Thinking Out Loud, Come What May- 5-9-2023
On the eve of my show at Diamond Hollow Bookstore, Miles Bellamy asked me how I got from figurative work to these press molded paper works. Well, it isn’t the first time I’ve gone from figurative work to abstract work and back again. Without a doubt big life changes-traumas have had an impact on my artwork. Life and death.
It’s like if you are doing figurative work you are looking at the world from the outside- observing. But when you are doing abstract work you are looking at the world from the inside. Abstraction allows for referencing structures, symbols, colors, shapes and line quality as the subject.
I use both methods of creating images.
I had the advantage of two angles of contemporary arts education. The first was at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan where a small group of Yale educated artists created an Avant Gard art department. We started with newsprint, vine charcoal and sticks of butter and drew the empty space around objects and the figure- the butter was a stand in for the sensuality of paint. The emphasis was on conceptual art, taking an analytical approach to visual art and the history of art. Examples would be: what is canvas? What is paint? How does perception work? Pick 10 words that are important in your life and illustrate them in one drawing. The program was shut down by the administration for not producing art as they knew it.
I then enrolled at Wayne State University in Downtown Detroit. The art program there was traditional based. We drew from still lives and the figure for 2 years before moving on to painting. Solid traditional skill based art.
Detroit had a vibrant art community based around a few galleries and collectors. The visiting artist program created by John Egner, a Yale graduate, who maintained a studio in New York
and spent his weekends there, was instrumental in bringing in New York artists to WSU for teaching gigs.
Detroit artists were responding to the deteriorating environment of Detroit physically and culturally. Their art was made of “non-art materials” but rather detritus from the street and hardware materials, the group centered around the Cass Corridor. The emphasis was on ingenuity, alchemy- creating something from nothing. I responded to this work because I found it open. So great freedom- new visions.
Artists that visited Oakland and WSU- John Baldessari, Elizabeth Murray, Judy Rifka, Guy Goodwin, Ron Gorchov and Stephen Mueller.
Several galleries in the Detroit Metropolitan area also educated art students of what art looked like besides the art magazines and the DIA. The Feigenson Gallery showed Michael Luchs, Gordy Newton, Paul Schwartz, and New Yorker Bill Jensen. The Donald Morris Gallery showed Alice Neel, Philp Pearlstein, Al Held, David Barr, Philp Guston, Lester Johnson to name a few. So for students in a mid-size city in the rust belt we had a premier view of art from figurative to abstraction. I even got to meet Lee Krasner at a small gathering at Suzanne Hillberry Gallery. Sam Hunter’s book American Art of the Twentieth Century was essential- I saw no barrier in seeing from the inside or the outside- go where the flow is.
Some consistent qualities in my work have been a physicality to my paintings. Whether it was thick paint, shaped canvases or a collaged surface- adding to the surface of the canvas, creating a non-flat plane, toying with illusion seemed like the next step after cubism of Picasso and Braque. Sort of straddling the space between painting and sculpture but always remaining painting.
Now more than ever, seeing art in person, feeling the physicality of the materials, having a body experience as well as a visual experience seems precious today in our modern world of screens, photographs and videos.
So, how does this move from figurative to abstract take place for me? I suppose it is a response to my own environment. I even think in the Tectonic paintings I made in the 80’s and 90's, the abstract is sitting in the sine-wave shapes, distorting the illusion and image. The shapes that the images are painted on as abstraction is the structure that all reality is composed of. Everything is made up of something else. Structures as atoms, electrons, to black holes. I have always viewed all paintings as abstract despite the illusionary imagery. It’s just paint, color, line and shape.
I ponder the inside/outside questions when it comes to thoughts, memories, dreams, even the picture making that goes on in our brains as we read words/ use language- what reality is this? How many layers are there?
Now virtual reality, further exploring the depths of our brain sensory systems, stimulating sound, taste, feel and vision.
My sensibilities prefer physicality.
The press molded paper- packing materials could be thought of as the space between things. In some ways in my early explorations of these materials I was thinking of them as curved surfaces of space-time. Energies that are stretching and shrinking space, matter and density and magnetism shaping space, like what we see isn’t really what is. I think about ideas of stacking of electrons and atoms geometrically like buildings and architecture made of repeating forms but then there is fractal geometry that creates seemingly organic shapes that are really just different scales just like nature. I don’t want my art to be a science lesson, I just want to stimulate curiosity. I am thinking about how humans naturally imitate the structural laws of nature, because we are the product of the evolving life force consciously and subconsciously.
I approach my art open ended - Come What May.
I have always thought that artists tapped into the creative ether of the life forces of nature.