ABOUT THE WORK
Putting together two or more parts into an order is a narrative. Often when starting a painting I have a specific sequence in mind, a self-righteous one with clearly identifiable assignations to the parts. Presuming that the baseline purpose of all critical activity is to unmake and/or complexify a preexisting order, mine is to both answer the urge to express my particular narrative, and to hope for its undoing.
My work is as much a monitoring of my uses and abuses of really primitive psychoanalytic models as it is an articulation of them. I know letting obsolete thought regimes go is the price I pay for cognitive realignment. In periods I have painted towards the comfort and confirmation of what I already know – this always fails – and in stronger times towards upending it. Which imperatives are open for analytic adjustment and which ones are temperamental are not always clear to me.
My work is a narrative retrofitted to the resistance, tempo and mess of paint. Distinctions blur, categories bleed and pollute each other and uncover multiple complicities in their painted incarnations. The material evidence of this process is the doubleness I experience when in front of a painting: the phenomenological excess. This never-perfect-fit between image and its container is both my reward and irritant.
Like everyone else, I struggle with painting’s relevance; I place the point of my continued use of it on its limitations.
Painting’s analogy to skin isn’t new: the painted surface is a hide where battle-scars remain as a record of its experiences. The privacy of painting makes the analogy even easier: I stroke, lick, brush, bathe, in its unmaking I sand and cut. I am drawn to the dumb puns and double entendres of the body, the creases that stand in for other creases, apertures that open in place of other apertures, infantile behaviors that return as adult ones, etc.: thought games that make the intolerable tolerable. In paint I am looking at a viscous flourish that reminds me of something else, but is potent enough to keep me from naming that other thing –.
If consciousness knows itself through (painted) language, it is by mining painting for its systemic/grammatical failures that I can hope to find unexpected outcomes to my narrative. I want to pry the subject away from its infatuation with fluency.
If Balzac’s “The Unknown Masterpiece” is…., then……
The story in short: the old painter Frenhofer is trying to make one last and lasting masterpiece, but his model has run away. He is lent another lovely young woman, his acolyte Poussin’s girlfriend, and they isolate themselves for months before he finally invites his friends to see the result. What they see is a canvas covered by a thick network of marks obscuring everything, save for an ankle in one corner. His shock at their shock makes him see what they see, and he burns his paintings and dies that night.
If this is an allegory of Modernism, then the “wall of paint” that confronts the friends when they come to see the painting can be a form of chosen incoherence, even when the artist claims to want articulation and spatial illusion. Despite having the pimped girlfriend modelling, Frenhofer can’t seem to penetrate the wall of paint. The painting becomes instead a repository of his failed attempts, his persistent yearning, and is subjectively intimate, rather than spatially and conceptually in control. This reading of Balzac’s story – linking the master’s impotence to Modernism – is not the generally accepted one, but works for me.
During his MoMA retrospective, there was a series of Richter’s paintings made after a photograph of his young wife and infant, looking for all intents like a Madonna and child. Different in temperature from his other paintings, they were just as squeegeed and scraped, but seemed impatient, as if registering not the usual nonchalance, but inadequacy in the face of sentiment. Scraping towards a “wall of paint” seemed to restore some intimacy from his first encounter with the photo, and registered the difference between the usual Richterish polemical unmaking, and what this one was asked to contain.
While admiring these paintings, I slowly got good and pissed thinking about how he, in his third marriage, could process the experience of parenthood so fluently through historical painting metaphors, and how for me, who had just had a child, this seemed no longer possible.
Was this good or bad? If one function of metaphor is to make something intolerable tolerable, does it have legitimate work to do beyond its first few appearances? Once something is a known decoy – i.e. historical trope – won’t the corrupting compromises just be piling on for each successive use?
Thinking how almost everything can serve metaphorically for balls (Twin Towers, head of Holofernes) while they themselves can’t serve for anything else, testicles seemed the closest equivalent to my motherhood. I figured this is where metaphor would go to die; I set up several model sessions and made a number of closely studied paintings from them. The embryonic ambivalence of gender expression has left a scar on the scrotum, a tiny souvernir of categorical instability, and along with the privilege of staring at length at this, it also felt odd to scrape and squeegee. The simultaneity or doubleness of image and the matter it was made of became insupportable, and in the end collapsed the distance that uncomplicated representation guaranteed me.
I couldn’t argue with a way-too-close wall of not-yet/already-gone articulation. The painted/scraped surface became a body up against mine.
Trophy hunt /Fur and Sheikh
I find fur a good place to start for sensory overload and incoherence (tip a cup to Meret Oppenheim). I chase representation of hair with hair, with paintbrush and fur in an endgame of literal equivalents.
Camouflage is animal rhetoric.
A stretched pelt holds its memory of a once dimensional presence, minus its consciousness; my consciousness gets restored while painting its likeness.
The published image of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed upon his capture in 2003 went viral as visual shorthand for the enemy as all that was abject, hairy and debased. In the rhetoric of the War on Terror, the image was universal. I congratulated myself on being fluent in it, and had a conflicting animal urge at the same time- somebody ought to lick his fur down.
The brush is a tongue.
In 2009 some photographers from Red Cross were allowed access to Guantanamo to make a series of portraits of the detainees. These images were made in collaboration with their subjects, who were shown smiling in civilian clothing or traditional dress. The prints, sent to their families as alternatives to the mugshots, and serving as proof that their relatives were alive and not mistreated, were not intended for public release.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed chose flowing white robes and headdress. Slimmed down since 2003, he has a benevolent smile, a long beard and an opened Koran in his lap.
These photos began appearing last year on internet sites that have previously been used by Al-Qaeda and sympathizers to communicate with each other, said Jarret Brachman, the former research director at the Combating Terrorism Center of the U.S. military Academy at West Point. Brachman, now an independent terrorism researcher based in Fargo, North Dacota, said he fears the photos could breed sympathy for a man who has proudly proclaimed his role in the Sept. 11 attacks, as well as other incidents of terrorism, while also alleging he has been tortured by the U.S.
“What is problematic for me is it really humanizes the guy” Brachman is quoted as saying, identifying the unmonitored release of the images as a tactical and rhetorical error by the U.S. (BBC News)
My brand of doubt is a distrust of fluency. Systems of exchange depends on it and mastery of language is the first evidence of subjecthood. But its efficiency is measured by all that has been held in its container prior to my use of it, and the urge to modify my content to fit the format is powerful. When does the call to adjustment become inaudible and the seamless attractions of fluency take over? My desire to communicate is held in check by equally strong imperatives to block certain content from being passed on.
In these paintings I accept the inadequacy of any system of representation to presume truth, and dig for below-human-register frequencies and overlaps in the unequal but complementary rhetoric of the two portraits of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.