Wednesday, June 30

Ambiguity as Relationship

I learned how to paint very traditionally. I hesitate using the word classical, since even though I was taught to look at the masters and art history - and had certain ideals hammered into me, like a full 8 semesters of drawing) - my education as an undergraduate painter was more about structure and practice. I began as a student and am now becoming a painter.

So I learned how to make things right. Even though this meant disregarding grandiose art world statements. As an undergrad I even remember a few of us taking a short trip to see RISD's undergrad thesis exhibits. We were intimidated that they might be producing work that was more important than ourselves (and by the way - who was producing important work at that stage?). But when we saw their exhibit, were relieved to find work full of over-reaching themes, grand world statements and conceptual artifice but a lack of any technical skill.

 So we had comforted ourselves: we knew how to paint and draw so we would be better off. I'm not sure if that is true now, but certainly it was true for me. I needed to build structure in my practice before tearing it all apart. I used to envy artists at that age who seemed to have it together. But did they? Were they just endowed with a better creative sense of cool and not cool? Or were they just doing what they did best, and avoiding what they couldn't do: paint?
On the phone with a friend a few years ago, her in graduate school, we laughed, "Isn't it funny how long it takes just to learn how to fuck things up?" Not that we wished for chaos, but with all that structure and figurative thinking embedded, we were just now learning how to let go.

Matt Stangel in the Mercury, reviews Storm Tharp's Hercules at PDX Contemporary.
While Hercules functions to identify and reveal the harmonious relationships between objects, those objects are often very different, representing many approaches to art and at varying degrees of refinement. Perfection, then, isn't so much one specific type of relationship communicated any single way, but the expository nature of relationships in general. "Perfection is a relationship," says Tharp.
But as I am finding lately, ambiguity is also a relationship. And when I'm painting now, I'm after that uncertainty. I have identified my tendency to overwork and make things overwrought. And have understood sometimes overworking is exactly what needs to occur to then make something I trust and can live with. Anotherwords: I overwork it and then destroy it. I put it there to satisfy myself then remove it.

The relationships among things in an image sometimes are about what is not there, or about things vividly seen and completely not understood. Shortly after school, taking a job at the MFA, Boston, I remember always being stunned by the way the figure Julia and her doll were painted in John Singer Sargent's Daughts of Edward D. Boit. As exact and sensual those figures are, up-close there are traces of things having been moved around. Up-close, there are only a few swooping marks and things make less sense.

I used to believe I was in awe of a painting like that for it's mastery, for it's sensual realism. But now, I realize that I was actually intrigued by the areas that didn't make sense and how they existed with the ones that did. I was interested in those areas of abstract ambiguity against real hard articulation. And that intersection, that relationship is where I think perfection might be for me.

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