Barnett Newman

Posted: August 2, 2018 at 6:47 pm

Covenant, Barnett Newman, 1949

Barnett Newman was one of the main references when I first starting thinking through the “zip” (vertical stripe) aesthetic for this project. While Newman fits in with Rothko in terms of a borderline fetishization of the primal, I see quite a few overlapping concerns. Like, me Newman also sees art as being rigorous and removed from chance or the arbitrary. Newman also sees art as a mission to contest styles and conventions, which is interesting the context of my thinking about art as a process of articulating what art is.

Newman was also highly preoccupied with the concept of origination, the origin of the universe in particular. In his context, this takes on a spiritual / religious connotation, whereas I am interested in scientific bases of origination. It was actually this idea of origination that motivated my grad studies and interest in dreams and creativity. This probing of origination or foundations of structure connects with his interest in starting from a tabula rasa and questioning the foundations of geometry. This is challenging to algorithmic work limited to a particular set of possible geometries computed by the machine. In my case, perhaps, the geometry of sine-waves. There is still a question of composition though, sine-waves are more a underlying vocabulary and do not define the whole of the compositional system.

Highly relevant to the ZF is Newman’s interest in the Sublime that transcends “categories of value” which relates to the critique of art as commodity implicit in the ZF. Again, we have an interesting relation between the artists work and the viewer. As described by Claudine Humblet in The New American Abstraction (1950–1970), Newman’s works’ “…sole aim is to convey the space against which Man measures himself.” This is very interesting considering my previous reflections on the work (the AI enabled work in particular) as a mirror of our understanding of ourselves. In the context of this project, this space could be the machine (as external model of cognition), or even social media itself. Newman wanted the viewer to gain an awareness of themselves through the work; not just a surface awareness of self, but self as a ‘totality’ both connected to separated from others, mirroring my interest subjectivity as the projection of imaginary boundaries.

Mark Rothko

Posted: July 26, 2018 at 6:26 pm

Red Orange Orange on Red, Mark Rothko, 1962

When I did my first sketches of colour fields I had Rothko in mind when I used a blur shader to soften some of the hard edges. Now I’m thinking about using sine waves with various contrasts to provide both stripes and softer gradients. This way I can represent highly dense images without increasing the number of parameters. For example, this could allow things like one pixel alternating stripes in complimentary colours that was inspired by the stippling patterns in some of Robert Irwin’s work.

There is certainly some romanticism of ‘primitive’ artworks in Rothko’s early surrealist works, which are strange to read from a contemporary post-colonial perspective. The background of the work certainly reads as Modernist and there is an influence of Jungian archetypes, dreams, the unconscious and states of consciousness. During this period there is an interesting attempt to fuse a social awareness with formalism. Rothko has an interesting perspective on evolution of style, as quoted from Claudine Humblet’s The New American Abstraction (1950–1970): “The progression of a painter’s work, as it travels in time from point to point, will be toward clarity: toward the elimination of all obstacles between the painter and the idea, and between the idea and the observer.” This seems quite aligned with some of my thinking during my Masters where the act of art-making allows what is technically possible to change what the concept of a work is. There is also that sense of the work blending with the experience of the viewer to create a unity of experience. One small formalist point of note is that Rothko intentionally avoided exploiting colour theory, which is an interesting precedent for the ZF, whose use of colour will be highly unconstrained.

Robert Irwin

Posted: July 14, 2018 at 5:16 pm

Untitled, Robert Irwin, 1962–63

I had not heard of Robert Irwin’s work before and I’m extemely amazed by our overlapping artistic interests. I’ve struggled with considering myself an image-maker because I’m not very interesed in images, I’m interested in the relation between images, thought and reality. This also seems to be a strong preoccuption of Irwin, who is also inspired by Merleau-Ponty. I’m particularly amazed by the relevance of his work to over 10 years of my work involving live cameras, site-specificity and the questions of objects and boundaries (Resurfacing, Memory Association Machine, Dreaming Machine, Watching).

In the context of the Zombie Formalist, he is interesting in that his work seems to be covering a territory of exploration that has been described as evolutionary. His iterest in purity as a method of removing the arbitrary is also something we both share. I may go so far as to say we are both embarking on art as philosphical inquiry. There is also an articulation of the gap between perception and cognition / recognition. Most interesting is the idea of the painting to be a result of the viewers perceptual participation. This fits very well with the ZF, that does very little without the attention of the viewer. There is also this bleeding of the work and its evironment, which is interesting in the context of a potential ZF that uses the colour palette of its context in the construction of its images.

Some of the most striking overlaps are made explicit in Claudine Humblet’s articulations from The New American Abstraction (1950–1970): “The ultimate goal of art is to renew vision and invite the viewer to recapture the meaning of the real” (p.1657). Also the idea that Irwin’s art “[q]uestion[s] the very source of perception” (p.1659).

Walter Darby Bannard

Posted: June 29, 2018 at 3:33 pm

Alexander #2, Walter Darby Bannard, 1959

Again, as with Olitski, this is not quite what I have in mind. Bannard’s use of colour is very interesting, in particular the low colour contrast between minimal components. He has also used a grid as an organizing structure in his works. This use of muted tones contributes to what has been called the “unreality” of his forms. This is interesting in the context of painting as an exploration of a space of possibilities. This also connects with an interpretation of his work as improvised but constrained by conceptualism. In the case of the Zombie Formalist the system improvises as a random generator, but where conceptual(?) constraints actually come from the system’s attempt to model the preferences of the audience.

Jules Olitski

Posted: June 29, 2018 at 3:14 pm

Pink-Grey II, Jules Olitski, 1970

I’m part way trough “The New American Abstraction 1950–1970” to get started on my post-painterly abstraction research for the Zombie Formalist but realized I’ve been looking at the third in a three part volume! So I need to go back to the other volumes that mention artists I’ve been considering as inspirations such as Mark Rothko, Elleworth Kelly and Gene Davis.

While Oliki’s aesthetic is not quite what I am after, I found a few ideas quite interesting; I’m interested in the emphasis on colour as structure, and the tention between homogeneous and hetereogeneous composition at varying scales. Paintings made with the airbrush (like the above) remind me of some of the structures that emerge from my segment collages as part of Watching and Dreaming.

Early Research for Painting Appropriation

Posted: June 13, 2018 at 5:45 pm

I’ve been thinking through the gargantuan task of deciding what 4 images from the whole history of painting I should appropriate in this project. The general focus of my practise as an image-maker is on the relation between images and reality or interiority; this project should reflect that. I have in mind a trajectory of abstraction starting with the mathematical effort of objective representation in the Renaissance and ending with abstraction and problematizations of realism in painting. Since the Zombie Formalism project will focus in particular on post-painterly abstraction and colour-field painting, I was thinking about the four painting sample as including two works from the Renaissance (perhaps early and late), one surrealist, and one cubist work. I’ve been thinking in a very top down way by considering first the movement, then the painter and eventually narrow things down to the painting. (more…)

Early sketches appropriating (consuming) paintings from the western canon.

Posted: May 18, 2018 at 12:43 pm

In addition to the “Zombie Formalist”, this new body of work includes a series of works that appropriate the painting canon. Images are deconstructed into individual pixels that are recomposed using machine learning methods such as the Self-Organizing Map (SOM) that arranges pixels according to colour similarity. The following images show the original painting along-side the SOM reconstruction.

“Lucca Madonna”, Jan van Eyck (1436)

“Palace of Windowed Rocks”, Yves Tanguy (1942)


Early “Zombie Formalist” Sketches

Posted: May 18, 2018 at 12:31 pm

This is my first post documenting my new body of work, “Machines of the Present Consume the Imagination of the Past”, funded by the Canada Council for the Arts. The first couple months will be early research focus but I wanted to post the current sketches developed for the grant application.

A little background: the “Zombie Formalist” is a component of this body of work where a diptych of light-boxes will generate banal and satirical formalist images inspired by 1960s post-painterly abstractionists such as Gene David, Barnett Newman and Guido Molinari. Following is a selection of aesthetically successful images using an early sketch of a painting generator. All these images are composed of vertical stripes with random colour, position, width and blurring on a coloured ground.