Friday, September 30, 2011

Blindness vs The New Death

Joan Jonas - Mirror Piece I - 1969
- Guggenheim Museum
I recently watched the film Michael Clayton for the second time. This is not just an excellent thriller, it is also a story that brilliantly reveals the way we walk through our lives ignoring the truth of injustices happening in front of us. In the film, the injustices are perpetrated by an agricultural corporation, Unorth, (Monsanto?) poisoning local ground water with the run-off of from their toxic fertilizers. The film speaks to the double-sided face of corporations, how outward marketing counters the inherent corporate culture of greed and narcissism, and how we all "buy-in" to the face of things and not the reality. The character who "wakes up" to his role in the "system" does so only by becoming "crazy."

Saul Bellow writes in his novel More Die of Heartbreak:
"In the West, the ordeal is of a new death. There aren't any words for what happens to the soul in the free world. Never mind 'rising entitlements,' never mind the luxury 'life-style.' Our buried judgment knows better. All this is seen by remote centers of consciousness, which struggle against full wakefulness. Full wakefulness would make us face up to the new death, the peculiar ordeal of our side of the world. The opening of a true consciousness to what is actually occurring would be a purgatory."
It seems that the single, core value in business these days is profitability. How did we get here?? How is it that the fight in Congress is to ensure that the only responsibility businesses have is to their own bottom line? What happened to the idea that businesses could make money and also support their workers and their local community? Yes, profits might be less, but does that matter if other values are equally important? We have literally bought the system we have, through our purchases, and we do so willingly. We put on blinders every day to the power we wield in fostering these institutions.

As Michael Clayton points out, we are all a part of this system that encourages us to be blind to our role and actions in this profitability culture. We buy their products, we vote for their politicians, we accept that paradigm. Waking up, as Bellow says, "would be a purgatory." Such consciousness is too painful. And since this evil of conscious ignorance is part of our daily lives, resisting it has become an individualized and personal battle. (The only power "we the people" have left are in unions, and this is why there is a clear and powerful attempt to break them up.)
"Evil in [Jane] Austen, as in most great fiction, lies in the inability to "see" others, hence to empathize with them. What is frightening is that this blindness can exist in the best of us as well as the worst. We are all capable of becoming the blind censor, of imposing our visions and desires on others. Once evil is individualized, becoming part of everyday life, the way of resisting it also becomes individual. How does the soul survive? is the essential question. And the response is: through love and imagination ... "Perhaps to remain a poet in such circumstances," Bellow wrote, "is also to reach the heart of politics. The human feelings, human experiences, the human form and face, recover their proper place--the foreground." Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran
Of course the corporate strangle hold on us and the media was articulated well in the speech from Network (1976).
You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no third worlds. There is no West. There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multivariate, multinational dominion of dollars. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, reichmarks, rins, rubles, pounds, and shekels. It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic and subatomic and galactic structure of things today! And YOU have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and YOU... WILL... ATONE! Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale? You get up on your little twenty-one inch screen and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM, and ITT, and AT&T, and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today. What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state, Karl Marx? They get out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories, minimax solutions, and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments, just like we do. We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable bylaws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale. It has been since man crawled out of the slime. And our children will live, Mr. Beale, to see that... perfect world... in which there's no war or famine, oppression or brutality. One vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock. All necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused. And I have chosen you, Mr. Beale, to preach this evangel.
But Network also provided a speech articulating the drive and fight of the individual against the status quo. It's the very essence of Occupy Wall Street.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Die Like You Really Mean It

Doug Young - Untitled - 2011
Die Like You Really Mean It is a group exhibition at the Allegra LaViolla Gallery that celebrates painting as a healthy, living, and variegated mode of art making in New York. Each work selected emphasizes artistic passion and registers as a highly charged expression of the individual artist.  In contrast to the intentionally ironic, these paintings are sincere and, at times, viscerally rendered.

I interviewed Doug Young, one of twenty-one artists featured in the exhibition, about art-making and his new body of work. His two included pieces  -- Untitled (seen above) and Hallway -- are from a series of reverse paintings on glass rendered with automotive paints and ensconced in monumental, graphite-finished wooden frames. These works are confrontational as paintings, objects, and images. The paint is direct and assertive, yet whimsical and quirky. The imagery included in the exhibition is evocative of childhood wonder and curiosity, yet haunting and resonant of the out-of-body.

Die Like You Really Mean It is on view October 26 through December 03, 2011. Opening reception: October 26, 6-9pm.

Hallway - 2010
Wanderlust: So you have a new body of work…reverse paintings on glass. They differ substantially from the sculptural work you’ve done in the past. Tell me how these paintings came into being and a bit about how they’re made.

Doug Young: Well, I started out as a painter, but I stopped making paintings for about 5 years. I was throwing around ideas about how to get back into oil on canvas, but I didn’t want to go back to exactly that routine. Every time I started a new sculpture, I asked myself “how would this look from a 2-d perspective?” I had an idea for a sculpture that sat around in my head for a couple of years about capturing the vantage point from the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. In the meantime, I was at a flea market and I came across an old painting on glass…an Asian landscape embellished with gold leaf and reflective paints. Something clicked. I said, this is how I’m going to get back to making 2-dimensional works.

I thought that the image from inside the Millennium Falcon would be the perfect starter painting because it references glass, thereby making sense conceptually and visually. It is also an iconic image of Han Solo going into hyperspace and, as with my past work, using imagery of childhood wonders is compelling.

But now I had to figure out how to do this. I tested out how to adhere paint to glass and through these experiments I came across automotive paint, which has a lustrous surface and would further establish the attitude of the image.

Diamond - 2011
W: So, what’s the process of how these paintings are made?

DY: The bare bones is that I simply apply paint to the reverse side of glass by any means necessary. It’s strange how each image provides unique paths into its creation. None of the paintings are created in exactly the same way, which is one of the things I was dreading might happen. One can be a servant to a technique and that is not the case here. I keep finding new problems to solve with each new painting.

Painting in process
W: Why glass and what are the means? Paintbrush?

DY: The paint is both sprayed on and cut away with the help of various tools. And the reverse application on glass allows for a unique surface to come into play, the breadth of which is endless. The application of paint is born through a constructive strategy rather than a romantic brush stroke. It is in this construction that I draw parallels to making sculpture. In fact, as objects they relate to my interest in the crafting of folk art. Some of my past sculptures have dealt with popular traditions such as rug hooking and tramp art.

Diamond, Untitled, Helmet - all 2011
W: Can you talk a bit about the two sizes of your paintings? Some are large, monumental works in massive frames, and others are smaller and more intimate.

DY: It depends on the image whether it gets a large or small format. Some images work better on the scale of a personal experience and not shared. However, I wanted to establish a sense of neutrality through the continuous use of the square format, in order to maintain an awareness of the image as an object and not as a “painting.”

W: I love how many of these works function as windows rather than frames. It seems intentional…with the Milennium Falcon, the motorcycle helmet, and the death chamber images in particular. Is this important to you when selecting an image?

DY: Not necessarily. I am less focused on being a voyeur, which a window alludes to, and more focused on capturing fundamentals of human spirit. For example, in Untitled (death chamber) you can view it as a window into an execution room, which it is, but I chose that vantage point less for its naturalistic attributes and more for capturing the ethereal characteristics of dread and the fear of dying. And it just so happens that the automotive paint facilitates this quite nicely, allowing the viewer to experience a transition from the corporeal to the out-of-body.

W: There are graphic qualities and pop-like elements to your work that remind me a bit of Ed Ruscha? Do you see a connection with him, or any other artist?

DY: With regards with Ed Ruscha I see less of a direct linear connection and more of how we both have a dialogue with the surface of the “canvas.” However, the shared romantic notion with Hollywood movie making and the drama of cinema is a direct path for stimulating new ideas for work, and a rich, compelling and engaging subject.

HAL - 2010
W: In Richard Hamilton’s obituary from the New York Times. I came across a quote of his from 1961 that made me think of your work. “If the artist is not to lose much of his ancient purpose, he may have to plunder the popular arts to recover the imagery which is his rightful inheritance.” Do you agree?

DY: Yes, I agree. I feel some images have timeless attributes despite their current connotations. These images, although they come from popular culture, can elicit a stirring, personal experience. And who is to say, on a poetic level, who owns such images?

Saturday, September 10, 2011


David Andree - untitled (two squares) - 2010 - found image cut collage on paper
"We must for dear life make our own counter-realities" ~ Henry James