Paintings, Ontology, and Self-Reflection.
Sinai (Sunworks), gouache and household paint on paper, 60″x 124″
Sinai; Sunworks (detail)
Sinai; Sunworks (detail)
Creating new work (new paintings) for me has become increasingly informed and driven by my research. New work appears and then, reflexivity demands further research.
I. The new feeling that I welcome right now is that my paintings count less for me as separate objects –(finished products standing on their own) – but more important as evidence and part of the ongoing research in the arts and clues to the underlying story. The process has changed and brought about a new routine: surrounded by several ongoing pieces at a time I am involved in the process of re-defining the project on a daily basis depending on my findings in theory, self-reflection, and the constant dialogue with the paintings in progress.
Barry Schwabsky’s article “Object or Project? A Critic’s Reflections on the Ontology of Painting” that I read recently felt as some indispensable wisdom essential to the development of my thesis at this point.
In his article Schwabsky states how crucial it is for an artist “to arrive at a subject – all the more so if the work is abstract… with postmodernity, the artist has to produce, not so much the work itself (as we’ll see, there exist artists whose every effort s to reduce the work to its vanishing point) or even as its subject – its ‘myth’, … as its cataloguability… But in any case, these minimal attributes of the artwork are so indispensable precisely because they are requisite to any attempt to understand the work’s relation to the project that generated it.”
Schwabsky goes on recalling Friedrich von Schlegel’s statement “A project is the subjective embryo of a developing object” – which, though made in 1798, is “as relevant as ever today, if not more so.” The author explains that whenever we look at a painting and think we are looking at an object, we should remind ourselves that it is only a clue to the artistic project behind it. He offers an example of a wrong conclusion we might arrive at if we view a painting as means to an end: Given the minimum of paint that one painter uses as compared to a massive amount of which used by another – the paint mass could be ironically taken for a “compensatory reaction against the object’s ontological inadequacy as such – a sort of aesthetic Napoleon Complex.” He offers another way to look at it: “A project, by definition, is nothing like that. Its very nature is to be in progress, in development – to be incomplete and unfolding, and above all to be subject to revision. (A project is not a program , which can simply be executed.) With a painting, like any other work of contemporary art, what you really have to ask yourself is, “Does the artist have a project? And if so, what can I learn about it from this particular work?”
The author comes to the conclusion that it is not what the painting represents that counts in the real world of art. What the painting represents when it does represent, is only one more clue to the all-important sense of the underlying project, and this is “the primary focus of our aesthetic attention.”
The deviation from Schwabsky’s theory in my artwork will be the idea that the knowledge should be embedded and showing in the work itself. This was suggested by my supervisor and that is what I am striving to achieve.
II. As for the unfolding of the back-story, or the project which is embedded in the work – there have been some new developments recently as well. Donald Kuspit’s thoughts said about the role of landscape or nature in contemporary painting resonated with my thoughts and aspirations: “What can art do in the modern situation of the use and abuse of nature – the massive exploitation of nature and the indifference that attends its ruin?” Kuspit offers the work of Bob Nugent, a Californian abstract painter as an example: “preserve nature in aesthetic fragments – preserve not the appearance of nature… but the sensations nature arouses, aesthetically distilled into elated energy”.