Thursday, November 10, 2005

Art Speak

This is a little artist statement that I included for my show attempting to explain my thought processes and how the project developed. Please, no snickering . . . comments would be apreciated.


This is a project that began near the end of last year (2004) when I discovered a series of radiographic photos of microbes in a coffee table biology book hidden on the shelves of a used book store. I was originally drawn to the images because of the surprising similarity in form and colour that they held to previous work of mine that was completely unrelated in theme and source material. All of the present paintings and drawings are from this year and represent a conceptual shift in my work. As I went about depicting images of viruses and bacterium I spent a lot of time asking myself if it was possible to use visual illustrations of these microbes, responsible for the most dangerous diseases that exist in the modern world, as metaphors for social dysfunctions. I was also interested in the idea of portraying organisms that in reality are invisible to the naked eye. Being generally unscientific in character and interests, I began to wonder if these microbes actually even exist, and if so, are they any different than the witches and demons that supposedly made us ill before the Enlightenment of the 18th century.
As the work developed the medical or scientific significance of the microbes themselves began to dissolve before the simply formal and technical processes of painting, alongside the menacing sensations that names such as “Ebola, HIV, and Salmonella” or most recently “SARS and Asian Bird Flu” can inspire. I began to realize that what I was really interested in from the beginning was an attempt to repeat and elaborate forms in paint that I found beautiful while at the same time exploring the cold fear that such invisible beasties can imprint on our collective imagination. How could I define the dysfunctions that the paintings supposedly allude to in contemporary urban society? That answer came to me as FEAR. More than any other emotion or phenomenon, I feel fear is the defining characteristic of the community that I was born into; particularly since the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War. The ever-present and most basic fears of death, disease, poverty, or loneliness. Fears exploited for political, strategic, and economic gain of such perils as espionage, invasion, bombardment, or sabotage by hidden enemies called communists and terrorists. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the world outside our national borders. Fear of our immigrant neighbours.
These are feelings that I do not share with my compatriots replaced only by an intense curiosity to explore and understand anything cultural that is of the unknown “other.” Making paintings that are like the mutterings of a hypochondriac were to me a type of alchemical experiment investigating the rationalized system of fear and terror that now seemingly dominates all forms of public debate, whether political, medical, or social.
As the year winds to a close the military occupations drag on, images of burning cars and scattered body parts are emblazoned on my memory with a monotonous regularity, and news stories or editorials about how I too could be affected by the next mega-plague or demonstration of nature’s wrath are pounded into my media consumption ceaselessly. My dreams of a better future are blurred and confused. I have to stop for a moment, step outside and look at the sky to defiantly remember that my life is going well and that I am not afraid. Only then is it time to go back into the studio and make more paintings.

3rd of November, 2005


Pete said...

This is a good example of this kind of document, but I'm suspicious how useful these kinds of explanations are.
The danger is, of course, that you'll close any of the open loops for the viewer; making their job as an art consumer easier, but not extending their interest in the work, really.
In terms of writing style, I think it could be more succinct. It is difficult to jam so many important points into a couple of paragraphs, though.

Pete said...

Sorry this feedback seemed too vague... I'll chew on this for a day or two and then get back to you.

Ryan Scheidt said...

Nice. I actually think its pretty good! You exactly what got you thinking from picking up this book. the statement is easy to read and doesn't go too in depth, i don't think.
"An artist statement is supposed to provide a sort of window in which people can look through in order to see your work in the right light."
-William Conger, (one of my Senior professor at NU)

this was a good metaphor for me in grad school on how to think about the function of the artist statement.

It doesn't need to tell them everything but it gets the viewer thinking about what you're seeing and what you would like them to see in the work.

also, i like the end.
i think its hard to write endings that say in very simple terms "I'm continuing to investigate this in my work."
but i think you did a good job of that with what you said.

i would post this on your website for people to read while the're looking at your work, too.

Ryan Scheidt said...

bleah, the last post was supposed to start: "you SAID exactly what got you thinking..."

yep, its worth previewing your blogs before you post them.


Pete said...

I agree with Ryan that your artist's statement functions in the best possible way.
But I would never, ever, ever, hang an artist statement beside a row of paintings in a gallery. Because then, in effect, I'd be giving each painting the same several hundred word long title.

Some old fashioned writing advice: Taking the "I"s out of the document will make it seem more objective and less anecdotal.

I think there're two core features of this new work: visionary experience (in terms of Aldous Huxley's "Heaven and Hell") and the conundrum of painting (in terms of the whole kit-and-kaboodle, terms of representation, from Giotto to the painter-of-tomorrow, Clement Greenberg in a blender).

Don Jason said...

It became important to have something written for the show to insure that paintings were not simply interpreted estetically. Particularly in Spain, where sometimes it seems that anything wackier than a still life with jars and lemons is far out conceptual work.

Pete said...

Yeah. I really like Antonio Lopez Garcia (1,2), but I'm sure I wouldn't like an army of his clones.