Today we have a guest post courtesy of Matthew Ballou. He discovered a video of four painters taking part in a panel discussion organized in conjunction with the exhibit Form & Story: Narration in Recent Painting curated by Elizabeth Schlatter. Sensing that many of the insights that these painters express related to discussions taking place here at MWC recently, Matthew has written the following for us as a response to the Form & Story panel discussion, and as an invitation for our readers to begin a discussion of our own.
And so, without further ado:
An impressive show entitled Form & Story: Narration in Recent Painting took place at the University of Richmond’s Harnett Museum of Art between January 21 and May 15, 2009. It featured work by four contemporary artists, Steve DiBenedetto, Angela Dufresne, Hanneline Røgeberg, and Erling Sjovold, who all, in the words of the Museum’s press release, “explore multiple narratives through images and materiality.”
The panel discussion, which took place on January 20th and is available in the video linked on this post, was insightful and intriguing. The language used, conceptual stances expressed, and the articulate advocacy of painting by the artists was exciting to me. I was particularly energized by what Røgeberg and Dufresne had to say.
As a way to stimulate discussion here at Midwest Capacity, I’m going to highlight a few of Røgeberg’s statements, comment on them, and then hope that the great group of thoughtful people who visit MWC will take over, digging through the video (the 15 minute block between 30:10 and 46:30 is especially tasty) and presenting their own thoughts, impressions, and digressions regarding narrative in art, the work or statements of the artists themselves, and painting (representational, narrative, or otherwise) as a form in general.
I’ll get us started.
Røgeberg made a few really dynamic observations during the panel talk that are indicative of her lengthy experience and thoughtful intellectual engagement with painting. Take specific note of the underlined portions:
“…when trying to articulate a particular sequence, or a particular psychic equilibrium in paint, it will get messed up and problematic because painting is slow and it is resistant, and it is messy. And it is my reliance on paint to mess up these really very, very rudimentary imperative stories that keeps me returning to painting, and finding the relevance for the material and the medium.”
“When I am talking about story I have the same suspicion that Steve [DiBenedetto] has to the word ‘narration’ or ‘narrative painting’; that it is a kind of mandate to illustrate a text that is more perfectly rendered elsewhere. That is not what I mean when I am talking about this particular vignette-like re-visitation that I am compelled to make. It is more like a configuration of parts that doesn’t yet have a visual equivalent, so I have to invent them, and I have to feel it out kind of blindly. In some ways the feeling out is as much a pre-language, tactile feeling things out as it is observable analysis or perceptual parsing.”
“I have to say that I also rely on body types and the kind of fluidity of the paintings’ evolution. As I said earlier, I would begin with a very clear-cut idea of who is doing and who is being done to, and in the course of painting, that would always upend itself and complexify and reverse or multiply or something like that. The same would apply to all categories: biological as well as social or psychological or sexual. In some way the permeability of categories seems to be what made paint a suitable medium for me and the inevitable pollution of edges from things being wet together.”
Here we see an acceptance of the defiance of paint by the artist, but it is a kind of acceptance that does not simply surrender itself in a fatalistic or deterministic way. This acceptance is instead a wondrous recognition of the transmogrifying power of the medium. Røgeberg is not capitulating to defeat, but rather learning the contours of potential in the paint, finding ways to operate within that potential, ways in which, perhaps, her natural and all-too-human will to dominate and force materials into submission is overcome by a pre-cognitive alliance with the paint and its proclivities. It is a counterintuitive kind of effort, where one cannot make something be, but rather must participate with what it already is in order to allow the emanation of a desired effect. The painting is not simply executed, the story not simply told. Instead, the artist knows material, sensation, and intuitive manipulation and thereby arrives at a kind of accumulated end, which could not be assigned beforehand yet seems inevitable.
When she talks about the awkward, meandering, “complexified” experience brought on by the paint, her words carry an air of wonder and instinct. This procedure of painting – part highly developed knowledge, part unknown, enigmatic, flailing sensation – creates a kinesthetic experience that triangulates with these “permeable categories” and “psychic configurations that do not have a visual equivalent” to manifest something that could not have been known in any other fashion and that, indeed, may not even be known through the virtues of that passionate, painterly inculcation.
This is the Mysterium Tremendum that catalyzes the creative impulse. It is the firing of the desire to attempt to make an invisible thing visible through some rigor that exists not for its own sake, but through which one may sound the depths of a fantastic conception making itself known in tenuous visions and “inarticulate brushmarks.”
Matthew Ballou, August 2009
Thank you, Matthew.
Matthew Ballou has an exhibit at Perlow-Stevens Gallery in Columbia, MO opening September 4, 2009. Look for an upcoming post here in the near future.
To close things out, here are a few images of work by the four artists in Form & Story.
Hanneline Rogeberg, Thaw, oil on canvas, 72″ x 96″
Hanneline Rogeberg, Alloy, oil on canvas, 48″ x 48″
Steve DiBenedetto, Octotech, oil on linen, 69″x 75″
Angela Dufresne, I’m not funny anymore because I can’t take myself seriously anymore…The Underwater Opera Singer Juliana Snapper (Joolie) Posed (from “Opening Night”), oil on canvas, 48″ x 60″
Erling Sjovold, Stunt Double, oil on canvas 42″ x 56″