August 29, 2009

Paintings that are No More

Cord, each panel 8 x 8 inches

White Circles, Black Belt, 18 x 18 inches

In the conversation I've had with rappel, on this blog ("Now Done", below) and by email, about the finished painting Yellow Curve, many new thoughts have come to mind. This post is inspired by her telling me of a scientific journal that was created in order to write about experiments that didn't work; it was thought that exploring the failures would help scientists in their work. It turned out that no one wanted to write about these unfulfilled experiments for a variety of reasons, and the journal didn't continue.

In writing about Yellow Curve I wanted to describe my ambivalent feelings about the painting. I don't yet know its future, but the commenting regarding the cartoon and the comic has added a layer of meaning for me that wasn't there thank you, blogging. But I have done paintings that I know are not successful, and after a suitable period of time, I erase them so as to re-use the panel. So I thought I'd expand a bit on my failures in the hope that it will elucidate my aesthetic and perhaps ring a bell with other artists.

These two paintings (I consider the triptych Cord a single work) have a similar failing for me in that they both seem too bound up in the realistic as opposed to the real. OK, what do I mean by that? When a painting seems real, it has a weight and heft and tangibility; it exists in the world as a strong presence on its own, not just as an image of something. These two pieces are images of things, especially Cord, which we can see is a depiction of a bungee cord. All its detail, accurate and lively as it is, just calls attention to the source material. Painting as tour de force description no longer interests me. And in White Circles, the composition is too complicated: there's too much going on and the elements don't have an easy relationship one with the other.

In my search for the simple and the concrete, these works were failures. I like to think of Kant's phrase "the thing-in-itself", which in my limited or mis-understanding, points to a reality beyond the visual world and beyond our understanding. I like to think of painting as pushing us past primary visual responses towards a deeper and more elemental awareness.


  1. yikkes! I like both of these a lot! white/black seems very coherent and not complicated, it all works as a whole movement, I like the tonalities and I like the way the sunlight breaks the expectation of completion of the circle. the bungee cord trio is very lively, graphic, and very real. I don't see the bungee cord, I see the color/ line compositions!
    this is can-of-worms subjectivity for you.

  2. or perhaps it's seeing the work online vs seeing it "in the flesh"?

  3. Interesting post. All the paintings, yes, I understand that top three are seen as one, are very well executed and composed, but the soul of the matter is missing as i see it. Like what you said about real and realistic. Smart woman you are.

  4. love to read your thoughts, Altoon.

    "toward a deeper and more elemental awareness" is the thing indeed. and the question is: when a work no longer calls attention to its source... then isn't it abstracted so far from the reference that it is at least functioning on the "nonobjective" or dare I say "spiritual realm?"