Postscript: An Artist Statement
If you’ve been reading this blog, you should hopefully get a sense of why artist statements are difficult to write. (Although as far as that goes, I personally enjoy the process of doing them.) There are 110 individual entries on this blog (so far) that I’ve posted over the last two months. My thinking about this project has grown, shifted and evolved substantially over its course. How do I meaningfully condense 62 days of spiraling thought into 400 cohesive words of insightful elucidation? (Although, in fairness, my artist statements are rarely shorter than 1000 words. and this one will be over 2000.) How do I effectively and concisely communicate my intentions for this project while maintaining a (hopefully) genuine sense of fidelity to my necessarily meandering process? Really, this whole blog has been an artist statement. The funny part, however, is that 62 days is actually a really short period of time to make a solo exhibition. Like. Really short. Ordinarily, a show takes me six months. Imagine what a project like this would look like given an additional 120 days, and then try to say something meaningful about those 180 days in 400 words. Naturally, a lot of artists struggle with this part of the profession. Luckily for me (and hopefully for you), words have always come comparatively easily.
The easiest way for me to describe what I’ve done here is to say that I’ve made two exhibitions concurrently. The first is the exhibition itself, and the second is an exhibition about making this exhibition. Although I truthfully feel that both of these components actually comprise a singular enterprise that isn’t so neatly sub-divided, the clearest way to proceed is to discuss them separately.
This exhibition is my early 21st Century response to the work of Jock Macdonald, and it is spread over two different gallery spaces: Gallery A and the Art Lab. Although the Art Lab is ostensibly a “studio”, and the vast majority of the work in this exhibition was made there (while on public display), I have more or less considered it a gallery space in it’s own right. It’s just one that came with some readymade props in it to respond to (such as a desk and a set of drawing drawers). My initial artistic response to Jock Macdonald was an animation called, JMDRP_2 (double Parker mix) wherein I took works from the McLaughlin Gallery’s permanent collection by Jock Macdonald and (literally) mashed them up. The “music” that accompanies it is a song by Charlie Parker to which I manipulated the time signature and layered so that two versions of the same song, each with different time signatures, play concurrently. The wall paintings in Gallery A are made from segments of stills taken from that animation. The white paintings that are placed on top of the wall paintings are “automatic” paintings done as homage to Macondald’s late work, and the process he used to make them. Although I’m deeply skeptical of consciously doing anything subconsciously, Macdonald was deeply committed to the idea, and I made them in good faith while keeping to his described methodology. The central idea behind the paintings, however, was always their relationship to the wall paintings. I wanted to rearrange the usual relationship my paintings (and most paintings generally) have to the gallery space, which is colourful paintings on white walls. In this instance, I have put white paintings on colourful walls. To say that I’ve reversed this relationship is partially accurate, however, I think it’s a little more complex that that. These paintings, which manipulate warm and cool tones of white, are also quite textured and tactile. This is an important component of all of my usual paintings. So rather than merely reversing the relationship of painting to wall, I like to think that I sliced apart the various components of my work (image, material, figure, ground) and manipulated the way/order in which the usually occur.
The paintings that lean from floor to wall are made from the drop clothes the gallery gave me to make my wall painting. Although the patterns of paint drips were created accidentally, the compositions were very specifically chosen and cropped. The warning label stickers act as figure/subject in these found arrangements. Conceptually, I liked leaning them because the pieces started up as something on the floor, but as paintings, have been “elevated” to something that could hang on the wall. They don’t, however, make it all the way there because I liked them best while situated in an interstitial place between wall and floor. They just looked really good that way, creating lovely dramatic-looking shadows in their rear.
The series of framed works called “New Documents” are made by painting and stacking multiple layers of the printed transparencies I used to make my work. Aesthetically, they are reminiscent to me of the animation frames that they used to make in historical, hand made animated films. They do, however, reverse the traditional relationship between animation and frame. Traditionally, a still is used to make an animation. In this case, the animation has been used to create the still.
The Art Lab, as a whole, has been aesthetically arranged to look exactly like that: a research facility where art is made. My actual studio looks nothing like that because my actual studio is a disaster. (Generally, I function best artistically in organized chaos. If everything is always out, it’s easy to find. It’s just a matter of digging. It’s when I put things away that I run into difficulty finding things.)
The tabletop piece, called “desktop” is meant as an actual, real-life manifestation of the virtual desktops on our computers. On that desktop, I have carefully arranged an assortment of items related to this project: some books about Jock Macdonald, my Dre-Beats boombox, a number of sharpened HB pencils, a pencil sharpener, some business cards, the paint swatches I collected for my wall painting. Like the desktop on my computer, these are the things that I needed quick access to in order to complete my project.
On the wall behind the desk are a series of drawings on mlyar. These works, ultimately, were a response to the material. They’re drawn on drafting mylar meant for technical/mechanical drawings. Firstly, I just always thought this type of paper stock (available in most art supply stores) looks wicked cool. Also, good quality pencil crayons look kinda awesome on mylar. I made two larger ones that are on the top of the drawing drawers/vertical files. The images chosen are taken from stills from the JMD animation, although I entirely changed the source images colour schemes. There was no reason at all for this change other than personal preference. Colour choices are so hard/impossible to intellectually validate. There’s no real reason for mine other than optical experience and choice.
The framed charcoal drawing was made at home before I came here, and is actually based on my previous work. It just looked really good on that wall, and hey! Charcoal is always sexy! I kept wanting to take it out because it isn’t new work. But it just kept working so well visually in every evolving scenario that I decided it had to say. It might not make conceptual sense, but it does make visual sense, and for me, that is always going to be ultimately paramount.
The oil on paper pieces were the first paintings I made based upon the JMD animation. They are called Maquettes because they were originally going to have a different relationship to the white paintings in Gallery A. That relationship, however, just didn’t work out. So now, these Maquettes, are just painting in their own right. I’m still going to call them Maquettes though because that was their initial intention. They’re models for a failed idea.
The A Frame sculpture/painting thing was an earlier thing that had text on it. Then I painted an abstract painting over the top of it. That painting looked kinda terrible so I flipped it inside out. Then it looked kind of awesome: this big brown blank with a painting on the back. If you work really hard, and physically bend down to look, you can see the failed painting on its backside. That’s kind of fun? But I also like it’s blankness, that it inhabits a form of commerce and advertising but delivers no message. It’s a sign of a sign that thwarts it’s own signification. It is a big brown empty.
The plaster sculpture “Thing” is a piece of Styrofoam that I found in the IT Department at Durham College. It was used as packaging for shipping a computer. Firstly, it’s a beautiful shape. Secondly, it’s relationship to the computer, and the actual physical space that a computer occupies in the world is pretty interesting, and in keeping with the overall conceptual parameters of this project. Then I covered it in plaster to turn it from functional object into an aesthetic one. I liked the plaster because it’s clumpy. Also, I am kind of a bad sculptor, and the plaster intensified my badness. The amateurishness of its articulation gives it this feeling of pathos – transforming this cold, post-human looking thing into something handmade (and badly handmade at that.) The completed piece kind of reminds me of Wall-E.
Taken in its entirety, this show takes the work of Jock Macdonald as a starting point, and goes somewhere else. It combines digital technology with a wide variety of traditional artist materials, and hopefully, creates a place for them to perceptually coexist. I wanted to create an anachronistic space, where past and present could fluctuate in some kind of aesthetic dialogue. I am less interested in what this cohabitation means exactly than the process of exchange that occurs. There is an ecology to my working methodology. I don’t really create new things. I re-configure and rearrange things that already exist. I add on, place things in different contexts, and invent modifications. I never throw anything away. Everything has value because everything has use.
The Show about the Show
This part of the exhibition happened across the Internet. It was intended as a multi-platform aesthetic experience, and includes this blog, a Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter. Each of these platforms provided different access points into my working methodology and thinking. In all of this, I have tried to stay as true to my actual process as possible. Writing is always an important part of my process. As I work through my ideas, I write in a journal. For me, the process of writing helps to move things in my head from vague and abstract to concrete and discernable. I find tremendous value in that process. In this sense, I very much tried in my writing to pretend that no one was reading this. This was easy to do on Twitter, as I only have 16 “followers”. So Twitter was like a note pad for random thoughts, posted, more or less, as they entered my brain. It felt like I was screaming into a deep cave: a giant algorithmic abyss. The Internet itself. The blog, however, has been very well read. There have been over two thousand page views on this blog since I started this project, from all over the world. The fact that no one has “replied” to any of my posts, however, has helped it to feel like an internal monologue – like what it usually is to write in my journals. These are my "private thoughts" broadcast in a public forum. Because really, what is private anymore?
I have tried to show the role that research plays in my art production. How the things I read occupy my thoughts and slide around in my mind. How conversation shapes the parameters of thinking, but that I am also trying to pin the tail on a perpetually moving donkey. Often my research is more idiosyncratic than what occurs here, and is more like the excerpts I’ve provided from my “Car Library Notes”. In the case of this project, my research was far more focused than usual. My research primarily oscillated around the work and life of Jock Macdonald.
I’ve learned a lot about Jock Macdonald over the past couple of months. In fact, I feel like I’ve developed a fairly personal relationship with his ghost. He doesn’t seem to mind me calling him JMD, and he’s forgiven me for making fun of his haircut and moustache at the beginning of this project. JMD and I have a lot in common. We’re family men who, through art, try to provide a good life for the people we love. We teach art to people, and as such, act as conduits between art and the “public”. We are invested in the lively conversations that surround the practice of painting in our time. As such, we are creatures of the zeitgeist, diving in with both feet. Head and shoulders, knees and toes we are jettisoned through the torrential flow and throng of this pulsating cultural organism that has devoured us, swallowed us whole. It has already chewed up and spat out Jock’s remains. Someday it will have had its fill with me also. When it’s finally done my chomping, I only hope it belches with satisfaction.