bryant tillman @ the secret hideout
I want a dialogue with you concerning an abstract painting that I had produced last month in conjunction with my efforts to return to fully abstract expressionism.
As you already know, I have been interested in your theories on artistic execution in regards to, I presume, your own work. I have long realized that your basic elements could be applicable to a number of advanced styles, as you were seeking answers through universally accepted pathologies.
However, I had been guilty of sniggering openly over the use of the word, “accidents” in the title of your previous show, Accepting Accidents. I am of the religious belief that in art, there are no accidents; no accidental works of art, no bad answers in regards to public perception of the work. As a painter who works without bells and whistles to express, I know all there is about the “fortuitous” stroke of the pen or the brush, as well as the “insightful” perceptions of the viewer in interpreting and contextualizing what this or that work means to them. They are both equally legitimate constructs, essential to both the artist and the viewer, respectively.
There are no accidents. Otherwise, what is the final attributor to a successful work? God? This was the trap Jack Johnson fell into, and the man was a brilliant artist. He just didn’t seem to believe it himself, or at least this was the jist of some of the conversations I had with him. Certainly he gave ample and apparent evidence of such.
But no, you are the artist; you are the culprit…the paintbrush was in your hand. No accident, just a simple matter of choice. You choose what remains or what is to be effaced or corrected, then you declare the work done and ready for public showing. This is why I had trouble accepting the title of your show literally.
Are there practical limitations to that opinion? I am uncertain; you will have to ask Marcel Duchamp.
This brings me, after what was said, to what I want to talk about, and I may appreciate any analysis you could give. I believe that I, after deciding to produce a painting, have “accidentally” created a great one.
bryant tillman @ the secret hideout
the gondolier’s wedding
The “accident” is as defined: I started and completed the work as a train of thought execution with no preconception from the onset. Only after the painting was done that I had entitled the work, “The Gondolier’s Wedding”. The idea for the title was suggested solely from the boat-like motif in the foreground and the admittedly low opinion I have of the institution of marriage, as opposed to the universally joyous occasion of the wedding, itself. All this, of course, was after the fact. Remember, as this was solely to be an abstract, I have consciously decided to omit adding any figures to give scale to the “boat”.
However, a couple of weeks later, while I was reviewing some jpegs of the piece, I had happened to zoom in to the area of the gondola where the figures would have been placed and found this…
What you are seeing here in this detail is apparently a representation of the gondolier and his “wife”. I did not consciously paint them, and I could not have, given their cartoonish appearance, but there they were…and they fully complete and enhance the work with their Disneyesque bearing in relation to the expressionist background…this in a way that realist figures couldn’t. Comment?
I like that you among many people are unwilling to say that ‘accidents’ is an appropriate label for what I do in my art, when it’s easily much closer to control and editing. What happened at my show is that people walked in looking for the ugly accidents that I accepted, but found elegant balances between chaos and order to the point where everything looked purposeful. Perhaps our idea of accidents occurs from what is unintentional from the standpoint of the artist, a visitor knocks over a vase and the artist shrugs it off and now that’s the ‘finished piece’. (Didn’t something similar happen to Duchamp’s Bride stripped bare by her bachelors?) What I presented as a title was an oxymoron of sorts, once acceptance occurs it no longer actually becomes an ‘accident’, it was a kind of zen metaphor I wanted to hint at, but also the idea of accidents deals in large ways with whatever is outside of our control. I can intentionally paint an abstract landscape, but if someone see’s a nude woman, most will say that it’s merely what the viewer is projecting onto the work. I say that it’s part of what we do as artists, we are the deciders who say when a work of art is finished or not. And that includes leaving open the possibility that a nude woman could possibly be seen even though we didn’t consciously paint it, we certainly consciously didn’t paint over it. We’re also talking about a very additive kind of participation, in each piece we build upon what can be found or seen within it. In abstract work we don’t start by saying, oh if there’s a nude woman, why is there not a nude man? We don’t begin to discuss the work by what’s obviously been left out, we begin deconstructing what did the artist do to get this effect?
So looking at your gondolier, I think it’s funny to say that I don’t actually see these figures, probably much like how people sometimes couldn’t see the starry night in the globs of Van Gogh’s paint. I see a lush field that reminds me of your Jazz paintings but much looser, with a kind of freedom that has much more about pathways into the work than your previous work ever had. I would go on, but I’m not too interested in critiquing photos of work, I’d need to see the work in person.
Also just a side note, what kind of digital camera are you using? The highlights are getting blown out and they seem to have the white balance off, I feel like if I can’t see this painting in person, it just needs a better picture!
Back to thinking about what you’re trying to get at, this newfound interest in, are there accidents? There is chance, and there is discovery, you have discovered it after you’ve titled it, but to me it is as serendipitous as if you had titled it afterward, since abstraction can be about the opening and accessibility of meanings, how could you paint something that you didn’t want people to see? You tried to omit figures and yet you yourself found them, in a sense, you failed at your own goal and I think that it’s an interesting idea. If I was your teacher in an anti-figure drawing class, I would say that your piece gets a ‘C+’. I can still tell that the sizes of the marks and the scratches remind me of the gesture of a hand, the diagonal lines remind me of limbs, there are lips in the background, there are beady eyes in the middle and you’ve set up a landscape environment in which figures could exist. Also cartoony abstract figures are relative to how cartoony and abstract the background is, I am willing to think that if that the shape in the bottom left is a boat, than I’d be willing to think that almost anything could be the figures. Are you willing to accept accidents now?
Well, is it too late to say that it was all due to deliberate use of “spontaneity”? (*Ha-Ha! *) No, I suppose that won’t fly.
In any case, I thank you for your insights, they are most helpful. I should not have been surprised that you were not surprised. I’m sure this kind of thing has cropped up before in academic circles and was ably covered.
Yes, welI I suppose that in the cold light of sobriety, I could easily explain it all away on my own, but all I’m saying is that these kind of things don’t happen with me often.
Sorry you couldn’t make out the gondolier, but he’s there all right. I think that a portion of your analysis was stemming from the fact that you didn’t recognize the gondolier…even in the close-up. He’s wearing a red headscarf bandana, a light buttoned down shirt with blue suspenders. He has a dark, froggy-looking face; two eyes, an ear. Frankly, he resembles a minstrel in “blackface” He’s sitting in a squat position, looking intently to the right. And although he is missing a left arm, there is nothing about him, down to his steerage pole extending from his right arm that says he’s anything other than a gondolier. His “wife” is nowhere near as neatly defined, but she’s there, to the right, bent over some task.
Had you then saw the images as I did, you would’ve understood to what extent I was taken aback by this wretching, double back-flip of chance.
And you were right about Duchamp’s other work, “Bride Stripped Bare…” I believed that the work was damaged while being installed in a museum early in its life. Its glass pane covering smashed at impact. Thus. A diagonal set of streaked webbing dances across an “established” environ, like intervening weather. Could this be the first abstractionist “stroke”?? I’m really open to anything at this point.
However, you characterized the reaction of the ceramic artist as a form of resignation, rather than of inspiration. “Shrugging” off an accidental breakage of art, doesn’t justify creative revisioning of that same item…not on its own, anyway. There are other considerations, of course, but what I am saying is that I find it hard to believe that part of the process that Duchamp employed in reevaluating the Bride involves making philosophical compromises with unsolicited twists of fate.
But I am still grateful for the idea you’ve given me for the perfect excuse to give the next time I accidentally break a ceramic: “Hey, don’t look at me, I’m just a metaphor.”
There is a similar story behind Duchamp’s other masterpiece, the urinal. There, he laid total ontological control over that piss tank in redefining it as a work of conceptual art. I think the “R Mutt” script was just his idea of a transformational cue. Where is the so-called accident here? I put this on the same level as the poet who composes music from memory alone, or even a man whittling on a piece of wood. How much of what they’ve done resonates with you that they should receive less credit for than what is popularly assumed? What does this say of the Impressionists that mitigate their power and influence over the whole of contemporary art history to a series of lucky strokes and fortuitous happenstances? Isn’t there any contravening consideration for “effect”, here?
If that question was put to me, concerning your work, I would first discredit the idea that you received aid from any of the usual spiritual “first-responders” we conjure up whenever we don’t feel that we measure up to our deeds. Both Jim Dozier and myself believe your work that of genius and that it just plain kicks ass. There was no mention between us of “how lucky you were in its production”.
You seem to “accept accidents” as a part of the process, then transform them by interaction into deliberate products of expression. Sounds a little like alchemy to me. Are you familiar with the nature of what you’re spiritually recycling? I think you’re giving the “accidental” portion of your work far too much prominence, as it is identified, as part of the theme…