How and What we Paint
Paper Number Three
June 5, 2017
The third and final paper about Landscape Theory as it relates to my specific body of work focusing on rail/trails. It will consider the medium of painting and the utility of its applicable use to create an encompassing virtual illusion stratified intensity. Additionally, in a more sublime way will consider the relevance of place and how artist specifically are involving in that process through suggestion.
While this paper is addresses specifics, which focuses on landscape I am not suggesting that it is comprehensive or all-encompassing. Given space and time I have tried primarily to discuss this subject only in the context as it may relate to my own body of work.
“Painters today have a wide array of image sources from which to paint.” When it comes to subject matter how does an artist determine what it is that he or she paints. It would be difficult in any case to pursue a lasting endeavor in any art form if there were no intrinsic and personal quality employed all the while presenting contemporary relevancy. For the painter, specificity I might suggest that subject matter is of paramount importance without such aesthetic quality and obvious conceptual intentionality will suffer. In other words, a good composition does not just happen but is intentionally planned.
In considering painting as an art form it has parallels to which may be found in a variety of artistic expressions. For a moment, consider the evolution of music, as Jan Swafford has noted in Language of the Spirit.
“Wherever and whenever we find people, we find music. Likely an integral part of human life from the beginning, music has left its traces in instruments and in art dating back to the dawning of our species … All the arts have a primeval connection to magic and mystery … Animals painted on the walls of caves … Instruments and songs and painting and poetry and dance probably evolved together … linked to a mystery, the uncanny”. (p3)
The earliest known cave painting date more than 35,000 years ago. It was a mixture of dirt, charcoal, spit and animal fat. The canvas was nothing more than a rock wall. In more recent times came the alchemist to our present-day convention and luxury of purchasing prepared pigment. More specific to this discussion now is the actuality of the paint and painting referenced to landscape.
However, before moving on it is noteworthy to simply mention that quite frequently many museum exhibition will often have an installation with an accompanying sound track to height the viewing experience or may be an integral part of the work.
How it is that we paint:
There are two general concern to be addressed relative to painting in this discussion. Firstly, is the continued dialogue about the current utility of painting as a valued medium of expression in the 21st century. Secondly more specific to my work is the contextual aggregated process in application and apparent visual surface quality.
As an artist who paints there is one recurring and dishearten theme that will not go away. Previously mentioned in paper number two photography released painting from the bond of historical preservation with pictorial moments thus free to explore new areas of visual expression.
In Painting, edited by Terry R. Myers virtually the entire introduction is spent reviewing in a convoluted fashion the “painting is dead” movement articulated first by Eugene Delacroix journal May 15th, 1824 or more specifically “the end of painting” assessment surmised and conjectured by Douglas Crimp. Myers reviews several features and suggest a resolution.
“Painting since the end of the nineteenth century is inextricable from the … story of the perpetual cycle of its death and rebirths in the face of photography, conceptual art, installation, digital imaging technologies, the world-wide web, or plan lack of interest,” (12) Myers continues citing other voices with a suggested rerouting. “Crimp’s provocative essay on The End of Painting and … David Joselit’s comparably timely observations on present condition in Painting Besides Itself (2009) … painting has always belonged to the networks of distribution and exhibitions.” (13) With this result one must ask why is it given that so many an artist turn to painting as a chosen medium in which to create? Perhaps the answer must be one of personal choice but perhaps the intuitiveness of the artist is more insightful than the critic or curator. Myers does however, provided to positive thrust to the future. “My hope is that the … necessarily paradoxical state of contemporary painting alongside the expansion of its material and philosophical conditions – and, less definable but crucially, the continuation of everything about which still not … said”. (19)
To simplify Myers and the lethargic discussion he proposes I suggest a more metaphorical summary. Painting is cyclical not necessarily in it economy but in nuances’. Put another way it’s the gift that keeps on giving if not to the purveyor certainly to the artist.
An artist who paints does so not by accident:
If you are an artist who paints you know the feeling and the texture of paint, the smoothness of the pigment between your fingers, the smell of the oils and cleaners, you become one with your work, you feel your work, you apply paint with great detail and emotion. You love what it is that you do and it never becomes boring or laborious. To borrow a simile from bicycle racing, when you stop loving it stop racing. The same could be said about painting.
While I do wish to speak directly about the spreading of the pigment. I believe it’s uses and application are critical to conceptual landscape achieving a lasting and continual life-cycle. However, the overarching intentionality for any progressive art work must as Myers has suggested considering complex material infusion, pigment being only one these. A recent example can be found in my own work Cardiff by the Sea principally a study. Here incorporated an insertion of found object by way of a piece of copper film used to create the road way. Another unique example was in the MFA graduation (January 2017 NHIA) project of James Obrien with the insertion of electric lights with variable intensity signifying the moons luminous brightness throughout the evening hours. Also, repeated here again “philosophical conditions – and, less definable but crucially, the continuation of everything about which still not … said”. It is in this context wherein the artists will be able to address and answer questions of “how do you wish to locate … new paintings in terms of a theoretical backdrop” while creating a contemporary viewing experience. We should not conclude here without referencing the use of music or other audio as an enhancement tool.
Cardiff by the Sea
We should be cautious of those who say painting is dead; however, always cognate that there are those critics but ever determined to prove otherwise understanding that artistic specificity in panting is ever a continuum of the recreative process finding new voice, form, and audience.
How should paint look:
It is the paint which make painting possible without such we could create no visual image. The paint is more critical to the work than the canvas. You can literally paint on anything but you must have paint. The question how is it that you apply? What is that which you want to accomplish with paint? These beg to visually and a kind of ascetics. How you lay the pigment on the object matters and create reflective qualities, penetrations of depth and surface variation. We might include value discernment but that not the focus here.
How paint should appear on one hand is obvious a point of subjectivity and personal taste. It is however, not limited in this context. In conceptual art with respect to landscape either representational or abstraction or some variant form therein I contend it is very important and any given artist should approach their work with the greatest of care and intentionality. It is in the surface texture of paint which has been indiscriminately layered to create landscape the artist may find their greatest strength second only to composition and conceptualize of idea. (composition and conceptuality should be view as two complimentary features in contemporary landscape)
In a conversation between Gerhard Richter and Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, again from Painting, edit by Myers, to Richter, Buchloh ask, “What about the objectification of the process of painting itself? You paint your big pictures not with artist brush but with decorator brush: isn’t this all part of atomization and objectivization of the painting process, along with permutation and ‘chance’, color relations and compositional organization?” (p58)
Richter answers no to the question, Buchloh was suggesting a disconnect between artist intentionality and objectivity and the instrument. In this case, the brush was that disconnect. To the contrary, the brush or palate knife, roller, etc. become an extension of the artist. The size of the brush is a factor of utility to the scale of the work and its brush stroke effective visually is still determined by the artist.
Brush stroke, use of pallet knife or in the case of some very large works wherein Richer uses a screen print emulsion spreader it might appear simple enough. But how should we factor in the work of Sol-LeWitt’s wall paintings? It is simpler than we might realize. In the case of Sol-LeWitt his brush is his pencil, his diagram, his specific measurements, his instructions thus his commission to a collaboration of other artist. As part of Mass MoCa’s permanent collection an entire exhibition is given to Sol-LeWitt. Upon close examination, it is evidence that the paint which was applied to the wall by a collaboration of artists was taped off, and either rolled or more likely applied by spraying. It shows hard lines and district ridging build at the edge but a very smooth mirror like surface area. The intuitiveness of the artist is evident because the intentionality of Sol-LeWitt was purposeful that other artists would finish the final image.
Isometric, Sol-Lewitt 2002
It is in the artist domain to determine how their work must be seen.
In consider my own body of work on Rail/Trail the very nature of the subject matter is rooted in landscape. This has posed several questions because of the base composition. How do you take something which is historically a common place image and create a contemporized conceptual viewing experience which address present day cultural and social issues?
There are three specific area which might be addressed. Two reference the composition and the other it’s visual impact. So, it is David Salle proposes,” What is this thing about art that speaks to us? How to account for the feeling for the recognition we have for art, almost as if the work were waiting for us, anticipation our engagement with its deeper music?” (6)
Regarding the composition, if we intend to create contemporary landscape conceptual art then we must dismiss any notion of grandiose serine overviews etc. The landscape (backdrop) is quite secondary to the composition. It is a frame wherein the subject (idea) rest. It is the conveyance of the idea how it speaks to the cultural, political and social currents of a specific place. The scape itself should have a very narrow focus else one risk it become the focal point. However, the strength of the idea will be lost unless there is a strong visual impact. This is where the painter greatest strength will be shown.
Returning to the application of paint and its use in my rail/trail project. It is in the paint where we may show emotion and energy. While landscape inherently will be painting a site-specific place the artist should never feel compelled to represent it as it exists.
My current body of work incorporated very heavy layered up brush stroke, dabbing with the pallet knife, scoring with handle, variant mediums and solvent mixture. Also, the field of vision and perception of depth contrast against bold and distinct color. I have strived for heighten reflective light contrasting ridges and valleys and a strong intensity at the vanishing point. I have taken total liberty with place; whereas, actual place was a beginning place but my work isn’t about that specific place. It’s about what the viewer see and how they perceive the work. I want them to gaze into the depth of the work and imagine what’s beyond what cannot be seen. If they are a cyclist they will immediately identify with the bicycle and gaze forward imaging the ride they are about to embark on.
The artist drives the paint:
Painting is not dead, we look at Gerhard Richter painting about. It’s the paint and painting which makes his work. It is how the artist handles paint which will distinguish great art. Once again, Salley, “One way to look at painting – and I use that word as shorthand for visual art in general – is to notice as you take its measure what it is you find yourself thinking about, which may differ from what you imagine you’re supposed to be thinking about.” He is suggestion that visual art is as much about what is seen, but also what the image evokes for both artist and viewer. Thus, our seeing is with the eyes but also the mind and it is the paint in is onset which will drive this point.
How do we know if our art is successful? I think Salle has touched on it. If our art makes people stop, ponder and think. Painting optically with passion will help convey the artist intention very effectively.
Conceptual Landscape: Earth-Mapping:
Bringing this final paper to a close respective to landscape theory it is worth noting that artists are offering contemporary society an alternative way of seeing landscape. There is a long history of artist in mapping the earth through cartography. Moving forward again regarding my rail/trail at its onset the project in retrospect was much a mapping project as shown from the works from my first residence.
Painting does offer some interesting perspective for today’s artist. For example, in Jasper Johns Map 1961 or William de Kooning, Door to the River 1960
Edward S. Casey on painting the earth, “the postmodern artist is engaged in letting the invisible become visible, bring the obscure into the very light of day, into sheer visibility … The point of painting that receives this inspiration is to re-create a qualitative aspect of the earth in the painting, where it is re-presented as a landscape; however, difficult its recognition may be part of a given scene in the world of perception.” (XV) “As with … artist” such as “Jasper Johns by proceeds … paradox in his painting. The major … case … is sheer fact that he yokes painting and mapping together in one vivid complex work, play one-off against another so that the intrinsic virtues of each are highlighted by ironic contrast with those of other.” (129) It is here at this apex a convergence wherein landscape abstraction of place, social conscience and optics will define balance for the painter and earth mapping such is a way forward for painting. In somewhat a more retrospective way though my work lends itself a closer tie to representation than abstract, it does provide the base qualities of the structures set forth by Casey.
William de Kooning, Door to the River 1960
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Interesting lesson.. So many rich images and questions!