Wednesday, July 28, 2010


‘Recontextualisation’ is a word that’s been on my mind for a while. A seemingly simple concept: take something from its normal place in the world and stick it somewhere else. See what happens.

I’ve had a growing feeling that my work needs to be seen in a different way. I don’t feel that I’m doing what other photorealists are doing. I’ve suspected for a long time that my process was more a part of understanding the work than I’ve been giving it credit. I can look back on more than seventeen years of development and finally see some patterns emerging.

I’ve always felt a little uneasy about the ‘photorealism’ moniker. Mention to anyone in the art world, someone who doesn’t know what you do, that you’re a photorealist and watch the look of contempt or pity or disinterest wash over their face. ‘It looks like a photo!’ can be praise or condemnation in equal measure. Non art-world people always love that I paint recognisable images and are happy to share their own version of contempt for the non-objective art forms with me.

I’ve always wanted to paint this way, long before I realised it wouldn’t be a particularly art-world thing to do. I can’t explain my desire, it just always seemed ‘right’ but how does one get people to look past the superficial looks-like-a-photo nature of the work?

It takes me an unfathomably long time to paint a painting. The time commitment has felt more like a burden than a necessary part of the story. Why does it take me twice as long as the next person to paint a similar sized painting? I sometimes feel like an idiot savant, having stumbled upon a process without understanding how it happened.

I’ve finally reached a point where each new painting isn’t taking longer than the one previous. For years the paintings shrank from 12 X 18 inches to 8 X 12 and finally to 5.5 X 8 as I tried to find a way to produce a decent number of paintings in a year. At my last show, Ivan Karp suggested that if I produced more work I could have more shows and wouldn’t that be a good thing? I jokingly said I could produce more if they were smaller. He slowly shook his head and in a quiet voice said ‘No.... don’t make them smaller’.

As I‘ve mentioned in other posts, I record the number of hours I paint every day. I started this as a way of knowing how long it would take to produce work for a show I once had scheduled in Toronto. If I knew how many hours a painting took to paint, I could plot out my work for the upcoming months. Ten years later I still record this information every day. Something in this act relates directly to my practice or I would have stopped. It’s not just a quirk of style that makes my method so laborious.

The other day I made a surprising calculation. If one perceives the average time for the shutter to open and close on my camera as one unit of time then over 62,000,000 of those units are needed to complete the average 5.5 X 8 inch painting of the captured image.

Clearly something strange is going on here.