robert Irwin, not the painting and sculpture of Minimalists, is as close to an example of a “logical” evolution of formalist abstraction into “pure” visual experience for the viewer. Irwin made some good paintings, too, and I am so glad I got to see his retrospective at Hirshhorn.