By Kevin Blake
I’m watching a fly float over the clouds in the water’s mirror of the sky. It skitters, flutters and floats–leaving behind a turbulent wake that appears in my imagination as an erratic line, proofing the fly’s movements through space. The trace loops through the three dimensions of the surface. As I approach the water, the lines shorten in the distance,(we know the rules of perspective)and the view becomes topographical. Im now standing over the water–looking down to see the fly. Time is illustrated in the dissipating image of the oldest movements. As the fly plunges closer to the eye, its jet wash hurls swinging vortices in fattened, pressure soaked movements. I see the speed of the fly quicken as its impression gains purpose. The history of the fly becomes an image–a propeller–under which an amorphous yellow, seeps through like a memory of its former self, struggling to evolve. The water’s mirror seizes this propeller at the concrescence of meaning. The lines become the language of the apparatus. The metaphor dissolves. My fly disappears. It is just a painting again–Christopher Smith’s painting, Untitled IM32 in the north gallery at Riverside Art Center.
I pull away from the painting in the intimate room in which it is hung–weaving, in a backwards motion, through a crowded opening at this cultural oasis in the obscurity of urban sprawl currently demanding (through persistent quality offerings) our attention and travel. In RAC’s latest offering, All In, curator Karen Azarnia has selected a group of painters who display a range of approaches to abstraction. From the cannon that binds them to the execution that separates them, these artists convey their painterly chops while maintaining a singularity whose description is, admittedly, just my reflection in the water. My ideas. Their images. I try to link them here–I try to create metaphors from visual cues to create meaning. I create meaning to locate my interaction with these images within my own experiential dictionary. I am both limited and liberated by the extents of my exposure.
Creeping into my frame at stage left in my back pedal, are two small paintings by Magalie Guerin. At first glance, I glean my expectations from her work. I calculate immediately that what I am looking at, and about to engage further, is figurative abstraction. I see the anatomical forms that I have come to know and believe I understand of her work. However, I also believe in looking further. I believe in experience as the means of dissolving boundaries built from previous experiences, and I pivot to an about face with the work, intent on discovery.
Scanning the paintings, I consider my entry. I consider having entered my reflection in the water by movement through it–I see the ripples as causation rater than effect–as they distance, the image clears. My eyes are directed to a deep space in the upper left corner of the painting Untitled (hat–red room) 2014. In this portion of the image there is, in fact, the painted description of a human profile topped with a hat in front of a red backdrop. The angled lines tunneling to it, suggest the architecture of the title as well as the essence of the total. Herein, I find the strategy for extrapolating from the learned historicity of painted space as a means of creating new visual syntax.
I see Guerin’s visual clues to Matisse’s red studio and to a number of his blue paintings wherein, Matisse forces the viewer to consider color fields as space, utilizing line only sparingly to describe perspective and scale. I see the clues she leaves behind about the figure and its relationship to space. I visualize the discourse Guerin alludes to when I discover what I think she has done with it. Out of the deep corner in the red room, the figure emerges. The painting is made of the figure. It is repeated over and over again. The figure is the space. The space is the figure. The repetition is utilitarian while maintaining enough ambiguity to force the viewer to work for the strategy.
The painting that commands this room looms large over my left shoulder as I circle around to it. John Phillips’ Untitled 2014, is a slick veteran painting that showcases the artist’s unflinching commitment to abstraction. It looks like bubble gum and cotton candy–the colors of nurseries and lawn storks. It is atmospheric while sharp. It is rigid and loose. It equally distributes the wealth throughout the gridded structure that maintains its form. Here the metaphors escape me and I’m left to decipher an analytic code–a code writ large in the history of abstract painting. The oval form that Phillips deploys isn’t a reference to his massive record collection. They aren’t planetary. They aren’t a representation of anything. They are a serviceable geometric form that Phillips has utilized throughout his career to organize space.
My eyes make contact with the edges of the painting, where Phillips seems to be particularly deft. He encapsulates the expanse by maintaining his boundaries, pushing objects into a deeper field. The bars breaking up the painting horizontally, pulsate in and out of space. This undulating motion is dictated by where a bar meets an oval. The ovals assume the surface level and thus, control the space. Through a manipulation of perceived space that is his own, Phillips stamps another canvas with his potent investigations.
As I segue to the south gallery, I meet Melody Saraniti’s work in a narrow walkway between galleries. The path and the crowd draw me into close proximity with the work, forcing an intimate encounter with the materials. It is through this piece, that my own thematic emerges.
I see Saraniti’s dialogue. I can See what she means. We use this expression often, whether looking at an image or not: “I can see what you mean.” It conveys the sense of dialogue. I became fixated on this idea, and how it resonated throughout the exhibition. In Hexylene 2015, Saraniti draws from the well of modernist vernacular to assume the position of the viewer. She amplifies this vocabulary by making three dimensional models of painting moves, such as the drip, the smudge, or the straight from the tube application. Within this framework, she views her own process and materials.
A similar trajectory can be found in the contributions from Diana Gabriel and Alexander Herzog, wherein painting grammar and language systems guide the viewer through their work. In Herzog’s piece, Graft 1 2015, I was convinced that I was reading text in the cascading block forms in the foreground of the painting. I could see what he meant. I could see the connections he was making to visual language and the syntactical arrangement of painting gestures. Herzog seems to commit to the lexicon of language itself–to breed this existing familiarity within the act of seeing.
The behemoth of the show, Scott Stacks, Untitled 2013, is on its own plane–working with perspective one ardent line at a time. His persistence appears honest and painstakingly carried out. The matrix of lines projects a techno-narrative slant wherein I find yet another form of language manifested in paint.
At the exit, I take one last glance. I return to what I see. In this exhibition, I see more than seven different styles of abstract painting. I see the history of abstraction and the nature of its survival over time. I am reminded of a Bruce Lee quote: “Notice that the stiffest tree is the most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.” The parameters that have bound various historical art movements were also the factors in their inevitable deconstruction. Abstraction has survived time because it mutates in the eye of the receiver. It becomes them. It becomes their reflection in the water.
January 7, 2015 · Print This Article
By Kevin Blake
I’m riding along in the most conspicuous of vehicles in a place that I would like to think knows me. On every corner I pass, I see a thousand younger faces–dead and alive. I roll through my memories like I’m watching an 8mm film in an attic–shrouded in an old blanket to stave off the chill of remembering.
I’m riding along in the most conspicuous of vehicles. I ramble past fields full of children chasing balls and kicking up dust. They punch through the screen of their own creation with smiling faces–naive and careless. I hear the whistles blowing and the indistinct noise of a bustling park on a summer day–the mill from which expectations are forged.
I’m riding along in the most conspicuous of vehicles through a paradise lost in a purposeful process of becoming. I drive past the dream of what I once possessed–to recover what was lost in an attempt to return to innocence–to return to an original state of utopia.
As the boxes full of yesterday are unpacked today, a pattern of experience emerges. Named phenomena behave syntactically–orderly. To use the words “paradise lost” is to engage a literal subject of literary history, as it also describes–metaphorically–an inevitable characteristic of the human condition. It is to recall the bible. It is to recall the garden of eden and to locate the vernacular sense of lost youth and innocence. It is to call upon The Tale of the Merchants at Sea, in the Buddhist tradition, to describe our relationship to temptation. To morality. To the life of a servant connected to a larger, mysterious whole. It is to recant the story of Milton’s pioneer in Paradise Lost and his return to sacred territory. It is to rouse John Bunyan’s A Pilgrim’s Progress, as the locus of religious dissent. To engage this history is to engage the explorer archetype and all its subsequent manifestations–wherein this syntactic legacy is used to perpetuate the myth of the wayfarer that has fallen from the garden and must struggle to return as a requisite in the soul’s journey home. The first event in the recorded narrative of human history is an expression of nostalgia. It is a story of consequence. Cause and effect. Of the necessity for a compass. Of the idea of being lost. It is the origin of mythology and the steadying metaphor for purpose. It is no surprise that the boxes of yesterday are filled with the order of today. The nostalgia for paradise is the paradigm of time.
The paradigm of time is a complex phenomena with roots firmly indentured in religious mythologies whose records begin with a primordial event. Within the boundaries of a typical visual articulation of the history of time–most often a time “line” contained by the edges of a sheet of paper or screen–is an inferred infinity. It is a rulered line. It is segmented by handsome dots representing historical waypoints in an authored tale. Infinity lies to the right of the page–directionally charted in our learned reading matrix and reaffirmed in our cartesian mathematics as the x-axis upon which history can be plotted. Markers to the left of the y-axis are negatively charged as pre-history–as a time in which science and religion are the only sanctioned speculators–and are valued as a necessary means to the nexus of now. The current potential of pre-history is not only its worth but it is also the extent of its conception.
Within this Newtonian framework, time is local. It is unidirectional. It is contained within place and space. It is an objective fact of life, built into reality and out of reality. The arrow of time steers the eyes and we imagine it living on beyond the material boundaries of the graph as we imagine our soul living beyond our physical expiration. This faith in time is concurrent with, and a result of, our faith in the myths of a timeless paradise.
These fantasies are easily recognizable in the context of ancient rituals and religion. However, legitimation, redemption, and nostalgia for a lost paradise are also familiar to modern contexts that are imperfectly disguised from their origins. A contemporary vision of lost paradise is perpetuated in a yearning for “simpler” times which were somehow more “real.” Less digital. More tangible. In that distant perfection is a belief that there existed a more human version of ourselves. This attitude that permeates today is a condition amplified through World War II and it survives in plain sight. It is everywhere. Patriarchy was the constitution. Men were real men. Women knew their role and embraced it. There was little push back. People collectively understood the severity of the possibility of a global catastrophe. They simply assumed the roles designated to them. Post-War paradise is an idea conjured by culture–it subjugates and suppresses reality by creating heroes and legends. It is the modern mythical pedestal upon which our culture is wavering.
In Anne Truitt’s, Daybook: The Journal of an Artist, her entry from November 25, 1974 imbues the myth of “simpler” times and exposes those times as the antithesis to idyllic circumstance:
Some part of my generation’s bafflement with our offspring arises, it occurs to me, from our involvement in the Second World War. Catapulted out of our playgrounds into disaster, we were deprived of choices. A vast majority of the men and many of the women spilled into the military; those of us who remained civilians were equally caught up in the country’s effort. We had no time to experiment with our lives. We simply had to lay them on the line. And we didn’t dare plan beyond the war, since we simply had to wait and see who would survive. So when we watch our children darting from flower to flower, we feel anxious, not having behind us a comparable period of youthful ranginess. There is, perhaps, a kind of jealousy too. We had to be so serious so young. And when we sorted matters out after the war, we were older, too old to play, and secretly damaged. We set about the business of living as solemnly as we tried to live in the light of our willingness to give them up.
Conditions of the present never present us with sufficient favorable conditions to be satisfied–we look to the past because the future is indiscernible. Truitt explored time the way all artists explore time-through self-examination. Self-examination through ritual. She attempted to re-create herself and her experience within a complex set of abstract geometry that could always remain contemporary through the viewer’s experience of the object. It was her contention that the art is also the experience, and that it evolves, mutates, and correlates with every individual exchange.
Truitt’s work enters the realm of the primordial occurrence by asserting itself as an immortal object capable of evolution. Her process represents a ritual of reenacting the behaviors of the gods, ancestors, heroes, and legends who created the world as she knew it, through a return to the eternal and the escape of the uncertainties of a mortal existence.
As the nostalgia for a lost paradise penetrates our understanding of the world, we look to ritual to provide a prototype for returning. Ritual can furnish a model for developing a new paradise, and it is the medium of access for understanding existing models. Art is ritual. Passing through the gates of their studio, the artist, finds themselves on sacred ground. They are in a place cut off from the common land, and dedicated to developing their ideas. It is consecrated by work. The work manifests in objects meant to articulate their visions of paradisiacal projections which have the ability to accumulate and precipitate cultural change.
The accumulation of culture through ritual practice is the artist acting as a filter. They dissect, discard, reuse, and renew what is calculated as central to their speculations of utopia. Chicago artist, Geoffrey Todd Smith, is a prime example of an artist who uses his practice to induce introspection, which manifests materially as abstract paintings. His titles often reflect his accumulation of shared experience and an insight into the immediacy of his process, while the images conjure a methodology for achieving the internal gaze. His most recent project was executed under a set of rigid parameters that maintained a control of scale, considered material applications, and required an immense dedication of time.
Smith’s 100 3” x 2” paintings–for me–define the idea of a ritual practice that utilizes art as a medium for evoking individually conceived ideas of perfection that will be collectively considered through a learned aesthetic framework. This framework seems to be the conduit that correlates his paradise with the rest of the world.
Lille Carré, another Chicago artist, in a recent show at Western Exhibitions titled The Pleasure of Getting Lost, presents another variation of longing–of being lost in her own maze of ideas. In the exhibition, Carré presents drawings, a book, and animations as her diagrams for solving her self-induced dilemmas. What is of particular interest to me, in this context, is Carré’s drawings of mazes. The maze drawings were shown in juxtaposition to symmetrical drawings of the solutions to the maze. These complex puzzles and their solutions seemed to project a metaphor for describing the artistic process, but they also seemed to call into question what it means to be lost.
To be lost means that there is an alternative–that there is a physical or mental state that exists and that that space can be defined within a set of known quantity or quality. In the end, it seems, that Carré’s ability to convey her experience or idea of being lost is not contingent upon providing a visual solution to the maze, but rather her mastering of a visual language. In this way, her articulation of time describes our intimate connection to each other while accepting that infinite distances continue to exist in the space between.
Boston based artist Deb Todd Wheeler in a recent exhibition at the Miller Yezerski Gallery titled, …in the atmospheres, deployed a multitude of media to address her ideas of pulsating phenomena that project into the atmosphere and inevitably resonate a permanence within the environment. In her work, Sub/Sound/Scream, Wheeler recorded the sound of a scream underwater, etched the pattern onto a mirror, and the reflection is projected onto the wall of the gallery.
To me this work is an ideal representation of what a visual description of time should look like–peaks and valleys sporadically displaced along a linear pathway–erratic and full of life. The scream is at once a dissatisfaction with the present as it is a demarcation of a moment in which the future is altered. Wheeler’s articulation of the scream resembles the heartbeat– a measurement of time, as well as, the rationale for measuring time. Without breath there is no life. Without life, time is of no significance.
On the waves of human pulsation, I’m riding along in the most conspicuous of vehicles. We all are.
December 3, 2014 · Print This Article
By Kevin Blake
“History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” These famous words from James Joyce’s famous character Stephen Dedalus, in his famous novel, Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, embody the idea of an inescapable infiltration of history in our present reality. For Joyce and Dedalus, the “nightmare of history” may have been rooted in an existential conception of history, or the universal fact of inevitable death, but the transcendent quality of the phrase acts as a directive in the form of an optimistic metaphor for rehashing history as a means of creating a better future.
George Santayana was more direct when he said, “those who do not remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.” At first glance, these collective bits of wisdom seem obvious. They seem correct. They seem true. And though I would agree, that the repeated fragments, phrases, images, and sounds of the past have the ability to communicate warnings for the future, our methods of assimilating these legends have just as conspicuously perpetuated the nightmare. The recitation of our traditions awakens us TO the nightmare, not from it. As we are wrapped up in contemplating evidence that either rejects or accepts the histories offered to us–through the vast network of delivery systems (books, the internet, television, etc….)–we become more in-sync with the legend itself. Thus, we succumb to visualizing the nightmare more clearly as an insurmountable obstacle. Through incalculable attempts to shed ourselves from our antecedents, we see our legends reinsert themselves more deceptively in each subliminal iteration in the present.
The paradox here is that rational thinking–as it is defined by those who have developed a science that diagnoses irrational thinking–has delivered us to the most preposterous circumstances. The problem lies in an inherited trust in the clairvoyance of tradition. Of religion. Of science. Of government. Of culture. To wake up from this nightmare that we’ve been led to believe is a dream, we must stop chanting the legend and start pursuing delusional thought.
Artists have always been at the forefront of delusional thinking. Leonardo da Vinci, now celebrated as a rare genius, was not considered an educated man by the standards of his day–he did not attend a university and he was not versed in Latin(both requirements in fitting this mold). His deficiencies–in the way of this criterion–limited his ability to read the classical texts, which may have been an advantage in his development as an artist, architect, and engineer. He was employing the scientific method in a multitude of arenas long before it became a staple of science. In a revealing passage in one of his sketchbooks da Vinci notes, “First I shall make some experiments before I proceed further, because my intention is to consult experience first and then by means of reasoning show why such experiment is bound to work in such a way. And this is the rule by which those who analyze natural effects must proceed; and although nature begins with the cause and ends with the experience, we must follow the opposite course, namely (as I said before), begin with the experience and by means of it, investigate the cause.”
Had da Vinci been educated and reading the natural philosophies of Aristotle (the then guiding principles of nature), he may have never arrived at such methodologies. It is through this ignorance that his ideas and process surpass accepted forms of knowledge and transcend time.
Science will downplay how long its own adolescence actually lasted, but it wasn’t until a 16th century intervention by Galileo Galilei that forced it to take a hard look at itself. The Italian astronomer and physicist Galileo was trialled and convicted in 1633 for publishing his evidence that supported the Copernican theory that the Earth revolves around the Sun. His research was instantly criticized by the Catholic church for going against the established scripture that places Earth and not the Sun at the center of the universe. Galileo was found “vehemently suspect of heresy” for his heliocentric views and was required to “abjure, curse and detest” his opinions. He was sentenced to house arrest, where he remained for the rest of his life and his texts were banned. Galileo wasn’t the only figure in history to be persecuted for their belief system–suppressing knowledge has been an active ingredient in human civilization since the beginning of recorded time.
In an age when information has never been more fluid, knowledge–in its infinite variety–is abundant. Available. Easy to acquire. Because of this access, no one can escape disenchantment. As Galileo’s delusional and sacrilegious idea about the earth’s place in the galaxy dissolved the idea of the cosmos as the locus of spirits and meaningful powers within the realm of religion, so too, does it empower the picture of the universe as governed by universal laws–laws written by the same authority whom condemned this revelation in years prior.
This marks the point in history when science co-opts the subversive position. Persecution (in science) evolved from blatant acts of abuse carried out by the church, to a dissolution of potential theoretical projections through brandishing theory as law. Science has become in an institution which thinks of itself as a meta-theory through which all ideas must submit through its system. Simultaneously, science is the beneficiary and catalyst of the disenchanted which creates a system of “rational” thought.
The scientific method, who claims its roots in rationalism, is actually conceived in the most scientifically irrational production. Rene Descartes, the founding father of modern science, created the scientific method after having a dream in which an angel appeared to him and told him that the conquest of nature would be achieved through mathematics and measurement. This isn’t the tale we are taught. Science typically delivers the primary observations. The gathering of data. The major insight. It rarely reveals the trace of the idea, which was the impetus to execute study and experiment.
Artists have developed a stigma over the great expanse of time. If an artist projects a theory developed through a visit with angels, no one is surprised. It is expected. It is as easily shrugged off as the outlandish theory itself. The focus of the artist’s ideas assumes an aesthetic echelon that more often than not, omits theory and potential through a relegation to discourse that is painfully self-referential. Art, in many circumstances, appears to be a conversation about itself that serves itself and its initiates.
Within this system, an aversion to delusion is born much in the same way it is perpetuated in science and religion. The properties may vary. The classifications, categories, and rankings may change and represent an entirely different value system on the surface, but the problem is equally polarizing. In all our defining social systems, we are required to make a leap of faith. We are required to believe in the universe exploding into existence from an unidentified singularity. We are required to believe that there is a bearded white man coaching earthlings from another dimension. We are required to believe that the art hanging in museums is the “stuff” we need to reference in determining the value of all future manifestations of the human brain which would like to gain entry into the big Art game.
To change the conditions of the big game, we must advocate for innovation. Real innovation occurs at the concrescence of delusional thought. It occurs when existing conditions prompt individuals to reject linear values which means to reject the idea that innovation can only occur within the realm of technology, science, and mathematics.
Oliver Wasow, an artist working in the Hudson Valley area of New York, has a peculiar art practice that has evolved from a background in traditional photography to what might be considered an ongoing social media experiment that utilizes photography as the foundation of social critique. The idea that it could be an experiment rather than simply an art practice is of particular interest to me as I spin this web. Whether this is the intent of the artist or not, doesn’t really matter. The results of his experiments, his daily practice, and the response to it-exist as a data set much in the same way as a census tells us something about the population.
Wasow’s delivery system is social media–predominately Facebook. Daily, he posts found photographs or images conjured in his studio and curates a thematic based on his personal interests. The art, however, is not committed solely to the aesthetic quality of the image. The innovation occurs in the ensuing dialogue. The comments section is where the magic happens. It is where people expose themselves through all manner of projections that reflect their interpretations of the image, their intuition, and their impulses–all of which say much more about the people who comment than the image itself. It is like conducting interviews with the masses without asking any direct questions. The curation element that classifies each photograph within an album of related visual elements seem to be the substrate that defines the line of questioning upon which his friends are given a platform to respond.
As an art object(s), Wasow’s social media production defies standard procedure and institutional critique. It toes the artificial line that defines what IS and what is NOT considered art, and it is in that boundary where I find the most interesting practices. Within the trajectories of defiance we may find the ability to detach from the “nightmare of history.”
In the preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde notes, “We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely. All art is quite useless.” If admiration of aesthetics and the constant reference to tradition is all we have as a result of art production, then I would agree with Wilde wholeheartedly.
Maybe I’m delusional, but I think art can DO more.
November 5, 2014 · Print This Article
By Kevin Blake
“Four score and seven years ago,” is how my mind tells me to start every essay I sit down to write. This is my memory at work. I remember the tone of the words that follow in Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address. I remember the cadence. I remember that it was taught as a triumph. As a novel speech from a novel man. I can see the address in a block quote in a semi-thick American history textbook. It was highlighted in blue with Lincoln’s portrait in the top right corner of the elongated box, at the right side of the page, and at the end of a chapter covering the Civil War. I was given the task of memorizing the words and reciting it to my classmates, but all that remains are the first words. The image of the words. The feeling of time passed.
When I am staring beyond my computer screen–perhaps out the window–searching for the right words to begin with, Lincoln’s words make up the phrase that my mind tells me to jot down. It seems as much a method of mocking myself for my own distrust in my ideas and the effectiveness of recording them in this way, as it is a natural beginning. A way to set the tone. A point of abstraction. Only now am I realizing that the attention I have paid to it–in this introduction–may either eradicate its insistence in my writing regiment, or forever disturb any ingenuity it may have had. Today, the words are there and I’m responding to them.
I recently admitted to a habit of writing my articles the day before the deadline, and since then, I have been stewing over the probability of procrastination. I’ve been questioning my routine and routinely questioning the validity of the way I think, rationalize, and project my ideas. I am forever convincing myself that my ideas are valuable and that the time I have spent Not preparing this article, has been used to decompress the information that has consumed me in the month prior. I am often successful in my persuasion, however, there also exists an acute awareness that convincing is essential. Therein lies the paradox. Therein lies the necessity for crackerjack acumen–or the ability to form enterprise with intuition and memory despite one’s rational concerns that may encourage otherwise.
I’m constantly waiting for a bolt of lightning to electrify my thoughts–to send a signal from brain to stem which results in an action–in this case writing. Molly Zuckerman-Hartung revealed to me the genesis of the lightening bolt as Hans Hartung’s signature. He believed the lightning bolt was especially for him, and that its form (the zig-zag) represented spontaneity in a way that was true to the idea of what spontaneous action might look like–erratic pivot points descending from above a surface it will eventually contact. It will be surrounded by other bolts (they come in storms), and will offer the conscience a choice at every zig and every zag, eventually determining where the bolt will be grounded.
Last week I was struck at Devening Projects by the drawings of Monika Bartholomé. Before reading any literature about the work, I felt the drawings had allowed me to access very intimate spaces that were not only intimate in their portrayal of domestic interiors. Though there is ample information to suggest that these drawings are simple representations of the artist’s habitation, a closer look reveals imaginative brushwork, a keen understanding of light, and most importantly, an uncorrupted investigation of memory.
My memory of the Gettysburg Address and the application of it, is a corrupted memory in the way it has manifested in this piece of writing. It was stimuli that has since been captured, dismembered, and postulated as metaphoric reasoning. We reason from metaphors in our attempts to make sense of ourselves, our actions, other people, and the physical world around us. We engage in metaphoric thought processes simply because much of our experience is metaphorically structured, and it is from our experiences that we reason. It is through this type of reasoning that I have abstracted more rigid or formal strains of logical connections to perpetuate my ideas, and to understand Monika Bartholomé’s drawings through my own narrow framing device.
When I visited Devening Projects, Bartholomé’s drawings had the zigs and the zags of the lightning bolts. I could see choices being made. I could see the movement of the brushes as well as her hand, and I felt a connection to the impulses that drove those decisions. I envisioned the way the brushes moved across the drawing surface and quickly made jagged sloping turns to radiate in a resting place. In each conglomeration of intuitive marks, a space would emerge. These spaces are ultimately derived from memory, but are defined by the hand’s memory rather than metaphoric representations of existing places. The work seemed to be about the impulse to move the hand from one place to the next using a tool that makes a mark on paper and leaves a trace that creates a dilemma for the maker. This dilemma and the response to it, is how her images are made. Everything else is corruptible. Every attempt to create, rather than respond, would be a false step in the process of creation.
Looking at the drawings that materialize as living spaces, one can see how the hand’s memory is as familiar as the mind’s. Bartholomé makes repetitive decisions in similar situations. When she reaches an edge, one can see the pressure applied to the brush gradually subside. As the hand recognizes its place in space, it makes adjustments to the tool. The tool, in turn, responds with a trace of that impulse–a mark of muscle memory and the basis for the next drawing move.
Bartholomé has an incredibly efficient economy in her mark-making strategies. However intuitive it may be, it is also learned. The labor and reduction required to arrive at such simple, yet elegant, descriptions of space doesn’t occur on a whim. In her essay, “The Eyes Following the Hand,” Bartholomé describes the marks she makes: “…they do condense into pictorial language by means of abstract abbreviation…The lines bring something into the open that I once perceived, for the most part unconsciously and incidentally, and that is recorded here in whatever form. To be able to get what has been recorded, to the connections that the perceived thing entered into, and then create a place for it and be surprised by it–this is what interests me, among other things, in the medium of drawing.”
Bartholomé’s drawings seem to posit that metaphor is a pervasive, yet indispensable structure of reasoning that calls into question some deeply rooted views about the nature of knowledge and understanding. This balancing act is at the heart of her work. The artist is both visible and absent. The spaces are both intimate and ordinary. Recognizable and abstract. Reductive and chock full of imagery. These drawings are easy to get lost in, but only a few steps backwards will bring your eyes back to a reasonable place.
I’m at that place of reason right now after having written this piece. I’m standing in a place that is far enough from the image I have created, and it seems to make plenty of sense–at least to me. My distortions of Baratholomé’s work are my attempt to regurgitate her production schematic–letting memory serve as the metaphor that describes the process.
October 1, 2014 · Print This Article
By Kevin Blake
I drift. A good drift. A perfect drift. One that will catch a nice trout. I swing my rod overhead and flick the tip upstream. Mend. Mend. Recover and drift….fish. My memory takes me downstream and the water sweeps my feet from underneath me. I allow the current to drag me away from here.
As I rush past the shores of my recollection, I realize that it may take a lifetime’s worth of attention to learn the secrets of the river. I realize that each section of the stream requires a different understanding and consequently, a different approach, to unlock the mysteries of each pool, eddy, and riffle. I’m reeling but not too aggressively. I don’t want to lose this fish.
Fly fisherman, like painters, have an uncanny ability to liken any conversation to their pursuits with a rod or paintbrush, on the theory that the essence of anything is in how it relates to their quests. In Kim Piotrowski’s show, Catch and Release at Linda Warren Projects, this perpetual metaphor is alive and well and permeating from the walls of the gallery. The rush flows from one piece to another. The fish spook and swim under rocks and stay there until I walk away, only to emerge again as I distance myself from the work–forcing me to return and throw another glance at the image. These are freshwater works(predominately made with water-based media), bottomless and infinite–their currents creating a generative energy for their creator that seemingly erodes her immediate boundaries and transforms those limits into the conditions upon which the next work is made.
I lodge the toe of my boot underneath a submerged log as to brace myself for another run. It’s trying to get away from me. I hold my rod high and behind me with my left hand and keep my right hand on the reel. My body twists to make the position possible. I’m adding line as fast as the fish rips it off. The cold water makes new seams around my legs, adapting to my temporary damn. I watch my line tighten. The fish changes direction–and once again–I’m reeling.
I stand suspended in the gallery, surrounded by effort–large and small. Piotrowski has transformed the space to not only display her achievements, but to advance her inquiry. In her debut exhibition with LWP, Piotrowski casts her lines in every direction. Her massive site-specific painting done directly onto a gallery wall that spans 43 feet, is a glowing example of her fearless attempts to allow opportunities to be the source of her invention. She has titled the piece Tide Tango and in her words, it represents “the dance we do with the rush of thoughts as life runs over and through us.”
Like the river, Piotrowski’s paintings meander, dash, swirl, and coalesce in spaces that cannot be confined by the limits of the page. She recognizes the necessity to expand the space into different formats(see Corner Lot, 2014), providing new borders to break free from and allowing new puzzles to emerge.
Piotrowski’s paintings remind me of Matthew Ritchie’s complexly scaffolded spaces that find organization in chaos. The ability of arbitrarily small occurrences to greatly affect the outcome of a painting is particularly present in both artist’s works. Though Piotrowski seems to be making the paintings with much less discrimination. Less rules. Less fuss. More risk. Yet, in both artist’s work, there are common mark-making strategies, similar viscosities in paint applications, and there is an ever present familiarity in the natural locomotion of fluids on the surfaces they paint on. While Ritchie seems to be interested in corralling those fluids to work within his system, Piotrowski seems to let paint go where it wants, and her next move is a response to its uninhibited resting place.
I’m bringing him afoot. The line is tight but loosening. As the fish lays down, I pull him softly toward my free hand. In an instant, before I could grab him and at exactly the moment our eyes meet, he gives one last fit of terror and snaps free of the fly.
Fishing and painting are matters of timing in a changeable universe, and even when one returns to a place or moment of success, its doubtful that it will be under the exact conditions. Having broken the rhythm of a brilliant performance, it’s possible to never go back at all, and one shouldn’t go back–forward is the only worthwhile direction. The next hole upstream holds a trophy too, and its there that Piotrowski seems to be constantly aiming.
Life is a dangerous and unmanageable mess, but somehow these paintings have achieved a different description. Piotrowski’s description of life and linear time, is something much more approachable. Catchable even. As life runs over and through her, Piotrowski stands in the river waving a stick, trying to catch the catchable and upon success, immediately releases it back into the water for the next fisherman to stumble upon.