Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Residency 2 (June 2010) Summary

In many respects, my perspective coming into my Group 2 Residency was far more expanded since my introductory experience back in January. Still, I aspired to maintain a level of objectivity about my work and my exposure to new concepts and theories – a strategy that worked remarkably well for me as a Group 1 student.

Unlike the previous residency, wherein my crit group was comprised of a melange of disciplines, the space in which I hung my work consisted solely of painters. I knew right away that this would make for some excellent discourse, not to mention very focused group crits by faculty in which the very idea of painting would need to be addressed as a whole. The latter had become a point of great interest to me by way of my research writing from the previous semester – that is - the pervasive (and hyperbolic) “death of painting” postulate that seemed to pervade postmodernist discourse from the late '60s through the mid/late '90s. Through many discussions with peers and faculty this residency, I have since theorized a more accurate and contemporary depiction of this rhetoric: Painting has lived on, and has recently emerged out from under the radar due to the fading relevance of postmodernist conjecture.

In my critique space, I'd hung the underpaintings of the heavily allegorized concepts, left unfinished and abandoned since I was dissatisfied with that tack, but wanting to show my progesssion. There were also various sketches that supported these works, as well as the hyper-allegorized triptych sketches. The three completed oil paintings at which I'd finally arrived were: Atelier 2010, a nude self-portrait of sorts depicting a sheep being sheared by me; Flyover, depicting a female figure in a flowing dress jumping/hovering/falling over an airport tarmac; and Pteronychus, a small (12” x 12”) painting of two Herring Gulls perched on a rail, done in a Viridian monochrome.

My first formal group critique was one I'd anticipated with excitement, and one I'd like to explicate particularly. It was a “tag-team” critique with Barry Schwabsky and the program Director, Judith Barry. Schwabsky was sitting visiting faculty as well as a guest lecturer for this residency and semester. I was already very familiar with the seminal contemporary painting tome that he'd helped compile as well as authoring its introduction: Vitamin P. I'd not had a crit with Judith yet, and the experience, depth and professional sophistication for which she is known was certainly something I welcomed.

Unexpectedly, Schwabsky brought the traditional prejudices about representational painting to the fore once he looked at my work, saying: “I'm not sure that this kind of painting needs to be painted... (pause)... anymore.” I was only mildly surprised; I am quite used to statements of this ilk, since they are, as I'd stated, “traditional” in the scope of the postmodern view of representational realism. The fact that I can predict this kind of reaction based on the pedigree of the individual speaks not so much to my work, but to the particular school of thought from which that individual comes. Judith's reaction was somewhat deferential to Schwabsky's, and at the same time, confusingly, she commended me for mastering my technique. As to any defense on my part regarding this, I demurred, and will do so here.

Tony Apesos chided me a bit when I spoke of this with him during an individual crit (which I will address later), saying that I should have made Schwabsky clarify his statement. Perhaps, but I'm beginning to feel that critique – and that of my work, particularly – is much like wine. It truly must be allowed to breathe, for oftentimes – even with excellent vintners and vintages – the wine can tend to “shut down” unless it is decanted for a bit. Amusingly, the oenological term for this is that the wine is “dumb.” That said, I don't mean to be flippant – but I waited out the initial rhetorical ripostes of this crit. In time, Schwabsky redacted to a degree, charging that my allover treatment of surface in such a neoclassical (read: no brushwork) manner disallowed him to “enter” the painting. This made sense, and gibed with some later critiques, so I noted it well.

It's not that surprising that the painting Atelier 2010 garnered the most attention during (and not during, by the reaction of passersby) critiques, given that the content is so oddly challenging. Stuart Steck, in our “former advisor” meeting, wondered aloud at how I even arrived at such an image, but praised the work as uncannily fresh. My new advisor for this semester, Hannah Barrett, was not quite as enamored, but still shook her head at the piece, baffled by my choice of subject matter, and deemed it somewhat successful based upon its confusing nature alone. She rather preferred Pteronychus for its noir-ish take of such a quotidian image. Tony Apesos, who enjoys things allegorical (he felt what I was doing conceptually was compelling and, admittedly, to his taste), decided to critique me on a more formal, technical level and made an emphatic point about manipulating my static surface: he advised me to try impasting paint to create tension and interest. Both Stuart and Hannah had mentioned this, as well. It became very clear (since Schwabsky's crit), that this was an important part of the “technical narrative” that needs to be addressed in my work. I'd not yet delved into any system of mark-making, nor paid attention to producing a varied pictorial surface. I'll be honest and say that it was something I hadn't thought about. I've never been one to use much paint, but I see now that that very lack does not speak to painting's history save before Modernism.

As is usual with this program, the very essence of Critical Theory II dovetailed nicely with these realizations about my work. The main thrust of the readings of CT II covered the great relevance and histories of the mark, stain, trace and index. I was hoping for a bit of clarity, as the essays were quite dense; Jacques Derrida's linguistic acrobatics being the most challenging. The inimitable Michael Newman led the group in a surprisingly lively discussion over the four seminar sessions that lent a greater lucidity to the subjects at hand. We also engaged in mini-presentations in which we demonstrated our comprehension of mark and/or trace. I chose to illustrate the notion of mark-making with a slightly altered take on the Surrealist automatic drawing exercise of entopic graphomania; this was well-received. Needless to say, I heeded Michael's elucidation of the texts and will expound upon these topics further in subsequent research papers.

My elective seminar for this semester was Tony Apesos' “Death, Loss and Mourning.” Despite the inherently depressive implications of the course title, it was actually quite dynamic. There were interesting crossovers with Critical Theory II at points with the Pliny story (the colloquial “origin of drawing” story) and Freud's “Mourning and Melancholia.” It was a fascinating workshop, as Tony had us looking at death rituals from (initially) a very non-Western point of view. It was also highly edifying: there were beautiful and contemplative moments, especially during our visit to the Forest Hills Cemetery, where we looked at classical statuary in a poignantly picturesque setting.

Worthy of mention is a panel put together by Oliver Wasow and Michael titled, “Sourcing, Outsourcing and Resourcing.” They both spoke, looking at the contemporary modes of distribution and adaptation of visual resources – primarily through the vast structure of the internet. The levels and modes of appropriation have shifted and sped up to a dizzying degree, and Oliver and Michael unpacked the phenomenon through their practices – photographer and academic, respectively. In my opinion, the panel was very successful. It is crucial as an artist to be conversant with these new realities taking shape via the massive image exchange archive that is the web.

I have been told that my expanding knowledge of contemporary art and critical discourse has accelerated my growth as an artist thus far. A willingness to engage in critical dialogue with an equitable perspective has also undoubtedly been helpful to my cause. Of course, I need to maintain these standards this semester (and beyond). As a painter, I must truly consider the plastic nature of the medium and technically revel in the very fact of oil paint itself, as mentioned earlier. Size will matter in this case, and I foresee a technical challenge there, which will no doubt manifest a new vector of narrative. Conceptually, I will tighten up the parameters, directing my focus on more “theoretical” frameworks, but also focus through a more “oblique” lens regarding the iconic and thematic sensibilities of the visuals. I will continue to explore self-referential themes as well as give atypical treatments to typical subjects with a more ambiguous and contemporary directive.

Books And Articles:

The Picture in Question: Mark Tansey and the Ends of Representation - Mark C. Taylor

Eric Fischl and the Death of Painting – Mark Vallen, Art For a Change, April 2006

Thick and thin - painters and curators discuss the state of painting in the last two decades – Robert Storr, ArtForum, April 2003

End of Art – Donald Kuspit

Ellen Harvey: New York Beautification Project  - Ellen Harvey

Painting People: Figure Painting Today - Charlotte Mullins

The Death of Painting and The Writing of Painting's Post-Crisis, Post-Critique Future – Christopher Miles, Art Lies – A Contemporary Quarterly, issue 47


Jill Christian said...

Well done, Rob! I enjoyed reading your summary -- thoughtful, intelligent, with a touch of humor ;-)

Anonymous said...

In reply to your last comment, Rob:

I don't think you're being too self-congratulatory. First of all, it's your blog, so you can use it to amp up your work and expand your audience all you like, as any illustrator should. That's part of what blogging is all about!
And you are working so hard. I can't even wrap my head around most of the things you are learning/thinking/doing. Getting your MFA is more than a self sacrifice, your family is also sacrificing with you, and even we, your students had to sacrifice time. We are all backing you up and will be waiting to see you cross the finish line! Not everyone goes for their MFA, so it is a serious accomplishment. Again, Go Rob!

PS. You should post some photos/images too!

Rob S. said...

Jill - thank you! Hope I didn't come off as a wiseass with the wine allegory. It seemed appropriate under the circumstances.

KT! Again with wonderful commentary from you! I do appreciate it so much. I suppose you're right. And it's not like more than 4 people read this thing, anyway, LOL! As far as more pics are concerned - yeah, I should post more WIP stuff, but I'm kinda secretive about revealing too much too soon. I don't want the images to get old before anyone sees them in person. Maybe if I just take bad photos, then when people see the actual work they'll be so surprised at how much better it looks. XD

Anonymous said...

Hahaha or instead of WIP you could post photos of NYC, gallery shows you go to, a sneak peek at your color palette, inspiration, etc. Just for fun! You know, between all those BIG words. Haha!