Detritus 2007 current
For the past two years I have been developing a photographic portfolio which examines the contexts I find myself in as an artist: the studio, the art school, the museum, the international biennial. I am interested in all the situations in which art is found, both in its production phase and as a finished object.
I am also keen to draw out correlations between those conditions of artistic production and consumption and the chaos of everyday life in process in the street, on a construction site or in the domestic realm. Humans are hard-wired to manipulate materiality: We are devoted to constructing, acquiring, rearranging, deconstructing, recycling and disposing of stuff. Art is as much a byproduct of such urges the urges that shape our entire material culture as it is an elevated, freestanding activity. Photography now strikes me as the most direct way to talk about these relationships.
I'd like to think of my new work as documenting the art world at a time when it is has reached a peak in its production of sheer materiality, with its crowded art schools and overflowing biennials, art fairs and hedge-fund collections.
The bearish art market of the 1980s, so critiqued in the art theory of the 90s, has returned, more post-ideological, ahistorical and polyglot than ever. Despite the legacy of conceptualism, institutional critique and the anti-object, even the most radical gesture can now be co-opted, finding its way to a life as a material, archived, commodified object. It is difficult not to see the materialism and lack of direction in the art world as paralleling the crisis of what we call the "real" world, with its imperiled environment and world-wide energy shortages, and the frightening political ramifications of both.
Of all the structures of contemporary art, the least recognized and documented is the space of the art school studio, where much of contemporary art has its origins. The chaos in the studio reflects a desire for unstructured play that seems to operate as the flipside to what is seen as the regimentation of a non-artistic life. Yet it is only by structuring their "play" to suit the regimentations of the biennale, the gallery system and granting structures that students can hope to make their way. Student detritus reveals how quickly they absorb the zeitgeist of current art production.
In my photographs, I hope to explore the modes of consumption common to art and the everyday, as art makers and our art-trained eyes transform refuse into something it was not meant to be.
Last Pony 2006 2007
An overriding preoccupation in my work has been a growing doubt that painting can have contemporary relevance. Although it might be important to deconstruct and understand the art of the past from a contemporary perspective, my practice was striking me as increasingly academic. The current boom in the art market, and painting's resurgence in popularity (very similar to that of the early 1980s) only confirms that painting still feeds a populist notion of expressivity and individualism bound up in the authentic, unique object. So much for deconstructionist tactics.
With my painting practice seeming in jeopardy, I undertook to paint one more large project, with the conscious idea that it would be my last. "Last Pony", based on "Whistlejacket" by George Stubbs (c. 1762), is a reprise of earlier work of mine that dealt with the equestrian portrait and an analysis of the hero. Stubbs, at the request of his original patron, had left the background blank. Into that void I inserted the landscape from an earlier equestrian painting by Velasquez, his "Phillip IV on Horseback" (c. 1634). The Spanish monarch's reign had striking similarities to the second Bush administration. Riderless, the horse is about to plunge into the unknown landscape. The figure represents either the epitome of autonomous freedom or a fearful flight. While this project was in process, and despite the shattering of my belief systems as an artist, it became a point of pride that the painting be technically accomplished. The achievement of that goal would be a therapeutic act, as anachronistic as I was beginning to feel an allegorical painting might be.
For the completion of my "Last Pony" project, I started working with a photograph of the painting just as it was being finished in the studio, standing on paint buckets on the floor. Examining that image in a digital program, I could see the wide array of colour schemes I could have used for the original painting. The computer, that is, provided options "colourways" to use a term from commercial textile production that were almost unavailable in a traditional studio.
A previous painting project, "Sliding Landscapes", had tried to address some of these same issues. It investigated painting as décor, purposefully taking a small range of historical images (18th-century Italian landscapes), reworking them in several modernist colour schemes and then hanging the works as a pattern on the wall, like an Ellsworth Kelly installation. With "Last Pony", I might once have considered doggedly realizing similar colouristic options as a series of painted variations (see Gilles project). Now, however, with the image conceived as a manipulable photograph of an object in context, I am relieved of that fetishistic studio imperative.
Sliding Landscapes 2003 2006
This project sampled the genre of the Italian Capriccio (invented landscape). These historical sources are cropped into elliptical canvases, and then tipped, as an attempt to show how strong the viewer's need is to orient to horizontals, or verticals, even in so called nature.
The eight paintings are installed at varying angles and heights, animating the whole of the wall. As monochromes they evoke the Ellsworth Kelly installation at the National Gallery in Washington, DC, "Color Panels for a Large Wall" (c.1978). However, their diagonal composition denies the flatness of that modernist grid. The landscapes themselves recall motifs found in wallpaper or brocade, suggesting that the solemnity of the monochrome might be the decorative in disguise.
Gilles, 1994 2003
When I started this project I was teaching a painting seminar about the Death of Painting.
In 1994 I went to France and saw sixteen versions of Claude Monet's "Rouen Cathedral" at the Musée des Beaux Arts in Rouen, a series he did in 1892 93, a hundred years earlier. I also encountered my first Yves Klein blue monochrome painting at the Centre Pompidou, which had been painted in 1960. On a previous trip to Paris I had fallen in love with Jean-Antoine Watteau's "Gilles" at the Louvre, finished in 1720, which may have served as a shop sign for a café.
In my research on Yves Klein, I was taken up by his persona of the Dandy; he'd moved the legacy of Beau Brummel to the 20th Century. I was quite envious of the younger male painters in my milieu who seemed able to take up abstract painting without a qualm. Dandies themselves, they smartly took up a critique of the monochrome, weaving in references to pop culture, while making attractive, decorative work. They got to have their cake and eat it too. I'd trained as a formalist fifteen years earlier, but in the heady 80's had eschewed a conservative practice that didn't take up the political. Ever the whiney feminist, somehow I'd missed the boat.
This series was an attempt to reconcile all that. The seriality of Monet's project connected to the seriality of Yves Klein's. Yves Klein's performative figure seemed to connect to Gilles, the consumptive clown/artist. Both died young. Although known for his blue paintings, Yves Klein dealt with all the primaries. His paintings were a reiteration of Rodchenko's red yellow and blue monochromes, which in 1921 declared the death of painting. The first time this sentiment may have been uttered was in 1839, when the French painter Paul Delaroche was asked to prepare a committee report on the invention of the Daguerreotype to the French government.
With this work I hoped to make more complex what seemed to me a certain feminist polemic in my earlier work.
Complete Artist/Artist's World 1998 2003
The paintings that I have shown most often are cover versions of some of the top hits in the canon of art history, examining stereotypes of the human figure as it has manifested as nudes, warriors, clowns, and artists.
One series, "The Complete Artist", examined the history of the image of the Artist, appropriating portraits for their embodiment of certain stereotypes: the artist as angry, serious, bitter, modest, juvenile etc. Together they seemed to comprise a group portrait of my artistic milieu.
Another series, "Artist's World", tried to envision the Artist of the future, using depictions of children whose genders, although implied by their clothing, could be interchangeable.
Wounded Warriors 1990 1994
Having just finished my MFA, I decided that I had to either quit painting or learn how to paint all over again. I was teaching in an art school, trying to figure out why people were so insistent on painting from the nude model. This work was an attempt to take apart historical notions of the female nude and its opposite, the armored warrior.
As a newly minted Lacanian feminist, I hoped that I was reclaiming both subject positions; on one hand I was trying to invest the female nude with erotic potential that might be more complex, and on the other I was trying to inhabit the role of the male protagonist.