"Though it is often said..."

SOME THOUGHTS on MY WORK - JULY 2003 - NOVEMBER 2003

The following is a piece of personal revisionism... is an epiphany... or an old man blowing smoke up his own ass, anů..!

"Though it is often said that it is the journey that matters and not the destination. This can be a difficult argument when the viewer of art is left only with the fruits of the journey's end to contemplate. The path taken can seem superfluous and, as is often the case with excruciatingly boring art, little more than an pretext. Indeed, visual art has this in common with comedy: If you have to explain itů" 1

1   ( [The Raw and the Cooked by DEVEN GOLDEN found at http://www.artcritical.com/thinkpieces/DGRaw.htm] ) .. my paraphrasing.

http://www.bartleby.com/quotations/ 7/23/03 2:04 AM
1   ( 56514. Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Columbia World of Quotations. 1996 ...NUMBER:56514)
QUOTATION: To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.
ATTRIBUTION:Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), Scottish novelist, essayist, poet. Virginibus...

From 1967-1970 I taught painting at a Community College in Western Massachusetts. Their motto was "To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive". At the time I thought that this was a weird way to look at things. Then, as a young artist, I desperately wanted to arrive (mature) so I could show and sell my masterpieces. After my spinal tumor surgery in Feb2000 I began to think seriously about this statement again -- about traveling hopefully. I needed to find a way to travel again in the studio. I now had a handicapping circumstance affecting the process; pain and immobility. What do I do? My studio day lasted two hours max. I needed a way to make a painting quickly and in one sitting. Fortunately I had been working on the "one-shot" painting process since 1998. I had been exploring an interest in making visual haikus. Also my 24/7-12hr-shift day job was becoming a nightmare studio interference. What do I do?

I have a high regard for Buddhist Ch'an and Zen painting. I never studied it too deeply. I'd learn whatever was required to sustain an intuitive and improvisational engagement. I was not a purist in using these elements to make my art. My concept is derived from Abstract Expressionism. Early influences were H.Hofmann, R.Motherwell, M.Rothko, and to a lesser degree the gesture/line people, deKooning and Pollack. I found the gesture discipline too chaotic for my empathy. I like color. I like space. I like plane/s.

I don't like narrative or story telling in painting. Narrative is a verbal-visual diagram of one's own literature or someone else's. So my image is abstract and non-objective. I believe that visual abstract images should influence a person through the eye in the same way music influences a person through the ear. Visual abstractions and musical sounds exist as something universal that transcends written and verbal language. In a sense this thinking embraces art as experience.

Around May2000 I began working with acrylic paint on paper. The picture was established fast. They were very Zen in attitude --no conscious thought, random color selection, random brush selection, random design (no design). When pain was to severe, the painting stopped: Two hours max to finish a piece, most were finished in minutes. By May2001 my studio activity was almost back to normal. I was able to lift stretched canvases again. I spent the next year translating some of the papers to canvas projects. At the end of the summer of 2002 I grew tired of this exercise. My work now needed to move on. What do I do?

In March2003 I decided that I should investigate the minimal/reductive side of my thinking again. This idea has nagged at me since the 1987. From Sept2002 to Feb2003, I reasoned, is it time to move on to something other than AE structures? I know how to make juicy AE paintings. Continued work on fundamental AE structures felt backword; covering old ground, unexciting as a work procedure. But, are they now mannered and dated or do I not see a way to move on with this? What do I do?

THE NEW

"Certainly one of the most easily diagnosed hang-ups of abstract painting is the fear of the decorative, a deep-seated aversion to making pictures that offer no social, cultural, or historical insight beyond the pleasing and even novel arrangement of colors and forms within a field. The perennial presence of abstract painting as a mode of artistic practice to reckon with, however, can be credited to a long line of artists who have been able to reflect in their deployment of non-specific forms the ideas or issues that define, excite or challenge their respective periods."2

"Postwar American painters also famously exploited the symbolic flexibility of non-representational compositions, prodding the skeins of drips, bundles of brushstrokes, hazy bands of color, squares, and stripes away from interpretations as handsome background visuals by sidling up to deeper issues of chaos, struggle, sublimity and quasi-mystical spirituality. After all, a contrasting vertical strip slicing down a Barnett Newman canvas was not viewed as one step toward creating an expanse of natty striped wallpaper, but an opportune gesture that afforded a glimpse at a yawning, glowing, spiritual void."3

"Several decades of abstract painterly practice since the end of World War II have witnessed a canny avoidance of association with the decorative, enlisting a wide range of rhetoric to imbue non-objective form with meaning (and a few fleeting instances where decoration was embraced for a heightened perceptual thrill or a transgressive, anti-modernist stance). And in the late-1990s, abstraction continues to stave off the looming irrelevance of pure decoration. Abstract painting today, as much as ever, cannot sit there looking merely pretty, but must persuasively and insightfully address our cultural and historical conditionů"4

2    Michael Darling, 1998 statement on the painting of Shirley Kaneda.
3    ibid.
4    ibid.

I quote Michael Darling extensively here because his explanation is more eloquent than mine. When I was in graduate school at U of I/Iowa city (1964-67) - the issue of decoration-for-decoration sake became a topic of heated criticism of my work from both students and faculty. See my 1966 statement. Therein lies my start in examining ways to defend my art process. I felt forced to realize significance in my images and contribute my own BS to the AE litany. In ways this felt like a very narrative thing to do! WOA!!! What do I do? However, when standing in a room full of Mark Rothko paintings, a deep spiritual presence in the room is felt as something real. I have felt this. Therein lies the magic of painting. Its truth. Its mystery. Its dilemma. Its lie.

Until a year ago (Sept 2002) I firmly bought into the ideas behind (see #3 above) - Postwar American painters also famously exploited the symbolic flexibility of non-representational compositions, prodding the skeins of drips, bundles of brushstrokes, hazy bands of color, squares, and stripes away from interpretations as handsome background visuals by sidling up to deeper issues of chaos, struggle, sublimity and quasi-mystical spirituality. Actually as I write this, November 5, 2003, I believe that we as abstract artists can define our art in any way we want. What we say it is - it is. A very Duchampian thing to do! One step further - regardless of style (you define style here) a person can define what he/she does as art. People who do this creates a long inventory. I won't add to the record here. What do I do? Continue to add more BS to my already heady stash of BS, or strip-out the BS and build a better truth? I am opting for the later! What do I do?

The most easily diagnosed hang-ups of abstract painting is the fear of the decorative, a deep-seated aversion to making pictures that offer no social, cultural, or historical insight beyond the pleasing and even novel arrangement of colors and forms within a field. Remove the fear and aversions and exploit the obvious. Discard this worn-out narrative! A very Duchampian thing to do. What do I do? Make decoration that includes: No social-cultural-historical insights, what you see is what you get, pleasing arrangements of colors and forms within the boundary of the field? Use every possible trick to accomplish this task? There is no hidden agenda anymore. Have fun! Maybe this is what I have been doing for 40+ years. Painting after May 2003 starts this journey again? Am I having fun? I am engaged in heady research. I am looking at all kinds of art. There is exciting work being done by serious people, young and old, in many styles and approaches. If I like an idea new to me, I will include it in a piece. I don't care where all of this goes. I don't feel there is an end to this travel. The journey continues. It is all very, very exciting indeed. November 2003 finds me continuing to make my mirrors with color and form.

NOTE: I think we as humans look too narrowly at events. We try to establish a general meaning about a very personal experience. Of course we can't keep our mouths shut! We need to experience an experience for what it is. What does a bird's song really mean? What does the sound of a waterfall really mean? What does a sunset really mean? I think we have to experience an experience as if we were unable to speak or write with words. If we want to share the experience with others, then we all need to meet at the location at the specified time and stand there experiencing together. Is a picture worth a 1,000 words? Can 1,000 words equal a picture? Who is counting and why?

David Novak
November 2003
Matthews, NC