December 7, 2012

How Do You Know When You're Done?

A few weeks ago, painter and documentarian Jeffrey Collins visited my studio. We met on FaceBook a while back and I discovered that he was working on a film project patterned on the famous Painters Painting, "Who's Afraid of Red Yellow and Blue?", for which I cheered him on.

I was surprised and honored that he wanted to include me in his lineup. So on our first encounter in my Brooklyn, he arrived with a suitcase of cameras and tape recorders, we sat down and he asked me a list of questions and shot my replies.

"How do you know when you are done?"

It's a question that appears like Haley's Comet, you know you will hear it again someday.

The completion question is uniquely indicative of abstraction since in representation, the achievement of likeness seems to answer the question before it's asked. It only seems to because verisimilitude occludes the ultimate question of compositional strategy for the average viewer. In non objective painting (an alternate nomination for abstraction, although it doesn't mean exactly the same thing), movement toward completion primarily involves balance whether this is defined by the equilibrium of compositional elements --no matter how dynamic the painting is-- or if it's defined by capture and corralling the eye within the bounds of the canvas.

In trying to answer the question with earnestness, I'm ignoring my grad school training. Artists are advised to answer questions like that in the manner of Andy Warhol. "Oh, for heaven's sake!" One could say with a teasingly enigmatic smile. "Why would you ever want to be done?" At its heart, this is a political strategy. It's also fundamentally cynical because it could be used hide the possibility that a straight answer might be able to foreclose the mystery that lies at the core of art.

For my painting, this question is doubly pertinent since I position myself precisely between abstraction and representation. I believe that there are enough flags planted on the north pole of abstraction and on the south pole of representation (or should the polar assignation be reversed? It depends on your bias for abstraction, representation and cultural hemispheres north or south). Consider the bodies littering Mt. Everest. After Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, every subsequent expedition renders a diminishing and increasingly inverted significance. After the existence of the poles have been established, it would be wise to use the insights gleaned and construct a compass out of it. The globe thusly apprehended is the world of painting itself. And what does one do with a compass? You explore the world. You sail the seas.

Degrees of latitude above and below the equator. Between.

How do you know that you are done? When you have discovered someplace hitherto unknown.

Well, that's one way to answer this question. As for my reply in the video, when I mentioned the infinitesimal, I was thinking of calculus and Leibniz. I'll have to drop a few more veils from that mystery in future blogpost.


By the way, Jeffrey will be showing his work at the Sideshow Gallery at 319 Bedford Ave in Brooklyn this coming January 5th.


Posted by Dennis at December 7, 2012 5:51 AM

1 Comment

Thank you Dennis. It was wonderful getting to spend some time with you. I'm finally planning my own NYC move in the next month or two. Sold my car and am making it happen. Looking forward to visiting you many more times. Thanks for being a part of my life.

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