A painting is a vessel for thought.
Looking at art like licking and tasting.
In a gallery.
Creamy, dripping, curlicues of oil and pigment.
Pigment ground fine from round, round rocks pulled from the earth.
A round, round earth.
The painting was blue.
Cobalt shades of blue, popular again — even so I liked it.
Blue felt new.
New and surprisingly new.
When had blue ever seemed so new?
70 odd years.
Rocks of earth spinning round the sun
Seventy cobalt shapes in cut fabric.
Cut, crude, warp and woof.
Canvas cloth cut from a sail.
The sail for a ship of thought.
Ship or vessel? I’m never sure.
But it is a plane afixed to the wall.
A plane yet you travel and in your mind.
Again, is it a ship or a vessel?
I’m told size often dictates between the two.
And I suppose, text also dictates.
A vessel for thought.
I find myself inexplicably hungry sometimes after I arrive at the studio. I’ve unpacked and am puttering around or flipping through art books in order to find that push to get started on the actual work. It’s a bit like a high jumper on the Tartan getting ready and rocking back and forth ready to approach the pits. It’s entirely my choice when I make that run up attempt at failure or glory.
Back to the hunger. I’m not if it’s real hunger or a kind of procrastination hunger, which is also kind of like boredom hunger. The procrastination part is easily understood, do everything possible under the sun expect what needs to be done or in this case what I claim is so important to me and bitch about never getting enough time to do.
I was explaining to Mark last night — he’s both a champion procrastinator and deep into the beginning struggles of a grad studies essay — that getting into the work is for me like an athlete getting ready to perform. You need to have your goals and then you need to warm up mentally and physically in order to perform. Painting is a surprisingly physical act. After having been a serious, elite athlete for many years I was struck by the physicality of making paintings especially large paintings. I’ve had to make sure I’ve got the right shoes for standing on the studio floor and consider the ergonomics of my tools and position. I once gave myself tennis elbow (which is a rotator cuff overuse injury) from preparing an number of largish sized canvases (4’x4′ up to 5’x7′) for a show. All logical, but the logical often doesn’t appear obvious until retrospection.
However, back to the hunger. I wonder if it’s a blood sugar thing and has to do with the extra energy needed for my brain to process thought. You can burn calories by thinking right? I’m eating low carb right now for fitness and vanity (trying to fit properly back into my very expensive and nice Max Mara dress pants). I’ve made it to day 5 on this so-called “cave man diet” and although my blood sugar should be stabilizing as I become a fat burner again instead of a lazy sugar burner I might be somewhere in the throes of a mild keto flu.
I’ve never experienced pre-workout or pre-hike or pre-run hunger like this. And studio hunger feels like a mildly vicious small beast inside of me that would push a near acquaintance overboard to get to some cake crumbs. Come to think of it, I have felt this way once before. Day 5 of the West Coast Trail and down to my last chocolate chip trail mix bar with 2 more days of remote trekking to go until a corner store. Embarrassingly upon reflection but completely justifiable in the moment, I really didn’t want to share this last treasure with my cohort of hikers. I waited until I was on my own in a bending stretch of duckboard pathway in a primordial West Coast rain forest before I devoured the concealed treasure. I was almost made. The leader of our crew came striding around a bend behind me as I stuffed the wrapper into a pants pocket and wiped the crumbs from my face. I felt like a horrible, unkind person.
So studio hunger is a familiarish beast but I remain unsure as to how I should respond. Is it just a trick-of the-mind and a delay tactic and I’m not really hungry? Is it similarly a form of self-sabotage and taps into any potentially analyzable reason for wanting to avoid and therefore flounder at the thing I claim to want the most (aka a nurturing, thriving studio practice and career as an artist)? Both give me another reason to wrestle with discipline and self-admonishment. To avoid a litany of negative self-talk I turned to research and discovered amazingly that science might actually be on my side. “Science of Snacking: Thinking makes you hungry“, published in Scientific American magazine skates over the research on caloric overcompensation after thinking work. Apparently, thinking causes big fluctuations in glucose and insulin levels. Because glucose fuels the neurons, a transitory low level in the brain might be the reason we feel hungry even though next to no additional calories have been consumed.
I’m deeply curious about the phenomenon and quite certain that some culture (Swedish or perhaps Japanese) may have already developed a word for it that succinctly defines mixed emotions and mixed outcomes of the experience. If you’ve heard of such a label please let me know.
And so, moving on, on the one hand the good news is that I’ve discovered that I am actually thinking and that feeling of hunger is actually a real feeling based on brain chemistry. On the other hand I still feel driven to consume pounds of sweet marie coffee biscuits. Instead I’ll write a bit more.
If preparing to paint (make art) creates feelings that feel like hunger, there may be something to laterally explore in regards to the relationship between the studio, and painting, to hunger and eating. Hunger often prepositions eating. Something it does not. Eating in the studio can be fraught with minor risks: toxic chemicals, perpetually dirty hands, smeared surfaces, and fuzzy things growing in the studio fridge. Working while eating can also lead to mindless overeating. Consuming while creating can feel like stoking a increasingly aggressive coal engine and might actually make up for a climactic sense of accomplishment regardless of the actual accomplishment on the easel. A list of word and ideas and questions: what is a studio kitchen? Is creativity akin to cooking or consuming? Is eating a mode of creation? Is painting/making a mode of nourishment? What is an art diet? What is the nature of procrastination through consumption? Is blood sugar a medium or a material?
Research points to the perception of hunger as evidence that I am here in the studio and actually thinking with my brain. This fact seems to walk directly into my next dilemma which is how much does thinking actually help or hurt artmaking. A topic for another post and another time.
Despite advances in technology, for the time being, the physical act of painting persists. Painting remains always on some primal level the hunter in the cave smearing red clay on the walls, offering a representation of the hunt, the prey, the chase, and the fall as a way of marking, even screaming, “I was here”.
The genesis of art history remains fundamentally relevant to this day. The act of painting remains a way of marking “I was here, now and at this time.”
What is “this time”?
This time can and only can be now; the present, the contemporary.
Painting is therefore at it’s core an assertion of temporality and knowingly or unknowingly an inquiry into the contemporary.
Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben interprets the contemporary as an experience of profound dissonance. He states that to be ‘contemporary’ is to experience a state of proximity with one’s temporality. “Contemporariness is, then, a singular relationship with one’s own time, which adheres to it and, at the same time, keeps a distance from it. More precisely, it is that relationship with time that adheres to it, through a disjunction and an anachronism.” Grossly simplified, the contrast between the old and the new is how the contemporary can be identified and observed.
I’m interested in ideas relating to the contemporary, the juxtaposition it requires, and the evidence of the contemporary in art and visual history. Further to this, I’m interested in the ways that changes in technology, and the impact of that technology on culture marks the relative contemporary and how that has and can be reflected through the act and outcomes of painting. The tools, the materials, the approach, the hand, the marks are all an indication of information processed through the “black box” of the artist.
What can an artist, this black box, be but the product of the influences and environment of her time. It is for this reason that art critic Robert Hughes once said “all art has been contemporary”.
Curator Mohamed Salemy said in 2015 that “this idea of conflating old and next technology is itself not a new strategy in art, but given what is considered old in our time and what the new technology is of our time doing so looks a very distinct way. This post-millennial approach is becoming referred to as “post analog”. The post analog encompasses the current position and tension between digital culture and analog tools and culture.
This tension is the starting point for my current painting work. That point was the choice to reverse engineer and transpose that way in which I work with digital imaging methods, tools, hardware and software back onto a “traditional”, studio-based series of easel-crafted, oil paintings.
The formal aspects of the these works originate from a very different position that could possibly have been taken in even recent past years. They germinate in the digital and are then manifested in the analog. However, and unlike some artists working with the post analog I am not attempting a trompe l’oeil reproduction of digital effects. I’m mining the more fundamental and metaphorical — let’s say “poetic” — aspects of process, system, and binaries.
I’m reverse engineering which might actually be about looking backwards in order to look forward.
From Mark Godfrey, curator of international art at Tate Modern and 2015 exhibition called “Painting after technology”.
Godfrey asks how painters confront a world where screens are so present in our lives. The screens give us “new info distracting us, keeping us at work the whole time… Painters have to ask what kind of attention do we bring to that experience of a painting.” Attention means how to make that moment special and different from our experience of images on screen or distraction”. A common reaction is to work with “tricks to make us concentrate…often those tricks are about layers.”
I am also interested in responding to screen-based technology and how doing so makes painting about the “now” — our now.
Technology and changes in technology have always been a marker in paintings, indicating the time and place where they were made. Changes in paint technology spurred the abstract expressionists. Changes in commerical image making technology supported the aims and processes of the Pop artists.
As painters are influenced by the world around us, the way in which we engage in the world and the tools available to us become a part of our everyday and a part of our “now”. I’m interested in the idea of the contemporary, what that means and how that influences my experience and my production as a painter. Every moment is the only moment in time in which things will be as they are “now”. It should therefore follow that consciously referring the contemporary experience is a way to make work that cannot have been made before. There is a metaphysical underpinning to my approach as well as a pragmatic.
At present we stand straddling the analog and the digital realm. We also stand on the cusp of the augmented and the virtual.
Digital image making techniques employ concepts and methods that cannot be removed from the contemporary vernacular.
In my own experience it has felt as necessary to work in a digital way as it has to work by hand and in an analog manner. Both feel as vital and as rewarding.
Through my practice I attempt to reconcile the differences between the materiality of analog and the processes and equipment of digital while exploring how the amalgamation of the two are the distinctive signifier of this current time.
The lines and dots in the patterns of circuit boards serve as a reference point for some recent sgraffito markings in my paintings. The green and blue colour of these photos have a curious reference to green and blue screen pigments used in visual effects and digital image compositing.
During recent weeks in the studio I’ve realized there is a sub-text weaving through my current paintings that has relationship to high and low “taste” and the nature of decoration. Decoration implies the domestic and not the quotidian but an idealized and “gussied up” version of the everyday from the pages of an interior design magazine. Taste is then implied. High style, low style, street style, and the choices made which reflect on personal taste and the quality of that taste.
The paintings I’m making right now following my own post-analog rules are dense with pattern and form (the sgraffito layers require it) and those element recall the impulsives of the Pattern and Decoration movement. Ben Johnson describes their paintings in this way: “Pattern and Decoration did not distinguish between background and foreground, nor did it emphasize specific aspects of the composition. Rather, much as the abstract paintings of the time, it covered the canvas from edge to edge in an all-encompassing design. At the outset of the movement, Pattern and Decoration artists reacted against the severe lines and restrained compositions of minimalism. Yet, they often retained the same ‘flattening grid’ frequently employed by Minimalist painters.”
My references have been very similar. Pattern and Decoration artists “looked at Roman and Byzantine mosaics in Italy, Islamic tiles in Spain and North Africa. They went to Turkey for flower-covered embroideries, to Iran and India for carpets and miniatures, and to Manhattan’s Lower East Side for knockoffs of these. Then they took everything back to their studios and made a new art from it.”
Decisions about flatness and differentiation between the background and foreground are highly relevant in my new works as is the focal point of compositions. Some of my works in progress flatten the entire surface and some create the optical illusion of dimensionality with simple shadow effects. I’m looking at early computer art and 80’s graphics, Persian miniatures and engraved Medieval manuscripts, art deco patterns, and electronic circuit boards.
Marks are the alphabet for the language of the painter.
For several years I’ve been painting using sheets of paper as my palette. This started as a convenience based on the shared studio I was using and the fact that my glass-topped tabouret was in storage. When frustrated in the studio I’d often find that the paper palettes were more pleasing to look at than the real work underway. I became interested in how the marks provided evidence of the artwork manufactured but were somehow better and a more authentic record of the painting experience. The marks were like the DNA of the painting in it’s most primal form. The paper palettes were documentary. They were documents and as such they provided the key to translating the marks. I was reminded of dictionaries and translation keys.
Joan Snyder’s painting Untitled 1970 (and many others by her) feels to me like a catalog of brush strokes, organized in Snyder’s grid structure. Snyder talks at times about using the idea of musical transcription – the lines on her canvas like the staff marks on paper music and the brush strokes the musical notes.
More recently I stumbled across the glass paintings of Ryan Gander. The works on circular glass palettes are the evidence of a self portrait he made everyday for one year. (Self Portrait XII from 2012 is a series of 31 glass pieces). Mounted on the gallery wall with small shadows the marks float in space. The paint marks show little of blending and brushing. Colours look like they came straight from the tube with little mixing. He may have blended the paint on the canvas if indeed he made the paintings at all.
For me the difference between the two works is that with Synder, we try to interpret the marks as a kind of calligraphy or transcription. With Gander’s work we are left wondering about the final result, the presume self portraits, and to imagine what they looked like.
I’m still intrigued by the structure, dramatisation, and voice overs in classic movie trailers. I’m still interested in using elements in new video works. Unlike the films the source of my inspiration promote, in this case the trailer is the work.
Francesco Vezzoli has worked with similar ideas, but more literally than the way in which I want to work. His 2005 project at the Venice Biennale which was a fake trailer for a fake remake of the film ‘Caligula,’ which included Benicio Del Toro and Courtney Love. In 2007, his fake political debate Democrazy pitted Sharon Stone against Bernard Henri-Levy in competing campaign advertisements.
The 1978 promotion for Woody Allen’s film Interiors (his homage to Ingmar Bergman) intersperses critical commentary on the film in voice over and text cut between atmospheric clips from the theatrical footage.