Sunday, November 20, 2011

Artist's Statement VIII: "something is created there all by itself..."

So, again, still, I am working through drafts of an artist's statement and I talk about intention and contradictions and influences ... but I haven't mentioned process. And I was looking at some artwork and realizing that process has to be included. The work of painting is not simply an achievement or what it looks like when it's perfect. What gets us started? What does the middle of the process feel like? When do we stop?

So, beginnings. Richard Sigmund uses what he calls the "art of the streets" to get him thinking. But he doesn't seem to mean graffiti. He means the way the traffic signs are painted on the asphalt, or the way the water runs along a gully on black pavements. Sigmund starts by "supporting an optimism, by trying to raise something common into an art world which rewards uniqueness. I am trying to view what we have in our life with an elevated light, to appreciate what we have ... I believe this could possibly bring relief."  If we can all see it, and we can all know it, we might come to appreciate the little things (also, I have to add, a Richard Foreman idea ... bring forth the undervalued and give it a place).  Sigmund says about starting off the actual work that "I make the stretcher, gesso it, and normally get my idea down. This is when the painting starts, as I need to resolve unforeseen problems. I paint until it doesn't present any problems." [I like that. Me, too]. Here is his "Pacific Coast Highway," 1984:

It's something we all recognize, and even the scale is "right," and yet, here, it is beautiful.

Okay, for middles. The artist Alexis Brown was interviewed; the film is posted on "Gorky's Granddaughter" (great site, filled with artists, studios, talk).  She works with screen printing and with the plastic plates used to test lithographic prints (a new, but "unstable" process that she is testing).  Brown starts the interview by showing us vultures and swans and says she wants to make some connections between them.  The interviewer gestures at some really interesting, but less recognizable, patterns on the wall and notes that as Brown overlays prints,  these patterns get going, and "it becomes this cloud of energy." Brown says in response that "It's closeted abstraction .... I really like the smoky effect .... I am taking guesses at my own actions or why I do these things." That's what we do, I think, as we paint; we stop, and look, and try and figure out what we are doing and where the work is going. It's hard, Brown admits, to come up with the same image twice, in the layered "clouds": "these effects are completely uncontrolled."  But they are compelling. Here is a work that shares some characteristics with the one the artist was talking about: "Untitled" from 2010, pronto plate and charcoal.

And, a bit more about process, from Gerhard Richter.  He has moved through so many different styles and subjects! I confess that I really, really love these new (and enormous) abstracts. The film recording his painting process, at the Tate Modern, showed him pulling paint across with large and small scrapers, horizontally or vertically. (And, somehow, he does this dressed in black -- and remains impeccable).  I liked each stage of the work he was over-scraping, and kept getting worried that he would lose it by doing too much.  But he has his own method for knowing when a work is complete. In a 1999 interview, Richter explained why there were no representational works (in the group of small watercolors then on show): "Because it is more exciting with the abstract ones, and it goes faster .... something is created there all by itself, which one only has to observe in order to intervene at the right moment -- in that case, to stop it."  And here is one of his "scraped" abstracts:

Picasso used to say that a painting is never really finished.  How do you know when your paintings are completed?

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