Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Way Forward


Digital photo 'One Day at Rest' (7:08 am) 02/07/2011.

On July second, 2011, I took more than 7,200 photos of a typical summer Saturday in our condo studio in Montreal. Four cameras, covering virtually every square inch of living space, recorded our existence from our waking at 7 am to lights out at 10:30 pm. The digital cameras were mounted surveillance style from the ceiling and at an interval of seven or eight seconds, one of the four cameras would silently record an image. I also carried a voice activated digital sound recorder throughout the day and recorded over eight hours of audio.

I plan to produce ten paintings, some drawings, etchings, an audio/video piece and anything else that strikes me as a necessary part of the project. I hope to present it all in the Jim Kempner Fine Art Underground space in New York while I finish off the last painting at my desk in the gallery, performing my daily painting ritual, for the entire run of the show. Any number of things could go wrong with this plan over the next couple of years but at least I have a way forward.

‘One Day at Rest’ is an attempt to further explore my perception of honesty, its nature and role in my work, and a more direct attempt at portraying my physical and psychological existence without the distorting filter that results from turning the camera outwards.

I’ve spent decades sporadically roaming the streets with my camera, subconsciously searching for subjects that reflected my mental state, my unease with the world. Every subject I painted spoke to me in this way, whether trailers, neon signs or derelict commercial buildings.

It took several years to consciously understand that I was searching for a way to reflect my damaged self, except I’d found a way to expose myself to the world without truly giving anything away. I hadn’t intended to perform this psychological dance of the seven veils, I thought at the time I was being pretty direct. I certainly felt the anxiety of the exposed, but a growing awareness of how people perceived my paintings made me realise I was on the wrong track.

In a gallery setting, my paintings look vaguely like photographs. Admittedly, like ink-jet photographs printed on cheap paper in fast draft mode. I’ve often explained to someone hustling past the images at an opening ‘By the way, these are paintings, not photographs!’ People would often do a double take and look a little closer but I began to feel that most were saying to themselves, ‘That could be a photo or it could possibly be a painting but I’m not interested enough to care.’ The current dogma of contemporary art appreciation doesn’t seem to allow for a small photo based painting. Ironic, given the preponderance and apparent popularity of rather dull photographs of abstract collages, photographs of paintings and photographs of photographs. I’m puzzled that people don’t seem to ‘get’ the work but I think they’ve been taught that there’s nothing to get.

When what I do no longer works for me, it’s time for a change. Art is communication and I feel that my message could do with a little reworking. It’s just an old building, how can I expect anyone to get that it represents my tortured soul, that it speaks of impermanence, mortality, alienation, the nature of and value we place on the production of culture? I’ve been hiding behind a facade, sometimes a literal facade, strangely, and it’s time to change how I show myself to the world.

Seventy two hundred photographs of me doing very personal things somehow didn’t make me feel any more exposed than my paintings of buildings or signs. For me, they are the same thing. I hope for the viewer they are something quite different.