Unreal Nature

February 20, 2017

Something That Is Blocking Your Mental and Physical Path

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… the rewards of painting are to be found in the degree to which specifics belie expectations …

This is from Sylvia Plimack Mangold’s interview with her husband, found in Robert Mangold (2000):

[ … ]

Sylvia Plimack Mangold: In my view there is a distinction between painting that relies on the physical world for its imagery and work that doesn’t. Your physical world, ‘your kind of painting,’ consists of your materials and the surface on which you paint. These have a reality and a presence, and this presence is not disguised as something else.

Robert Mangold: I think this is correct. I want the work to be directly in front of you, something that is blocking your mental and physical path. You can size it up and walk away, but you can’t see it as a recording or a translation of what is already in the world.

The following is from the book’s essay ‘Betwixt and Between’ by Robert Storr:


… [this is the last paragraph of a seven (all equally long) paragraph description] Although the entirety of the painting is accessible from any location in front of it, the expanse of the work lends itself to distinct views. At a distance from the painting roughly equal to its length, the composition falls into place like a majestic icon that is liminally askew. Step to one side or the other and the disparity between the curves in the two end panels are perspectively averaged out, but the ellipses begin to bow and rock.

[line break added] Step towards the painting ten feet and the greys swell outward while added understanding of precisely how their erratic roller edge locks into the blue, causing that edge to flicker and respond magnetically to the nearest of the similarly active gaps between canvases, and this causes the grey to slide back and forth. But for those gaps the grey would advance ahead of the blue as one approaches the canvas; however, awareness of the absolute flatness of the painting snaps it back into place, destroying the illusion at the moment of its birth.

[line break added] Walk close to the painting from one extreme to the other, and the sequence of shapes, lines and intervals goes by like the on-again-off-again vistas glimpsed out the window of a train passing in and out of a string of tunnels. Combine all these views, all these discoveries, all these attempts to pin down what is and isn’t occurring within its confines and you have Blue/Black Five-panel Zone Painting (1998) by Robert Mangold.


Descriptions of painting can be tedious to read. For those who love painting they are not tedious to write; they make you look harder, and you indulge yourself in the hope that some of the picture-lust that inspired the effort is present in the retelling. Currently many professional critics favor more abstract styles of discourse.

[line break added] The problem is that abstract discourse about abstract art encourages the belief that the important things to be said about such art are general, and that only specialists need concern themselves with details of appearance and method. As a result members of the public are often told what a work means before they are told what it is.

This approach effectively splits the audience in two, and cheats both sides.

[ … ]

… if the reader finds that description [of Blue/Black, part of which is given above] wanting — or at any point tires of the broader discussion of Mangold’s art that follows — they should not blame the artist but recapitulate the exercise for themselves by standing in front of a comparable work and patiently detailing an alternative first-hand version of their own.

[line break added] So doing they will bypass the art critic as middle-man with that middle-man’s blessing, and put themselves in the position of the painter who on a daily basis returns to the particulars of his practice to ask himself what is distinctive about them, and in what combinations those particulars are sufficient to the demands of the pictorial conventions from which they were extracted and to which they transformationally respond. The only answers to those questions are specific, and as Mangold’s work demonstrates time and again, the rewards of painting are to be found in the degree to which specifics belie expectations and unique visual events undo the straight-jacket of inherited form and received aesthetic wisdom.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




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