'Nostalgie V' (detail). Oil, ashes and charcoal on burned panel.
Ok, it may seem a bit ironic that I am in a lot of ways somebody that is concerned with everything that underlies a surface to the detriment of the surface itself and then go about making work that for all intents and purposes is almost nothing but surface itself. These are mere appearances I claim. And yes, to be completely truthful here, I love the surface when there is something to look at. What am I talking about here?
Let’s suppose you take a drive through LA or New York City. What do you see? Probably lots of buildings, people, concrete, streets, windows, neighborhoods and so on. There is a lot of industry and industrial areas, places that are on the upswing and on the downswing, gentrification and lots of grit. Yes, it’s the grit that is most often ignored and later romanticized once it’s swept away, that’s the march of culture through the streets and that was the march of civilization through the ‘wilderness’ of the uncharted territories. The grit is here and now, but how seldom that gets shown is almost staggering. Though there are obvious purveyors of grit, one may not know or realize this when casually thinking about the concept of what constitutes a New York or LA art scene. There may in fact be the opposite happening, the slicked surface treatments of a once flashy popism, the ‘controversial’ application of household goods and foodstuffs to canvases, or the somewhat tried and true but tired soft sculpture fiber arts turned painting that betrays its homages to Oldenburg. I saw a kind of ‘grit’ on display during a Trecartin show at Regen Projects that was anything but a cleaned up attempt at authenticity coming from experience that read more like a high fiving session after a viral video campaign aimed at helping the ‘underprivileged.’ This sounds cynical, and it should, because the new cynicism is exactly this, a gentrified version of the real thing for the safe consumption of the moneyed classes.
But this is not all there is and surface does have a redeeming quality. Even a slick surface is rife with meaning when handled properly and not for its all too obvious function as a ‘comment’ on pop culture. I am more closely aligned with the distressed surfaces of a Leonardo Drew installation than the supposed roughness of Sterling Ruby (though I do enjoy some of his work).
The roughness of my paintings is seductive in some way, at least I’ve heard as much. It’s hard to be one’s own critic sometimes and very easy on other occasions. In these pieces I wanted to have the surface speak for itself while giving it air to breathe. The paintings sit on top as much as they are a part of the surface itself. The images are taken from local fires, sometimes of ruins and landscapes. The clouds themselves have a surface that is bulbous and almost opulent in appearance but this gets betrayed by the fact that the surface is itself an illusion, you can’t actually touch it. The smoke or ash clouds are represented on the surface of the painting by actual ashes rubbed into the surface after burning, a redoubling of the subject as such. But ashes are much more than this too. They are remainders and a type of memory of the objects they once were. Something about ashes is very powerful t the mind because within are housed memories and emotions tied to events of fire and the type of reverie that spring from it. It’s this remainder that one has to question. What was it that gave it its form, what had to be burned down to make this possible? Of course the answers could be anything since most materials will burn down to this substance in a high enough blaze. Alchemically, the ashes also hold all of the necessary information, an imprint, of its previous incarnation resulting in its ‘salt’ or seed. And just like the fire that burns down anything into ashes, it’s a force that can heat food and keep us warm. The ashes become the ‘seed’ for the next generation of plant life and so on. Perhaps Gaston Bachelard summarized fire in the best possible way by saying that fire ‘shines in heaven and burns in hell.’