I am against Painting

At this moment in Painting, I would be happy to welcome the burden of history and tradition, but I suspect that it may be gone. Have I been ghosted? It is the burden that Michael Darling wrote about in his essay Target Practice: Painting Under Attack 1947-78. This burden, he explains as, “...leading many artists over the centuries to foment revolutions in order to shake up convention and start anew”. At times, and increasing by the day, the immense distance from the very idea of a transformational mode of being, through Painting, is as difficult to comprehend as the measurable amount of one hundred and fifty billion dollars, the distance in lightyears to interstellar space or even to the center of our own galaxy. It’s far and impalpable. The mixed sensations of optimism, fear and the dumb, blind desire to find meaning in the ineffable transience of it all, in the slipping glimpse, is surely under attack. But by what and where, when, how often and with whom? And how hot, cold, heavy and light is it? The question surely has to be asked: is this a bad thing? In the absence of this historical burden, a vacuum has seemed to form and what has replaced it, and as far as I know, has yet to be clearly articulated. When or if it is, will anyone be listening and, more importantly, what comes after? What if the absence is actually an arrival? Uncertainty reigns supreme, as always. Does it feel right to you?

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Giovanni Bellini, St. Francis in Ecstasy, 1480

So many questions nested within so much noise, all without answers. The longer I paint, the less true everything seems to be. The only true thing is actually working and as an artist, that requires me to take a position: I am against Painting. That is all I can be in this moment as my understanding of the great big whole is a near total projection of the state of my very, very small, quantum and stratified world. Being against Painting does not necessarily portend an end or any aggression at all, it actually suggests a mode of being and in many ways, signals a continual beginning. My death grip on the vestiges of Romanticism at least suggest it, but at times can be as difficult to grab and hold onto as a weather pattern, or the ghost of someone's waning attention. It often feels like it’s slipped away entirely.  Are you undermining yourself?

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Joan Miro, Dutch Interior I, 1928

Being against indicates a position of transformation, of resisting what is already known, what has already been pushed into existence. Against Painting means working in a perpetual state of darkness, of uncertainty, of experiencing first-hand the endless, shifting field of potential outcomes, all while knowing that anything is possible. On some days it’s thrilling, the process of perception unfolds before me and I see, I actually see and when I do, it always feels like the first time. On other days it’s disorienting and results in failure after failure.  Never admit defeat. Do the grunt work, again and again. Don’t fall back on old habits and remember, losing your way is allowed. Charles Harrison wrote about the tendencies of modernism and two in particular have stuck with me and should be scrawled on every studio wall on the planet: “... a commitment to skepticism in the face of received ideas and beliefs, however apparently authoritative, combined with an inclination to regard direct experience as the true source of knowledge”. I’ll write it on the wall, better yet, write it on the floor, just the first four words, so I can read it while sitting on my comfortable, but not too comfortable studio chair, head resting in my hands as I think nervously about just how long careers are. I feel like I swallowed a blowfish, but I'll work through it.  All the while I’m stunned and in total disbelief at exactly how difficult it is to sustain myself and my modest lifestyle of rice balls and slices of American cheese. My cat peed on the floor again and I’m late on my studio rent.  Never retrace lines. It’s daunting and my journey through the desert will surely include more mirages who all want to show my work. It goes without saying that the paintings I produce should change and shift and grow spontaneously and tangentially. Just like I do. There should be space between my paintings. They should have teeth. It’s been strongly advised that I research cognitive distortions.  All ten of them. I sincerely believe that it’s all worth it, that the work I produce is an index of a human being developing over a very specific span of time. One foot in the analog, one in the digital. It’s been said that failure can be a form of resolution and sometimes a person makes their destiny on the very road they took to avoid it. Does it become a pattern?

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Albert Oehlen, Untitled, 2019

I’m against Painting because I push it and it pushes me back harder and I’ve grown to require the reciprocal motion linking us. I think it’s love, an abstraction of the highest order. Without the completion of the arcing motion between us, the artist and the work, the Being and Becoming stops and as Michel Houellebecq writes in the closing line of The Map and the Territory, his novel about an artist who never speaks, “The triumph of vegetation is total”. Perhaps an even worse outcome than the atrophied consciousness is that I become a designer, self replicating and erecting the walls of my own studio cell. Jokes without a punchline, an impoverished seriality, a scaffolding without architecture.  Is there a transformation taking place?

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Daniel Richter, Ententanz, 2022

The second tendency that Harrison wrote about that has stuck with me?  “...associated particularly with the Romantic movement, is to stress the role of the imagination in safeguarding human freedom and in realizing human potential... The capacity to imagine a different order of things is a necessary condition of critical and self-critical activity.” How do you want to achieve this? Is there only one reality here? What have you done? What haven’t you done? Don’t fall back on old habits. I’m against painting because it insists on existing as a vital form of production and human activity. I am against Painting because I want to break it, creating a glitch in the order of time. Because attempting to do so reveals the structure of its own limitations as a medium and by extension, my own. 

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Joyce Pensato, Solid Gold Duckie, 2017