This is the second in my out-of-gallery experience which I have dubbed Byzantine Project. “Byzantine” has two meanings: first, it has do with Byzantium, and here I am at Byzantium Lofts. Second, it means intricate or complicated (even labyrinthine), and that is inevitably what my print work turns out to be, no matter how I might try to remain simple! The gallery model seems to have passed its prime, and now serves the 1% more than it does the artists or indeed art itself. Good work has been subsumed into marketable work, repetitive art-widgets that either look good over the couch or can be bought and re-sold as commodities. With the down-trodden middle class lacking disposable income, who buys work simply because they love it and find it inspiring, even though it will not be an heirloom? Such work at reasonable prices can often be found in “alternative” spaces.
I believe artists should do what they must, and reach for that gift of lurching past the dark struggle of the creative process into the occasional incredible piece that lets us ask ourselves: wow, I did that (and can I do it again)? We artists need to be our own best critics and jurors and judges; the “likes” of others on Facebook or through sales should not dictate or corrupt our own choices, or else we have become the servants of our collectors and local art media. Through the purity of our creative processes, each unto his and her own, we can attempt to asymptotically (or perhaps Sisyphus is the more-apt role model) reach our human potential and be who we were meant to be.
Digital imaging is its own original printmaking medium: the original comes out of the printer, not the monitor or whatever intention the project started with. The process enables a confluence of visual sources and personal influences in the service of making something new and unique, as opposed to the republication of existing work. Digital artistry mirrors that process of construction and deconstruction through which the past becomes the new, and through which we literally make our mark. But, for me, it’s just another pencil, taking its rightful place in the continuum of human mark-making. I want to make marks that have never been seen before, but which relate to and intertwine with the long history of experimental printmaking.
I wrote years ago that For a long time I have not been comfortable “taking” a picture (those seen images of the world around me I can simply remember), preferring to “make” a picture instead…Our lives are collages of textures and impressions, input from here and from there, pastiches of pleasures recalled and pain endured. My current work too is not-so seamlessly cut and pasted, revised and revisited, and drawn upon from all my experience. Our daily lives may seem routine, so how nice it is to find that in our artspace we can paint caves again, or simply howl at the moon. I’ll leave the real world to those other photographers to place their well-worn rectangles upon, for the visions I assemble become truly my own.
Many years ago I used offset lithography (collaging above and below a giant graphic arts camera, making color separations by hand, printing limited editions on a Heidelberg offset press) as an original printmaking medium, although physical, time-consuming and toxic; the creative use of commercial equipment continues. I print my own work so that I am in control, assiduously, over every speck and hue. Trained and grounded as a photographer, in my recent work I have merged into drawing and painting (albeit via computer), and I steadfastly maintain that all of the visual arts are inextricably linked and so there really is no need for walls between media as both the gallery world and academia construct. A traditional (sort of) printmaker with early twenty-first century tools, my layers dissolve, transform and republish themselves into a recombinant vision.
As an un-technical non-scientist I enjoy the low-level use of emerging technology, such as iPad finger paintings which were the basis for the Bions series (they can be seen on my website). And I have a beginner’s mind when it comes to the understanding of scientific concepts, looking for connections between multiple disciplines (see Neuroscions and related statement on my website, describing my study of the history of neural imaging). Self-taught in Photoshop, I hope my lack of technical expertise frees me from the slick and glib.
Solitude is important. When I work I sit down without intention, without thought as to the final form. “Process not product”, Nathan Lyons would say at the Visual Studies Workshop. I let the process surprise and inform me and guide me towards a cohesive whole, one which I will only know when I get there. I let one series evolve into the next, staying thematically connected but always trying to improve, experiment and keep moving…
This print series in the main gallery space I have titled Fabrications, both because I have incorporated fabric into the images but also to stress that my work is indeed fabricated. I continue to be fascinated by abstraction and why it is so emotionally involving, often with bits of the real world thrown in (such as paper towels and toilet paper in these Fabrications), and I use photography as a way to create and import color and texture. But although my MFA background is in photography (photo-printmaking really), we live in a world of so many photographs that we have already seen what we are likely to be shown in the photography space. And with the proliferation of very capable smartphones all the world’s become a photographer, so we artists need to up the game and bring real value-added to our artwork. This is why I mix and re-mix and literally re-iterate in my work; after all, why make an image that has been seen before?
Fabrications also continues my artist-computer collaboration in the creation of pattern and line. Drawings both at once new and holding hands with our creative forebears going all the way back to cave painting, mark-making at its most elemental yet created in a whole new way to keep that torch alive. This series is printed on a digital photo paper that mimics the old Agfa Portriga Rapid, which allows for great detail but confounds the expectation of seeing “a photograph”. Having an armchair interest in neuroscience, especially relating to the creative process, (just like my cat patiently looking out the window to see a break in the pattern, which could be a bird or bug) I embrace the distillation of imagery to isolate only what needs to be there on the page. Through these concerns I hope to present the viewer with a ground for lingering exploration and a slate upon which to bring your whole experience to bear in completing the work (yes Marcel Duchamp).
The recent COSMOS television series featuring Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson raises some issues relevant to artwork, and which I will here paraphrase and incorporate: our artistic output may be our footprint on the vast cosmic way, an “event horizon”. He talks of photography as a form of time travel, from which we see both backwards and forward. But this is true of all imagery fixed through any creative process; we join the inter-generational community of art-workers seeking to understand their world and themselves through their creativity.
We humans now struggle to find a place in a technological world moving faster than we can comprehend, each of us from the non-techie to the scientist trying to find a crevasse to hold on to as best we can, with whatever technical skills we have (some more than others). From our imagery we squint into the future. Our work may not survive, through degradation, destruction or failure to archivally navigate the digital future (where are the floppy disks, and where will the dvd’s go; how will we keep our hard drives from obsolescence?). At least paper in files or cabinets can be read in the future; look what has happened to cinema on film which has not been restored or digitally archived. But that said and with those risks taken known and unknown, does not our imprint survive…do these images not shine somehow long after we are gone?
I close with a wonderful quote from the late Ken Price whose magnificent crystalline views into sculpture and ceramics were so lovingly and simply presented by Frank Gehry at LACMA not long ago (excerpt here from Ken Price email to Douglas Dreishpoon August 7, 2003, quoted in Ken Price, Slow and Steady Wins the Race, Works on Paper 1962-2010, The Drawing Center 2013):
Most of [the work] comes from intuition, imagination, and things I’ve discovered during the making process. The work is not meant to be rational, theoretical, philosophical or morally instructive. It’s not social or political issues, and it’s not meant as a critique of former art. It’s purpose is strictly for pleasure. It’s meaning is open to personal interpretation. I don’t think you need any instruction about how to appreciate it.