Small Paintings 2013 & the Festive Suite

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The ‘Small Paintings’ from the Fall of 2013 were begun with pours which were dried to produce crazed centers, in the way the Rocaille Paper works of 1987 – 89, and the Slab Paintings of 1987 were. By keeping the canvas borders I allowed these pours to become central figures and by introducing banding, straps, ellipses, and cut outs, I create an illusionistic space, within abstraction. I began introducing illusionistic space in the large scale works, shown in Toronto, Canada, of New New Illusionism in 2000.

These are the first group of small paintings I have made since the mid to late 1990’s.

The ‘Festive Suite’ poured in December 2013 and finished in the months that followed, began in the same way, but have glitter as their central colours. Glitter colour offers illumination and a somewhat spatial ambiguity, which aids in the drawing of an illusion, articulated again by the banding, straps and elliptical drawing. They are entitled ‘The Festive Suite’ for their December date and because of their association with societal use of seasonal reflective materials.

Western painting has evolved spatially from the illusionistic painting of the 17th, 18th 19th Centuries towards Abstraction, which by the 20th Century had brought about the increased flattening of the pictorial space. Advanced by the Impressionists, and epitomized in the work of Jackson Pollock and the artists of the New York School, my generation, and specifically the work of New New Painting, expanded throughout the 1980’s and, 90’s, beyond flatness, towards physicality and dimensional painting.

In the 21st Century this has dimensionality has been evolved, by some of the former New New Painters, specifically, Bruce Piermarini and Marjorie Minkin and myself, into a new realm of illusionistic abstraction, where illusionistic space is addressed by abstract means. The use of perspective, modeling and shading, so much a part of centuries past, and virtually eliminated in Modernism, is being returned in a new way.

This is what I am involved with in my work today and in these new Small Paintings

What are these paintings about? ………... The narrative vs. perception

I do not paint from observation but rather my work evolves from formal invention, and the general exploration of paint forms, informed by the work itself. I have for many years explored various motifs and the formal concerns discussed in the introduction above.

Many forms in nature have parallels with the way I paint. My painting is informed by a vicarious observation of nature and my invented paint processes involving organic and geometric compositions.

I photograph some of these forms on occasion, Winter Tracks 2014

The formations I create, with pouring and inducing crazing in the paint layers, are akin to the Earth’s surfaces. I essentially create ponds and then dry them leaving crazed formations. My paintings read like topographical landscapes and I love to see the earth from the air, from scuba diving and snorkelling. I am exploring the natural forms of paint rheology, flow dynamics, and shaping, contrasting these formations with the geometrical elements I introduce.

The compositions I create parallel the character of the natural habitat and the man-made forms such as roads, fences, power, rail and pipelines, which draw divisions on the landscape. Oil spills are an extreme example of such contrasts, with brightly coloured barriers on the land or floating on the sea. This human activity and the Earth’s surface are the ‘subjects’ and ‘imagery’ I associate with my paintings.

My work is not politically-based nor made as an act of protest against forms of human activity, such as pipelines, but rather reveals and addresses indirectly some of the ‘issues’ we face in our society. I am concerned with the well-being of the Earth, as we all must be, and with the well being of society. We live in a world where some women are denied education and the killing of fellow humans remains rampant over differences in political, cultural or religious beliefs. This suppression, exploitation and hatred towards fellow human beings is abhorrent to me. In contrast I see making art as an act of openness, tolerance and acceptance of the new and unknown. Being able to make art, as I choose, in a free and open society, is the ultimate privilege, and I cherish it.

My belief is that for art to be art, it must engage the language of aesthetics, and ideally be innovative, irrespective of its subject, agenda or message. A narrative alone is not enough to justify work, as art, however relevant the message may be. Without aesthetic innovation, a work is reduced to a didactic story-telling device, such as has been employed by many a political regime and as has become popular today.

For most people it may be much easier to tell a story than paint the picture. And it may be easier to read an artist's statement and to agree or disagree intellectually than it may be to ‘see’ and evaluate the quality of a painting. In my opinion, the ‘artist’s statement’ has merit, but may have become a misused measure in assessing artistic merit. The alternative requires people to develop aesthetic ability, which takes aptitude and continued experience and is, it would seem, generally harder to perceive. Art, I would assert, is firstly a perception, no matter the ‘content’ of the artist's statement.

But is it really so hard to tell what we see as good? We all know that when we meet or pass someone in the street we have an immediate and involuntary perception. That same involuntary perception is true when we see art or anything. Trusting that response and refining it by repeated experience is how we grow perceptually. It’s the same for art.

Curators need exhibits that attract audiences. Overheads must be covered and this is a reality that has suppressed ‘art for art's sake’. Paintings and sculptures with no ‘bells and whistles’ are a hard public sell over the attraction of audiovisual installations. It is a reality of changing curatorial sensibilities and institutional survival that makes it harder for mainstream contemporary painting and sculpture to gain exposure.

GP May 1, 2014