Painting and Thingness

These are my notes from my presentation on my work as part of the February 2020 session at the Vermont Studio Center

like a lot of people here, i really love the world and looking at it, but it’s also pretty fucked up and hard to understand. So about 10 years ago, when ironically the world was in a much better place in some ways, I started making these ink and graphite paintings about events and just… things that I felt were kind of impossible to understand – or too intense to completely apprehend through a representation of them. We’d see pictures of them in the news, but I felt like the images made the reality of the past moment of their existence even harder to apprehend, so I represented them in ways that were literally hard to see.

So of course I stopped making them because they’re really depressing, but also they were, in a way, using external events to talk about a very internal problem of mine. I have a sensory disorder that makes the world consistently overwhelming, and I know my senses are not representative of shared reality, but, like I said before, I really love the world and looking at it, so I’m constantly managing this tension between being in the world and keeping myself sane.

the deeper question isn’t “how do we understand intense things” but “how do we even understand one thing?”

when I was a kid, I loved plain flavors because I could tell what they were – there wasn’t all this extra information flying around – and any one thing was intense enough to go deep into. vanilla’s got depth, yo

and part of me has always wanted to just paint one thing in the frame. not just to focus on it, but to feel the vibration between some thing being there, and then the there in which it is being

in escaping the dark paintings, I realized that, historically, flowers were something you could just put in the middle of the frame

so none of these flowers exist. i don’t even know the names of the flowers they look like. none of these had source material or models while I painted them. these are about looking, and thing-ness

I started going pretty deep in the history of painting while regaining this kind of amazement and bewilderment for this activity of painting that, like, helped me fix my brain and was also a way of visually apprehending the world

and I realized that boring Old Paintings – like renaissance still lives – weren’t boring, they were very alive, and they were still informing the way we look at an image on a plane – at least by laying a sort of foundation of conventions

so I basically sacrificed 5 years of building my career to learn how to make paintings that would read at first as old masters and then break apart in a bunch of ways when you got closer

the materials and techniques are interesting in themselves, but it’s also important to me that the viewer brings these old, ingrained habits to them and then have them slip out from under you

The hope is that they’ll activate something deep down about how you look at pictures, and then fuck it up enough that you look at the way you’re looking

Also there’s a whole colonial history of the subject matter, which is about apprehending the world in this violent, imperialist way that destroys what it wants to acquire

I think a lot about the tension between the old masters’ obvious love of material and light and then the violence of their patrons and the history of what they were looking at, and the culture that supported them.

I think most of us work under a similar tension.

But if I’m being honest, these paintings are still about how I deal with seeing the world. Distrusting your perceptions at all times is really good training for critical thinking. So maybe everyone else should have to squint and say what the fuck?

So this painting is the one I brought with me here, and I’m hoping to finish it while i’m here so maybe one day I can have a show again

Meanwhile, in their own weird way, this series of paintings about paintings has really helped me get back to the deep texture of plain things and empty spaces. So I’ve got another series of objects and spaces and walls that’s a little more zen about the whole “what the fuck is the world and how do we see it?” question