July 2, 2003

Here, Now.


This weblog is an incarnation of an earlier effort I called "The Butterfly Collection". That was in the ChinaTown Studio, sometime between 2000 and 2002. As I would work in the studio, thoughts would arise outside of the framework that initiated the particular painting at hand or of the wet on wet efforts as a whole. Generally, they were ruminations about the way I was painting... as a matter of fact, "Ruminations" was the title of a book I put together when I wasn a young architecture student back in 1984-5. So I guess this is an ongoing concern.

As the thoughts would arise, I would write them down on a small piece of paper and pin them on the wall. One after another, a cluster formed like a butterfly collection. The brutality of it bears a remark or two. There is a suggestion that it was way to "kill" the thought, to put it away. Or, to "kill it with kindness", an act of homage that inters, to keep the mental insect from fluttering round so. A small but beautiful distraction.

By doing so, I could return to the painting itself, rather than hover over it in the clouds. I could return to the fact of the paint at hand... Here,Now. And I could keep the thought, because without pinning the insects on the wall, they would flutter away irretrievable. My hope was to gather the cluster of thoughts and plot their intersections, to discover what I was thinking on the meta scale, there and then.

Here, Now.

Over the past few months (12-00 to 7-01), I've been pinning up little notes on the wall as successive thoughts crystallize as I work on the paintings. They seem like a butterfly collection. (Am I killing them as I cherish them?) After I sent the work off, I pulled them down and sorted them into like categories, mulling over their significance.

From time to time, people would ask me what I was thinking as I painted. The question seemed to be a combination of incredulity that anything could be thought coherently in the making of these impasto things, and a compliment anticipating a systematic world view. I believe that I don?t work from such a deterministic point of view, that I jumped into alla prima painting as a critique of art that is too figured out beforehand, that is overly constructed in terms of the relation of form to meaning. As to my relation to the world of ideas, I want to indulge my curiosities, but when I go into the studio, I want to get lost in the medium of painting. Eyes agog, a wonderland.

As I look at my work, thought arise, like cargo bobbing up from the depths. I would write them onto scraps of paper and pin them on the wall I start to draw connections but I don?t want to go too far... I just want to flush them out a little here. It's a funny, strange thing to do and it feels good. I'm taking my time, relishing it. It's almost as if this is the very best moment, an immanence.

Clouds fat, heavy and dark.

What follows is rough categorization of ideas, sorted according to likeness. The title underlined is a summary indicate by Roman Numerals in a random order. The butterflies are listed in equally random sequence a., b., c., etc. A short exegesis will follow. This is yet incomplete.

I. The Touch
a Restraint/ Resistance
The little that is done while there is a capacity to do more.
Each mark is a resistance, a fragment of a larger stroke.
b. Shivering.
To shiver the paint onto the surface
(a trembling hand)

A loaded brush touches the surface, but you only need a portion of its? power to do the job. Sometimes you can slow down radically, gathering much information about what?s happening on the picture plane.

In the theater of my imagination, I conjure the image of a trembling hand over the canvas, shivering the paint to the surface. The fingers flicker over the surface, paint wisped and smeared, teased and flung.

II. The Edit
a. A culmination of successive mitigations.
b. Unpainting- untouching
Painting with the part of the mark which is as untouched as
c. Frankenstein Virginity (editing and innocence)

Sushi. The mark of paint is like a fish where you slice off all the parts that you don?t want to put in your mouth. Each mark has a great and a not so great aspect. It is possible to edit the less desirable aspects. Each subsequent action can cover the edited portions of the previous ones. Therefore all marks are conjunctive in a chain of linked actions. You could virtually pick up the last one and lift them all off the picture plane. What was that children?s game involving a barrel of toy monkeys?

III. Figuration
a. Figuring, ambivalently.
b. Fugitive Schemata
c. Sock Puppets of Abstraction
d. (looks like) Skin Diver
coral reefs of my childhood, details, hovering, suspended,
aware of breathing
e. Real Time Funky Mondrian
f. Polyp
(just barely), liminal image (organico)
g. Skulls (death is near)
?Oh Death? -Ralph Stanley
A phrenology of form, (recent paintings are portraits).

The originating epiphany mentioned above (wet brush, wet field) occurred while rendering a figure. Marks are made as gesture, line and form according to a figural schema and presto!, an image is represented on the picture plane. One moment they are marks, material... then the concrete substance disappears into the imagination. I want the motivating power of figuration, but not the eclipse of the material. If figuration can be thought of as an automobile, then I fancy myself to be removing the engines to power an abstract project.

IV. Devotion
a. piety
a clipping from the newspaper (LA Times, date lost), an interview with the actor Willem Dafoe ?For an actor, giving over to something that feels outside of yourself is the purest kind of performance.?
b. Deep Studio, Submergence
Studio practice as a meditation, artwork as a mantra

Nearly everything I can think to write about this topic sounds cliched and yet the imperative is undiminished. There?s something better below the crust of platitude. There is something in the devotional attitude that helps to bring out something in oneself that exceeds expectations. To give oneself over to something bigger seems empower even if that source of strength might be illusory. Perhaps the mechanism is not so much about a grand submission to a conventional godhead, but a mundane act of displacement, like seeing with peripheral vision.

Lost in wonderland, there are loners in my family line. It?s a free fall in private space. Picasso painted in the wee hours of the morning. I remember the words of an old friend, Troy Sizemore: ?It?s like fishing.? It?s a form of waiting by abandoning expectations.

When I was eighteen, I enrolled into Transcendental Meditation. The routine is as follows: mantra, stray thought, mantra, stray thought, mantra, stray thought, mantra... if you can do this, you can find yourself in a moment divorced from time (no kidding) where you are acutely aware and your mind seeks no refuge in stray thought nor mantra. Athletes do it. Actors do it. Books have been written about ?flow?.

I haven?t read them.

V. Organizations of Form
a. Arabesque in debris.
b. A formal mathematics.
Auto relational
c. Object Oriented Programming (Newton MessagePad)
text as object

Sometimes people ask if I fabricate the ?objects? and assemble them on the canvas. No, everything is done more or less traditionally on canvas with wet paint. In figurative terms, though, I do import objects to the picture plane. Each application of paint has its? own formal address. They are each fragile, inter-nested and constructed, owing to the physics of impact, displacement and deformation.

In my favorite handheld computer, an Apple Newton MessagePad 2100, the text is manipulatable via a touch screen. The programming is called object oriented. I imagine it's because each word is a movable object rather than each character. I see these two forms of computer programming as something like the relation between my painting and earlier (brush dominated) alla prima painting.

VI. Beauty, Loveliness
a. A Plural Beauty
Beauty of the multifaceted, entanglement, the manifold.
Beauty of God in every-thing
b. Earth rise, earth as a planetary view
A fractile beauty, close up vs distance approach to viewing paintings. Paint as nature, paint as living material.

The beauty of earth as seen from space is a fractile beauty with structures which are lovely when seen at any distance. Fractiles are simply a mathematical expression for geometries found in nature, as opposed to geometries which are implied by nature, but not actually found there. The sun is not a sphere, rather spheres conjure the sun. Similarly, beauty can be said to be about the temporal world, about here, now. Is it possible that beauty is not Platonic? Is beauty found both in the description of waveform (amplitude versus wavelength) and in the lap of the ocean upon a shore? Are they even the same in the name called beauty?

VII. Abstraction as 1. ?concrete physicality and 2. as chaos
a. Phantasmagoria
?We tell ourselves stories in order to live... we look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of the narrative line upon disparate images, by the ?ideas? with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.? - Joan Didion, The White Album
b. In a blurring vision, wiping the eyes to see.
c. Lao Tzu, first section, Tao Te Ching.
d. Carnality, Carne, Carnal.
e. Facts on the Ground (USA Presidential Election, 2000)
f. Tissue Cultures

I remember once my buddy Jim buried a cat, recently deceased. Actually, he threw a couple of shovels of dirt on it... so finally, a paw stuck out of the soil. The paw stuck in my mind. I drew it. Dessicated, an impressive reach from the grave. A couple of beers, a topic of jokes, teasing as the night wore on. We decided to bury it properly. Absurdly, we overdug a pit deeper than the tallest among us: Robin, "who lives for longness". It took all night.

Later, we went to Tijuana for carnitas.

VIII. Between-ness, Duality, Half Breed
a. Concretion and Representation
A tension between representation and the thing-ness of paint.
b. Equatorial.
To play on the equator between substance and image.
c. Apogee, Zenith... elementary physics, the cannonball
The parabolic curve, x axis: object vs image, y axis(?)
d. State of Grace
An accumulation of actions where each possesses sacred and profane aspects.
e. Unconscious and self-concious in equal measure.
f. Strangeness
Make it strange and curiosity may persist.

Ambivalence: two windows which open in contrary directions. Janus.

I'm a mongrel. We are all mongrels.

IX. Disruption
a. Audacity, which requires a normative state of affairs
b. Recklessness, then restraint, reflection.
c. A decisiveness that dribbles out in fits and starts.
d. Extremely Conditional
e. Post Facto, Pre Facto.
The experience going in is different from the other side.
f. Order and disruption.
Life, and the primordial soup.
g. The Martial Arts. Painting as combat.
1.Methods of disruption (spontaneous)
2....become ordered..
3....requiring further disruption.
h. Make a pattern, break a pattern.
Make a plan. Break it. Repeat.
Status Quo, Revolution.

A battlefield
as in chess, a field of agents deployed in a territory of contest

Fencing, combat as the detection and subversion of pattern and habit. A detective?s modus operandi. Make a pattern, break a pattern. Deception.

Assets lost and gained, a sub text of peril, mortality, a gnashing of teeth. My father on the Korean War: "You had to become a monster to survive."

Posted by Dennis at July 2, 2003 4:03 PM

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