PAINTING IN TONGUES
Needless to say, it is usually easier for a painter to paint than to explain to others why he is painting or what he is painting about. Over the years, I have found that the well oiled art historical narratives that I often used to present my work with (hopping from Arp to Gorky, from Stella to Supports/Surfaces or Elizabeth Murray, among others), leave too much unsaid and have become convenient but reductive fictions, instead of offering perceptive historical or conceptual insights.
To add insult to injury, abstract painting offers the peculiar challenge of having no fixed meaning or content (but to think of it, does figurative painting really fare better in that respect?), unless the painter sets forth a program for himself, by the rules of which his work can be gauged.
The limits of such pre-set programs are now obvious to everyone and most painters who used them at the start of their careers will eventually veer away from them, offering new bodies of work open to interpretations in a way that their previous manner was not.
I just happen to count myself in this category, having started by working strictly within the confines of a pre-established set of rules, abiding by the codes and critique of deconstruction in my Bubbles and Holes series. I now find myself “branching out” from there in several directions at once, all stemming from that first series of paintings. New series are taking me into territories that I would not have considered a few years ago: among other things, word-art with “Long Story Short”, revisiting post-cubist space and the relationship of abstraction to the figure with the Loops series, or the monochrome and the sublime with the Opus Incertum series.
After the end of modernism and the death of painting that was expected to follow, abstract painting has proved to be a surprinsingly resilient vehicle for continued and expanding poetico-philosophical investigations of our shifting values. I now find myself interrogating the nature, the culture, the history and the categories of abstract painting as much as meditating on them and their enduring power to disturb or inspire us in our newly acquired technological certainties as well as in our doubts.
Abstraction, now more than ever, has become an exercise in painting in tongues, pulling both painter and viewer toward a practice of highly idiosyncratic systems of signs, and paradoxically seems to be at the moment one of the best tuned visual instrument to explore our diverse commonalities.