Artist Statement 3/2020
Over the years, a vocabulary of form resulting from a synthesis of styles from twentieth-century modernism and use of materials common to that tradition — paint on canvas, wood, metal, collage, has come to uniquely characterize the work. The one facet or theme that remains constant is that each piece exists as a singular presence, an image object with a distinct “personality” or mood. Each is arrived at nonobjectively using an intuitive process to realize it’s own inherent natural order.
Canvas stretched over a constructed shape as a derivative of the rectangle is the point of departure into the realm of sculpture for the small pieces. In larger works, the canvas, while likewise shaped, has a surface that remains basically two-dimensional. Constructed elements are added and subtracted in dialogue with the paint. Frequently the process of painting—dripping, pouring, peeling, sanding, blending, defines and holds a virtual space, while the concrete shape and other added elements to the original rectangle emphasize actual space. The play of boundaries between polarities such as painting/sculpture, virtual/actual, flat/dimensional, representation/abstraction, ornamental/minimal, spontaneous/controlled, become integrated in a singular gestalt unique to each piece.
The method is that of no method with inspiration coming from anything and everything. The subject and meaning arrives out of the process of painting and seeing. While painting, the movement of the subconscious to conscious becomes a manifestation of imaginative, mental states of being that are solidified in a resulting image object. When the work becomes self-evident, it’s natural order revealed, it is basically resolved, finished and named.
With this show, Pointless Pleasure, opposing elements are playfully brought together, reframed and/or recontextualized, to create uniquely contrasting decorative shaped paintings and constructions made for the enjoyment of looking — seeing. The floating frame idea, which appears in a number of pieces, is a play on Japanese floating world wood block prints and the illusory nature of pleasure, entertainment, the world. The show’s title was inspired from the concluding sentence of a short story, “The Loop” by J. Robert Lennon: “All that remained was the pleasure, disembodied and limitless, the loop itself nothing more than a decoration, like the pointless stars etched onto the bowl of the sky.”
Double Take (or taking a second look)
Artist Statement 3/2018
This body of work grew out of the painting Detour
. The entangled lines in the center of the painting looked like an abstract sculpture to me, so I thought why not turn them into a sculpture and see where that goes? As I was looking at several other paintings that were in progress simultaneously, I thought they all too could be sculptures. A central figure of interest, each with a different personality/identity which could be translated into an object, suddenly stood out to me and became the starting point of this show. The focus became materiality as an intellectual process of translation.
Previous bodies of work tended to blur the boundaries between painting and sculpture, so this time I thought it would be interesting keep the paintings with a basically flat surface and construct small scale wall sculptures as their counterpart, and as a kind of riff on the larger paintings. The format of three stacked half cubes, with the middle “cube” an empty space, allowed for this enclosed space to display a miniature version of the central image from the heart of the painting, as well as allude to a standing figure. Each “sculpture “ reflects a different personality/identity and uses a variety of materials: wood, hardboard, wrapped wire, canvas, “found” objects, aluminum plate, paper mache, and acrylic paint.
While I'm painting, I photograph the work and paint and collage on the photo image, so a back and forth dialogue exists between the actual painting and its virtual counterpart. It gives another way to take a second look at the painting from a different perspective. The small paper pieces are reflective of this process at various stages of the painting— some were started in the early stages of the painting, while others were used to work out small adjustments as the painting was nearing completion. Reduced in size, they function as a conceptual record of the painting and are almost an antithesis of the overt physicality of the wall sculptures.
The paintings themselves exist on the line between image and object, illusive and actual. They arise out of the process of painting and the concrete use of color, line, texture, form, and shape. The subject emerges out of chaos, becomes ordered, and it is finding the natural logic to the painting, rather than imposing a logic to the painting, that I find interesting and is what allows for each painting to have a unique personality/identity. It is not a serial approach to painting but rather the method of no method. It is starting anew again and again.
Finally, the show itself is hung and pieces repetitively titled so that hopefully viewers, too, will experience a few double takes as they move around the gallery from painting to sculpture, large to small, and back again.
Artist Statement (musings) 3/2016
"In life," (one could also say as in painting), " you start off not knowing the answer -- it's when the thing interacts that its particles are revealed, even resolved."
In Light of What We Know, by Zia Haider Rahman, p246
For some reason I love the challenge and find it endlessly fascinating of trying to pull something "meaningful", without using words or overtly representational images, out of a white rectangle. The first question I ask is, do I want to leave it a rectangle or why whould I want to change it? There are associations I do like and want to keep: It relates to the room the painting is in, it can be a window one looks into which allows one to explore all the illusive qualities of paint, there is a long tradition of painting in rectangles, and one knows it is a painting to hang on the wall.
But I want something that pushes the limits of painting a little -- something unique and singular but still has its roots in tradition, so that whatever I put in the blank rectangle references aspect(s) of the history of painting, but all mixed up, -- cubism, constructivism, surrealism, abstract expressionism, minimalism, the 1930-40's transcendental painting group here in New Mexico -- twentieth century modernism, where paint on canvas has been the primary medium. The craft of oil painting I respect and love, so all the work is done with oil paint, only the grounds vary.
Because the first shape confronted is a rectangle, I build from there. Like the transcendental painting group, geometry becomes the underlying framework, however, not as a mathematically precise system, but in an organic sense: I extend, grow, the stretcher bar in places where it simultaneously enhances the illusive properties of the retangle yet remains a concrete object with a singular presence. I often like to think of working with multiple rectangles/screens at different angles from each other to create a shallow layered (cubist) space. Alternating polarities/contrasts becomes a way of bringing it all together -- geometric/organic, loose and painterly/tight and flat, concrete/illusive. Shapes are added and subracted to flesh out what is going on. Each painting has a natural logic to it, which is fascinating to discover -- it is a presence with a will of its own.
I use an intuitive, stream of consciousness approach (surrealism) that allows for a dialogue to occur with the painting/construction. Preliminary drawings, generated from previous paintings, determine the intial shape of the painting. But from there, the shape determines everything else. The painting is finished when a "still point" is reached -- a harmonious tension when nothing can be added or subtracted. Every element contributes toward establishing a unity that is expansive in nature, embracing both in/out, positive/negative, and in this sense one could say it is spiritual in nature.
It is often said that the artist must come to the canvas with an idea to express. I come to the canvas as an empty vessel with no "idea" to express and no method, but with an attitude of complete curiosity. I come to the painting with a question -- what can you reveal? And perhaps, this is the same question the viewer asks. It is about direct perception (minimalism), not ideas, and it is only through direct perception that self and world come alive. Ideas may be discovered afterwards. One could say the idea of painting is to discover the natural logic of the painting (abstract expressionism), and resulting manifestation of an autonomous presence, felt and beheld with the totality of one's being.
Regarding this body of work, Betwixt and Between: Its focus has been pushing the scale of the "sculpted" elements, blurring divisions between painting, sculpture, printmaking, and increasing a breadth of possibilites rather than a narrowing of vision. I have been especially intrigued with a variegated, tactile surface and sense of touch as a form of primal communication. Light, shadow, and relationship to the wall have been important. Each painting functions as an autonomous presence (as much as that is possible), neither here nor there, between the illusive and concrete, between the question and answer, in a liminal space -- enimatic and mysterious. Titles point to an "ah,ha" moment of discovery and realization I have had regarding them. However, although the paintings may have an abstract narrative behind them, the paintings/constructions should not need an explanation.
Artist Statement 3/2014
Over the years, a vocabulary of form resulting from a synthesis of styles from twentieth century modernism
, and media -- oil on canvas, collage, wood, metal, has come to uniquely characterize the work. The one facet or theme that remains constant is that each piece exists as a singular presence in format, shape, size. Each is arrived at non-objectively
and involves movement from the concrete to illusory. Oil paint on canvas, stretched over a rectangle or square becomes the departure point, often into the realm of sculpture for the small pieces, whereas in the larger pieces, the canvas is shaped and the surface remains basically two-dimensional while the "residue" of painting a picture -- dripping, pouring, peeling, scraping, sanding paint, defines and holds an imagined space. In the latest work, diagonal lines become diagonal bars that accentuate illusory floating planes of light and texture. The "subject" arrives out of the process of painting, reflecting the view of form gives rise to content, and the movement of the subconscious to conscious often becomes a way of manifesting current physical/mental states of being. The visual concern is to create an encapsulated, yet allusive, sensual object that punctuates actual space with an expansive energy in the here and now.
Materials and Technique
Oil paint is applied to gessoed canvas, and/or hardboard, gatorboard, wood, aluminum lithography plates. Xerox transfer, paper collage, and/or "found" hardware is sometimes incorporated. Galkyd resin is used as the painting medium and replaces the traditional linseed/damar mixture. A wide variety of techniques are used in applying/removing the paint, with any number of tools imagined. After the initial shape of the piece is determined, preconceptions are discarded and a dialogue with the work determines what comes next. Every action taken is an attempt to see more clearly what is going on until disparate elements form a harmonious whole. When the work becomes self-evident, it is basically resolved, finished, and named.
Artist Statement 5/2011
This body of work comprises selectedpaintings and constructions from 2003- 2010. The pieces range in scale from large oil paintings to framed miniature constructions and encompass a wide variety of processes, including poured paint, metal and wood assemblage, and collage. Previous shows focused on the relationship of fluid paint and geometric architectural elements, the space between thoughts before words are formed, and the blurring of boundaries between painting and sculpture. All adding up to the question: "What is it?"
My intention is to place the viewer in a ground of uncertainty, and the work in a place where it can't be comfortably labeled as either this or that, or from here or there, now or then. Hopefully, with that uncertainty, the constructed paintings acquire a more universal and timeless quality open to the present, and to that aspect of newness that never vanishes.
Artist Statement: Painterly Architectonics, 4/2009
For a number of years, I've been intrigued by Goethe's
(1749-1832) aesthetic that the artist's function is to make visible the hidden laws of nature by creating a parallel order. The beautiful is a sensory phenomenon in the form of an idea, not an idea in the form of a sensory phenomenon. So one does not seek to give form to an idea, but one seeks the idea that corresponds to the form. It's about finding.
This body of work explores the workings of the intuitive mind in conjunction with the shaped canvas and the fluidity of paint in the way it's applied either with a squeeze bottle or poured. The process of working becomes a reconciliation of structured geometrical, architectural shapes with a spontaneous, less structured painting event and its residual lines and shapes. The relationship between the two: the structured/unstructured sets up a dialogue where one finds a resolution to opposition, and one finds meaning through the process itself: building and painting - painterly architectonics.
Painterly Architectonics was first used at the beginning of the last century by the Russian Constructivists in reference to the connection between painting and architecture. Their paintings became examples of a pure spatial articulation defined by materials. Elements would solicit a perspectival reading while simultaneously defying it.
Popova, in 1918, wrote:"…A transformed form is an abstract one and is completely subject to architectonic necessity and… to the general constructive objectives. The artist gains complete freedom in absolute nonobjectivity, orienting and constructing the line, plane, volumetric elements and color weight."
It became evident that a subject is unnecessary in painting. One can experience great joy just seeing colors and lines and satisfying an instinct for harmony and the communication of beauty (the mystery of life.)
The works in this show use blocks of color to structure space and give a definite sensation and energy coming form the painting: orange (confident), green (nurturing), gold (transformational), blue (inspirational), black (mysterious, protective). Further, the paintings suggest a cosmic floating sense of space with their loosely patterned grids and atmospheric gradations. Lines and planes are used to open up space. In the framed miniatures, this aerial sense of space is translated into a feeling of intimate immensity. Visual elements suggest and are juxtaposed to function rather like a Haiku poem, bringing disparate sensations together in a single gestalt and moment of understanding to which the title points.
Artist Statement 2007:The Space Between Letters
The title of this show is The Space Between Letters. Our culture relies so much on conceptual thought, text messages, and the soundbyte, it is important to remember to open ourselves to what we see before we name, describe, compare, define, categorize, and analyze -- to focus on that, as it is, prior to words. In this show, some of the paintings incorporate letters, the negative space of letters, or the gestures of writing, all representing language as pattern and rhythm before meaning has been assigned. Although the text is in English, it has been reassembled to be suggestive of other languages from different times and places.
Using geometric form, a limited palette, and qualities inherent to the properties of paint, the paintings become a form of concrete figuration. Harmonic orders are created from balanced fields of tension across the surface of the canvas, which may or may not include a low relief. A purely abstract order may develop into an arrangement that identifies with the objective world; or the painting may take the form of a paradigm in a purely formal arrangement. In either case, the art work becomes a spacious presence suggestive of a transcendent universal harmony which one senses within one's self or discovers in the outside world.
The Painting Process:
I work on twenty or more paintings at once. Each piece suggests another piece or how to finish a previous piece. There is a constant dialogue between the paintings as the body of work moves towards resolution. During the process of painting, I keep myself open and receptive to what the work suggests. Each piece starts with a question. I try never to force or come up with an answer but wait until the solution comes to me. I follow where my energy pulls me. The work moves at its own pace and some paintings may rest for six months or so while other paintings come into being and from which the answer to an unresolved question may suddenly take form. I liken the process of painting to a form of prayer/meditation because it is a constant process of surrendering the ego, all one's preconceptions, likes, dislikes, judgments, goals, so that one is in a state of complete receptivity and openness. One develops faith in the process.
Framed Miniatures 2005-2007
This series explores permutations of an oblong rectangle or square in conjunction with various tactile and painterly surfaces. The pieces function as studies for larger paintings as well as standing alone as finished works. The subtractive/additive construction process of using wood strips to define absent rectangles gives the miniatures an architectural or built feeling of space suggesting parts of interiors, floor plans, walls, gardens, windows. In some of the pieces, ornamental design elements and embellished surfaces allude to the traditional use of decoration for spiritually transcendent purposes. Open spaces of intensely worked paint, as well as the focus involved in each piece, play off the idea of an intimate immensity and magnification of the imagination.
Artist Statement 2005
The paintings develop out of a spatial relationship that I am intrigued to see on canvas. I like to have a number of works in progess so that a dialog exists between them. Elements are added and subtracted as suggested through the process of painting. Sensuous surfaces, subtle, unexpected uses of color, and a variety of techniques evolve. Sometimes three-dimensional elements are added to create a tension with illusory painted spaces. Breaking the rectangle format helps to give each piece a unique and particular presence.
Statement Concerning the Work, 2001
I frequently start with a sketch involving some kind of spatial/shape sensation that intrigues me and would be fun to paint. After the initial impetus gets translated to the canvas, there is a long editing process. I find that painting is a matter of listening and keeping the mind receptive and fully in the present moment. Each piece has a voice of its own suggesting things I hadn't anticipated. It is the unexpected and incongruous elements that excite and fascinate me in the work. A painting is successful for me when it attains harmony simultaneously with that element of surprise. The finished piece makes clear to me the intrigue I had at the beginning.One could say the title summarizes the piece, and the irregular shapes or "frames" give the viewer a foothold in the painting. A situation is set up where the content may actually begin or is in the framing device, even though these extensions are added and/or subtracted at any point along the way. I also use as many techniques, additives, and ways of applying oil paint as possible so as to create a surface that entices the viewer and accentuates the process of looking.
Statement Concerning the Work, May 1999
This body of work comprises a community of recurring shapes and patterns altered and re-invented from image to image to make each painting totally unique. Circles, and their various permutations, act as the organizational underpinning for the paintings. Horizontal/vertical bands/stripes echoing the edge of the canvas set up a dialog between the circle and rectangle. Out of this basic relationship of circle to rectangle a universe of decorative eccentricities and quirky unexpected relationships arises. Figurative allusions and associations reverberate beneath seemingly non-objective forms to add a poetic dimension to the work. Spatial tensions between actual and illusion,(punctuated by the use of aluminum plate pop-outs, plaster gauze semi-spheres, ping-pong balls, bent wire, sculpted polyform compound, and/or looped electrical wire glued and wired to the surface), bring another level of resonance. Then add to this a variety of painting techniques --sanding, glazing, splattering, incising, blending, stamping and the paintings become an intensely tactile and sensuous visual experience.
Statement Concerning the Work: Recurrent Patterns, 1997
In the body of work called Recurrent Patterns I have used the mandorla as the underlying structure for the majority of the paintings. It has been a shape that has recurred throughout my work since 1985, and I thought it would be interesting to do a body of work that somehow incorporated aspects of this shape in every painting. Being that it is a symbol for heaven and earth, I thought it would be especially curious to use repetitively as a kind of chant/prayer. I am also interested in the idea of the practice of painting itself as a form of prayer and thought the mandorla an apt shape to focus my attention.
mandorla: an almond-shaped figure, formed by two intersecting circles, which symbolizes the intersection of the two spheres of heaven and earth and of the perpetual sacrifice that regenerates creative force.*
attention (at every moment to every detail)
repetition: (as in prayer) provides a basis for the penetration of the resonance itself, and therefore also the object to which the resonance refers, into the heart.
to release expectations: so as to be in a state appropriate for receiving whatever blessings prayer (painting) might bring. The self must be void of meaning: to the extent that I can let go of preconditions, prayer (painting) becomes rich with meaning.
law of nature: even the smallest intention towards letting go can be enough to bring Grace. ("One who is without the intention of letting go is dead. One who so intends towards letting go is alive.")
accidental marks: exemplify all that is desirable, but which can never be attained deliberately.
nature of the world: cyclical, repetition of change characterizes the law of creation.
All of life is made up of repeating patterns that have been invented or inherited.
We are constantly seeking symbols to express a truth greater than ours; repeating over and over an effort that strives toward perfection, which is never attained. In this way, repetition can be seen as necessary for imitation of the divine.
Repetition is keeping the opening to the unknown in sight.
If the question is alive, repetition itself becomes change.***From J.E. Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols, 1962, p.203
**From Paul Jordon-Smith, "Even the Ancestors," Parabola, Volume XIII, Number 2, May, 1988, pp.98-104
Statement Concerning the Work: The Elusive Self, 1994
A couple of years ago I began taking photographs of myself behind a sheet recording only my silhouette and shadow. I wondered if the transient faceless shapes captured by the photograph combined with a free-associative way of painting would be a visual way to address existential questions concerning the nature of being.The photographs I took, which became the starting point of the painting, were concerned with the relationship of gesture to the individual: Does the gesture define the individual, or the individual the gesture? There being a limited number of gestures, does that make the gesture more unique than the individual? Would re-enacting a gesture of a figure in a painting from the 14th century evoke something from that time? Would it be possible to create a whole painting from the gesture of a single figure, as a novelist might create a story? By using a photograph of my silhouette/shadow, would I more easily be able to delve into my unconscious and gain a new awareness of the self?I was not interested in painting the figure so photo-collage made the most sense in terms of allowing me to work abstractly. The mixed-media shaped and relief canvases became a way to balance image/object, virtual/actual and to cross the bridge from this reality to another. I incorporated letters in some of the pieces as a formal device to hold the space in which the image hovers and allude to the essentially elusive quality of the self.
Gallery Talk: Disembodied Objects, 24 October 1992
I once read that basically what artists are doing is creating their own reality, both as a form of protection and as a form of questioning or challenging. Certainly, "What am I doing?" is a question that always seems to be in my mind, and it often relates to the matter of finding one's place in the universe and of exploring the relationship of one's individual psyche to the collective. For me, being out here in New Mexico intensifies this issue; looking out over miles and miles of desolate land one feels one's solitariness to an extreme.
The summer of 1991 I had reached a point in my work where I was feeling a need to make greater contact with the world. My previous painting had been generated solely from the process of free association to lines emerging from the contact of pencil to paper. It was a very introspective process. I was aware that the Spanish painter Joan Miro, who likewise frequently worked from automatic drawing, had done a series of collages and paintings in the 1930s based on objects from ads and sales catalogs. Household items and industrial machines were used to provoke his imagination so that the final result was something more akin to the cave painting of Lascaux and the rhythms of the unconscious than the printed matter of advertising.I leafed through a couple of merchandise catalogs, but the sewing machines and power tools we have now, have such homogeneous shapes and surfaces there's not much to be inspired by. In fact, I found myself becoming very depressed turning these glitzy pages of seemingly endless consumption. I want to interject here, that at the same time I was looking at Miro's work I was reading a novel that was structured around the gesture of a figure, that in my mind had become frozen in time, turned in space, with a hand above the head -- a statue of sorts. I had always associated gesture as a sweeping movement basically linear. Seeing gesture as shape, in this case actually a silhouette frozen in time and carrying a whole history of meaning with it, enough to write a novel, in fact, was a sort of eye-opener for me.
Going back to Miro's act of taking contemporary objects with essentially no history, I wondered what would happen if one applied the same process to an object with a history as revealed by some of the most cherished man-made objects. I found myself especially seduced by the surface information of these objects which seemed to be the primary factor in revealing the century they originated and I wondered how one would respond if nothing were left but their basic shape.I decided to blacken out the object so only the shape was left. I selected three kinds of historical objects. These included objects that appeared basically non-objective or abstract in form, such as a stone disk from ancient China, objects loaded with symbolism such as the vase or vessel form, and common objects such as a table and chair. Taking the silhouette of the object I began a sort of meditation on the shape, dissolving it, deconstructing it, and then through the process of free association creating a new image.
Later I realized that what was going on could perhaps best be described as a metaphor for alchemy.Alchemy, the doctrine, study and practice of chemistry in the Middle Ages, was chiefly concerned with the transmutation of metals into gold and the finding of a universal remedy for diseases. Carl Jung insists that the experiments of the alchemists had the sole purpose of stimulating the deepest layers of the psyche and of facilitating psychic projections in material things, or in other words, of experiencing material phenomena as symbols which point to a complete theory of the universe and the destiny of the world. The part that interested me was using the imagination to transmute on thing into another.I believe that art is basically philosophical in nature and that painting is mentality, a way to think but in a visual sense.
The act of painting becomes a kind of spiritual exercise, a matter of relinquishing one's will so that whatever is there may come to life. This is very difficult because it frequently seems one has preconceived notions of how things should be and expectations. As long as one is in this state one doesn't really see. So it is very important to develop a state of being open. Openness is characteristic of relationships not individuals. In painting it becomes necessary for one to suspend one's certainty and to become willing to have one's thinking influenced by the painting. It is only in this state of openness that one is able to reap the fruits of one's unconscious and to gain access to depths of understanding not accessible otherwise. I think this is true not only in making paintings but everything in life. I also believe there is a correlation between the unconscious and grace which nurtures the spiritual growth of human beings.
So in the process of painting, the painting would act on me as I acted on it. A sort of dialogue was set up until the painting reached a point of resolution. I was able to recognize or feel its "sense" although this was not always something I could verbalize. For example, in Horizon, the essential shape for the painting was a Renaissance globe. Staring at the black shape I thought it was strange how a mannequin-like head emerged from the base. I drew a line across the canvas making the separation obvious and it appeared to me as though one were looking out across the horizon. Or perhaps, one was looking through a window, the white being the frame, indicating perspective because there is less on the top edge. The directional lines extending from the edges of the globe alluded to lines one would draw to vanishing points on the horizon, but not quite, as these lines form a star instead. The white circle was left from the beginning, and indicated an indentation on the surface of the globe. I thought it was ironic that it was the horizon that actually generated the globe, staring out into all that endless space, wondering if it ever ended and where it all began. Thus each of the paintings function as a sort of visual poem, the title giving a verbal clue as to what is going on.
In conclusion, I decided to call this show "Disembodied Objects" because the subject or content of the paintings seemed to exist somewhere out there beyond materiality in the realm between the conscious and unconscious. The originating objects had been deconstructed and were often referred to by their absence or negative space, and the paintings themselves were objects, whether rectangular or dimensional, that transcended their actuality.Materials. Basically I use oil paint on canvas or linen, in some I have added wax and have made use of the encaustic surface which fuses and bonds the painting into a permanent form. The large paintings are done over stretchers, the small, on wood panels. The three-dimensional elements consist primarily of aluminum plate, wrapped wire, and/or found objects. Whether large or small, all the paintings take a minimum of six weeks each to complete and most of that time is spend looking. Studies exist for some, others were approached directly.
Albuquerque Museum Talk, 4 February 1989
I moved out to New Mexico from Madison, Wisconsin in 1978 to attend graduate shcool. At that time I discovered the cubist poems from "Tender Buttons" by Gertrude Stein and the work of Kasmir Malevich, an early 20c Russian non-objective painter. Then in 1980 I saw the Picasso retrospective. The conceptual influence of Stein and Malevich oriented me in a certain direction so that when I saw the Picasso retrospective, I was so stunned that one could see everything that the man thought and felt -- his whole life in his paintings, that I decided I wanted to try this myself and become a painter.
I'd like to read you a poem, "A Dog" by Stein because it basically sums up in language what I'm trying to do in paint. It goes like this:
A little monkey goes like a donkey that means to say that more sighs last goes. Leave with it. A little monkey goes like a donkey."
In Lectures to America, Stein writes:"And then something happened and I began to discover the names of things, that is not discover the names but discover the things the things to see the things to look at and in so doing I had of course to name them not to give them new names but to see that I could find out how to know that they were there by their names... having begun looking at them I called them by their names with passion and that made poetry."This thought of looking beyond the assumption of appearance has had lasting impact in my work, and the fact that in Stein's writing it was primarily the weight, speed, direction of the words themselves, apart from their particular representation, that expressed the essence of the entity utterly amazed me. If translated into paint, I didn't think Gertrude Steins cubist poems would necessarily look like a Picasso cubist painting -- somehow they seemed even more abstract, non-objective and absurd.
The second coneptual influence for me, Malevich, linked art, constructions, non-objectivity with spiritual consciousness and awakening awareness to that which is inner to life. He believed art is primarily a form of speculative thinking that strives to attain absolute perfection, i.e. God, and the comprehension of God as perfection becomes one's prime objective. The production of forms have purpose and meaning only as they represent steps toward a wisdom greater than one's waking consciousness. Always each thing is not yet God but going towards God. What I found especially exciting was that he perceived all human senses as leading to this cosmic consciousness but rather than being guided by sense, as in precise thought, the senses were crowned by senselessness. Higher consciousness was not something to be directed, controlled by the will but was to be achieved precisely by letting go of the will. Malevich purported that when the will becomes free from directing or conducting representation, i.e. objects, it traces out a pure form of floating and a new freedom of consciousness arises. In this state the painting can become for the spirit a pure expression of its own self-evident creative powers.
This was important to me because here painting was a metaphysical act concerned with the renewal of meaning rather than emptiness.In
my work the paintings become involved in the naming of things from/of this world in a way that hopefully hasn't been thought of before. I begin by drawing a feeling I have, sometimes there is a non-objective image in my mind, which usually starts with a movement sensation expressed in line which goes into form . All the drawings are in black and white, worked additively and subtractively. In my mind I can't see the details, only the feeling is there, the drawing makes things more clear but I am usually unable to name the drawings. The paintings are what actually bring the idea into the world of it.
I find that the attachments to and projections from the picture plane intensify the painting's "itness" and are necessary in making them seem real -- otherwise they remain too much a figment of the imagination. I recently jotted this down concerning my working method:
Each painting has its own logic -- one has to listen very carefully to what the painting is saying -- that is the hard part --- not to try to impose one's preconceptions. This is ironic when one thinks one starts with a plan, a preconception, and yet one must not keep an attitude of imposing it and yet one cannot stray from this feeling of the initial impetus or vision. This is a very hard thing to do. It takes much time, patience, clarity. One must be very calm, desiring nothing, doing only for the sake of doing, to do it the very best one can do. It is a very intriguing process because as one works, one finds oneself asking: What is this? Why am I painting this? Does it mean anything or is it just a wall decoration? But if one can feel the paintings "spirit," even if it feels overtly sentimental, trite, or insignificant, and find something to love in it, and bring that forth, then it turns out all right.
The art has to be something absorbing, engrossing, challenging enough so that for a while time stops and I am away from all my petty worries about living and dying. When the paintings are finished what they symbolize is not just a new presentation of a thing but also the struggle of consciousness to make some kind of sense on a cosmic level. The paintings exist as questions and/or meditations. The process of looking at them as well as working on them, is based on free association and the power of suggestion. I think of them as mind probes as well as presences.
Johnson Gallery Talk, 20 April, 1987
I'm going to discuss three things about the work: why I'm painting out of the rectangle instead of within it (which will really be a brief summary of the formal development), my non-formal relationship to the work, which are some thoughts and feelings jotted down over the years from my journals, and what I think the work has to do with Malevich's Suprematism (subject of my 1982 MFA dissertation which greatly influenced my painting).
I. To answer the first question I have to go back in time...1980 was the year I finally decided what I really wanted to do was paint. I was doing prints and large paper/canvas constructions prior to that, but I saw the Picasso Retrospective that year and it had a tremendous impact on me. Not just that the paintings were amazing, but it was like seeing every interior aspect of another human being. What struck me was that all the thoughts and feelings were there in the paint. One could even feel the change from youth to old age. This impressed me so much that I decided I was going to do "straight" paintings likewise.When I first started painting I said I could paint anything I wanted as long as it was within the rectangle.
However, after four years of this "straight" painting I woke up one morning and realized I had no excitement for going to the studio. It was a drudgery, a chore. I had four large canvases I had been working on for ten months and they were going no where. I hated them. All during the four years I had wanted to put something else on the canvas, build as I painted, to become more physically involved, but I had imposed this limitation of the "straight" painting and only out of absolute necessity was I going to change that. Finally it reached a point where "straight" painting didn't matter to me anymore --- the goal had become to do a "straight" painting which put a real limitation on what the work was about.
And it also reached a point where if I added something to the canvas, I knew now exactly why I was doing it.I had been fooling around with some other little color field paintings next to the big ones. And I noticed when I put the small paintings say on top of a large one, the elements, lines and shapes in the large one suddenly became as real as the small paintings and the small painting sort of hovered in a zone of being a real thing and just an illusory element of the large canvas. I also noticed that the field of the large canvas seemed to start to dissolve, float, become an atmosphere for whatever was painted within it. So there was a reversal going on of what was actually the real thing (stretched canvas and attachment) appearing to be more illusory than those elements that were illusory.
I had been trying to do this all along, but now it seemed to have real impact with these added attachments. This was just what I needed because suddenly the paintings seemed to come to life and were activated. I think this feeling of life energy is very important in abstract work because without it the paintings become a "so what". It is possible to get that without building out of the rectangle, but for me it wasn't, not with my temperament. And besides there seems to be a kind of inevitability to the history of things and how was one to ignore what Stella had done with the space of abstract painting? Formally, it seemed a route to continue down (shaped, three-dimensional painting), but perhaps with a different edge
.Anyway, after I decided I could do anything I wanted, it was much better. I don't regret those four years though. In fact, I think it was necessary. I think restraining one's self like that is good, because then when it comes out, its because of necessity and is honest. I remember when I finally made my decision to abandon straight painting, thinking "what does it matter now. I'll never be a painter. No one will ever want to buy or see my work, so I'll do it just for me, so that I'll be happy and excited to go to the studio each morning."So to answer the first question of why I work out of the rectangle: it is to make the forms and shapes within the rectangle become more real. And it seems to be a way of working for me that is direct, a way I can think about and feel things with the material instead of my head. Some people might find it very distracting to be in the middle of painting and then have to go cut some shape or wrap some wire, but that is how I like to work. I like the variety. I work abstractly because feel closest to my feelings that way. I think it is exactly like composing a piece of music except with color and form.
II. Now, concerning what I think about when I'm working on a body of work ... I wanted to read a couple of journal entries. It gives a little bit more immediacy as to what my artistic process is like and a more accurate presentation of the personality which I think embodies a dimension of the work.
Journal entry: November 1984 (a couple of months after I had made the decision to work out of the rectangle):
"I think I am almost to or may have reached the point where I can just paint -- although I won't know for sure until I have done a half dozen more paintings. And it does seem like an artist reaches that point and then it only becomes greater and greater and greater, that is if they have an inner vision that is unlike anyone else, which I believe everyone has, but most are unable to tap it, or be like a free channel through which it may flow. It is so difficult not to be uptight or anxious, to be perfectly natural... I don't care what my paintings are, all that matters is how they are painted. There are certain things I love and that is what my painting is about. I'm thinking about my work right now.. what do I like best, what can I say I love about it or love about its potential right now. I like it when certain parts float out from each other and there is a space that exists behind them like thin atmosphere you swear you could put your hands through. I also like these rich beautiful colors that sing out with such clarity, that elicit such a longing, something so beautiful, so perfect that all one can say is ah. That is what I want to be able to do, to do consistently."
Journal entry: January 1984 (11 months prior to other entry but anticipating things going on now)
"My thoughts concerning my art have been so elementary. Simple discoveries carried great profundity, and now they seem so obvious, so assumed. I have many doubts about being an artist, about the value of my paintings and their relationship to our culture and the world we live in. They don't seem contemporary or radical. I don't know what they are. Sometimes I think they are irrelevant. I suppose the question I should ask is: are they relevant to me? They are relevant to me in that they give me some kind of hope, of awe and peace, i.e. when they are well done. They are most definitely a retreat from the world.Yet to me they are images of the world in the most literal of all senses -- the world evicted of everything but is mass and weight, its itness, a tiny pebble in a huge field hurling through space yet never moving. Not all images are that. Some are trying to understand volume. Volume as most akin to that huge cavernous sound that opens in space at some moments when an orchestra is playing. This sound that shows you the infinity of that space before your eyes. And then this leads to that groping desire for that which haunts all the riddles of the universe. Like a low resounding drum beat that hearkens back to the beginning of time, to a kind of savageness that is present in questions there are no answers to..."
Journal entry: August 1985 (One and a half year later)
"Well, I'm on this tangent of doing my drawings with no thought in mind, only making crude marks, scribbles, until the mind begins to see things, pick things out, impose and order. It seems to operate like a dream And the mind keeps going, trying to make some sense. And only when it can put a name to it or go "ah ha, I know what this is" does it stop. I suppose that's how a certain amount of ridiculousness enters in -- desperately trying to make something out of scribbles, to make something, anything at all that is somehow worthy of attention. But what makes it worthy? The quality of the scribbles in relationship to each other and their lack of pretension? It is a very difficult thing because at no time can I try and make something in particular because as soon as I do, it becomes pretentious. It has to arise of its own accord. The running thread, idea, or plan of action is always to create this image, this dissolution of form and surface, so that the space is always changing and what is foremost can shift to being in the back or a real attachment appears to exist in the atmosphere of the painting, not in front of it. And so this makes the other things seem real and there is a bridge. Out of painting comes the idea, where as preconceived idea equals a design. It becomes a doodle when I'm not all there or am dictating demands."
What I came to realize through this stream of consciousness way of working and longing desire was that each of my paintings has a strange story to it. Most of the stories I can't tell because they're the kind not to be spoken. I did happen to record two stories of two paintings. One is concerned more with the tragic, the other more comic. It gives an idea of how the paintings content level works and how I feel with them.
Journal entry: April 1986
"I should tell you the story of these paintings. The one makes me so sad I cry. When I look at this painting, I feel like someone who is waiting. Waiting for eternity, with a secret, confined, alone. There are many associations with this painting... Why is it so sad? Because there is such a great longing for something. Tragic, because the beauty exists in the desire that can never be. It is like pulling up the last vestiges of life, of hope, someone saved many years and then immortalized it all in a painting -- a feeling that is trapped, destined to burn brightly for eternity. I thought also it is a painting of love and suffering. I don't want to sell it because I will never have a painting like it. I won't be able to feel anything so pure, so intense again: it has captured this moment in time perfectly. It is as if when I look at this painting, the feeling will burn brightly forever and I won't forget where I once was. It is an image of how I feel at this moment in a most sublime sense.
Now, the other painting excites me. It is a rather funny painting and has a really dumb story: Like a dog named Spot goes on a little sail boat ride through flaming bushes in a fake tropical setting, and then there's this whirlpool that goes down and around and suspends everything in space around a key hole that is something, a solid object, not a hole. So one feels a madness like looking through a hole that is dense and solid, that is like the key, not the hole. And so what am I saying? X is given the impossible task of finding the promised land, the fountain of youth, the city of gold, but will be forever searching, going around and round, because there is no hole into the secret chest. (And then it all turned blue, a deep, beautiful blue, in every variation imaginable.)"A month later in May, 1986, I came across these notes in the newspaper on beauty and sadness and jotted them down as I thought they were interesting. It follows:"
Consciousness itself is a form of sadness. The waiting, the patience of the self, the silent spaces between impulses is where sadness lives. Joy is activity. Beauty has something of the primal scene in it -- a sense of forces beyond our capacity or control. Beauty is perhaps a bittersweet regret that our lives cannot be better than they are."There is a definite kind of sense on a content level as well as a formal level that evolves in the process of painting. The forms and marks exist as themselves, but also allude to maybe two or three other things, layering the meaning of the painting. Always in this process I find some insight into my life that creates a unity between the piece and myself. I often think of it as a kind of meditation in which one delves into the depths of the mind, which one can think of as either a dive into the unconscious or supra-consciousness.
III.Now, Malevich, along with a number of early 20c abstract/non-objective painters, was concerned with developing supra-consciousness as a way of ushering in a new age, a new way to feel existence on the basis of a kind of existential sublimation. Suprematism was a theory of pure painting, forms existing as themselves. The general line of thought of his that I found interesting was in regards to his book The World a Non-objectivity, a play of words on Schopenhouer's treatise The World as Will and Representation. Its rather heady and convoluted but essentially goes like this: If there is representation, then there is no world. And if the will exists in order to direct and conduct representation, then it is clear that there is no world but combat. When the will becomes free from directing or conducting representation, i.e. objects, it traces out a pure form of floating and a new freedom of consciousness arises. In this state the painting can become for the spirit a pure expression of its own self-evident creative powers.
The painting makes pure sensation real and creates a situation where one, (I think both artist/viewer), exists in a state of active passive receptivity. As I see it, this state of active passive receptivity is the key and is from which one becomes involved in a process of expansion and unification. I think once the will is free form the world of objectivity, it becomes possible to really tap ultimate truths and develop a sort of supra-consciousness. So in terms of a philosophical goal my work is similar to Malevich's and also in the fact that I try to keep a non-objective relationship to the forms I use.
There is a statement from the philosopher Martin Buber's I and Thou that I think gets at the core of the transcendental in art and how art may function as a bridge of sorts. He writes:"This is the eternal origin of art, that a human being confronts a form that wants to become a work through him. Not a figment of of the world, but something that appears to the soul and demands the soul's creative power. The form that confronts me I cannot experience or describe. I can only actualize it... And it is an actual relation. It acts on me as I act on it. Such a work is creation, inventing is finding, forming is discovery. As I actualize, I uncover. I lead the form across --- into the world of It. The created work is a thing among things and can be described as an aggregate of qualities. But the receptive beholder may be bodily confronted now and again. [The art object] enters into the world of things in order to remain incessantly effection, incessantly It -- but also infinitely able to become again a You, enchanting and inspiring."
The thing I remember so clearly on doing the work on Malevich was his desire for painting to be something in and of itself, actual and active, where one is confronted with the immediacy of another mind. Buber in his discussion goes on: "What then does one experience of the You? -- Nothing at all. For one does not experience it. -- What then does one know of the You? -- only everything. For one no longer knows particulars." Then further on he comments on the notion of presence which is something associated with human terms as opposed to the world of things. He writes: "Presence is not what is evanescent and passes but what confronts us, waiting and enduring." I look at my paintings in terms of presences.And so that is what my work is about, or some of the things I think about when I step back from painting.