Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Palatine Maps and Abstract Ruin-ness

The Palatine is one of the seven hills of Rome. It is the central-most hill in Rome, rich with history, and one of the oldest parts of the city. The origins of the city began on the Palatine and artifacts that predate the founding of Rome have been excavated there. Its importance cannot be overestimated and yet I came to find a large selection of historical Roman maps rendered the Palatine hill in a vague, ambiguous manner up until the 1600s. The poor rendering of the Palatine hill struck me as metaphorical. The poetics of its poor rendition seemed hold multiple meanings and somehow felt like it connected to my work.

A bit about my recent work: my paintings move between representation and abstraction and depict folded, stacked, and stored blankets intermixed with architectural structural forms such as arches, scaffolds and semi-domes. The forms are rendered ambiguously -- shifting between landscapes, still-lifes, and figurative painting. Within this language of form, I am interested in hidden spaces and dominant spaces. Currently, I conflate the Palatine hill and its palaces with systems of power such as patriarchy.
Looking over the many inaccurate renderings of the Palatine hill, I felt like I was unfolding a hidden place….though what is hidden, I am not sure. Map after map, the hill was never rendered the same way twice. Was this due to the fact that the palaces of the Palatine hill were in ruin? Was it that each draftsperson chose to not look but rather to imagine the ruins? Was it that these ruins were so non-descript that they lead to such vague rendering? I see this as an analogy about how difficult it is to render something that is large and nondescript, with no beginning and no end. A thing that seems to exist yet has no form or shape. It is indefinable and seems infinite. I see a correlation between this and what I think of and render in my work.
While I looked at the maps, I also became interested in this hill as a site for forgetting. Due to their ruined condition and ambiguous forms, the artist had to handle these remnants as abstractions. What to do but to invent what it is? When accuracy is the impetus for the action of map making, what does one create when certainty is an impossibility? From actual form, the map makers render blobs, lumps, and vague wall forms with a few arches, a window-like hole, and even scratchy marks. Instead of looking, they looked to their imagination to make a hint instead of render. It is an act of looking and looking away. Sometimes we go to abstraction to explain the unexplainable or vast.

The act of looking away has its own power and history with this hill. The Flavian Palace, aka Domus Flavia, was built by Emperor Domitian, who, after a long and authoritarian reign was assassinated by his own senate. They quickly decreed that “his inscriptions should everywhere be erased, and all record of him obliterated”. This order is known as a “damnatio memoriae”. With this thought in mind, the fog that surrounds the hill is somehow fitting.  I see similarities between the “damnatio memoriae” decree and my use of the Flavian ruins for my own meaning. I am erasing what was before to make a new association that will mingle with some remnant of the original.  
As a way into expressing this idea, I colored and cut up the maps, thus highlighting the ruins’ shapes. Highlighting in a pinkish purple, the resultant ambiguous forms seem hard to fathom, hard to define and hard to control. Forms that were intended to display power and divinity of an absolute ruler are now funny blobs in a cheery pink.

I also made a separate page in which I highlighted the Colosseum in the same color for contrast.  You can see that which is recognizable -- such as the Colosseum with its similarities to a wheel on its side -- is something that is easily remembered and recorded. It is graspable.

As I worked on this image in Photoshop, what I found intriguing is that the ruins of the palace became abstractions of “ruin-ness”, an ideal of that which is a ruin by each artist.  To render a thing that is ambiguous leads to abstracted form. My takeaway from this is that like many things that are ambiguous, the need to avoid a clear rendering (because it is unknowable) is a logical path taken. Your mind becomes a stand in for the real; this stand in is idealized and abstracted. Something about this reminds me of larger ambiguous forms such as patriarchy or systems that seem to shift out of reach and are difficult to know or navigate, let alone to change or eradicate. The history of this ambiguity of rendering the Palatine hill is a precedent that I continue in my work.

The Presence of “Damnatio Memoriae” in Roman Art, Lauren Hackworth Petersen, Notes in the History of Art. Vol. 30, No. 2 (Winter 2011), pp. 1-8
Le Piante Di Roma I, II Amato Pietro Frutas, Istituto Di Studi Romani, Proprietà Leteraria E Artista Riservata 1962

Ancient Rome in the light of Recent Discoveries, Rodolfo Lanciani, Benjamin Bloom NY, 1888, 1867

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Practice-- Color Shadows and White Light

Above are studies exploring shadow and light effects as an expansion on my concepts of what is hidden and what is apparent. I am interested in how shadow makes color when there is a manipulation of light as well as how colored lights combine to make black or combine to make white. This is stemming from my interest in scotopic vision and the ability to see the world in grayscale.

This research and use of light in my work began in the Winter of 2017 on my drive to Mass MOCA for a residency. Along the way I stopped off at a local small town museum that had a show of the Hudson River School painters. I was familiar, but never really taken with the work. I had a few hours to burn and has plenty of time to look at the each painting slowly, I scanned the surfaces and looked at each painting from different angles and distances. I really became drawn into the work. My initial interest was that face that most of the paintings had an inner glow to them. The light seemed to come from the deepest part of the paintings. I saw a correlation to my work, as exploring hidden things and shedding light on the stored away.  I did not how this would influence my work, but it was the first moment that my work began to deal with inner light and take the form of a landscape.

Details from An Adirondack Pastoral by George Inness 1869

From a brief account on the school, "With the example of Durand in both word and practice, outdoor sketching in oils as the foundation of and model for studio landscapes became common, and both plein-airism and the loosening authority of Sublime aesthetics led to a less inflected idiom whose most conspicuous features often were the light influencing terrestrial forms and the air bathing them."

Dawn of Morning, Lake George Jasper Fransis Cropsey 1868

This might be a Cole detail and another Inness

I am interested in the sublime as well as artwork that touches on a transcendental theme as well as  utopian  idealism in concepts and designs. This was an addition interest in this work.

I can see this influencing my paintings, but also I can imagine that this may become a photographic series. I am taking a trip to Rome in November 2017 and will document the Flavian Palace, and I am very interested in using the photographic documentation I will take in combination with light experiments both on grounds and in post production to make a new body of work.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Practice-- Norway and Heaviness

These images are from a week and a half trip to Norway in the early springtime. I was able to bring one the trip a stack of watercolor paper and a large watercolor kit.  I had several days to explore the mountains in Lillehammer and spent the day climbing and painting. Out of this experience,  I found some new visual forms that expressed weight like nothing I have done before. I had also never seen such steep mountains. Everywhere I looked there were waterfalls and these worked away at the rocks, Except for when the waterfall was so long that the water simple dissipated into the air before it ever hit the ground. 

One mountain trail lied along a waterfall that winded continuously down the mountain, It was this location I painted the waterfalls. While paintings these works, it became clear that leaving the water blank and unpainted was what needed to be explored, The rendered rock and the absent water.  I saw the water as slowly wearing away at the rock and felt it was a condition that connected to my practice regarding things that are and were, things that are erased. 

Aside from heaviness, these forms remind me of that which is  unbearable, wild, unrefined, unmanageable, and unstable. 

* note the bridge on the right hand side of the above image for scale

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Practice-- Semi-Dome Projector

OHHHH this place!! 

First by little blurb from my artist statement: The arch in my work is based on the semi-domes that proliferate the Flavian Palace on the Palatine Hill. These semi-domes were added by Rabirius, the architect for the Emperor Domitian, to project divinity onto the ruler as well as sealing off the space behind him. Here the arched space functioned as a speculative insular and isolating form and was meant to project the ruler’s future divinity. Arches, vaults and domes are in conflict with the folded forms as they represent systems that the forms navigate.

I came across this palace while looking into arches as a form. I became interested in the arch form oddly enough by looking at Florine Stettheimer paintings and her renditions of curtains. It was a coincidence that I came across them on a trip to new York at the Met in the fall of 2016 and they sort of stayed with me. Once my paintings moved up in scale and they became landscape like, the curtains of Stettheimer’s paintings became important to my work. They acted like a screen, a protective covering, a stage facade, a barrier between the view and the viewer and it points to the edge of the canvas.

Beauty Contest: To the Memory of P.T. Barnum, 1924. Oil on canvas.
Florine Stettheimer, “Natatorium Undine” (1927), oil and encaustic on canvas, 50 1/2 x 60 inches
Florine Stettheimer, “Spring Sale at Bendel's” (1921), oil on canvas, 50 x 40 inches

I began to research the arch in general and came across this lecture by Yale University Professor Diana E. E. Kleiner, who is the Dunham Professor of History of Art and Classics at Yale University, Founding Project Director and Principal Investigator of Open Yale Courses, and former Deputy Provost at Yale, and she is amazing! The lecture series is here.  

From this lecture I learned of the Flavian Palace aka Domus Flavia the sits on the Palatine hill in Rome. In her lectures Kleiner explained the operation of the palace semi-domes as forms that were meant to project Domitian's divinity and power. The semi-domes of the Falvian palace became to root of this forms introduction into my work as a stand in for power, protection, patriarchal systems that warp both femininity and masculinity and as forms to project one's will into the future.

Below are a few fascinating excerpts from The Architecture of the Roman Empire:
An Introductory, Study by William Lloyd MacDonald.  

" ...his policies, though despotic, had a far reaching influence upon architecture, The imperator, once an honored general, was now possessor of ultimate authority, using the ancient title as praenomen. His rank and presumably sacrosanct person required as architecture that broadcast impressions of the majesty he wished to impose upon the world. Splendor, great size, and luxury, though important, were insufficient Novelty alone would not do. It was necessary that the imperial architecture lead, as the imperator presumably lead, that allow him to be seen and thought of in dwelling both unique and pertinent, The was the challenge that Rabirius met.”1
“Within the palace the visual instruments of the new style served those (Domitian’s) claims. Curving surfaces were the key to the matter. The vaulted imitations of the heavenly arc invited­ unbroken continuity of imperial authority was implied, for the embracing surface, free from angles and curving around his person at a consistent distance, suggested his surveillance of the realm from its center.” Apses also firmly directed attention to the seat of power, an effect quickened by the iterated meter of the columns and spur walls that lined the sides of the great halls of state and closed toward the presence framed beneath an arch in the distance. An Apsidal vault over the imperial figure completed this geometry of sovereignty".

Thinking about these arches, semi-domes and alcoves of the Flavian Palace as forms of Projection for my own uses. 

1. The Architecture of the Roman Empire: An Introductory, Study William Lloyd MacDonald 1982, The Significance of Domitian's Palace, pg 71

2. The Architecture of the Roman Empire: An Introductory, Study William Lloyd MacDonald 1982, The Significance of Domitian's Palace, pg. 73, 74

Practice -- Scotopic Vision and the Hidden Things

The all 6th grade camping trip added a new element to my work.

At dusk on a night hike, my youngest child 9 other 6th grades and I sat down with the camp councilor and listen as she talked us though observing our night vision. She had us observe the slowly fading light and to listen to the sounds as these changes happened before our eyes. As the night grew dimmer, our vision changed. What occurred was that our eyes rods began to take over instead of the cones. The eye uses the 3 different cones to see colors, and the one kind of rod that see shades of grey. As the light fades color fades away and is replaced with shades of grey. Details become shapes with a higher contrast than previously seen in the daylight, your eye shifts to pick up on shape and your peripheral vision is heightened. It was fascinating. The councilor had us stair at someone’s face and as we stared at their features they began to faded into a non-descript blob of middle grey tone. Seeing in grey tones after dusk and before pitch black is when this occurs. This is called the Purkyně Effect, and the vision is called Scotopic vision from Greek skotos meaning darkness and -opia meaning a condition of sight.

Image result for Purkinje Effect
Czech anatomist Jan Evangelista Purkyně, thanks  man.

I really could not believe that I am only now paying attention to this! Everything about this felt relevant to my work. I am interested in this cloak of grey in my work because it is both showing something that is hidden and hiding something that is normally visible. I am adding this effect it my paintings as a new visual element. I am also interested in how it creates a binary between dark and light, it reduces what is before you and heightens the periphery. 
Detail work in Progress for CMA Exhibition, July 2017, note the fade to grey scale. 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

On Learning-- Gutai Manifesto

gutai art manifesto

To today’s consciousness, the art of the past, which on the whole presents an alluring appearance, seems fraudulent.
Let’s bid farewell to the hoaxes piled up on the altars and in the palaces, the drawing rooms and the antique shops.
They are monsters made of the matter called paint, of cloth, metals, earth, and marble, which through a meaningless act of signification by humans, through the magic of material, were made to fraudulently assume appearances other than their own. These types of matter [busshitsu], all slaughtered under the pretense of production by the mind, can now say nothing.
Lock up these corpses in the graveyard.
Gutai Art does not alter matter. Gutai Art imparts life to matter. Gutai Art does not distort matter.
In Gutai Art, the human spirit and matter shake hands with each other while keeping their distance. Matter never compromises itself with the spirit; the spirit never dominates matter. When matter remains intact and exposes its characteristics, it starts telling a story and even cries out. To make the fullest use of matter is to make use of the spirit. By enhancing the spirit, matter is brought to the height of the spirit.
Art is a site where creation occurs; however, the spirit has never created matter before. The spirit has only created spirit. Throughout history, the spirit has given birth to life in art. Yet the life thus born always changes and perishes. To us today, the great lives of the Renaissance are nothing more than archaeological relics.
Today, it is only primitive art and various art movements after Impressionism that manage to convey to us a feeling of life, however inert. These movements extensively used matter—that is, paint—without distorting or killing it, even when using it for the purpose of naturalism, as in Pointillism and Fauvism. In any case, these styles no longer move us; they are things of the past.
Now, interestingly, we find a contemporary beauty in the art and architecture of the past ravaged by the passage of time or natural disasters. Although their beauty is considered decadent, it may be that the innate beauty of matter is reemerging from behind the mask of artificial embellishment. Ruins unexpectedly welcome us with warmth and friendliness; they speak to us through their beautiful cracks and rubble—which might be a revenge of matter that has regained its innate life. In this sense, we highly regard the works of [Jackson] Pollock and [Georges] Mathieu. Their work reveals the scream of matter itself, cries of the paint and enamel. These two artists confront matter in a way that aptly corresponds to their individual discoveries. Or rather, they even seem to serve matter. Astonishing effects of differentiation and integration take place.
In recent years, [critic] Tominaga Soīchi and [artist] Dōmoto Hisao introduced the activities of Art Informel by Mathieu and [Michel] Tapié. We found them quite interesting; although our knowledge is limited, we feel sympathetic to their ideas as have so far been introduced. Their art is free from conventional formalism, demanding something fresh and newborn. We were surprised to learn our aspiration for something vital resonated with theirs, although our expressions differed. We do not know how they understood their colors, lines, and forms—namely, the units of abstract art—in relation to the characteristics of matter. We do not understand the reason behind their rejection of abstraction. We have certainly lost interest in clichéd abstract art, however. Three years ago, when we established the Gutai Art Association, one of our slogans was to go beyond abstraction. We thus chose the word gutai [concreteness] for our group’s name. We especially sought a centrifugal departure in light of the centripetal origin of abstraction.
We thought at the time—and still do—that the greatest legacy of abstract art is the opening of an opportunity to depart from naturalistic and illusionistic art and create a new autonomous space, a space that truly deserves the name of art.
We have decided to pursue enthusiastically the possibilities of pure creativity. We believe that by merging human qualities and material properties, we can concretely comprehend abstract space.
When the individual’s character and the selected materiality meld together in the furnace of automatism, we are surprised to see the emergence of a space previously unknown, unseen, and unexperienced. Automatism inevitably transcends the artist’s own image. We endeavor to achieve our own method of creating space rather than relying on our own images.
For example, Kinoshita Toshiko, who teaches chemistry at a girls’ school, has created a marvelous space by mixing chemicals on filter paper. Even though the effect of chemical manipulation may be predicted to some degree, it cannot be seen until the next day. Still, the wondrous state of matter thus realized is her doing. No matter how many Pollocks have emerged after Pollock, his glory will not diminish. We must respect new discoveries.
Shiraga Kazuo placed a mass of paint on a huge sheet of paper and started violently spreading it with his feet. His method, unprecedented in the history of art, has been a subject of journalism for the past two years. However, what he presented was not a merely peculiar technique but a means he developed to synthesize the confrontation between the matter chosen by his personal quality and the dynamism of his own mind in an extremely positive way.
In contrast to Shiraga’s organic method, Shimamoto Shōzō has focused on mechanistic methods for the past several years. When he threw a glass bottle filled with lacquer, the result was flying splashes of paint on canvas. When he packed the paint into a small handmade cannon and ignited it by an acetylene torch, the result was an instant explosion of paint in a huge pictorial space. They both demonstrate a breathtaking freshness.
Among other members, Sumi Yasuo deployed a vibrating device, while Yoshida Toshio created a lump of monochrome paint. It should be noted that all these activities are informed by serious and solemn intentions.
Our exploration into the unknown and original world bore numerous fruits in the form of objets, in part inspired by the annual outdoor exhibitions held in Ashiya. Above all, Gutai’s objets differ from those of the Surrealists in that the former eschew titles and significations. Gutai’s objets included a bent and painted sheet of iron (Tanaka Atsuko) and a hanging box like a mosquito net made of red plastic (Yamazaki Tsuruko). Their appeal lies solely in the strength of their material properties, their colors and forms.
As a group, however, we impose no rules. Ours is a free site of creation wherein we have actively pursued diverse experimentations, ranging from art to be appreciated with the whole body to tactile art to Gutai music (an interesting enterprise that has occupied Shimamoto Shōzō for the past few years).
A bridge-like work by Shimamoto Shōzō, on which the viewer walks to sense its collapse. A telescope-like work by Murakami Saburō, into which the viewer must enter to see the sky. A balloon-like vinyl work by Kanayama Akira, equipped with an organic elasticity. A so-called dress by Tanaka Atsuko, made of blinking electric bulbs. Productions by Motonaga Sadamasa, who uses water and smoke. These are Gutai’s most recent works.
Gutai places an utmost premium on daring advance into the unknown world. Granted, our works have frequently been mistaken for Dadaist gestures. And we certainly acknowledge the achievements of Dada. But unlike Dadaism, Gutai Art is the product that has arisen from the pursuit of possibilities. Gutai aspires to present exhibitions filled with vibrant spirit, exhibitions in which an intense cry accompanies the discovery of the new life of matter.
Translated by Reiko Tomii. Originally published as “Gutai bijutsu sengen,” Geijutsu Shinchō 7, no. 12 (December 1956), pp. 202–04.