Signs pull apart the totality of perception. Tearing holes in the field of relationships. Stopping the eye and the mind. Forcing a precipitation of some part held in opposition.
This post is illustrated by a series of images of my work from various “genres” and across the span of three decades. This essay begins to explore why these are one body of work and not merely an eclectic mash-up of “styles.” And not just this work, but all visual expression, is within a single unified realm of perception and action.
Albert slapped down a quarter on the counter, swiveling away on his stool. A half-chewed toothpick clenched in his jaw, “Thanks!”
The counter-man replied with clipped, professional courtesy, “Thank you.”
Albert stepped onto the street. A low sun shimmered between a filigree of branches. Leaves at their peak of color. Maples shining bright red or brilliant yellow.
Passing an alleyway, a glimpse of the harbor framed by towering Hollyhocks on either side. Ragged spires six feet tall. Large, rough, dry brown leaves. Tough flower stalks silhouetted against the light. The last fragile yellow petals falling over blasted seed pods.
There is a point at the start of a painting when there is a precariousness between what the painting “is to be about” and the first touches of what is actually there. Something I’m only arriving at now is that the former, while of great interest and concern at the start, is of no account. It becomes – if we insist – an obstacle to the work’s development.
What if we let go of such concerns? What if instead of focusing on what it should be, or what we want, we simply allow the painting to occur?
You see, painting never happens as “thoughts” translated into “actions.” As much as we wish this were true. As much as all of our mythology of genius and heroes would make us insist things must happen this way, they don’t.
Ivan Illich‘s work turns on two related concepts. One is of our need to dwell, to inhabit a home, to have a place. The other is our need for conviviality. We cannot exist in isolation. We are vulnerable and part of everything as everything is part of us.
Avant Garde. We all know what that means! We learned it in school!
There was always something of a cognitive dissonance, sitting in a slide-show survey class and taking notes to regurgitate on a test about how the modern avant garde was – and therefore supposedly still is – so transgressive! The old story about how it was a rebellion against the bad old Academy,
“Repeat after me! The Avant Garde rebelled against the Academy!”
I’m involved in a few conversations on the needfulness of art. This fragment of a quotation from Carl Jung seems an appropriate place to begin.
In a time when the hot-house strains of art criticism that have so long been the “High-brow” approach to questions of art join most other expert-led monopolies on thought in a growing irrelevancy, it’s important to begin again at the foundation of questions of art and its place. Andrew Taggart’s essay linked to above, and the thread it is a part of, is a good introduction to these questions and to how the current status quo has failed.
My own intuition has always led me to mutter under my breath that art exists in relationship to Truth. No matter how hopelessly unfashionable this has been, I’ve never let it go.
This piece, a cross-post from Horizons of Significance, has grown during the writing, pushed ahead by the ambition of its title, only slightly modified by the insertion of the word “Notes…” I’m resisting the urge to break it up into my customary 1,500 words. I need to break that habit as much as we all need not to get too comfortable with the bite-sized nature of blog posts in general, a “rule” I’ve already stretched with my “average” post!
I’ve had this gestating inside me for a long time. Somehow it has surfaced now, with the catalyst of a post by Achille Mbembe, at the height of the “Dog Days” when we’re all distracted and feeling a bit lazy… So be it! I hope you’ll give it a look, and perhaps save it for later when crisper air brings renewed appetite. This may be as close to a “Manifesto” on Art as I come! So with some trepidation, here are,
You may have noticed that images of some paintings have morphed over the months. I began adding new paintings at the first point at which they seemed to be “completed,” or at least when work was suspended on them. As time goes on, I’ve returned to my habit of pushing paintings along when a fresh look at them shows some lack. This is part of the work process. It’s part of that healing and knitting that goes on as a painting weathers in.
There is no stupid premise for beginning a painting. No clever ones either. If we begin off-balance and in grave doubt, or in the full flush of confidence in our selves and our gambit; if we are honest and do what the painting asks of us, we will go through the entire range of attitudes towards the work in progress, probably many times. In the end – if there is one – the painting begins to show us, with more and more clarity, what it needs. At the same time both the doubts and demands we put in front of the work recede.