March 30, 2011

Working Title/BRAC Questionnaire

Kris Chatterson, Vince Contarino and Jon Lutz are pulling the catalogue for the show that they have curated, Working Title at the Bronx River Art Center. They have put two questions for each artist to respond to. I hope that I haven't sung too long of an aria:

* What role, if any, do the various non-studio activities/interests like writing, music, teaching, traveling have in what you make? How is this reflected in your work?
I started blogging in 2003 at a moment when my wife and I moved to Texas from California to suss out a job opportunity that she had at the time. The prospect of leaving our network of friends, and in particular my circle of artist cohorts, in Los Angeles was daunting and establishing a weblog was a way to keep in touch by providing a virtual studio visit for them. Our time in Texas was short, and we had moved on to Spain and back to Los Angeles, eventually bouncing back and forth between the latter two locations. Rolling stones and moss. I have been fortunate to have a small network of gallery representation around the world and I felt that an online diary would help reduce the problem of distance by giving them a virtual portal into my studio anytime they might need it. Weblogging is a way for me to accumulate moss as I travel so.

One of the concrete ways that blogging has been reflected in my work is as a solution to the problem of titles. There are moments when a title comes to mind early in the creation of artwork, but in general this is few and far between. Most often, artwork - painting - emerges gradually for me. It is more important for me to initially know how to enter a painting than to finish it, to be changed and challenged somehow during the making of the work. In fact, such a premature notion of an endgame is something I consider to be folly, by and large. Accordingly, a title is best for me when it arises as the work comes to completion, a revelation. If nothing comes concretely with the last stroke of the painting, I usually resort to divining the title from the correspondent temporal frame in the blog, much like a dowser finds water with a diving rod. Much more often than not, a title will jump out to me in its glory with a full array of poetic associations, and with much delight I assign the moniker forthwith. There is something wonderful I find about a hyperlinked title.

The weblog is also an index to the visual referents in my paintings, however oblique and imperfect it might be in this regard. There have been times when I have tried to bring this correspondence more directly to bear in the artwork, but admittedly this has been few and far between thus far. My ambition remains to stream the online world and the plastic world of painting both ways, as I poke around for elbow room here and there. There is something about the open set of the internet and the closed set of painting that interests me, the ironic twists (for example: the finitude of painting and its capacity to yield multitudes; the apparently open set of disembodied bytes and its popular denial as an art form in it's own right...) one seems to serve the other in ways that I continually find fascinating.

* How is your work influenced by art history? Is it more important for you to extend previous conversations or attempt to invent new ones?

I believe that a young artist has a responsibility to assess received knowledge and determine whether if he or she must either advocate it, modify it or overturn it with a new paradigm. The essential question for our time is: is a new paradigm possible? As of this moment, I don't have a complete and ready answer to this question. But I suspect that it will involve a synthesis of the antithetical binary themes of the previous eras. I predict that Both/And will become much more important than Either/Or... or better, we will fuse both aspects (Both/And plus Either/Or) into one.

You can't invent a new conversation without extending, distending, dismembering and digesting the previous one. Now, some might say that while our art dialogue seems singular, it is fact plural and countless. Perhaps so. Of course, one could be simply satisfied with a walkabout, a blessed state of being lost, to joyously abandon oneself in a wilderness. One can be lost in a forest of multitudes and one can also determine an orientation, draw a map, and plot a course. In terms of a conversation - an activity that implies the presence of an interlocutor - a digression can be a delight and an effort that is purely an invention of "new ones" (conversations) is in danger of pointless non sequitur.

I went to grad school in the late 80's, graduating in '91. Those years were the high water mark of Critical Theory and late stage "Postmodernism". My impression at the time was that such fruit was well past the height of its ripeness, my apprehensions were fortified by historical events such as the collapse of the Soviet Union/Berlin Wall, and I responded by flaunting the prohibitions against painting, rejecting the "death of the author", critiquing Francis Fukuyama's "End of History and the Last Man" and formulating a critical conception of postmodernism and what it might mean to succeed it with another worldview.

Imagine my surprise when art in the early 90's operated en passant in theoretical terms! Overnight, the term "postmodernism" was verboten in conversation casual or otherwise. No one wanted to talk about it at all. Painting raged in the studios of art schools all over the country but there was a noticeable lack of concern as to why it had been in the doghouse for 30 years or so previously. The Cheshire cat of postmodernity had faded but the smile, and there were precious few who wanted to admit that it still floated aloft above us, haunting an art dialog that seemed to have blithely lost its moorings by and large.

Of course, I have a dog in this fight. My view is that postmodernity describes an era whose seeded in the birth of modernity, germinated with Duchamp, sprouted with Pop, grew through Minimalism, fruited with Sol LeWitt and spread out in a river delta of art forms and practices that have tried to touch everyday life with conceptual means, all in a brilliant contravention to the previous generation of high modernists who attempted to touch G-d through material means. Every epoch begins with an imaginative reengineering of the assumptions of the previous one. How does one square the circle once again? How can one revolt on revolution without becoming reactionary, while preserving the integrity of dissent? We now live in the delta phase as the river water fans out, mixing with sediment as it had coursed down from the mountain streams, slow and slower, now stinking and fetid. I believe that we are in a historical phase of evaporation into the clouds and the lucky artists among us will levitate and form sweet dew drops from pine needles on the mountain tops.

Posted by Dennis at March 30, 2011 1:56 PM

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