Complete Slug Breakthrough

October 14, 2011

So a nagging question for me making all of the large monochrome color work has been: why is this a photograph rather than a painting?  There are obvious practical reasons involving needing a studio and the materials for making the paintings, but a few random thoughts coalesced today about the conceptual justification.  The photographs I’m making aren’t figurative but they both imply and occlude figuration in a way that’s much more intense than painting could do because painting is always mark-making while photography is a record of a presumably actual thing.  And this has been in my work since I started working but it never hit me until today.

Why this matters requires some personal history.  I’m a huge fan of the work of New Zealand photographer Gavin Hipkins.  Huge fan.  And Hipkins includes flat colors attached to his large-scale photos, or at least he has for a lot of the past two decades.  This was revelatory to me so naturally I started trying to think of a way to do that that wasn’t just a copy.  What I came up with is what I privately called slugs (not sure why).  For installations of my work, I would include prints that were flat planes of color the same size as the other photos.  The colors of these slugs would be taken via Photoshop from the surrounding images.  I did this as recently as last summer for a show in San Pedro.  I was never quite sure about the slugs though and they dropped off my radar because I haven’t had a solo show in a while and any future show I might have I can think of wouldn’t give me free reign for slugs for a number of reasons.

Then today I chanced on a blog post about the (great) artist Chris Oliveria and monochrome painting as erasure (thanks Geoff) and it hit me that what I’m doing is just making the slugs minus the surrounding photograph.  Effectively, the slug takes on a phenomenological size and crowds out the figurative photograph, or more precisely it erases it.  Figuration is still always present because the image is a photograph but it exists now as a suggestion rather than a reality.  Photography’s relationship to the “pointing at” function I’ve been writing about becomes suggested, suggestive, theoretical.  I’m producing photographs that have been wiped clear of content before the photo is even taken, opening up the image to the suggestion of narrative and meaning without resting on design or size or actual pictures to get meaning across.  The work the viewer does, then, is to make the photograph a photograph again, if it can be done, though in one way it already has.  This bends in weird ways in terms of the ontological state of what you’re looking at, i.e. whether or not it’s abstract, and it requires photography to do that because our shared idea of photography demands recording the world rather than creating it.

The specific image that triggered a flood of connections that led me through Hipkins, Robert Motherwell, Mondrian, Blinky Palermo and designer Peter Saville is below, and it’s not finished yet, and not in and of itself revelatory, but here you go as a starting point for a wild ride of refinement.

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