Why add “new” paint (start from scratch) when you can cover the old stuff? Why start from from new when you can add accretions, sediment upon sediment, layer upon layer, like Old Man Time?
The principle behind re-painting is to discover the individuality of a form (or a contrast, or any other aesthetic element or concept) through sculpting and modeling an arbitrarily-created configuration of existing ink, pixels, splattered, or rolled-on paint (collage, roofing, or tin siding). In the tradition of Surrealism and Dadaism, re-painting establishes a preliminary dialogue with form (line, blob, or photographed datum or data) and develops a qualitative relation, a reduction, a poetic link, or a sequential or burgeoning process.
Does any of this make sense? At the risk of arguing with myself, art is not for the peevish, the tenderfooted, and the unbred greenhorn. It’s ugly work, but somebody has to do it.
The Deconstruction of Paint
The attitude of the painter is usually to build, fabricate, construct, and add new paint to new paint. However, paint is the skin of things and deserves to adapt to the “thing” rather than to itself. In ancient times, the Greeks painted their temples and statues, giving paint a revivifying, renovating role. Today, when science has discovered the emptiness behind all matter, the painted skin can be a response to that hazardousness of being, to the roulette wheel of substrata, or to the emptiness at the core of the onion. It is time to recreate by re-building, re-constructing, and “re-painting”.
Of course, there is good reason to suspect a word like “deconstruction” (see subtitle above) that refers to the kind of grouping and mincing of words or meanings by philosophers such as Jacques Derrida. The visual realm doesn’t necessarily conform to the worded page (as Tom Wolfe cleverly commented in his pamphlet, The Painted Word), nor does it adapt clingingly to the notion of analytical bracketing that philosophical linguists profess. Rather deconstruction in a visual sense might be a way to privilege new ways of seeing art. Giving preference to the “phenomenon” (the world as humans see it) rather than the assumed thing in itself, the “noumenon” (see Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason); thus, the presentation of art to human eyes rather than for those of all assumed sentient beings (aurochs and angels, thrones, powers, dominations, cats, dogs, voodoo fetishes, etc.)
The Formulas of Re-Painting
In this kind of unpainting, I (as a painter) have to start somewhere. So I’ve developed formulas that operate at the same time as superficial themes and as the roll of the dice that enables further response. I use doodling, scratching (“scrachitis” instead of graffiti), ideograms, diagrams, and cartograms. I paint on collages and draw on paint. I color outside the lines. I pass from the analytical “break up” stage to the final synthetic “make up” stage. From strife to reconciliation, I explore ritual contrasts, which like the notes in music, operate in the forefront of visual expression. Contrasts, as the harmony/disharmony of the spheres, as the struggle of eyes and hands, and as the percussion waves of the soul.
Perhaps spirituality in art has been over emphasized since Kandinsky, motivating painters to establish other-worldly descriptions of what they could or should have created (made, done) better. A painting, at its simplest, is a view of something as it passes before the retina. A simple vision (not a bunch of words or magic sensations). From the artist’s viewpoint, it is a performance for an eventual spectator, the opening a door or window on something not yet seen, or yet unseen in such and such a way. It isn’t the merchandising of a sacred object, imbued with thingy value, a filler of space, a trophy, or at worst a something that looks good above the sofa.
I propose looking at art as airily as in watching a movie, listening to music, making love, and falling in love. This lightness of being may lead to art’s loss of charisma in the eye of today’s puffed up prolo-aristocrat or arto-tainment tourist. The bellyful of details, the brickload of incomprehensible icons, aimed at a mystical relations with the visible (yet reminiscent of the tawdry), or the embodiment that sits heavy and obtuse at the margin of misunderstanding, rich with religious credence, or living among the potent mysteries that neo-superstition, replaces the intelligible with hints like those of a protospecialist of a deeper, unknown world.
I say: “out with things” and perhaps “in with the themes, concepts, and counter-concepts.” I say, “in with the skin of creation”: the light embodiments — mathematics and electronic designs, painted visual trails, warpaint as wampum for a day, art as something that dances before the eye like a theatrical display, with newborn temporary iconography and semiology to replace the repetitive monoliths of the past, the symbols and euphemisms of Renaissance and classical painting — or the flutters of still-born avant gardes, in the face of the Contemporary. (Much of Contemporary art is pure sophism depicted as a commercial art director’s epiphany, or worse yet, as the anarchy as the trumpet call of barbarian invasions.)
To Paint Is to Over-Paint
Nothing but nothing starts from scratch. There are no blank pages, only white ones, no blank canvasses, no spaces to fill, and no beginnings. Leibniz was right: “Nature abhors a vacuum.” (Or perhaps, remembering Jeff Coons’ start, nature abhors a vacume cleaner.) In a sense, the traditional painter is incredibly pretentious and unrealistic in wanting to “start” a picture. To imagine a tabula rasa, a point of ultimate departure. Rather, to paint is to over-paint, to replace one substance with another, one vision with another. And who knows where the ultimate vision leads?
Re-painting seeks to avoid the prescriptions of traditionalism: the carefully-constructed, pristine, and pontifically-approved middle product, as a proof of the pull of craft and collective cunning of human syndicates, the work that sprouts multiple hydra heads or replaces one hydra head for another that has been cut off; art as the mercantile object of a promoter’s dreams, as the conceptual object in a laboratory of pure Platonic forms, or as the objective residue distilled from the glue of human discernment over eons of organic secretion, or worse yet, synthesized in a laboratory.
No, art doesn’t need divine approval, or antiseptic labor. Art can be messy, and it sometimes must be messy. Consider the early work of Jean Dubuffet, his woman on the half shell, his handheld landscapes. A good beginning: art doesn’t need a blueprint, copyright, or bureaucratically polished project proposal, or even a bank account to live and breathe. It spurns the craftsman’s work table as well as the lofty heights of academic distillation — it goes where life is a dialectical challenge to reason, and to the foundations of honest reason, with its cacophonous music of contrasts and contradictions.
But … someone will tell me: art like this can form itself. I answer: art like this must in some respect form itself, must play the roulette of hazard, randomness — the ups and downs, and in and outs of existence. The artist then operates as the big molder; the big relativizer in the tradition of Einstein; the one who directs and exploits the opportunities of growth or reduction; who molds art’s living flesh, knuckles dripping. But could such art be tame enough to please?