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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.