January-June 2011: Group 3 to 4 Transition
It cannot be stressed enough that these last 6 months were an incredibly important time for me as an artist striving towards his Masters. As I had stated in the Residency Summary in the beginning of the semester, this period needed to yield a high level of production and focus. I'm happy to say that I think I've achieved that.
Of course, this remains to be seen as a fait accompli, as I will get many comprehensive critiques on the work at my Group 4 residency. Nevertheless, I feel like I've accomplished something of value in my painting and research and that those two things have meshed in a way they hadn't before. And, the other thing to which I'd alluded in the Residency Summary – the importance of the studio work as a springboard to the thesis – was foremost in my mind. With an amazing assist from my mentor Peter Rostovsky, I was able to craft a series of paintings that have both formal and conceptual cohesion; individually, and as a group.
I can recall the difficulties of my Group 2 to 3 semester – the lack of surety of direction, the soft-pedaling regarding exploration, and the sticky written work. It wasn't as if I produced poor work, but it lacked true focus technically and thematically. That semester's forays into getting more facture on the painting's surface was something I definitely wanted to take along into the new work. The binary tension between painting's tactility and the photographic gesture certainly lent new interest to my surfaces. But this technical narrative was not fully realized: the painted gesture was too prosaic, existing as it did outside the conceptual directions with which I was experimenting. The conflation of these things needed greater consideration. In many ways, my success this time around was due to looking back while simultaneously handicapping myself to get ahead.
An introduction to Lars von Trier's film, The Five Obstructions, was a fantastic object lesson, showing me that operating within a set of proscribed constraints yields more thoughtful and directed work. As I had discussed in an essay produced this semester, “The End of Art and What To Do About It,” Foucault drives this point home: “Only creativity is possible in putting into play of a system of rules; it is not a mixture of order and freedom.” (Chomsky-Foucault, 29). Not only did this put me in a better frame of mind with regard to the already-shrunken space of painting within contemporary art, but it also gave me the motivation to excise the non-essential in my work. Therefore, based on responses to previous monochromatic works (Pteronychus [the small seagull piece] and All Natural [the mint ice cream cone]), I decided to execute each painting with a single-color theme. In the same vein, I realized that, in past works, my striving towards opening the vectors of meaning was failing against the didactic nature of the subject matter and/or its conflation with add-on devices (weird backgrounds, collage-like elements, etc.). Again, I was guided by my mentor to strip away all but the fundamental aspects of the reference. For example: In the case of one of the last pieces I executed, Magisterium, I had painted in a background in front of an unfurled duck wing. It consisted of a photographically blurry view of the pond as told by the reference material. This made the piece, as a conceptual whole, far too prosaic and lyrical, closing down the reading. When I overpainted a flat value on top of it, it moved into a realm where I could see a Ribera, a Caravaggio or an Orazio Gentileschi rather than a recontextualized photo.
Materials became an issue of even tighter focus this semester. Both Peter and Tony (Apesos, my advisor) made me more sharply aware of the need to understand the historical nature and practical application of oil paint and its adjunct mediums. Originally, I had been using a fairly standard procedure in my painting, thinning with only linseed oil, and more recently, with Galkyd products from Gamblin – synthetic alkyd resins with a syrupy feel, but a self-leveling quality. Peter had suggested trying mediums that might give me more lift and stiction to the brushstrokes, so I employed Gamblin's Neo-Megilp. It sure added body – almost distractingly so. But, this wasn't the solution he was hinting at. In our second mentor meeting, he brought out some very traditional mediums: a Venetian medium the likes of which was used by Velazquez; and a glass medium, with glass dust suspended in the polymerized oil. They were beautiful in their own right, and I could see how reflecting painting's history through using these historical mediums was a sophisticated way to expound on the technical narrative. Moreover, in a visit to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts with Tony, he proceeded to point out the use of egg-oil emulsion in much of the Flemish painting – especially in highlight passages. He drew my attention to the nature of how the paint not only had a wax-like sheen to it, but pooled in such a way that made it more of a creamy consistency rather than a spiky, impasted passage or a layered, chalky-cool paint buildup. After seeing these examples, I made an effort to employ polymerized oil in my medium mixture as well as the introduction of walnut oil, as opposed to linseed. It was a struggle at first to produce the results for which I normally strive. I wasn't fully understanding the feel and balance between medium, pigment and surface with these new ingredients in place. But, I pressed on, and I have to say, it made a great deal of difference in how the paintings resonate optically.
After completion of my first work this semester – a quasi-drawing/painting on frosted polyester called Catastrophe Paradox – I shifted my naming convention for the subsequent full oil paintings. The fact is, I had come into deep conflict with my Catholic faith beginning back at the start of my MFA pursuits in January of 2010. I hadn't written about it to this point, because I had no inkling of how or why I should make it relevant to my art nor my Master's experience. However, it is a deep-rooted discord, and I felt that now, since I began feeling more comfortable in my formal approach, that I should fold this internal discourse into my concepts. The titles reflect Catholic doctrines and rites that, in some discrete or oblique way, sync up with the image depicted. Many of these pairings strike a dissonance once the relationship is recognized, and this is purposefully done, as it is relevant to my disquiet over contemporary Catholic issues. However, I do not wish to delve into a full explication of these meanings at this time. If the relationships are not fully realized by the viewer, it does the work no disservice; there are many other meanings to be had when these paintings are presented.
With this in mind, after this next residency, my task will focus primarily on the development of my thesis. The nomenclature direction will be further explicated with regard to my personal experiences and development, but again, perhaps not with specific meaning in mind. I have submitted the outline for my thesis, an the thematic focuses on the re-presentation of the quotidian. “The quotidian” does not necessarily mean banal, everyday objects or images only – the contemporary idea of the quotidian has broadened to contain a plethora of images that stem from oft-repeated tropes within high and low media alike. My typical jumping-off point of manipulated photographic reference (from numerous open sources, including my own photography) gives me a huge cache of predictable imagery from which I can paint. I have already made this gesture in the work I've generated this semester (and I'll undoubtedly produce a few more in the coming months), so my premise is established enough physically to write about it as my thesis platform.
The next level towards which I have been striving is here already. It is, for all intents and purposes, the final level in this stage of my artistic growth – and will no doubt serve as a springboard for the rest of my life's work. There are another 6 months ahead in which I will engage in the written aspect of my constructed visual components. But also, there will be new work that will be a direct evolution from these recent pieces. Since I made the point of being particularly reductive this semester, I will become additive from this point. A re-introduction of the figure will be a component, as well as the addition of more color. However, it will be vital to keep my current conceptual principles intact without being circumscribed by something stylistic. In other words, I must stay true to the spirit of the current body of work.
Chomsky, Noam and Foucault, Michel. The Chomsky-Foucault Debate: On Human Nature. New York: New Press, 2006. Print