Painting is about the relationship between parts. Similar to grassland ecologies, human languages, or living bodies, painting is a dynamic system of relations from which an unpredicted order must emerge. Without the parts, the whole cannot be formed, without the whole, the parts won’t add up. And like other living ecologies, a painting is not a closed system. Divergent parts cannot achieve integration without the active participation of a viewer. The viewer completes the loop; art cannot exist without the subjective input of human biology.
Without a viewer a painting is simply another flat surface. Although for the most part, painting leaves words behind and channels meaning though the handling of paint with a brush. The brush is a tongue that speaks visually. Let go of the language of words and instead make visual sense with the tongue-like language of marks. The brush syncs up more directly than words with the biology of my body. Form speaks, my body knows and words come late, if at all, in this physical-feeling meaning-making enterprise.
Because art making is not a rational business, I can’t consciously know how to arrive at a painting that will come alive for me. If I cannot follow its mute visual language of feeling, if I cannot subjectively follow the painting’s flow of energy, I will be stuck with my reasoned plans, or worse, stuck with my old habits, and the painting will surely die. If meaning is going to come alive for me (and hopefully for another human being), the painting must take an unexpected turn away from where I began. Something unpredictable must happen. The painting must ignore my intent and assert its own.
A painting is a stranger to me until that moment when it goes off course, and I am compelled to follow. This direction change is essential. It is when the painting becomes real. I think of it as the “knight move” in chess. Its path is never a straight line. Although I can’t see around the bend, I am able to hear that something is there. I’m just not sure what it will look like. When this happens it’s not my intent that matters; the painting’s forces are no longer under my control. My plans need to be forgotten so I can get to the edge of what I do not know.
If I see something out of the corner of my eye, why does its ambiguity make it more real? There are always doubts when it comes to choice and value. The hand grasps, the mouth eats, the tongue speaks. I am hungry. Painting. “Moving, seeking, discovering and scavenging for my next meal” is the name of the game.
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email Power Boothe