Unreal Nature

October 6, 2008

120 Dots and Instant Wholeness

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:49 am

I think one of the problems with learning to be a photographer is that you have instant wholeness.

That’s painter and sometime-photographer Chuck Close, in Portrait Theory  edited by Kelly Wise; from Lustrum Press, 1981. Talking about photography:

Once you get past competency, it’s very hard to make the way you pick up that instrument be different from the way somebody else picks up that instrument. Also, I think one of the big differences, for anybody who has made a painting, is that a painting is incomplete most of the time. Every time you add something to it, you know how that has changed what is already there. It’s like one big science experiment. You have the control situation of what you’ve already got, you introduce a new element, you see how that changes it, so you take that out, put something else in. As you put something in, you see that that now makes this look too green or too dark, so you take that out and try something else. I think one of the problems with learning to be a photographer is that you have instant wholeness.

Earlier in the essay, Close described making one of his dot paintings. Try taking his words as a description of an inkjet print from a photograph, or as any onscreen image rendered via pixels (dots).

I have done pieces where I’ve used the same image, worked from the same photograph and made pieces from the size of a postage stamp up to huge pieces like the large dot piece that the Museum of Modern Art owns. Robert  has 160,000 dots in it; it’s 7 x 9 feet, and it took me fourteen months and it’s composed of virtually identical marks … little round, sprayed ink dots. I wanted to find a way to work in which the mark itself was inarticulate. There was nothing about the mark that said this mark is a hair mark or this mark is a background mark. In using these dumb, inarticulate non-symbolic marks, it’s only the way they group together and the relationships between the marks that stack up to make a situation which reads like hair. There’s nothing in the mark itself. So in exploring those thresholds, I started with a big one … I did the big one first. I got to the point where one dot could be a piece of beard stubble or a pore, or a string of them could become a hair, or a whole cluster of them could become an eyeball, hundreds to build an eyeball. Then I worked sort of backwards, and I made another portrait of Robert with only 120 dots that’s the size of a postage stamp, where one dot has to stand for a whole area of the face. You can have fewer dots than 120, but approximately 120 are necessary to make a specific head, and part of it depends upon knowing the image from the bigger pieces so that you can recognize it in the small ones. But I think that even in those small postage stamp drawings, where there is the absolute minimum amount of information necessary to make it, it is still a specific head; it is not just an anonymous head.

The following also rings true:

… if you work from life, you can convince yourself that anything is there. You look once and you see it, and the next time you look, you don’t see it but you think, “Well, I’m sure it was there.” That reality is elusive; it’s here one minute and gone the next. The photograph doesn’t change. I can refer back to it and find out if something I thought I saw in it really is there.

And, finally, this:

The first work which was derived from and remained very close to the photograph was a 22 foot long reclining nude in color….I had the belief that the essential American image at that point, whether it was Pollock or Stella, had a consistent surface, a sense of all-overness, and that every piece was essentially the same. I wanted to approach the portrait with that same kind of lack of hierarchy … instead of what we may have thought to be true of the portrait that certain areas were more important than others. I wanted to approach it all flatfootedly in a deadpan, dumb kind of way.

The trouble with making the nude was that as you traversed the 22 feet, there were a couple of areas of the painting which tended to be more intersting to most folks than other areas, and they would congregate in front of those areas…

… because it’s funny, and because it demonstrates the impossibility of non-hierarchical viewing.

-Julie

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