Saturday, February 11, 2017

Why do I paint?

 'Nostalgie IV', Oil, ashes and charcoal on burned panel.

I do not subscribe to this idea that one medium is inferior to another, that because of personal preference or belief in the superiority of a medium one can privilege one over the other.  Typically this kind of privileging has to do with one’s belief in commodification or authenticity or even identity (gender roles or otherwise). Within each medium is a notion of the pure and authentic vs the commodified and naturalized, the radical vs the reactionary, the medium of action vs the reactive medium (if you like Nietzche for example).   I also don’t subscribe to the notion of radical art as coming only from the ‘less privileged’ or the ‘marginalized’ mediums.  This, in a complete 360 degree turn manages only to privilege those forms of art vs the others, not in any sort of radical shift, but rather in a totally normalized way.  Privileging certain forms of art turns those forms into the ‘Other.’  Given the amount of time, space, media attention that these ‘other’ mediums receive in the institutional system and outside of it, this argument is completely out of its own element.  What am I talking about specifically?  Since the late 1960s the ‘marginal’ mediums have historically been performance, video, installation, conceptual, and ephemeral art.  Institutions typically refer to the university, the museum, the gallery.  Interestingly however, because of the institutionalization of theory via its embedding within the university in the 1970s, these marginal mediums became the preferred mediums of the institutions themselves.  This did not happen overnight, but to be certain, video art is today no less inferior than painting, and sculpture is not less superior than performance.  The institutionalization of all these media made certain that the edge that each once had have been thoroughly blunted and the radical was turned into the merely consequential.  What seems like an innocuous enough notion of levelling of the playing field appears in actuality as a push for the privileging of a different form of art. But why?  If identity politics is to be believed the reason for this privileging of the ‘other’ media is not because of what they are but because of what they represent.  Painting and sculpture represent the old world, the conservative, hierarchical, patriarchal system of oppression while performance and video represent progress and inclusivity.  The strangest operation is at work here however.  While ephemeral arts seem to operate in the realm of equality and universality while contending that painting and sculpture might in some way be elitist because of their ties to money, such as corporate funds, private collections, and so on (and this is in fact true, but this is not why they are elitist), they themselves focus on particularity in the forms of identity as opposed to the universalist ideals of their earlier incarnations, becoming elitist in their own right.  

Personally I believe that identity theory is anything but a usable theory for going forward.  Identity politics with its focus on the body, gender, orientation, race, only deflects the issues without solving any of them.  It is a dead end in the institutionalized knowledge and commercial structure of the art world.  While I understand the urgency and vehemence of the proponents and I am absolutely behind the struggle for equality for all races and genders, I believe that this is a fight that cannot be fought and won in the realm of art, at least not until major ruptures and cracks appear in the institutional system.  We must remember that systems are created to absorb and nullify dissent.  What are we accomplishing by creating an institution out of identity politics?  Only an arena in which individuals must prostrate themselves within a guilt ridden spectacle of a type of struggle session that leaves everyone equally guilty and equally culpable.  

So this is why I paint.  It is not a political or social belief, but rather a belief in the medium itself as a vehicle for a deeper truth, and this goes for all other mediums.  Each medium has within it the potential for a deeper meaning and a type of truth that is masked by the false consciousness that we give it when we make it into an institution.   The new paintings are a result of years of trial and error, thinking and experience and lots of reading.  By going through many mediums I’ve arrived a point in which I was able to get rid of a lot of excessive ‘stuff’ like color and the need to say everything all at once in every piece.  The work is narrowed and shows bit by bit the whole picture.  While these paintings are mostly of smoke clouds from local wildfires, painted from photographs I took myself, they refer to much more than that, memory, nostalgia, the terrible and the beautiful sides of nature and so on.  The truth is somewhere in there, but very difficult to dig out.

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