October 23, 2004

Glug, Glug...

"Glug, Glug..."
Michael Reafsnyder is getting ready for a show at Marta Cevera's Gallery in Madrid and he was kind enough to share the jpegs with me and hence, you. Michael and I are in the "meaty treat" territory of painting and I thought I'd share a few thoughts and the back and forth email conversation we had about them (with Michael's kindly permission) ... and a stray thought about John Pomara that arose as I was perusing Tom Moody's blog recently.

I bagan with something like this:

Is there a narrative of progression here or am I projecting? The happy face is becoming a project of drawing over "facts on the ground". I like this description of the non-objective, or of an abstraction as that which does less to act as a sign. (Yea, the "doing" is our doing, not the painting... but even so.) And there in your paintings is a sea of facts into which is scribed a primitive sign, perhaps for happiness, perhaps to signal affirmation (as if the slathering joy doesn't), perhaps for the innocence of childhood.

Michael has children and a happy family, G-d bless him.

And this project is building on the manners of childhood implied by the happy face. You are drawing past the sign of the happy face as if it were the alpha proceeding towards the omega of a larger vocabulary to come. A fish complete with scales and tail. You could take this all the way up the ladder, octopuses, horses, flowers... as your kids grow, so can your vocabulary.

Parallel projects in overlay. That was my strategy coming out of the gate after grad school, a sandwich of underpainting and overpainting... then, I would paint any which way that took my fancy. I would then finish with a stencil (a drawing after all, like yours) of what started out as letterforms that turned away from the sign. Eventually, I merged the two layers and blended them together.

This was a question, in fact. I was clumsily trying to ask: Michael, do you think of your work as two separable aspects, drawing and painting?

It made me think of drawing and painting, how drawing is a pulling that makes distinctions between one thing and another... and how painting is a smoodge and smudge and control of blending that is inevitable due to the liquidity of paint. An ooze that prompts efforts to control and a distinction (the proverbial line in the sand) that seeks the innocence of childhood and whatever good values we associate with it (play, joy, directness...). If these two layers are vectors on different trajectories, then they will bear on each other more strongly but what if they are converging? Maybe my earlier project is not comparable.

This is where I left it, but here is where I was trying to go:

Certainly the lines are squirts of paint, controlled extrusions, from the fabric of the splash of oozing colors. Is it possible that what I see as drawing is like one of those movie blob monsters who pauses in mid rampage to scribe a primitive hello on it's belly? No, really.. is this a painterly form of television "snow" (actually, the ambient background signature of the big bang) with fleeting images of television shows such as that an alien civilization might see? (Don't sigh.) Is the distinction of sign versus substance present in your work? Is the hedonistic frenzy taking a pause to give a thumbs up to the viewer?

"Me, My, Mermaid"

Michael wrote back:

I have been working on the mermaids trying to get them right and I think this is the first couple of paintings where it happens. The question of how to inscribe drawing on top of, rather than under, the ground of a painting is one of the simple pleasures and tasks that I think painting affords.

He's flipping the convention of paintings as painted-drawings. One might think the simple pleasure is the in the slather, but it's possible that it is the schema of historical process (and perhaps more than history: the intrinsic neccessity that rendering in paint requires) that is messed with plastically.

I often love the bleed of the linseed from oil pain on unprimed paper. It is a ground coming directly from a drawn (squeezed) mark.

Whoa. Drawing = squeezing. Hmmmm.

Keeping narrative out with the mermaid has been a challenge as well as locating her. She became too drawn, too static. How do you allow this creature to glide and float in and out of space and intermingle her with the relic of the smile.

This reminds me of Louis Kahn's use of "Ask what the brick wants to be... it will say that it wants to be in compression.". The tool here is projection, a form of empathy. In both cases, the inquiry is into the nature of materials. With Michael's work, I imagine that there is a theatre in which "glide", "float" and "intermingle" is a metaphor for liquid paint dynamics.


I think this is the push/pull (Hoffman speak) in this new group. Movement, speed, depth, penetration. I could continue movement across the picture plane with the smile, it becomes something else with the mermaid.

I substituted architecture undergrad for art undergrad school. I missed out on the arterial injection of Hoffman.

As for continuing the "growth" vocabulary" this is a great observation. In fact, I paid Isabel 1$ for 10 ideas of things to paint yesterday.

Hey! How can I get into this action? Let's see, if I come up with half a million ideas, I can clear fifty thou a year....

But I don't know if I can be as discerning as his daughter:

What was nice was that Sponge Bob, and other cartoon characters where not listed. I love Sponge Bob, but, that gets into a different territory than mermaids, princesses, and other nice things.


So I was tooling around in Tom Moody's web blog and I came across John Pomara's work.

Tom hails from Dallas, as John does and Texas has a major relationship with New York, where Tom now lives. Tom's blog is pretty cool, check out his take on the "New Dumb Little Painting", for example.

John is Dallas. He teaches at the local university and his work is championed among few others in the local world class museums in the city. John also gets out of the totality that is Texas. By this, I mean that it is possible to enjoy a full art career life in -and only in Texas.

Texas has everything in great supply: cities with cheap rent for artists to habitate, museums the equal of anything in the world, galleries of all ranks and collectors who focus in depth for an artist's lifetime production. Sometimes I think of Texas as a great inland lake like Lake Nicaragua. In such a lake, there are all forms of sea life now adapted to lake water: fresh water sharks, etc. etc. Some of the fish there see no need to go out to the ocean.

Texas is changing. There are galleries that act as canals to link the great inland sea with oceans beyond (working internationally, art fairs, etc.). Some Texan emmissaries are ranging farther afield. John is one of them.

Tom saw fit to recall John's young work:


Those were John's hip boot days of painting. I'm thinking of the vector towards Michael's thickness, where paint is trembling in the can and then one tips it over and you are in the melee. The fog of war.

John is still at war, he's gotten all fighter jet-like:


A stealth fighter, he is.

So, you may be asking right now, "Where, dear Lord in heaven above, are we going in this blogpost, Dennis?" Well, this old pic from August might illustrate my point:


I can relate to John's mechanical printing influenced technique in the flat scraped off passages in my work... and of course to Michael's glug, glug, wading deep into the thickness thing. I feel a little kinship and a betwixt-ness too.

There it is.

UPDATE: A young painter lad* here in Tossa told me today what he thinks about Tapies and Art Informal: "They were artists who acted without thinking..." and he liked that. I think I would like to be an artist who acts with thinking, but more so than a mere rational product of thought... rather, to act (paint, my friends) suffused in thought before, during and after the act.

*It was interesting, by the way, to meet him whilst Stephanie and I were ordering a sandwich and a beer at Bar Savoy. He's in his twenties and he knows about art and painters, he just needs a crash course on contemporary stuff. He told me about Tapies and how other artists in Catalonia resent him a bit because he sucked up all the oxygen here in this part of the country. It seems he's a buddy of a politician by the name of Pujol and the immensity of Catalan power brokers got behind his project as the expression of the Catalan spirit. Tapies has a foundation in Barcelona and he takes up a lot of room in the local museums. I'm just now getting to the place where I can check it all out for myself.

Ain't it the same all over?

Posted by Dennis at October 23, 2004 5:56 PM

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