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By: Jane Boyer
This blog looks at the benefits and pitfalls of working in isolation. One significant aspect of this isolation is a rich and deepening understanding of art history. I'll explore that relationship to my work, my practice and my efforts to bridge the gap.
# 21 [6 October 2010]
In response to David Minton's question on my post #19
A great question David, and straight to the heart of the matter! He asks, 'How does the work that you make engage the description that you give to it?' That is precisely what I am trying to find out if I do successfully. Let me try and answer on two levels, first in regards to title, because the title is a sort of description for me and second in terms of theory.
I like short, concise, preferably one word titles. I like them because I want to hint at my meaning for the work without confounding a viewer with a long title that may interfere with their own reading of the work. I often find a title as I work and it is often a very intuitive thing; simply, something will occur to me. If that doesn't happen, I consider the work until something comes. In either case, I question then if the title relates to the work, to the concept/theory and does it help to bring the work and theory together. I have to feel that it does all those things before I keep the title.
I've been told, 'the theory comes from the work; don't try to make your work fit theory!' Sorry, but I don't work that way. I do agree that trying to make work according to a rigid set of theory rules could be very confining (although, I don't think Mondrian found it so), and work made from theory risks becoming contrived. But for me having theory circling in my head as I enter the studio arms me for battle, so to speak. When I enter the studio and confront the white, all of the things I've been studying and reading go with me. I never confront the white unarmed.
But have I been successful? Does the work I make engage the description I give to it?
Well, one of the ways it engages the description is perhaps through what I could call 'the mirror element' or 'duality' as I said originally in post #19. Two similar elements suggest a split or confrontation and as I'm working with the concept of the impossibility of the self to fully identify with itself, this seems fitting. There are also disembodied fragments or features in my work which could suggest this limitation of identity.
I also explore the paradoxical idea that context defines and obliterates the self (or the identity of the self, if you like). I think this may be visible by the imperfect and chance occurrences which happen in my work, areas of collision and by the use of gesture itself. The gestures in my work are not heroic; they are gestures of transience - fleeting, momentary, and tentative. There is an identity behind the gestures, making the gestures, but this self isn't given full allowance to state or stake its presence. It is an interrupted identity.
Sean Burke's 'The Death and Return of the Author' has influenced my concepts of the self a lot. It boils down to the fact that even if an author or artist removes their voice or themselves from a work, very much as Burgin does in his conceptual pieces, the audience still takes their direction from the 'voice' in the piece, reading it as the voice of the artist. So the author/artist can never fully remove himself from the perception of his presence by the viewer. My use of gesture is the 'return of the artist' in the notion of the self and the post-structural effort to kill off the self (as in death of the author). Likewise, I don't use gesture in the way the Abstract Expressionists used it; a sort of 'I am man hear me roar!' My gesture knows it hasn't got long to state its case. I think that feeling of movement, transience and perhaps even agitation is visible.
I hope that has answered your question, David, because, man was that hard!
# 22 [16 October 2010]
What are the boundaries of isolation?
I feel myself in a funny place; mentally, I'm engaged and could be even more so, physically, I'm still in rural France working and learning alone.
Straddling engagement and isolation brings up questions of self determination because it seems, now, more than ever I must bring to bear all my experience, knowledge and talent to propel myself forward. I must find the right measure and order of each of these things. The emphasis here is I must do this; the I which has been determined by social influences but yet acts alone. Not only must I use what I have gained and all that I am, but I must also add to and perhaps redefine the gain and myself. I must continue to fund my experience and knowledge and perhaps find undiscovered talents.
When I started this blog my goal was to engage with other artists and all my thanks to the Artists Talking community for helping me to do this. I have found new artist friends and colleagues and new opportunities are opening up to me, it is wonderful. I'm moving from a position of total self containment to one where I bump into others.
In that contained environment I thought as I liked, explored as I liked and did what I liked all in relation to a very nebulous 'out there' idea of art world conditions. Bumping into others is in many ways far more stimulating but more unnerving. The comfort of knowing what I mean and how I mean within the confines of my thoughts is not translatable to others. I am left with knowing my mind and all the world is outside of that. Perhaps it isn't possible to move from the straddling position of engagement and isolation - we all straddle the same gap. Maybe the trick is to keep both in view and in balance neither fearing the isolation nor the engagement.
# 23 [31 October 2010]
Thanks so much to Rosalind Davis for the warm welcome in her recent blog postings. I am delighted to be a new member of Cor Blimey Arts. We're already busy at work and it is such a pleasure working with an energetic group of like-minded people. I'm especially excited right now because I'm going to be in London at the end of November for the PV of Relay at Core Gallery, November 26, which means I get the chance to meet some of my blog friends!
Relay is going to be a really great show. Cor Blimey Artists are exploring their curatorial skills by inviting one guest artist each to exhibit. There will be over forty artists exhibiting in pairs exploring a vast array of topics. Go to the Core Gallery site for more info: www.coregallery.co.uk
I invited Annabel Tilley to be my guest artist. Our collaborative wall installation is entitled Extreme Narrative. We explore interrupted identity through a pairing of her '64 almost-identical drawings of Josef Fritzl blindfolded' and my '6 obliterations'.
A chill runs down my spine when I contemplate the meaning of my work when placed next to hers. Context, context, context.
For a preview of our Extreme Narrative go to my news page at http://www.jlbfineart.com/News.html
The frontiers of isolation have just shifted - hooray!!
# 24 [6 November 2010]
Hot Chestnut Man LIVES!
# 25 [10 November 2010]
WOW! is all I can manage to get my fingers to type at the moment. Many thanks to Sarah Rowles for choosing my blog, along with Jo Moore's blog, as choice blogs; I am delighted to be chosen with Jo because her blog is one of my favorites too. It is also with many thanks to a-n Artists Talking. Without this platform to connect, I would never have been able to reach so many other artists to discuss issues about work.
I have been thinking about my blog recently, because things have suddenly shifted for me. As a new member of Cor Blimey Arts I am no longer isolated in many respects, even though I do still work and study alone, as I mentioned in a recent post. In effect, I have bridged the gap of isolation with the help and generosity of the blogging community. And so, I've been wondering if my blog and its title are still relevant. Happily, I can say I believe they are. Even without this much appreciated affirmation from Sarah, I had come to the conclusion that the isolation I still face is one we all face as artists. We all think alone and we all face the audience alone.
There is also no denying the fact that our position, wherever that may be for each of us, places us in context with history, in all its manifestations. As artists we must face that as well. History is becoming a non-linear thing for me and I'm discovering through reading, it is for other thinkers as well. To move one's thoughts from a linear progression to a globular (my favorite image of history at the moment) entity of occurrence seems full of intrigue. If you stop for a moment and think of all the things happening at this very moment, it can't be rendered as linear, or if it can the lines will create a mass because there are just so many things happening in so many places in the same synchronous moment; boggles my mind!
So I will continue to talk about isolation and history because I still live with mine everyday as I suspect you do too.
# 26 [16 November 2010]
I was asked recently, by Chantelle Purcell of Core Gallery, about transience in my work (see link below for the full interview with Chantelle). She saw a Deleuzian sense of becoming and an unresolved quality to the work, something I thought was very interesting. I admit I'm not too familiar with Deleuze, but I knew his name from reading art history. That was as far as my knowledge went, so I looked him up and I found this:
"Underneath all reason lies delirium and drift."
Now that's as tasty as chocolate to me!
The division between reason and irrationality is so thin it shimmers. What reason can we hold onto when everything around us shifts so constantly? And what irrationality must we embrace in order to flow with that shift?
I've had a lot of experience with transience and I've had to come to terms with those two questions. As I told Chantelle, transience is what is real for me.
Transience and isolation go hand-in-hand. I've had to deal with isolation in so many other ways that the isolation of working alone as an artist really isn't that bad. For me, the difficulty of isolation as an artist is questioning whether the work is any good. We all make work we like and I'm just as certain we all wonder if anyone else will like it.
And I don't believe for a second it is as simple as that statement appears.
I feel a deep satisfaction with my work, I'm pleased with what I've produced and I'm not really too bothered by the idea that others may not like it or respond to it. When I show my work, I'm not offended if people don't like it; I sort of mentally shrug and move on. But when people do respond to it, I give a mental sigh of relief. It's not the approbation of being liked it's more the discovery of common ground. It's like discovering a crazy passion for something in common with a friend.
In that moment isolation and transience dissipate and there is connection. Is this why we feel compelled to make art? Is that feeling so profound for us that we are propelled to move forward, becoming artists in order to find it again? Do we know delirium and drift fills the space between the connections?
(All said facing into my own crit with Graham Crowley next week! eek!)
# 27 [21 November 2010]
I've been doing some homework (reading, as always) and in the course of telling my patient husband about what I had read, we had a bit of a verbal tussle. But I'm very grateful for the tussle because it sorted some things out in my thinking.
The topic of homework and ensuing discussion was 'liking'. That is, does 'liking' have any place in addressing art? That is kind of a touchy subject based on what I was reading and some of the discussions in the blogs because it invariably leads to a discussion of taste (sorry David M.). I've been sort of leaning to the side which says art is not to be liked because I can see the importance of other issues involved when considering art. But my husband being the ever rational, logical and fiercely independent individual that he is, said tosh! His point being that if 'liking' goes, art is then elitist - and he's right. This is what I came to upon reflection...
Liking has no place in determining worth, but it is very important in viewing. If we remove liking entirely from the equation, art becomes definitively elitist because only the art educated will understand the nuanced issues behind the work such as movements, history etc. and how the work may relate or not depending on its response to those things (we see it already, in abundance). Not everyone who looks at art and enjoys art has the deep understanding of art history that we who are engaged professionally with art do. I feel strongly that is the reason art shouldn't be 'just anything', notwithstanding the fact that often 'just anything' is not engaged with art history. Art should engage with the audience on many levels; one of those levels being 'liking'.
As the poster by William Morris, Jeremy Deller & Scott King protesting funding cuts says, "I do not want art for a few any more than I want education for a few, or freedom for a few". This statement has implications beyond just funding cuts to the arts.
If we make art professionally, meaning we hope to earn money from it, it must also consider the market and audience in its equation. Otherwise, it's a private activity done for one's own pleasure, period. That is not to suggest that we should make art for a market either. Art is complicated, and it should be. But we do ourselves a disservice and we keep the public at bay when we refuse to discuss our work in terms of explanation to a viewing audience. It isn't wrong to explain the work. That old argument, "the work should speak for itself!" is also elitist and serves little purpose, to my mind.
Why is it hateful to hear that someone likes what we've made? Isn't that as sincere a compliment as hearing our work creates an important link to some period in art history? I think it is and it should be given the respect it deserves.
# 28 [6 December 2010]
The sparks, both delightful and alarming, that fly when we come into contact with others is fascinating. My week in London with my pals at Core Gallery produced both kinds - mostly the delightful kind. I think it would be impossible to trace the threads of thought surrounding the conversations which came out of that week, but they were many and complex is design. I come away fuller, richer, more intelligent and bound by deeper connections. Man! Was it good!!
I think I have found a tag for my work. First question is why should I need a tag? Well, in a way it grounds what I do and if I am to speak intelligently about my work I think it helps. I call it a 'tag' because I think of it in exactly that way. It does hold a certain connotation to marketability which is not entirely comfortable and it also pins the work to a certain context. That, for me at any rate, is a bit more acceptable, but I can see for many, that too would be uncomfortable. I use the word 'tag' because of these slightly negative connotations; to ignore them would be to ignore the reality of the efforts I make to sell my work.
Referred to as post-conceptual painting, the work presented here acknowledges the legacy of conceptual art in a similar way that painting embraced cubism a century ago. This is an important issue. Too often the relationship between painting and conceptual art is wrongly presented as polarised or irreconcilable, but the approach here doesn't dictate stylistic orthodoxy; on the contrary, it is characterised by diversity and pluralism.
And secondly, as an umbrella term for painting since 1980:
The "death of painting" and its subsequent resurrection in transformed conditions is a leitmotif of the modern era. Painting's postconceptual resurgence at the start of the 1980s began a dramatic expansion of its field. If painting remains important today, it is because its contradictions have been acknowledged as artists have radically diversified the components of its production and presentation.
From the publisher's synopsis of 'Painting' by Terry R. Meyers
For my purposes, postconceptual fits my work because I am attempting to merge the abstraction of Late Modernism and the context of Conceptualism. (It's okay, you can tell me I'm being ambitious - I am.) As I said recently to my friend Annable Tilley, Late Modernism, specifically Abstract Expressionism, was incomplete because the self had no context, or rather its only context was itself, and Conceptualism was all about context but effaced the self. What will painting look like that attempts to merge the two? And why should it be important to merge the two? Perhaps my painting is what painting would look like if the two were merged, someone else I believe, will have to answer that question. It is important, I think, to merge the two because the 'bigger picture' of the reality of society today demands a fuller truth of our experience. Humanity confronts the dehumanizing effects of classification in all areas of existence. The social safety net we have become accustomed to in society is eroding. When we realize it fully, where is that going to place us?
I use gesture to symbolize the self, the individual. Up to this point I have explored the idea of the self in relation to the influence of the outside forces of a generalized time-based context. Perhaps now I need to look at how the 'thought as media', and the context and classification of Conceptualism may affect self as I have defined it in relation to time and situation. And perhaps also define the relationship of self, classified. (Gulp)
# 29 [11 December 2010]
Now Jane, I'm looking at these blogs searching for stuff to help me start painting. I'm looking to justify its manfacture in this time we live. I was forced to leave it, like a left handed person might be forced to use their right hand by social conditioning.....Paintings only remaining context is itself and I am looking so hard to disprove that. It seems the creation of images is just about healthy enough to continue making them in other media. So why dont the two quite join up anymore? Or do they and I'm in some kind of denial............. Is your dual fusion the same elixior that I'm looking for. your thoughts?
posted on 2010-12-08 by Rob Turner
Rob very kindly posted this comment on my last posting #28 and I have been considering my response very carefully. So here it is:
Rob, I think painting is as relevant today as other media, more so in a way, because it is one of the few remaining media that merge the body and mind in a tangible extension of the self. To my mind that makes its context the whole of the human experience. Certainly, other media are compelling, but too often I come away from work feeling untouched, meaning I haven't connected to what is human about the piece. The human aspect either wasn't important to the artist or 'conditioning' has convinced the artist of its unimportance. I believe that tangible extension will become more and more important as time goes on.
I think people talk about the 'death of painting' because they can't imagine anything new to do with it. I've struggled with the same issue, but you know what, I don't really care if painting has been pronounced 'dead'. I still go into the studio and am surprised by what happens, so I feel painting is anything but 'dead'. I also see other artists working with paint in a vivacious way and I'm convinced it is still very alive. Just as 'death of the author' has been proven to be untenable, so has the 'death of painting'.
Perhaps that is the question to explore in your return to painting; why don't image-making and painting join comfortably anymore? I think it is a valid and important question. It's kind of like asking, why don't the body and expression join comfortably anymore? Both are good questions, pertinent to our time. I find it interesting that the body within art seems to have changed places with expression and is being used as a symbol to express, rather than some symbol being used to express the body.
When I was in London, I saw two exhibitions which were focused on body as symbol, one sculpture and one painting, both media espoused to be 'dead':
1. Rachel Kneebone at White Cube: http://www.whitecube.com/exhibitions/rk%202010/
These figures depart from literal depictions of the body, expressing feelings directly and viscerally.
And I would add to that, Kneebone used the body and body parts to symbolize expression. Using the body not as a vehicle of expression but as a readable symbol for what it is to express.
2. G.L. Brierley at Madder 139: http://www.madder139.com/exhibitions/past.html
Looking at painting always involves perception and interpretation, but Brierley's convoluted pictures seem defined by their capacity to trigger pareidolia, a psychological phenomenon whereby a viewer recognizes shapes in abstract patterns.
These paintings were exquisitely crafted. And I think perhaps Brierley was poking fun at our propensity to see all bodies as overtly sexed and freakish. Her bodies were not the usual pleasure objects or objects of desire, but rather like stuffed toys for sex. Distorted body used to symbolize its own obsessions.
So now it's back to you, Rob. What are your thoughts?
# 30 [15 December 2010]
Part 1: Rob made this comment on my last posting #29. I am reposting it here because it got cut by word limits and is a bit chopped up. Also the links aren't live, and they really should be viewed. I will make a second posting along with this one in order to respond to Rob.
My Thoughts about painting! I will start my response with two examples of painting (or use of paint) which have shaped my whole approach to making art. A) The Ngurrara Canvas 10x8m 1997. http://www.nma.gov.au/exhibitions/ngurrara_the_great_sandy_desert_canvas_/about_the_canvas/ The painting depicts land and its history owned by aboriginals and was carried by them all the way to Canberra, while politicians amended the Native Title Acts. Then traditional dances were performed on it, this provided vivid evidence and ownership of the aboriginal lands in question, and this cultural expression bridged language breakdowns. B) The Hundertwasser House http://www.wien-vienna.com/hundertwasser.php This is a radical look at council housing architecture and communal spaces. But relies on paint for major impact and a visualisation of some kind of personal ethos! I find both totally awesome. But this is where it all goes wrong, as I made myself unemployed for about a year by submitting public art proposals and applications inspired by these. As soon as I gave up this nonsense and played the public art thing with a straight bat again. The word paint was omitted completely and work started coming in again. I want to show you another example of paintism. I started an MA thinking that this would be an ideal way to immerse myself into painting again. No that particular academic establishment did not want to be associated with paintings....sculptural installations and video were encouraged and I was thwarted and failed to complete the course. Commissioned painted murals are itchy shirts that no one wears anymore, even though I can construct the same content and imagery in mosaic and build some kind of sculpture or groundwork to display these images, without opposition. My conclusion is: If you are Anslem Keifer or an artist who makes painting their medium of expression, then I agree thats only just acceptable. And you may have to paint for five years or more before anyone believes you actually mean it. Use it in public, inside or outside as a tool to comment about society there is an attitude barrier. And I believe the only way to enjoy painting now is on an inner exploration out of ones own curiosity. If artists can find a way to make money doing that, then power to their elbow. When artists can be taken seriously if they want to use paint sometimes, is the day the phoenix rises. Bit of a rant, sorry. rob.
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Born in the USA, currently living and working in France, Jane's artistic background has been a lifelong fascination with the visual world, as she has experienced it.
With formal education and life experience in many practical things, she still relates to a world filled with forms, colors, space, relationships and distortions.
She says, "nothing tells me I'm an artist more than knowing the space in my own head".