Studio Notes: 2016 - December 202
Begin – The painting is only about trying to make an impossible situation work—riddled with errors and perfect mistakes. There is no unifying principle. The process of becoming is so nice and beautiful to behold. But this process is not sufficient to make good painting, although it is necessary.
The circles or dots came out of thinking about a zero-dimensional object, a point. By themselves, the thinking was, they had no content, no form, no role to play. But they could powerfully affect the structure beneath them as well as add important new correspondences throughout the painting space, like an information-rich overlay. It started to feel like I was building a piece of technology with the painting, like a machine. The painting parts were the elements of the machine, and their arrangement led directly to how the technology worked. This is reductionist formalism and I was open to messing with it.
Waiting for a perfect moment may take a long time. Painting well is just being able to feel the love in the painting that it took to make it—it’s encoded in there just like the time. Like how Mondrian seems boring, until you see it in person and all you want to do is stand there and cry. To work well in the studio, to be a good artist, you have to sail your ship past hope. Making this journey over and over protects you from crippling doubt and painful expectations.
Sometimes ideas come from dreams. Not often though. Dreams are not a very good source material for painting. I’m interested in how benign geometry is, and yet geometry is everything. Every subtle shift in a curve or line completely changes the attitude of the element you are working on, and can transform the painting’s affect at the large scale.
With these works I wanted to investigate difficult starting positions, initial compositions that I guessed before hand were very hard to resolve. So there are a lot of centrally placed elements like circles and ovals, lines passing through the center origin, and accents placed on the corners. Other compositions are more free because I can’t let myself get too bored and depressed by the stupidity of these starting conditions.
My thinking and technique is formal but the essence is total emotional expressionism. I hold nothing back in this regard. The formal helps to place strict limits on the emotional. For this reason the work has some kind of strange conflict with itself that I feel is mysterious. The conflict might be thought of as the engine that makes the painting work, like a dynamo that powers the painting as a system.
These works remind me of the cosmic joke—that this universe exists at all—which is so bizarre and funny. The joke becomes much richer if we assume that all universes exist, that there are infinitely many, that we just happen to live in this one and that’s the reason why it is the way that it is, and therefore requires no other explanation. I feel like these paintings are a lot like that. This anthropic reasoning infers a multiverse.
There’s like… this culture of creative specialness, that members of this class are creating some kind of inaccessible meaning. Or it is rigidly defined meaning that is intersectional and responsive to specific troubles in the world. Some believe that art should shape the world, set the terms of debate and shape the important narratives as a form of correction. I mostly have nothing to do with these objectives, but I do respect them. One time this bro walked by my table at Cherrywood when I was working on an idea and he told me “cool sketch, dude” and walked off. I thought that was a silly situation but maybe that’s what my art comes down to: Cool sketch, dude.
The work is very concerned with the inner life of shapes. Just regular old flat shapes. I try to stay away from any type of rendering because I am bad at it and it brings in unnecessary space and signifiers. I’m only interested in what the shape signifies. In the interaction of these shapes I’m not trying to be clever, but just listening and doing what the piece requires using any tool I can think of to make the thing work. This struggle is personal and boring and it’s humbling because the process feels like it would never be important to anyone. It’s nowhere near as good, for instance, as a kindergarten class that made a giant cymbal together. That would be infinitely better art than what I am making.
Painters like to talk about covering things up or wiping things away and for good reason—the act of revision, of taking a risk and then destroying, is both terrifying and extremely cathartic. The cliché is that the act of destruction, whether brought on by anger or hopelessness or despair, provides the opportunity for the new to emerge, to see through the wreckage to what the painting could be that you could have never imagined before. This cliché is absolutely true and important in painting. Writing over your initial ideas protects one from their shortsighted cleverness and petty desires.
Being alone is like being in love. No one is as secure as you think. I am concerned with structure in painting because structure will make the work strong enough to contain the absurd ideas that would otherwise overthrow the composition and send the end result into complete indulgent chaos.
You have to win your way into a painting. You have to fight for it. Sometimes the painting just gives itself to you and you can’t accept it because it was too easy. Work as if it’s the last gateway.
“Style” is just the by-product of a long chain of decisions. Whether careful reasoning or the lack thereof, in the end it’s deterministic. This reminds me of the matter-based theory of mind, that constituent physical parts create consciousness, or allow the conditions for consciousness to arise. If that’s true it is deeply weird. Paintings are kinda like that too. Every decision corresponds to an element, and the interaction of all those elements give rise to the life of a painting, sort of like its own consciousness. The work begins to have an “action” that you can feel and follow, accentuate and bring about. What I am trying to say is that so much abstract work is rightly criticized for being arbitrary. The best abstract work is never arbitrary. It is very specific. Style is also in the hand but the hand only takes one so far.
Everything is gross and everything is beautiful. When you see the world this way you are unflappable. When perception is on you are below judgment. A piece of dogshit on the side of the road is a goddamn miracle.
Small conflicts in a painting between shapes can lead to regional conflicts. Suddenly the whole work is on fire and at war with itself. In these intermediary stages there is so much energy, and you know that by tidying things up you will lose this vitality. It’s really hard to keep it. So much of the skill is keeping this energy while finishing the piece. It is a very sad thing to give this state up but it must be done. Conflict isn’t the only thing though. I love putting shapes together in odd, wacky, delightful ways. This joy in the love of painting is also important. It’s funny and weird.
Painting is fractal. Little regions bud off the main regions to create their own universes. It’s holographic too—the elements in the boundary establish correspondences to elements on the interior that are not obvious, but important all the same. The problem with what to do with the edge will haunt painters forever. I feel like thinking of it holographically, even if that is a simplistic understanding of holography—allows me to actually begin to tackle this problem in a way that poses interesting questions. I call this “the container with stuff” problem.
It’s important to work until all the “what if?” questions are gone.
How can you understand something when you are inside it? When the understander is of the thing to be understood? I feel like paintings are in this awkward predicament. They are of themselves, unknowing and struggling and expressing, in a process of becoming. The trick is to find this awkwardness and make it really explicit, so that you almost cringe to witness it. This is not an illustration of an idea though; the formal elements have to be this idea for it to work.
Why are we the subjects of our own experience? I’m not sure, but good paintings are. Circle in a circle going into explanation explaining explanation—a removal to describe removal, or at least to indicate something like this is taking place. We are almost like alien observers.
My “process”, when it’s clicking, really only comes down to asking questions about color.
A painting is done when it doesn’t have any reason to exist, and yet, it couldn’t exist in any other form. Only this specific configuration. No others would do.
I’ve gotten into sketching out next moves because I started using a lot of expensive paint for masking layers. The planned, placed element has a nice, awkward aspect to it—out of touch, unsympathetic—like stepping into a room where you know no one but have to make conversation.
It’s kinda about—everyone’s so close but not touching—everyone/thing with an air gap emergency failsafe to protect itself—that is bridged in a bigger picture with contrasting hue and texture and shape when seen from a higher dimension—only partly seen or rather implied when viewed from the 2D plane where we reside.
I like thinking about how sound frequencies can all be nested within one another and not interfere with each other to make coherent music. It’s a goddamn miracle. I think about degrees of freedom in painting where elements that are packed in tightly are all communicating simultaneously at their own wavelengths, creating the whole. Color is not so much a choice or attitude or theory for me as much as it is a way to expand the bandwidth of what can be communicated within a particular painting.
The whole process is moving from one naïve position to a point of mastery after which a new naïve state occurs in a grand cyclical structure of not knowing and beginning and when mastery occurs it is the least interesting thing but that is also what the work is.
Curves meet each other at tangent points, and sometimes that’s the rule: no overlaps allowed. The tangential squeezes out as many degrees of freedom from the flat space as possible.
It’s important to me to get lost in little spots in the painting. Not think about the whole at all. Just work spot to spot and worry about the whole later. The micro conflicts in the painting have unpredictable effects on the whole plan. Sometimes the tiniest conflict can revolutionize the entire composition. Hopefully everything works out.
It’s unclear what the point of life is but at least one of the main points of human life is art.
Beauty emerges when every single little detail is considered—first with thought—and then lovingly made.
Even that mistake can be learned to be loved. Every day is the same, and every day is amazing.
I am bound by the work’s own logic—I have no control.
Color relationships must be global, but they are also non-local. That’s what gets me. Clustered harmonies affect other clusters at distance and that’s what creates the global.
Make the painting almost like an unbearable fact. The question of “why am I even fucking doing this?” also has to disappear. Often people look at the work and are like wow that must be so fun to do. It’s not. It’s usually really boring and tedious and aggravating and difficult. Let’s live more in abstractions—in pure form and dreams.
Every move that has a starring role is just a setup. The smallest thing can break your heart—a blade of grass, a little filament of pigment on a painting. As painters we always want to make a space for something like that to happen, but it can rarely be willed. The attention given to a painting to finish it is like the roving eye of Sauron trying to nail down The Ring. None of the dumb throwaway shit in a painting is wasted.
Always in painting, remember—there are no take-backs. If you make a mistake by putting the wrong color down, consider putting the “right” color somewhere else to answer the mistake, and you may find that it offers both a rebuttal and/or mitigation—and, you build up density and unforeseen complexity. Clarifying ambiguities reveals weaknesses and deficiencies. You think it’s over but it’s not over.
Looking at the work on the wall is fine but you don’t really start thinking until you get on the palette. You can add up the sum of the parts to make the whole, as best you can, but it can just as easily not matter at all.
Finishing a piece is often (or right now) about finding and addressing unanswered questions that come out as a consequence of the wrapping structure or wholeness that I’m trying to bring about. But you don’t want to answer every question, because then there would be no space left for the piece itself. The hard part is measuring which questions to not answer in relation to the ones you have made explicit and addressed.
Sometimes increasing the density by a unit serves to perceptually decrease the density in the piece. It doesn’t matter where you put it, as long as it exists. Sometimes tilting the color balance a little bit—like adding one dot of red—can spark a revolution of contrary colors throughout the painting that respond in a non-local way.
There’s something so thrilling about putting the pencil down on the mask—it feels like letting go from my mind and letting my body move to create another little piece of a cosmos.
The balance between thinking and feeling deeply and being flippant / spontaneous. Maybe don’t worry so much if something feels unresolved—maybe that’s right where you want it to be. Working around the edges of the pieces, the edges of what is completed (good) and obvious or the edge of what is known—put a piece down that you “know” so you can reveal more areas of “unknown” to work on or more areas of “known” within the unknown.
The color is not the thing—it’s just the way to make sense of the differences invoked by the piece—the color is secondary. True color painting makes the color the main reality and experience—here, it’s just a means to an end.
Art can just be about the spiritual. Structure is meaning—it’s not the narrative that is important. Abstract myth.
The piece is done when it gets so happy and overwhelmed with emotion that it just starts to cry. Why is there something instead of nothing?