Unreal Nature

March 10, 2018

The Top

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

… is it coming toward you?

This is from the chapter on Bruce Conner found in Film at Wit’s End: Eight Avant-Garde Filmmakers by Stan Brakhage (1989):

… To get a personal understanding of Bruce Conner, or any of these artists, you have to remember where they came from. If you go out into a Kansas cornfield at night and stand there, as they each did, you can hear the music of the spheres; there are no other sounds to hear. I suppose that now jets fly overhead, but even when I was there recently there was still this incredible silence.

[line break added] People go to bed at 9:00 p.m. and they sleep quietly. There is no wind most of the time. It is flat as far as the eye can see, no clouds in the sky, just this unbelievably hard — and therefore terrifying — blue dome, intensely golden wheat or corn and the violent emerald green of corn stalks level to the horizon, with an occasional freakish tree desperately reaching up.

If you have that sense of the hard blue dome and the impossible silence, no wind and the tremendous summertime heat, then you might begin to know what it meant to Dorothy of The Wizard of Oz, or to anyone in Kansas, when the cyclone came. The air goes thin, drops around you, the dome massively gray, and you’re wrapped inside a stillness charged with incredible energy. Then suddenly you look and there is something moving like the finger of God back and forth across the horizon, and you ask, is it coming toward you?

[ … ]

… I brooded a lot about Bruce. He stands as a sort of metaphor. I have devoted a great deal of my life trying to become at least famous enough to fight for the things I believe in — in the art world as well as in the whole society. Bruce actually went clear to the top, got his ulcers, got abused, mis-used, got some of his work purchased, and then collapsed out and, as far as the commercial world of sculpture was concerned, became completely forgotten, all within a few years.

… he had been all the way through the system, you see. He was through and out the other side. He had his whole world of privacy intact, in a way that a person who has not achieved “the top” and given up his privacy cannot fully understand.

My most recent previous post from Brakhage’s book is here.




March 9, 2018


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:38 am

… Seeing thru’, thru’ & again thru’ …

This is from Under the Gowanus and Razor-Wire Journal: The making of two paintings 5.9.99 – 11.15.99 by Rackstraw Downes (2000). (The abbreviations for some words are as written in the text.):

[ … ]

8.9.99 … Mon. worked on 2 drawings in Liberty State Park, returning to studio c. 1:30 p.m. The first was the ‘Prato’-like lawn opp. Liberty. This was a bit stiff and cautious, the forms all so small & far away, but the rings or ellipses within ellipses are interesting. At home on the wall it looks OK — as a plan for a painting, not as a drawing. That is the great problem with drawings — the ones that have a life of their own are not necessarily good painting skeletons & ones that are good plans may be stiff, lifeless, inhibited as drawings.

[ … ]

8.11.99 … When I arrived this a.m. the giant cherry picker was parked right in my way, covering the exact spot where my easel should go. I set up anyway, thinking to work on the color of the LH side wch. was basically already in place from the drawing point of view. However, the light was so dark under the El & in the sky, on the bricks, etc. I cd. see this wasn’t going to work. At that moment a truck drove up with the cherry picker operator in it.

[line break added] We laughed and joked around at the situation, I told him about Sunday and he said he wld. move the machine as soon as he got a new battery installed. This took just a couple of minutes, then I cd. set up & work. Those boys are not allowed to set up & work till after 10 a.m. when the a.m. rush is supposed to be over, so they hung around but did not bother me a bit.

[line break added] I called Dolores to report the colonoscopy results [all good] at about 8:30 a.m. on my cell phone. After the call, the sky lightened up a lot. The cherry picker said ‘What did ya do? Call the big man upstairs & ask for more light?’ Worked all a.m. on the width & height & color of the LH leg (support) of the front trestle. In order to find it I had to retrace my steps thru’ all the little metal verticals to the right of it in the middle distance, and to redraw the big curve of the lower edge of the horizontal member of the trestle.

[line break added] Also, the way the bottom of that trestle leg lines up horizontally with the one on the right (it’s a little shorter because the paving stones & ground slopes slightly uphill to the left). Lou Kahn on measurement. Saenredam transcending measurement — height — c.f. Claude Lorrain (Naples) & c.f. RD, Snug Harbor [Maine].

[ … ]

8.16.99 Mon. Lv. house at 6:30 a.m. Pass Ros Krauss at No 14 picking up the newspapers from the stoop in her pyjamas. We exchange greetings, the N [train] comes immediately — it can be a long wait — (I go down the stairs & have chosen the right entrance, the 1st one you come to on the west side of B’way). Take Daniélou for reading material on the train. Will cars block both my possible sites, or neither?

[ … ]

8.17.99 … The N goes right thru’ without stopping. It’s still muggy and altho’ I’ve merely walked to the subway, I’m already in a sweat. As the N train came out of the tunnel into the daylight, just before the 8th Ave. stop, there were goods wagons (freight cars, open-topped) with what looked like coal in them, standing on the next parallel track. Somehow this reminded me of childhood in England. I got scared. I thought, I have no idea where I am, I don’t know what I’m doing with my time, why I’m making these unpromising paintings from these razor-wire drawings — what on earth is my life all about?

… Lots of people crowd onto this train at 36th St. & then get off a stop or 2 later. Is 36th St. a transfer station? Yes it is, to the B&M. ‘Sunset Park.’ I think these people were going to work. It’s already 7:45 a.m. A whole hour gone by on the commute. Can it be worth it for some paintings you barely believe in?

[ … ]

9.4.99 … Quit 3:15 p.m. Worked on gray day painting till c. noon. Lunch break. Then drew. Expanded both drawings — this goes surprisingly quickly & easily. Then make a new drawing from fresh spot — maybe better. Got closer to the little switchman’s building, more of it. The scene looks good in near sun, or pallid gray — the razor-wire is there but mysterious & sneaky, fugitive.

[line break added] At first there was a car in the way of all four ‘spots,’ but managed to squeeze into the gray day giant sumac spot [used on a previous day]. Then the sun came out & ruined it, but soon went in again & the owner of the car-in-the-way came & drove off. So I had the best of everything. It shld. be nice to go to Snug Harbor this winter — constant light, no cars etc. The whole key of this gray painting was lighter today, all the greens etc. It’s a layer issue — like Pearlstein’s nude thru’ the rigging of a (toy) yacht.

[line break added] Seeing thru’, thru’ & again thru’ — creeper, fence, weeds, foliage, pipes, etc. one behind the other. Not much of that in the distant landscape. My ‘dry’ tree had fallen down — so the issue of whether or not to include it had been solved by Momma. It’s better without, I think, tho’ it was an interesting ‘part’ or ‘bit.’ The indistinguishable tangle of razor-wire & branches.

My most recent previous post from Downes’s book is here.




March 8, 2018

Encounters with Its Incidences

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:02 am

… What does the shape and character of our formal or institutional practice need to be in order to deal with the richness and chaos of such a humanism?

This is from ‘Notes Toward a Model’ (1977) found in Robert Irwin: Notes Toward a Conditional Art edited by Matthew Sims (2011, 2017):

… I slowly dismantled the act of painting to consider the possibility that no-thing ever really transcends its immediate environment.

The last question forced me to give up my practice as a painter, not as an answer but simply as a way to continue following the character of my questions. It seemed that if I were to continue getting up each morning to drive down the same street and spend my time in the same studio environments with the same dimensions and means, I would only continue to do what it was I was beginning to do well, paint. The alternatives seemed very unclear. I don’t know if I would have volunteered had I simply been asked or told, but I had become hooked on my own curiosity.

In 1970 I began again by simply getting rid of my studio and all its accompanying accoutrements and saying that I would go anywhere, anytime, in response. This at first in effect left me in the middle of nowhere, that space created by having “nothing to do,” a delicious state of attention where your perception is allowed to wander and indulge without the demands to function.

… you should not take the following too seriously; I worry that what has been a speculative process while carried out in dialogue, in writing has become almost rigid.

[ … ]

… To what degree can we begin to deal with art forms which seem to lack even the formal, physical properties for assimilation by existing historical method, linguistic analysis, and objective measure for quality? What does the shape and character of our formal or institutional practice need to be in order to deal with the richness and chaos of such a humanism?

… The extender/inquirer in any primary discipline — physics, philosophy, art, etc. — is the anomaly, in that while the movement of all the other intentions within that discipline is toward function and the collective whole, the movement of inquiry begins with the very question of intention as source (the unmediated wonder of the individual’s ability to form a perceptual/conceptual reality), often suspending what is ordinarily accepted so as to summon the obscure questions of doubt and curiosity.

… certain connections or recognitions become potential in experience at certain moments in time and place; and it assumes the fact that if I can come to think something it is because it has become thinkable, and that if I can come to think it, it is not unreasonable to suppose someone else somewhere will be thinking it. Therefore the critical requirement for communication — community — is fulfilled naturally in the dialogue of immanence.

… the fundamental database, the reality for every human endeavor, is experiential, shifting, dependent on non-objective factors, and thoroughly nonconcrete, so that any added distinctions, definitions or functions must account for the added character of its source, i.e. intention. Each abstracted assertion is only of value within the field of its properly intended deployment. The source of art is the intention [of] art.

… Art as an aesthetic inquiry is a nonthing. Which is to say that, like time and space, it has no actual physical properties. Or infinite physical properties. There are in aesthetic experience potentially as many “arts” as there are encounters with its incidences in the world. In confusing the art/object of “art” with the subject of art, we objectively tried to hold to the idea of one transcending art. While there is no one transcending “Art,” there is one infinite subject: the subject of art is aesthetic perception.

My most recent previous post from Irwin’s book is here.




March 7, 2018

Step Outside

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:54 am

… our understanding of what photography ‘is’ has also mutated and shifted.

Continuing through Art and Photography edited by David Campany (2003):

… Culture licenses certain kinds of looking. Since the nineteenth century the medium of photography has helped underpin a visual order.

… Various social forces, coming initially from feminism, brought about an urgent rethinking of looking through critical writings and art practice. Photography was at the center of both. How to make looking explicit rather than tacit? How to make photography look back or look at itself?

… Deprived of momentum the lingering [still] photographic frame can allow our customary absorption in cinema to be teased apart. For a medium to reflect on its own relation to looking it must somehow step outside of its own procedures.

… The subject of looking continues to preoccupy photographers and artists because within this abiding uncertainty about what it means to look and be seen, about what a photograph actually is, lies the possibility of other visions.

… The social functions of the medium have mutated and shifted a great deal over the twentieth century, particularly since the late 1960s. As a result, our understanding of what photography ‘is’ has also mutated and shifted. If the definition of the medium is permanently in question it is less because of some ineffable essence than because culture continues to do different things with it.

My most recent previous post from Campany’s book is here.




March 6, 2018

Lift the Surface

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… surfaces that yield like skies and refuse to yield like walls …

This is from ‘Silent Art: Robert Mangold‘ (1966) found in Changing: essays in art criticism by Lucy R. Lippard (1971). (Note that at this time Lippard was married to the painter, Robert Ryman):

… While Dada, assemblage, and Pop Art have come in for their share of ridicule and rage, the most venomous volleys have been reserved for those works or styles that seem “empty” rather than “ordinary” or “sloppy.” The message of the Emperor’s New Clothes has made a deep impression on the American art public.

[line break added] “Empty” art is more wounding to the mass ego than “sloppy” art because the latter, no matter how drastic, is part of the aesthetic that attempts to reconcile art and life, and thus can always be understood in terms of life. There is nothing lifelike about monotoned paintings. They cannot be dismissed as anecdote or joke; their detachment and presence raise questions about what there is to be seen in an “empty” surface.

… Only in individual cases, none of which is mentioned here, is [monotonal painting] intentionally boring or hostile to the viewer. Nevertheless, it demands that the viewer be entirely involved in the work of art, and in a period where easy culture, instant culture, has become so accessible, such a difficult proposition is likely to be construed as nihilist.

[line break added] The experience of looking at and perceiving an “empty” or “colorless” surface usually progresses through boredom. The spectator may find the work dull, then impossibly dull; then surprisingly, he breaks out on the other side of boredom into an area that can be called contemplation or simply aesthetic enjoyment, and the work becomes increasingly interesting.

… In 1918, and in fact until the late fifties, a monochrome canvas in which the values were fairly close looked monotonal or blank to many people. Now our eyes are accustomed to the gloom of Rothko’s and Reinhardt’s black and blacker canvases, and our perceptual faculties have been heightened in the process. Work that once looked radically uncolorful or invisible now seems nuanced and visible. Similarly, Mangold’s monotonal canvases have more than one color in them and are not, therefore, monochromatic; but they appear monochromatic until all the sense have been adjusted to the area within which these subtle colorations operate.

[ … ]

… When the spray gun was acquired, the Mangolds had recently moved to a “penthouse” on top of a Grand Street loft building higher than most of those surrounding it, affording a glorious view of the sky. For a New Yorker to live that close to the firmament is a rare and exhilarating experience. Mangold found himself studying the expanse, its changing colors, its atmospheric gradations, in terms of the luminous character of the sprayed surface, which has a buoyancy and airy lightness peculiar to the essentially pointillist technique.

[line break added] The fully, flatly sprayed surface is as two-dimensional as any other, but it is not quite as hard; it implies density without actually containing any value variation or actually dissolving the plane. Since Mangold always thinks of his paintings in terms of walls, he first had the idea of a “sky-wall,” but this was too specific and too allusive. The Areas are essentially nonobjective. Were the tinting any less subtle, he might have to worry about too much landscape association. The evocation is ideally on a subliminal level; the scope of the sky is implied but not its literary connotations.

Blue Area moves from the palest pink into an equally ethereal and similarly valued blue, while the greys of Pink Area become lavender by encountering the warm band infiltrating the lower half. Prettiness, a hazard with such a palette, is absent. The delicacy of hue augments the effect of majestic calm, but the painting is given a rigid austerity by the knife-line of the central seam and the outer edges.

[line break added] The minutely graded surfaces are first read as monochrome, but a monochrome surface retains its scale with difficulty despite its impressiveness, scale being a relative quality. This has been solved by the expanding properties of the misty sprayed color-light and the almost imperceptible changes in tone which, when used with the utmost control, tend to lift the surface toward the upper edge rather than make it recede in depth.

… By working with colors that cannot be pinned down, that fade and intensify into and away from monochrome as they are regarded, and with surfaces that yield like skies and refuse to yield like walls, Mangold is forcing the issues raised by Rothko and the current “minimal” trends. He is extending the possibilities of a positively reductive art.

My most recent previous post from Lippard’s book is here.




March 5, 2018

Let Down That Guard

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:02 am

… If there isn’t a belief that you can really do something then you’re just making furniture.

This is from Robert Mangold interview (1986) found in Robert Storr: Interviews on Art edited by Francesca Pietropaolo (2017):

[ … ]

Robert Mangold: … I don’t feel involved in the issues of the moment somehow. I go to shows and see things but I’m not tuned into what they’re thinking about. I guess I’m just off in my own world — I’m involved in my personal issues. I don’ think of my paintings as being the last bastion of something, nor do I think of them as being a critique of something. I keep changing my work to keep it alive, but it has nothing to do with big art issues.

[line break added] It has to do with personal issues of trying to make art move, trying to tackle the problems that I seem to feel it has to tackle if it’s going to go anywhere. Whether it’s going to become stagnant or whether I’m going to discover new things for myself about it. So I don’t think a lot about art world problems as such. It seems that most of the art you see is incredibly self-conscious in that way. I don’t know what to make of that. It’s fine, I guess, but I don’t have that same kind of distance between what I do and what I think about that they must have.

[ … ]

RM: … What happens with me is that I seem to go back and forth. I go a certain distance this way and then I have to go back and reconnect with what I lost. Things are always going in and coming out and going back in runny ways.

The following is from the Brice Marden interview ((1986):

[ … ]

Brice Marden: … maybe I am confusing the aesthetic response with the spiritual response. But I’d just like to believe that there could be some kind of transcendence. That’s one of the things about the possibility of art … I would rather keep it open and say that there are magical, spiritual possibilities in painting rather than be cynical about it.

[line break added] Yet I think that a lot of the paintings I did with alchemy-type things in mind were in a way failures because, in that, what they should have done were they successful was to become the thing, the telesma, or whatever. They didn’t do it. So the colors just existed up there symbolically. They looked nice you know, but the problem when you talk about the spiritual stuff, all this mysticism, and all that is, “Does it work?” If it’s not working it’s a failure.

… At the same [time] there are a lot of paintings that you see that are just terribly moving and you can’t help but feel a certain way in front of them. A lot of [Barnett] Newman’s work. In many ways I spent years being very resistant to Newman’s work. But then if you just let down that guard and approach it in a much more open way, then it’s just terribly moving.

[line break added] I don’t know if you can say all you want to say. Is there a sublime or an eternally evasive idea; or how much is involved in your belief in just making a painting or looking at a painting? I don’t know but I’d hate to think that the activity would become cynical. If there isn’t a belief that you can really do something then you’re just making furniture.

BM: … I think formalism is a very easy way for people to accept abstraction. That’s obvious. I think you have an audience that still has a basic distrust of art. And if you look at how the audience gets bigger and so on, it’s just because it’s being marketed so well and it’s being marketed by making it very non-threatening, and it’s non-threatening because they have people believing that they understand it. If you maintain that there is mystery, that you can’t understand these things, you’re really going to scare people off.

My most recent previous post from Storr’s book is here.




March 4, 2018

On Alien Territory

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… Understanding comes to fruition only in the response.

This is from Mikhail Bakhtin by Alastair Renfrew (2015):

… If we return once again to ‘eventness,’ to the sense in which life is lived as a sequence of unique, once-occurrent ‘events of being,’ a strong immediate sense of the importance of embodiment emerges: human speech — all human action, in fact — emanates from a unique location, the specificity of which is guaranteed by the material embodiment of the speaker, the sense in which he or she occupies this specific time and space, this and only this location in being.

… Not only must consciousness be physically and materially embodied — or ‘located’ — it depends for its realization, its very existence, on another material phenomenon — speech or, by extension, writing. Language in use — discourse — is the ‘signifying material’ of both inner and outer life; consciousness is not only ’embodied’ in the body, it is embodied in language (discourse). In the dialogic text, specifically, meaning is embodied in the discourse of the character: it is ’embodied,’ that is, at a remove and without the need for a body.

There is more than a hint of paradox in this idea.

… The somewhat disarming term Bakhtin deploys in the description of this embodiment not in the body, but in the discourse which emanates from it, the term that therefore encapsulates the living palpability of the character in literature, is voice.

… If ‘voice’ is metaphorical at all, its purpose is to insist on presence above all, to make palpable the presence in the text of autonomous subjects who are not at the same time reducible to the intrusive and homogenizing ‘presence’ of the author.

… Dialogism is the hallmark of all concrete language use; concepts are inherently dialogic — all meaning is dialogic.

… Bakhtin is even prepared to argue that ‘to some extent, primacy belongs to the response [ … ] Understanding comes to fruition only in the response’:

The speaker breaks through the alien conceptual horizon of the listener, constructs his own utterance on alien territory, against the listener’s apperceptive background.

In both these senses, in relation to its object, which is surrounded on all sides by words already spoken about it, and in relation to the anticipated response of a ‘listener’ (or reader or other character), ‘the word lives [ … ] on the boundary between its own context and another alien context.’ No human being since the mythical Adam has opened their mouth without producing dialogic discourse; no writer, however much they may strive to suppress the dialogic, can achieve the purely monologic; what Bakhtin calls ‘the novel’ is merely the location at which the ‘kinds and degrees of otherness,’ the ‘various forms and degrees of dialogic orientation in discourse’ are at their most visible and accessible.

My most recent previous post from Renfrew’s book is here.




March 3, 2018

Lack of Seduction

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… It is like trying to accomplish “articulate chaos.”

This is from the chapter on Sidney Peterson found in Film at Wit’s End: Eight Avant-Garde Filmmakers by Stan Brakhage (1989):

… It was a very loose city then, a very familiar city, and while one cannot claim that San Francisco was an art colony in 1945, you can claim that it has continually had a viable kind of art colonialism going on within it. In those days, whole neighborhoods in the city behaved very much as 800 Chestnut Street [home of the Cafifornia School of Fine Arts] did.

Let me tell you what San Francisco did not have: it did not have a vested interest in European art like New York City had (and still has, to its aesthetic damnation). And then as now there was utter hopelessness in terms of any market for art in San Francisco. No artist could make even a half-assed living, not even as a teacher of art at that time, and this meant that no one was fighting with anyone, jockeying for positions with the galleries or notice from some critic on The New York Times. Oh, little galleries opened here and there, and friends of the artist, his mother, his girlfriend and her friends came to see his work, but that was about it.

The Potted Psalm is, I think, one of the least seductive films I have ever seen, and that is rather a triumph that Peterson stumbled into, although it is intrinsic to his work to be very flat with his wit, to be very clear and always to reveal his techniques and disguises. One of the reasons people often get so infuriated with this film is its lack of seduction. By seduction I mean anything that leads you on. In the history of film, it certainly tends to be a technique which is the ambition of Hollywood.

[line break added] Any movie made in Hollywood or for TV is designed essentially to lead the viewer on, to suck the viewer into the screen. Works of art in film also utilize seduction to bring the viewer to a certain position. I mean a very attractive or beautiful image or a very rhythmic or jazzy combination of images which will pull any person to attention. But if it is a work of art, as I understand it, this “seduction” must not lead you on but stop right at the image so that you are left hanging, not quite in your chair but somewhere between the chair and the screen …

… Some people may consider Peterson’s work — and this film in particular — to be naïve. But in fact the manner of Peterson’s films is anything but naïve. The manner is “studied ambiguity,” which is one of the most difficult things to accomplish in art. It is like trying to accomplish “articulate chaos.” The naïveté of The Potted Psalm is the feeling of grubbiness of the photography, the dirty puns, the objects that don’t quite work in any seductive sense in relationship to each other …

… Perhaps I should have said earlier that San Francisco did have a little bit of a toe, at least, in Europe; and Sidney, as so many people living in California at the time, did have his big toe in surrealism. … [W]ith Sidney you see what happens to surrealism in film in the United States. Look at the famous Andalusion Dog by Buñuel and Dali; and then look at The Potted Psalm. The Potted Psalm is a much more honest film and a much more meaningful film, to me at least, than Andalusian Dog.

[line break added] Buñuel and Dali filled that film with seduction and all the bric-a-brac of European seductive art. The moment the drama starts dragging with loose form, ants come out of a hole in a hand, photographed in such a composed way that they might be on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The Andalusian Dog is extremely seductive whereas in Sidney’s films everything is alive, as it is in America.

My previous post from Brakhage’s book is here.




March 2, 2018

Please Yourself & Your Highest Ambition

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:35 am

… Mustn’t care, must NOT try to please yr. street audience. Please yourself & your highest ambition.

This is from Under the Gowanus and Razor-Wire Journal: The making of two paintings 5.9.99 – 11.15.99 by Rackstraw Downes (2000). (The abbreviations for some words are as written in the text.):

[ … ]

7.11.99 Full of fear as I go to work. Is what I’m doing all nonsense? Are theses compositions too simple, too ordinary, anybody’s paintings? And unless I bear down on them & go for much tighter finish & more thorough development, will they just be a bore? I must take out some old sketches & see if there’s a difference. And has the interest of keeping this journal replaced the interest of doing the work, the painting? Worked a long a.m. on low Gowanus painting, tho’ brought new G. painting along too.

[line break added] Worked on the foliage & the gas station, trying to get the light. ‘The’ light, pooh — there are 2 lites in this pntng. One crisp, one a little hazy. The shadows on the pavement are perfect at 8 a.m. Then moved to the people crossing the street. Removed some old ones first. Same problem as before. Same criteria — the eye must say — ‘perfect in the light, contributes to the light’ — the brain must not ask, ‘who is that person? What age, what class?’ And the eye must also say, he moves.

[line break added] The contour must ‘suffer,’ that is to say, it should not be descriptive, it should say, I am the right color, the right scale, don’t ask me where my face is etc. The bright sun does this for you, it shatters the contour. But the painter — that’s me — seeing a problem, resorts immediately to contour adjustments on the figures in the shade, under the bridge. And wastes time, makes a mess. These failure-figures must be scraped out, started over. Adjustments don’t work, clog up, slow down. It’s the painting yr. after not the anatomy, not the clothes; nor the sociology.

[ … ]

7.12.99 Very low spirits this a.m. On the way out of the subway at Smith St. suddenly thought of Fredericka and imagined her despising what I was doing as unambitious. Then thought of Dolores & how irritated I got with her recently etc. etc. & could barely stand to set up the easel & go to work.

7.12.99 … Had a better day today on the ‘Low Gowanus.’ Lots to do refining the bridge itself, & made some improvements on the pedestrians, and the sidewalk, and the column. Something must be done, tho’, about the deepest, deepest moments in the space of that pntng — the cars on the cross street, the trees around the park, and the vista along the side of the down-ramp to the B-B tunnel. they must be clarified & succulent, inviting.

[line break added] And any pedestrian who looks ‘stuck’ must be eliminated promptly, no matter how ambitious I am to have one in that spot. Scrape him out, try ‘im again. Also the ‘leap’ pntngs [nickname for Gowanus paintings], will be taller in format than the two flanking paintings, the format ‘stretched’ to accommodate the subject — c.f. the early Dutch church painting, or ‘L-shaped church paradigm.’

[ … ]

7.22.99 Went to work on the Middelharnis [one of the Gowanus paintings]. Lots to do with scale & light. Get the yellow out of the right-hand sky, more towards a warm gray. Light nice and clear, not raining. But pigeons shit from the beams of that overhead expressway: not on me yet, but it’s only a matter of time. This is a tough one, so far nothing about it is on target yet. Worked in my new HEPA mask — pure Steven Spielberg. Thought people would react, freak out, but nary a comment. Those who stopped remarked on the painting, ignored the mask, with its pink, discus-shaped powder-puff filters, one on each cheek.

[ … ]

Thurs. 7.29.99 … Think of Chinati [previous painting group], achieved a lot more in the same time period, but then I pretty much knew exactly what I was going to do when I got there — at least two-thirds of the work. The other third was a surprise but came quickly to me the first day. Here I searched around for several weeks before settling down.

[line break added] Passers-by are a nuisance — they keep reminding me how well I got the hazy back-light & yellow sky on that early day, & the man’s van — will anything else in the painting equal that or is that just the part they know best, the pedestrian crossing they walk thru’ every day? Mustn’t care, must NOT try to please yr. street audience. Please yourself & your highest ambition.

My most recent previous post from Downes’s book is here.




March 1, 2018

Practicalities Should Not Bind Our Thinking

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:02 am

… To deal with it as “myth” or belabor it with questions like “what does it mean?” is shortsighted.

This is from ‘Re-Shaping the Shape of Things: The Myth of the Artist (1972) found in Robert Irwin: Notes Toward a Conditional Art edited by Matthew Sims (2011, 2017):

… The artist is not limited by the practical or the feasible. We don’t know the limits of what is possible. What we must accept to operate daily in the limited reality of our present existence and its practicalities should not bind our thinking away from a whole much larger than we presently can conceive.

Art, then, is the game of extending our “shape of [the] real” without the necessity of present, practical affirmation.

… All the artist’s activities should essentially be viewed as “long-term,” which, practically speaking, means that he should not expect to see the culmination, application, or proof of the things he conceives.

… Change comes from “long-term” activities. “Short-term” activities mediate that change into the social structure.


I see art as an activity of change.

… At the point of pursuit — when I am really pursuing, and I am involved with what I am doing, with one of my extensions, at that point I seem to need no support at all and appear to be almost totally self-supporting.

… There is a very irrational contradiction in my life. As I become interesting to myself as an artist, I’ve become less able to communicate with those around me. Why don’t I simply turn over on my back and float? I suppose the only way I could have answered that question was never to have made that first step.

… The art act is a tool for extending consciousness. It has no other responsibilities; it can’t have and function (modern art has made a clear definition on this point). This is its strength. To deal with it as “myth” or belabor it with questions like “what does it mean?” is shortsighted.

My art has never been about ideas. Ideas occur as part of a device to communicate in our limited way that we know from experience. In an abstract, industrial culture this has assumed an exaggerated importance. To operate efficiently in it you must adhere to its forms — but this is limited pragmatic consciousness, capable only of solving the physical needs of civilization. The weight of our accomplishments has been on the physical — man versus nature. We are not accomplished in the dimensions of human consciousness; in fact to accomplish our physical ends we have sacrificed our subtle human perceptions.

My most recent previous post from Irwin’s book is here.




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