“I will write down my thoughts here in no order, but not perhaps in aimless confusion. It is the true order and will still show my aim by its very disorder.”

— from Pascal’s Pensees
— Jacqueline Lichtenstein, “The Fragment: Elements of a Definition,” in The Fragment: An Incomplete History, ed. Williagm Tronzo (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2009), 125.

prelude


 

We learn as a child that every snowflake is unique. Crayon drawings of blue scribbles with scattered white dots grow up to become kaleidoscopic cut-outs that cling to our windows like magnified talismans. Snowfalls assume a more magical aura. All those snowflakes, all those billions of individual, distinct snowflakes, if only we could capture every single one so we could see the wonder of each, before they melted away.

 
Amanda Clyne, "Rebecca", video stills, 2012

Amanda Clyne, "Rebecca", video stills, 2012

“The widespread idea that everything must be said and can be resolved by language, that every problem is a topic for debate, that philosophy can be reduced to questions and answers, that one can only cure oneself by talking, that discourse is the only way of teaching anything, this theatrical, garrulous, publicity-seeking idea, lacking shame and modesty, is oblivious to the real presence of bread and wine, their unspoken taste and odour, it forgets how to raise infants through barely discernible gestures, about connivance and complicity, and things that go without saying, unspoken expressions of love, impossible intuitions that strike like lightening, the charm that lingers behind someone’s outward bearing; this judicial idea condemns the timid, those who are not always convinced of their own opinions and those who do not know what they think, researchers; this didactic idea excludes those who do not attend classes, humble folk, inventors, the hesitant and sensitive, men of intellect and labourers, the grief-stricken and the poor in spirit; I have known so many things without texts, so many people without grammar, children without lexicon, the elderly without vocabulary; I have lived so much in foreign lands, mute, terrified behind the curtain of languages, would I have really tasted life if all I had done was listen and speak? The most precious things I know are embedded in silence.”

— Michel Serres
— Michel Serres, The Five Senses, trans. Margaret Sankey and Peter Cowley, (London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2008), 105.
 
amandaclyne-ornament-lace
 

part one: looking


“You who look at everything through your perpetually open eyes, is your lucidity never bathed in tears?”

— Michel Serres
— Serres, Five Senses, 37.
 

Separated from the object of our gaze, our view is always limited by our eyes’ fixed and finite reach. They cannot twist an object in space, pry it open or see underneath. They cannot move it out from behind the shadows or ask to be shown more. The picture is never complete.

Amanda Clyne, "Missed, part 2", screenprint, 2013

Amanda Clyne, "Missed, part 2", screenprint, 2013


Everything visible takes part in a masquerade of surfaces. To penetrate those surfaces, we delve into our store of past knowledge – intellectual, theoretical, historical, emotional and sensorial. Appearance has no meaning without these prior sources of knowledge. Sight never acts alone. As we accumulate more knowledge enabling us to translate our visual encounters, we gain confidence in the truth of appearances. We begin to feel certainty in the meaning of what we see. And this is when the visible garners its power to deceive, when surface becomes artifice.

Amanda Clyne, dissolved photograph, 2008

Amanda Clyne, dissolved photograph, 2008


The visible is always a front for the invisible. Everything visual is a trigger or clue that aims to arouse our curiosity in all that is concealed. Some things aren’t seen because they are hidden or blocked. Some things are accessible to the eye, but are denied by the viewer’s failure to notice or understand. And some things are permanently invisible for they have no inherent physical form. They cannot be filmed, photographed, drawn or painted. They can only be “seen” in response to an experience through our own body’s sensation and our mind’s imagination. So the visual is always more than surface. It is an index of a sensory, relational world, offering us the means to experience the invisible.


We must avoid any sort of theory that converts things into visible “objects”, since this only strips away the full reality of things and reduces them to caricatures.”

— Graham Harman
— Graham Harman, Heidegger Explained: From Phenomenon to Thing (Chicago: Open Court, 2007), 29.

The experience of my own body is a constant reminder of the perils of being visible. When I am alone in the sanctuary and solitude of my home, my body is comfortably absent, with no eyes upon it to materialize my presence. I am my thoughts, my perceptions, my shifting sensations. But with one passing glance at my reflection, I am reminded of the world that encounters me via this strange fleshy form that is not of my own design and is a poor representation of all that remains hidden from view. My visible self seems never stable but constantly in flux. Every time I look in the mirror, I see a different face. Not only does my physical being morph from day to day, the eyes through which I look are continually adjusting to my changing self. The view is never neutral.

No surface is immune from these conditions. The act of looking is always fraught with the predilections, distractions, assumptions and preconceptions that cloud the viewer’s eyes. Surfaces are never fully explanatory. Technologies have expanded our capacity to look closer, to look longer, to even see transformation in the passing of time itself, but no machine has yet to strip physical phenomena of its inherently concealing nature. To be seen is never to be fully visible.


From my family's archive. My grandmother, Elsie Kirk.

From my family's archive. My grandmother, Elsie Kirk.


Surfaces and skins cry out to be noticed, pleading to not be overlooked or ignored. They invite, taunt and clamor for attention. The dull or timid may play coy, the bright and spectacular may scream and pout, but they all embody a desire and dependence on the fundamentally resuscitative act of being looked at. We are made visible by the eyes of others, and yet we can only be revealed to the extent that others are willing and able to decipher our appearance. Driven by a primordial impulse to find meaning and connection in our surroundings, we strive to see and be seen beyond a shallow exterior. In our efforts to probe the superficial, looking becomes an act of empathy, an effort to see surfaces as the skins of beings with presence and character. This is not to simply equate our relationship to things with our relationship to persons, for our bonds to conscious beings are undoubtedly more complex than to the inanimate. And yet we are never immune to being moved by the sight of an object, the way it sits or leans or stands, the way it pushes against its surroundings or rises in solitude, the way its colors clash or collaborate, the way its textures prick, prod or mollify. In these responses, we imbue the visual world with a meaning beyond rational utility or frivolous decoration. When we look, we can release ourselves of our sensory armor, imagine slipping inside the skin of the object of our gaze, and experience new sensations. To look with empathy and vulnerability is to flirt with transformation.


“By the imagination we place ourselves in his situation, we conceive ourselves enduring all the same torments, we enter as it were into his body, and become in some measure the same person with him, and thence form some idea of his sensations, and even feel something, which, though weaker in degree, is not altogether unlike them.”

— Adam Smith
— Amy Coplan and Peter Goldie, “Introduction,” in Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives, ed. Amy Coplan and Peter Goldie (Oxford: University Press, 2011), xi.

Empathy is an essential paradigm for the relationship between viewer and viewed, steering us to engage with the world in relational terms. The English term “empathy” was first introduced by Edward Titchener in 1909 as a translation for the German concept of “Einfühlung”, meaning “feeling into”, a term developed by German theorists in their studies of philosophical aesthetics in the late 19th century. These historical ties between empathy and aesthetics reflect their natural connection. The core mechanism for both is the imagination, the necessary element to empower the eyes to see beyond surface and guide our senses to embody the experience of another.


“To see is to be seen, and everything I see is like an eye, collecting my gaze, blinking, staring, focusing and reflecting, sending my look back to me.”

— James Elkins
— James Elkins, The Object Stares Back (San Diego: Harcourt, 1996), 51.

In our desire to look, we reveal our desire to be seen, a desire to be made visible in return. With every look, we seek reciprocity. Because our own exterior fails to represent the vastness of our private interior world, we look outside of ourselves for more accurate sources of resemblance and reflection. We look for those moments of recognition when we see pieces of ourselves in external artifice. These hidden parts of our selves are not just emotions; they are all the sensations, feelings and perceptions that are not easily expressed, that are not shared without risk, that are hard to make visible.


Amanda Clyne, "The Precariousness of Presence (Portrait in Grey)", photogravure, 2013

Amanda Clyne, "The Precariousness of Presence (Portrait in Grey)", photogravure, 2013

 
“When in love, the sight of the beloved has a completeness which no words and no embrace can match: a completeness which only the act of making love can temporarily accommodate.”

— John Berger
— John Berger, Ways of Seeing (London: Penguin Books, 1972), 8.

Every surface exudes desire, a desire to be seen, a desire to be known, a desire to be touched. The sensuality of surfaces beguiles the sense of sight. Whether natural or man-made, discarded or designed, surfaces taunt the roving eye. Most of what we see is not accessible to our more intimate senses; the surfaces are too vast, too distant, unreachable or forbidden. We can never touch, we can never venture deeper. For most of what we see, we can only look. Kept at a distance from the object of our gaze, we long for an intimacy that cannot be consummated. The view is impenetrable, ephemeral, leaving the intensity of sensations aroused in the act of looking to remain locked within the body, stoking an insatiable state of yearning.


Amanda Clyne, "Winterhalter (Olga), Erased", erased photograph, 2013

Amanda Clyne, "Winterhalter (Olga), Erased", erased photograph, 2013


“Knowledge is the painful longing for transparency and representation is its analgesic.”

— Vik Muniz
— Vik Muniz, “Surface Tension,” Parkette 46 (1996): 59.

Images are the creatures of our obsession with looking. We create images with our mind, with gadgets, with our face and body, and with art. We live in a perpetual state of creating, craving or contending with spectacle. In our persistent state of looking, we rely on images to assuage our desires, yet they often serve merely to stimulate our appetite further, for images are, by their very nature, only a partial view: the camera crops its monocular perspective by the rim of its lens; a painter contains her performance to lie within a canvas’s borders; the private person plays their public role with aplomb; and our eyes filter their view through their particular prejudices and perspective. Every image poses as an emblem of a larger truth that once was or that we wished would be, and it captivates us in its implicit concealment.


I am forever drawn to any attempt to deny surfaces their concealing nature and to those who aspire to make their invisible sensations visible by an act of vulnerable display. For me, the most poignant attempts are found in the subtle expressions of the human face, the extreme ornamentation of bodies in haute couture, and in the creation of works of art.


the face


“I simply looked at myself in the mirror the light made of the window. I was only that substance, I thought, those limbs, that face that I saw in front of me. I looked, but the outside gave up little information about the inside of me.”

— Philip Roth, “Goodbye Columbus”

Amanda Clyne, watercolor, 2010

Amanda Clyne, watercolor, 2010


I am always looking at faces. I feel the weight behind the face that looks weary, and wish to comfort the face that droops in sadness. I inherit the fear of the face flinching in pain, and look for solace in the face relaxed and in peace. But mostly I distrust the veracity of the face’s comportment. I fight to see beyond a face’s obvious ploys and search for clues that will help to confirm or deny my suspicions of deception. For me, the act of looking is an interrogation of the obvious and a probing of subtleties.


A face that blends too many emotions is an unreadable palimpsest. It is no longer a text but has become — in an exemplary way — a picture, a portrait that has no verbal equivalent.”

— James Elkins
— James Elkins, Pictures of the Body: Pain and Metamorphosis (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), 79.

We look at the human face with a sensitivity that rivals little else. Once we awaken to our own reflection, we are forever conscious of the complexities of interacting with the world through a physical form. We become intimately familiar with the quandaries of the visible, struggling to navigate the precarious line between display and concealment, image and transformation. In everyone’s face, we glimpse symptoms of our own struggle and wonder if we are seeing the full picture.

With so much intimate information available to any vigilant onlooker, we are taught early on to find ways to suppress such revealing impulses. Sometimes deception is necessary. We learn to use the face as a shield to protect against intruders, to fight against the unnecessary or unwanted exposure of our private selves. But our faces are not always so compliant. Our inner sensations have a way of escaping, leaving a perceptible trace on our malleable exterior.

The face has an instinctive mode of expression that catapults our interior sensations to the surface of the skin. With each contortion of our face, we invite the outside world to glimpse our inside. Every muscle in the face, every twisting feature, every nervous twitch or silly smirk is revealing. For those who are there to witness the cascade of spontaneous transformations rippling across our face, we offer the means to glean more about us in that moment. But the moment is often fleeting, and the picture not always clear. And few look closely enough to catch all the clues before they vanish.


Amanda Clyne, "Storied Tracings, Part Two", digitally layered etching proofs, 2012

Amanda Clyne, "Storied Tracings, Part Two", digitally layered etching proofs, 2012

Amanda Clyne, "Storied Tracings, Part One", digitally layered etching proofs, 2012

Amanda Clyne, "Storied Tracings, Part One", digitally layered etching proofs, 2012


ornament as body


 

Except for a little make-up, fake eyelashes or a piercing or two, the face must always contend with its bare state. Attempts to hide the face’s natural expression can only be achieved by internal efforts. But our culture relieves the naked body of such a burden, prohibiting the sight of its public display. The ornamental covering of the body is a cultural requirement, an insistence on masquerade.

Amanda Clyne, "Excavating Artifice IX", oil on canvas, 2014

I wander through Holt Renfrew, racks of luxurious clothes poised in a grand seductive maze. A multitude of shapes, colors and textures burst from their clutches, inspiring sensual pleasures by their mere presence. I stalk them slowly, savoring the sensations. I do not imagine myself wearing any of the clothes, at least not at first. I am not thinking of prices or marketed standards of beauty, sizes or fit. I am simply absorbing the sensations offered to me. The clothes are extraordinarily precious - other-worldly - feeling beyond my grasp even though they are right before me. I approach each item cautiously, tentatively, as if it were a wild animal at rest that I dare not disturb. The entire display exudes excess, it overwhelms, every item embodying an extreme sensual decadence.

However, it would be naïve to claim that my experience is only based on the aesthetics of the clothes as pure abstraction. The colors and textures exist in the form of ghostly bodies, and my affective response is undoubtedly heightened by the palpable awareness I feel between my own earthy presence and the ethereal bodies implied by the limp, upright garments. The sense of my own body disappears as the luxurious woven surfaces present themselves as glamorous surrogates. For a moment, my skin is not the white mottled flesh that encases fat, muscle and bone, it is the diaphanous flowered silk that floats as light as air, it is the smooth languorous satin that shimmers like sensual armor, it is the twinkle and sparkle of a million sequins dancing with light. Scanning the full display, my sturdy legs become a flowing circle of lace. My body levitates as I become the ball gown that is hung at an unreachable height to accommodate the endless skirt that cascades all the way to the floor. I am ten feet tall. As I look up, my doughy arms disappear as my new woven body loops into twisted swirls and ends at the shoulder’s edge. In this moment, for this moment, I am transformed. The sensation is not from an imagining of the clothes on my body, but rather I have become the clothes. For me, amidst this parade of glamorous garments, I imagine the possibilities of my own metamorphosis.


Amanda Clyne, "Excavating Artifice II", oil on canvas, 2014

Amanda Clyne, "Excavating Artifice II", oil on canvas, 2014

 
Clothing is linked to eroticism if we take eroticism to be an ‘aspect of inner experience’ as contrasted with ‘animal sexuality’...; in other words, if we take it to refer to feelings and passions of the imagination.”

— Joanne Entwistle
— Joanne Entwistle, The Fashioned Body: Fashion, Dress and Modern Social Theory (Cambridge: Polity, 2000), 181.

 

The constructions of haute couture have always been the most extreme sartorial re-imaginings of the body. Contemporary couture continues to re-invent, but often borrows from the forms of past eras. The reworking of historical dress into new guises seems to address some unacknowledged but continuing need, recalling Walter Benjamin’s notion of the “wish-image”: a “picture brought into the present from the past to remind us of still unfulfilled desires.”* The act of sartorial iteration signals a continuing state of yearning.

* Petra Halkes, Aspiring to the Landscape: On Painting and the Subject of Nature (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006), 6.
Amanda Clyne, "Dior, Erased", erased photograph, 2013

Amanda Clyne, "Dior, Erased", erased photograph, 2013


Ornament is the means by which we seduce the eyes and declare a desire to be looked at. In adornment and decoration, surfaces seek to stoke sensation. A singular mark, modest and unassuming when left alone, comes to a crescendo as it multiplies, accumulating to form an elaborate surface with a palpable presence. Decorative extravagance summons a sensual fervor, relaying traits of the obsessive and insatiable. In its suggestion of endless multiplicity, lavish ornamentation awakens an incessant need for more. It portends an unleashing of restraint.

When the decorative elements are each delicate or fragile, their congregation adds a kind of pathos. In the quiet repetition of sensitive forms, the insecure and uncertain join to insist on a greater, albeit precarious, presence. In their pleading display, the body responds with an equal intensity.

In the overflowing forms and intricate embellishments of haute couture gowns, the woman’s body becomes swathed in this ornamental excess, carrying with it an index of an emotional, sensual intensity. The confection epitomizes the painful desire to be seen. For me, it is a vision of interior excess externalized and made beautiful. The extravagant garments produce a spectacle of sorts, but as their intricate and decadent construction envelops the body, they seem more like a plea. Please look. Look again. Look closer.


I recently travelled to Florence, Italy, where everything is cunningly designed to tempt, arouse and heighten sensation. Of all of my indulgences, my lingering memory is of the art and its cacophonous mix of torment and beauty. In the endless depictions of the Bible’s stories, full of violence, betrayal, death and loss, those who suffer often appear in superfluous cloaks or fields of adornment. In the graceful images of agony and torture, beauty is offered as a means to withstand pain.


“Give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.”

— Isaiah 61:3
— Arthur Danto, “Beauty for Ashes,” in Regarding Beauty, ed. Neal Benezra and Olga M. Viso (Washington: Smithsonian Institution, 1999), 183.

 

If it is true that when we experience pain, beauty is offered to cope and give comfort, then it must be true that where there is beauty, there is pain. The rules of logic warn me against this faulty reasoning, but the senses have no patience for reason. When I experience beauty, I intuitively suspect the existence of an underlying pain. My suspicions are most acute when the beauty has been hard won, and when such labored results have been meticulously designed to encase and transform the female body. Buried in such beautiful excess, the woman’s presence becomes undeniable, perilously exposed and yet untouchable in its refined perfection. Beauty becomes both a summons and a mode of protection.

Amanda Clyne, "Emersed", oil on canvas, 2014

Amanda Clyne, "Emersed", oil on canvas, 2014


The urge to ornament one’s face, and everything in one’s reach, is the origin of fine art. It is the babble of painting. All art is erotic.”

— Adolph Loos
— Adolf Loos, “Ornament and Crime,” Crime and Ornament: the arts and popular culture in the shadow of Aldolf Loos, edited by Bernie Miller and Melony Ward (Toronto: YYZ Books, 2002), 29.

the painted surface


I remember very clearly the moment I first saw an Agnes Martin painting.  I was walking up the wide spiral path that directs gallery-goers up through New York’s Guggenheim Museum at the “Singular Forms” exhibit.  The gallery was full of cerebral, minimalist objects that left me cold.  I was tired of straining to recognize the value in the stark blocks, fluorescent lights and plain canvases that filled the gallery space.  And then, I saw it.  A large expanse of dark, earthy brown, whispering beneath a veil of the most delicate, provocative white marks, unmistakably hand-drawn into a gentle but steady rhythmic pattern.  Physically, I was transformed.  My body’s ennui vanished.  I felt elated, excited, inexplicably inspired.  I was alone, looking around, wanting to find someone who could say, “Yes, I know!”.  I stepped closer, wanting to understand how this imposing painted square could contain such power.  I studied the frail but stable lines and dashes, reveling in their solemn presence.  Overwhelmed, I stepped back from the painting, trying to see beyond the mesmerizing staccato of the drawn marks and immerse myself more deeply in the warm darkness that loomed within.  In the brown shadows, I sensed the hovering presence of dissolving form, the fragile white lines now seeming to provide a protective screen for the even more ephemeral ground.  Walking back up to the painting, the relationship reversed again, as the earthy surface worked to stabilize the quivering lines.  I was afraid to look away, not wanting to be released from the spell this painting had cast upon me.


“In that space, an event is taking place. What it is, it cannot be said otherwise. That it takes place is registered only in the fact that between me and this no-thing, something happens. To say it happens is to say that there is not just an object.”

— Griselda Pollock
— Griselda Pollock, “Agnes Dreaming: Dreaming Agnes,” n 3X Abstraction: New Methods of Drawing, ed. Catherine de Zegher (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005), 172.

With each act of looking, viewer and artwork encounter one another and seek common ground. Naming that connection is elusive. When I encounter a work of art, my sensory response can feel like the artwork’s eyes have penetrated my exterior and held a mirror up to my most private self. At its best, the experience is like meeting a kindred spirit, sharing such a deep reciprocal bond that loneliness becomes impossible. Other times, the sensation may grind through me like a jackhammer through concrete, exposing buried sensibilities that I had otherwise hidden or hoped to ignore. It can impact me like a dam breaking, catapulting parts of my true nature into the light. The artwork excavates my own internal artifice.


“Have you ever encountered a work, accomplished and effortlessly and on the first attempt, that you could never achieve, even in a hundred thousand attempts, over your whole lifetime? Did you not weep?”

— Michel Serres
— Serres, Five Senses, 48.

Ingres at the National Gallery, Washington DC, 2014

Ingres at the National Gallery, Washington DC, 2014


At every visit to a gallery or museum, there are inevitably those visitors who snap picture after picture of paintings that they stand before but refuse to truly encounter. They trust in the photographic memento so completely that they are willing to shun the painting’s palpable presence, its poetic surface of image and sensation. When the photographs are reviewed at a later date, it will prove they had once been before a great work, but it will resonate like an autograph of a famous movie star; it will provide evidence of momentary proximity, but no sustaining relationship will have been born. Unlike a photograph or digital screen, each painting has its own unique skin, its own touchable surface to draw our eyes and body near. Like the look of a face that pulls our eyes toward it in a moment of silent longing, a painting communicates as a material body with implicit desires. It always aims to seduce.


“What is important now is to recover our senses. We must learn to see more, to hear more, to feel more. [...] In place of a hermeneutics, we need an erotics of art.”

— Susan Sontag
— Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation (New York: Picador, 1961), 14.

An “erotics of art” begins with an erotics of looking. The erotic is rooted in our imagination’s sensual and empathic response to an act of concealment. In Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes writes of the “blissful eroticism” of the photograph that extends his view beyond the boundaries of the image and into the realm of his own imagining: “…it is there that I animate the photograph and that it animates me."* Every act of looking has the potential to excite such a response. Our eyes need only to discard their arrogance and impatience, and stop assuming that all is made visible with a cursory glance. Every surface is in some form a creature of concealment waiting to be seen beyond its superficial and singular appearance. Without actively imagining a deeper embodiment of all that we see, every act of looking captures only part of the picture.

*Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida (New York: Hill and Wang, 1980), 59.


part two: making


The body’s knowledge is exhumed through the making of art. The sensations, perceptions and emotions generated in the act of looking remain locked within the body until expelled through the act of making. For me, the curiosity prompted by the sight of surfaces can only be quelled by touch, and when I engage with materials in the creation of images, my eyes seem to touch the surface and uncover the unseen. An erotics of looking propagates an erotics of making.


“When the frustrated Degas, who was dabbling in poetry, had asked Mallarme why, when he was so full of ideas, he was having so much difficulty with the sonnet he was trying to write, Mallarme had retorted. “But Degas, it is not with ideas that one makes poetry. It is with words.””

— Tamar Garb
— Tamar Garb, The Body in Time: Figures of Femininity in Late Nineteenth Century France (Lawrence: Spencer Museum of Art, The University of Kansas, 2008), 30.

While artists often speak of the solitude of the studio, it is the one place where I am never alone. In the act of making, I am joined by the body and will of each medium. Even the term “medium” itself is suggestive of its mysterious presence; it refers to not just an artistic material, but also a mediator, one who channels the world of spirits. In Plato’s The Symposium (202(e)), Diotima explains to Socrates the nature of a spirit, such as Eros, as one who “falls between god and human”:

“They interpret and carry messages from humans to gods and from gods to humans. They convey prayers and sacrifices from humans, and commands and gifts in return for sacrifices from gods. Being intermediate between the other two, they fill the gap between them, and enable the universe to form an interconnected whole.”*

In the studio, the mediums of paint, print and photography form a bridge between my self and my art. Every discovery I have made in my art has been born from my interaction with the materials.

I began grad school identifying myself as a painter, but that definition no longer holds. I have adopted all forms of image-making into my practice, and I am learning the unique and vital wisdom of each. I am discovering each medium’s distinct language and method of seduction, and their own sources of sensuality and emotion. Each medium contains its own distinct relationship to the image, and each responds differently to my intentions and my touch. The sensibilities of one are continually influencing my response to the others.

* Plato, The Symposium, trans. Christopher Gill (New York: Penguin Books, 1999), 39.

intaglio


 

Intaglio carries an implicit violence in its process. Tools that scratch and gouge, baths of biting acid, and presses that powerfully force the fate of two surfaces together. The soft paper surfaces offer a bandage-like support to absorb the inky salve. The resulting marks are the trace of scars, an image built from wounds.

Intaglio plate with ground

Intaglio plate with ground


screenprint


Amanda Clyne, screenprints in process

Amanda Clyne, screenprints in process

 

Screen-printing is a medium of mist. Although I know of its capacity for swipes of bold graphics, I am more enamored by its inherent need to atomize the world through its porous veil. With a drag of the strong rubber blade across the screen’s fine mesh, I witness the emergence of a refined but ghostly presence. The screen-printed image appears like an apparition.


photography



painting


Unlike the photograph, painting has an undeniable intimacy in its material presence. It has its genesis in the human hand, with every mark, every swipe of paint carrying the index of a sensing, desiring, thinking body. But the intimacy of paintings is not just due to their connection to the artist’s body, but to the body of paint itself. A painting is a form of collaboration between both paint and painter, and bearing witness to the entanglement of these two bodies is where its sensuality lies.


“I start a painting by finishing it, then may proceed to unfinish it, make holes in it or undo it in various ways, as a kind of escape from that infinitude, or wiping down the canvas, getting at what is behind the painting... I ask myself questions: does painting even have an interior? Is it all exterior? Can you enter it, or are you just up against a wall?”

— Jacqueline Humphries
— Paul Soto, “Painting in Silver and Noir: Q+A With Jacqueline Humphries,” Art in America (April 30 2012) http://www.artinamericamagazine.com/news-features/interviews/jacqueline-humphries-greene-naftali/.

Paint is the most luscious of all media, messy, meaty and stubborn. It exerts an aggressive presence, never wanting to be denied once it reaches the canvas. In the face of attempted obliteration, it fights to be remembered, its color and texture always leaving a trace. In this past year, influenced by the sensations I was able to capture in printmaking and photography, I have been resisting this inconvenient truth. So concerned with representing absence, I forgot paint’s fundamental need to be present. Inspired by the works of Christopher Wool, Gerhard Richter and Jacqueline Humphries, I began working only with processes of erasure, but after many failures, I have come to realize that, for me, erasure is only half the equation. If desire lies in concealment, then my painting process must become a process of burial. Now with each painting, I oscillate between modes of indulgence and denial, alternating between acts of burial and excavation. Ultimately it is for the viewer to continue the excavation process.

In the studio, I move between intaglio and screen-printing, photography and painting, the material and digital, each work emerging from a composite of these processes. No method of image-making is out of bounds, and no medium is sacred. Every work is corrupted by the intervention of a competing medium, both in process and perspective, and each work has the potential to breed new works. Images beget images.

This re-production of images in my practice is not to further the genealogy of spectacle, but rather to exorcise my own relationship with an image. It is only through the act of making that I gain access to more intimate findings. Discoveries are made in the act of trying to make my sensations visible, in fighting to see beyond surface. Leon Kossoff is a British artist with a similar method, drawing from old masters paintings as a means to get inside the image:

“Kossoff’s painted version of [Poussin’s] The Triumph of Pan was made after the accumulated hours spent drawing from the original had enabled him to experience the picture on a deeper level than the solely visual. It is through establishing his own private bond with the painting that Kossoff’s own painted response emerges.” (Wiggins 53.)

In my own experiments this past year, I tried to abandon my visual source material, thinking that my engagement with materials would be stronger and more interesting if I didn’t have the crutch of an image from which to work. But what I learned is that for me, the act of making is inextricably linked to the act of looking. In coming to this realization, I was reminded of an essay by Siri Hustvedt in which she surmises why the painter Giorgio Morandi never ventured into pure abstraction:

“My belief is that Morandi needed objects of scrutiny, because the act of looking and painting, not the act of painting alone, is the true subject matter of his work. (Siri Hustvedt, Living, Thinking, Looking (New York: Picador, 2012), 242.)

Similarly, my work is always a response to a specific experience of looking. By trying to deny myself those references, I was merely blinding myself in the process.


part three: thinking


Inspired by portraiture, couture and the history of painting, I always look to images where artifice reigns – in historical and contemporary portraits of the elite, where women are enveloped in an excess of ornament and the expression, pose or surroundings suggest a potent mix of both power and vulnerability.­


portraits of portraits


“There is no equivalent in portraiture of a one-way mirror: the process demands mutual exposure.”

Daniel Marcus
— Daniel Marcus, “Face Effects,” in Amy Sillman: One Lump or Two, ed. Helen Molesworth (Boston: The Institute of Contemporary Art, 2013), 121.

Trying to negotiate the gap between the seen and unseen, I consciously avoid making portraits of individuals whom I know personally. To interrogate the visual, I want to examine the assumptions and clues that are generated by physical appearance alone, extracted from extraneous knowledge garnered from more intimate sources. While I prefer to avoid the specter of biography and self-portraiture, I admit that I may use the faces of strangers as surrogates for my own.


Amanda Clyne, "Tarnished", oil on canvas, 2010

Amanda Clyne, "Tarnished", oil on canvas, 2010


“I always appropriate, so that I can never fully be myself, but have boundaries to constrain my exploded self.”

— Glenn Brown
— Laurence Sillars, “Laurence Sillars in Conversation with Glenn Brown,” in Glenn Brown, ed. Francesco Bonami and Christoph Grunenberg (Liverpool: Tate Liverpool, 2009), 145.

Portraiture is a strange pursuit. An artist asks a model to pose, to pretend to freeze a moment in time, and in turn, the model grants permission to become the subject of intense scrutiny and study, as if to confess that their own visuality is somehow an inadequate representation that requires a deeper imagining. How do I know what I look like if I cannot see through your eyes? How do I know what you see unless you show me? Perhaps you see more than I think, or perhaps you see someone who is not me at all.

In the studio, I make portraits of portraits. Instead of a sitter posing for me, I look at photographed images, examining the web of relationships among image-makers – model, artist, and me.

In the images I choose, models concoct creatures of fiction, posing to satiate the needs of the myriad eyes upon them, both real and imagined. In the historical painted portraits of royalty and nobility, women comport themselves with formality and restraint, servicing the demands of their social position. The historical royal portrait was, in the words of Javier Portús, a “highly codified straitjacket”* intended to legitimize and propagandize the power class, not to expose emotional intimacies. Set within a sea of luxurious ornamentation, the woman’s face is almost a forgotten afterthought. It is not a portrait of a woman, it is a portrait of an image.          

In contemporary fashion photographs, the model is similarly recruited to represent a world of ambition and aspiration divorced from any personal reflection. Her extravagant state of adornment is the spectacle to behold. In her excessive visuality, the woman becomes invisible. She is all image.

* Javier Portús, “The Varied Fortunes of the Portrait in Spain,” in The Spanish Portrait: From El Greco to Picasso, ed. Javier Portùs (Madrid: Museo Nacional del Prado, 2004), 54.

the spectacle of femininity


“...men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. [...] The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object — and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.”

— John Berger
— Berger, Ways of Seeing, 46.

I am often asked why I only work with images of women. The simple answer is that my work is fundamentally rooted in my experience of the world, which occurs unavoidably through my sense and presence of being a woman. By representing my perceptions through images of women who exist far from common experience, I know I am subjecting my images to the baggage such images carry, but I am drawn to these women’s particular position as spectacle. Women generally carry the greatest burden of visuality, to which men are only beginning to succumb.  It is women who bear the longest history of being seen as little more than surface.



 
Amanda Clyne, "Excavating Artifice, Study", oil on canvas, 2014

Amanda Clyne, "Excavating Artifice, Study", oil on canvas, 2014

 

“Images have an invincible power, and power, in its turn, manifests itself through images; it feeds off of images. Power always maintains its distance, imposing a solemn detachment from the real: it is ready to strike, but always from a hidden refuge. [...] Power therefore stands behind the scenes. ... Reflected in hundreds of images, power still tries to flee its representation, it won’t be caught: it disperses itself, opposing any analysis. The problem, therefore, is not how to destroy an image: the problem is how to reach power, how to represent what is hiding behind images.”

— Massimiliano Gioni
— Massimiliano Gioni, “Touch Me I’m Sick,” Flash Art International 41 (2008): 203.

Spectacle is always related to power. It is an expression of dominance and vanity. It is a command for authority and attention. It is a tacit admission that real power has been denied.

If spectacle is wedded to power, beauty is its handmaiden. Through spectacles of beauty, power is asserted, claimed, demonstrated or demanded. But beauty also portends vulnerability, and in the images of women that fascinate me most, power resonates but vulnerability lurks within. Draped in impractical gowns that flaunt wealth and privilege, a woman stands contained, staring at the spectator with a dignified yet fragile composure. Wealth offers up a cloak of invincibility, as if nothing that looked so perfect could ever be flawed, lost or suffering. In the heart of such beauty, darker truths may reside.

In Francis Bacon’s screaming Pope, he flays Velasquez’ original portrait of pomp and power. The destruction of the image is an unleashing, the Pope’s power shred into a torrent of repressed rage and violence. There is no beauty in Bacon’s world. In contrast, I am drawn to the quandaries of the beautiful and the more melancholy states of yearning and loss, but I sympathize with Bacon’s method of finding intensity in restraint. In the worlds of beauty that seduce me, I seek to strip away the artifice from images that propagandize power and glorify the mode of display in order to expose a more human, quiet desire for empathic connections, a desire so intense and fragile it can verge on a kind of madness.


 
“...as if to say “This is what it feels like to have a body,” and also, “This is what it feels like to be a painting.”

— Daniel Marcus
— Daniel Marcus, “Face Effects,” in Amy Sillman: One Lump or Two, ed. Helen Molesworth (Boston: The Institute of Contemporary Art, 2013), 119.
Amanda Clyne, "Excavating Artifice, I", oil on canvas, 2014

Amanda Clyne, "Excavating Artifice, I", oil on canvas, 2014


the strategy of repetition


“Without objectivity you’re left with doubt, and doubt insists on plurality.”

— Christopher Wool
— Katherine Brinson, “Trouble is My Business,” in Christopher Wool, ed. Katherine Brinson (New York: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 2013), 47.


I never make just one. For each portrayal, I try and try again. Through processes of dissolution, extraction and erasure, I work to disinter the image’s inner-workings. Whether I am deleting pixels in Photoshop, scarring a copper etching plate, forcing a printer’s ink to bleed from a fresh print, or obliterating thick strokes of paint from a stained canvas, I dissect an image until I have distilled my findings into a new work. And then I do it again. And again. I keep reworking the original in multiple iterations, shifting approaches, moving between media to find new ways of getting beneath the surface. I return to the same image over and over, repeating and renewing my efforts to strip it of its artifice.


“Experiences recalled are generally more satisfying and enlightening than the original experience.”

— Agnes Martin
— Briony Fer, “Drawing Drawing: Agnes Martin’s Infinity,” in 3X Abstraction: New Methods of Drawing, ed. Catherine de Zegher (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005), 191.

A mode of repetition can imply reproduction or redundancy, merely a mimicking of the original that can never spark the magic or intensity of the first encounter. But to repeat can also be to take the opportunity to linger and to look again, to experience the encounter not as if it were the first time, but rather knowing that the first time could not possibly have been enough to discover all that there must be. To repeat is to follow one’s perpetual desire for more, and to be cognizant that with every look, something is missed. The original is merely the tease, a beckoning call to return. There is always more. Regarding the words of Agnes Martin quoted above, Briony Fer writes:

“Recollection is somehow more vivid, or put another way, original experience is a pale reflection of its repetitions. Repetition is understood as a means not of deadening but heightening experience...” *

As I return to the original image again and again, fresh eyes make new discoveries, new discoveries breed new images, and the cycle of desire is renewed.

* Fer, “Drawing Drawing,” 191.

the fragment's allure


In my pursuit to unconceal an image, I search for its source of vulnerability. In the process, I am forced to methodically destroy it. The resulting remnants and ruins form the basis of my own re-imaginings. I dismantle the original spectacle and prompt its gradual metamorphosis through a re-building from fragments -- fragments of time, of images, of perspectives and processes, of ideas and sensations. Ultimately, each work is itself a fragment, an offering to the viewer to re-imagine what has been torn away.


“Real wholes are ephemeral and start falling apart even before they are finished. Their fragments last much longer and yet they too are subject to decay and corruption. The only thing that is truly immortal is the lost whole that we reconstruct on the basis of fragments, that never existed in reality, and that therefore can never perish.”

— Glenn Most
— Glenn W. Most, “On Fragments,” in The Fragment: An Incomplete History, ed. William Tronzo (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2009 ), 18.

As a representation and reminder of the ephemerality of that which is now out of reach, the fragment always implies a loss. It is the visible remnant of a fugitive whole. In Glenn Most’s analysis of fragments, he proposes that the fragment’s evocative power lies not in its reference to the lost whole, but in the imagined whole that is created by the viewer in response to the fragment’s presence: “…the hypothetical whole we can imagine on its basis can come to seem far more deeply satisfying to us, because we ourselves have helped to create it…”[36]. By virtue of this imagined whole, the past becomes the present, as we imaginatively inhabit the implicit body that strives to be seen.


postlude


For all this talk of an erotics of looking and making, one might imagine my work to be visually indulgent in response. And yet my final works convey a surface and image that are barely there. However, they reflect my experience of the erotic which recalls the nature of the “great spirit” Eros, as described in Plato’s The Symposium. Like an artist, Eros is born from the union of Resource and Poverty:

“…he schemes to get hold of beautiful and good things. He’s brave, impetuous and intense; a formidable hunter, always weaving tricks, he desires knowledge and is resourceful in getting it; a lifelong lover of wisdom; clever at using magic, drugs and sophistry.” (Plato, The Symposium, trans. Christopher Gill (New York: Penguin Books, 1999) 39-40.)

 But despite his resourcefulness, curiosity and passion, as the son of Poverty, he remains in a perpetual state of need. 

“Sometimes on a single day he shoots into life, when he’s successful, and then dies, and then (taking after his father) comes back to life again. The resources he obtains keep on draining away, so that Eros is neither wholly without resources nor rich. (Plato, The Symposium, 40.)

In the studio, I wage the same battle. In search of an adequate representation of my sensations, I am never satisfied when an image begins to find resolution. For me, a lack of resolution forms the more honest picture.

We are all image-makers, whether in paint, pixels or persona, and every image contains a vulnerability and resistance to exposure. Every image inevitably represents the lack of all that remains invisible and unreachable.


“[He] is both strengthened and harried by a small persistent voice deep inside him that repeats, “I want I want I want.” There is something terrible about these protagonists who are so consumed with desire.”

— Lee Siegel
— Lee Siegel, Falling Upwards: Essays in Defense of the Imagination (Cambridge: Basic Books, 2006)

I am addicted to the quiet, intense, contemplative act of looking and the imaginative and collaborative act of making. I see desire and vulnerability in every surface. To speak of surface is to envision the physical world as a series of fragile layers, where every exterior cloaks an implicit interior of meaning and sensation. Everything I see and everything I make is a construction of layers. Everything is a veiled body waiting for observant and sensitive eyes to see past its artifice.


Amanda Clyne, Wallflower #6, oil on canvas, 2017

Amanda Clyne, Wallflower #6, oil on canvas, 2017