Artist Talk, June 10, 2021
Landscape Abstractions was about boiling down what it meant to have technology and be human in the simplest visual way.
So, the goal: boil ideas into two elements. Simplify.
I was working with traditionally painted, slightly abstract, slightly expressionistic landscapes drawn from my photography of the high country. I would take one form of abstraction and lay it against and in contrast to the environment of the landscape thus allowing a dialog between those two elements solely.
There were some wrinkles in there. Sometimes I sketched into the field of the painting designs or patterns that related to the evolution of the computer and circuit boards. See, the circuit board and its relationship to our lives as humans is more and more becoming a cipher of our souls, circulating what it is to be human, and what is the otherness of the machine, and the perfection of mathematics. We want them to mesh for some utopian future, and we all know that it's not going to work that way.
And with that, I developed a fundamental crisis of belief in a system. There were subtleties of relationships that I wanted to express.
Simplicity was achieved, and then of course a desire for the subtleties of relationship emerged. The other thing that showed up was a crisis of the tradition of painting… and I started to question form. Maybe the ideas I wanted to express, maybe they cannot be actualized in the tradition of the painting.
I started to look at sculpture and materials and what happened if the shapes in the paintings (Landscape Abstractions) came out of the painting and existed on their own as real objects in space, with the painting alongside. This happened specifically with the“The Pale King.”
And then, came the question: how much do I need landscape? Can I say the things I want to say - can they be said in a non-objective work? So I tested it.
The painting evolved into environment. It was pulled apart physically. The success of that was real. It became about dripping the landscape and powder-coated steel as a piece of alien technology existing outside, and even further away. I had to jump off the edge of the chasm into an area where I wouldn’t have the help of the landscape or the comfort of an image to support the making of the thing, and all the elements to make the thing had to come from languages I had yet to explore.
Component Pieces are made of shapes and sculptural things, and most existed on a wall. Many of the works were made with non-painterly things- steel, aluminum, mirrored plexiglass. Ultimately, they referred to a painting. I couldn’t escape this elemental part of what I do and returned to it - proof of myself.
This body is a fulcrum point of consciousness. I had to test a number of things and put myself in a position to not have any gravitational help. And it was very difficult - people didn’t understand it. It was an identity shift away from the successful for the deeper.
This body was compulsive, a leap of faith. After “The Pale King” and the work that came after it, I was in the space of non-objective works… exploring the unsalable as a test. It was about important investigations that gave me sensitivities that I did not have previously. It widened me as an artist, made me more plastic, more visionary. And the process made me appreciate the image, its fantasy, and its aphrodisiac qualities.
Discovering the Materials and their own poetry.
And there is a narrative. I went through - I got one component piece and had a show, and once the work was up, I said I don’t want to do this work anymore. So then I wondered what I was going to do, and what work I was going to make. I didn't have a plan, I didn’t know what to make, I felt I had painted myself into a corner. And I was on a little stool in a corner and there were snakes and alligators everywhere - and if I moved, I thought I was going to die and I was going into the studio, and I would put my head down on the work table because I didn’t know what to do and I couldn’t make a mark for a while. I wanted to go back to painting but I didn’t know how to explain it to myself or explain it. I didn’t know what the motivation would have been. What would I make, and what would I do?
There was a studio visit about Component Pieces with an artist who said to me:
“You know, Andrew, you can’t have two gods. You can only serve one god.” She was implying either I had to be a minimalist or something else. She touched me with a poisoned wand and I shriveled and died that night.
And then I was reborn. A week later, I just started painting again. Paint was put on paper and I started thinking about my old work. A vision emerged that maybe what I was after was something totally different… some holistic fabric of many gods and many somethings.
That was the beginning of the Processor push, slowly and surely.
I started doing things that were more like paintings again. And I destroyed a lot of work. It was about wanting to be a painter again and show what I learned from the component pieces, and what could be gleaned from the landscapes. Enter: Ganesha, the computer processor, and the influence of my father, a computer scientist.
He worked at the Livermore Lab. He was lucky to get in on the evolution of the computer right when coding and programming became a thing. He was in a mathematics program and in his last semester, he had credits he had to use up, and he learned how to program. This was at a time when the government recruited everyone. He worked on the first missile program with targeting. It was 1962, 1963 and no one knew about it all. They just made it all up as they went. And then he became a debugger - he would end up at IBM.
IBM would get the first ones and they would take a language that they used and make it work with that computer and whatever other tape drives and every new computer, they had to make it work together. It was all a bunch of components that didn’t fit well. He was one of the guys who tried to make it work together and chop numbers and eventually do a lot of other things, too. A lot of it was defense-related… that’s the sad epilogue of a lot of his work.
I have a sadness about it that so much of it was to make a better bomb or a better way to deliver it. It’s how I look at technology now - there’s always a cost-benefit analysis that can be made and it’s something we have to keep in mind.
The history of Landscape has always captivated me. Around the beginning of this body of work, Chinese and Japanese painting was of interest, practice, and research for me. These methodologies go back further, in some ways than European painting. I started to think about a broad rainbow of time, and how the landscape was visioned by these artists. I wanted to go to eras when there were other ways of seeing the world, reflected in the brush, and so embedded in the fabric of experience of that time. This would become one of my components.
Then a specific inquiry arose with technology. What if I’m moving more towards talking about the evolution of the thinking machine? Then it would put my actions into a perspective arc of information and knowledge that would float in and out with each other.
Then science fiction- it can be prospective, as we have a history of science fiction, and its realness. Architecture came to me- Stonehenge, Taj Mahal, and then… Ada Lovelace, the architect of the thinking machine. This was a monumental moment for me because of all my intellectual trade and ideas - I was able to focus on that one thing as the center point.
I could refer to one time of the evolution of the computer and that could exist in the painting and set it against the Song brushwork of China. The work then changed again. I saw it could be an open structure arraying out from a center core into these different realms of human knowledge and cultural reference. Together, they could coalesce back towards histories of the world and the landscape and human vision and technology, and ultimately, to our experience right now where we are. Each element would place them in these wider fields of universes. They could be Venn diagrammed over each other and have an endless evolution.
I was freed.
Processor was the first prospective body of work, open to many influences and instances. And that each piece would be an instance within this universe of overlapping fabric of technologies and visions. So, pulling from the Component works, I still had these pieces of mirrored Plexi and a friend was sandblasting ceramics and one day I went by him with a piece of Plexi with paint, and we sandblasted it. And the whole work of Processor was born in that moment of production.
During Processor, 1” clear plexiglass was introduced. Instantly, its photo-lithographic qualities and process became a cipher and guide for making paintings. I realized that I could sandblast the front, back, and sides of it and because of those sides, if I set it on the wall, there were layered refractions.
Ultimately, Processor got processed. And thus, Transparent was born.
The mind is not satisfied, of course, so when the pandemic hit, things about being a human came into focus. I started to think about narratives and what would it be like if there was a narrative in my work?
How does a narrative work? What if there is a story in the piece to be read, with all the components available and developed? I would tell people how I made work, and they would respond to it as a narrative, a story. So, I asked myself could I take all of that and put it in the tradition of drawing?
The work of a draftsman, that identity, has always been with me. I would make little drawings to hide in my garret. When I thought about making these drawings, they would be in contrast to the physical qualities of the larger works and the complexity of all these materials and methods (paint, sand, etc.)
Could I go back to just making black lines on paper? Is there a way to do that? Well, yes.
The Drawings were a way for me to get the emotions of the pandemic to get that onto paper. These have all the qualities of the paintings: science fiction, historical landscape painting, and now the dystopia of the pandemic, of nooses hanging from trees, they have qualities of people putting other peoples’ heads on stakes to vilify other humans as if there is some perfect way we should act.
There are multiple strains of pop culture showing up as well - like the Walking Dead. I think somehow this is a harbinger of our dissociation within ourselves. There’s nothing about the future in the Walking Dead - it’s about us now. The horror of it, the human degradation and hatred and all the extreme human emotions... All of this was brought out in the pandemic, highlighted by this distinct thread of science fiction, and constantly imagining the worst that could happen. You could get a glimpse of utopia in science fiction… and also, how we process alien culture.
One of the drawings, “Liberty” references the last scene of the Planet of the Apes. You’ve got Charlton Heston on the beach riding away on a horse, and then the scene shifts and you are looking down in the crown of Lady Liberty at him on the beach and it’s a very abstract scene but you sense what you are looking through is, and as soon as you know what it is, you know you are looking up and she is washed up on the shore, and it’s the end of civilization and this is the aftermath.
I’ve been referencing Lady Liberty’s headdress coming into some of the images just to reference that idea-- the end of civilization. It’s one of the important ideas of science fiction, what it tries to understand, and tries to have empathy for. There is a possibility that we can end ourselves. We know we have the ability to do that. For many thousands of years, we’ve had this narrative to erase human life on the earth.
And within this time, I had this urge to make paintings that did not have a recognizable landscape image at all, but in them, an environment that could be felt. It would feel like a space or a context but it would not have those things that pin it to an actual scene.
Everything began with the surface, with intentional marks that could be blown out, hidden, revealed. I started with documents on the evolution of the computer. I would print it on surfaces, sandblast them. Then, big sweeping strokes and tiny marks with paint, wholly in the tradition of the abstract painting.
I returned to the interior of that tradition. And also, refracted with mirrored plexiglass, some canvas, and ultimately, I would try to coalesce these ideas of dystopia and utopia that were coming out of the drawings. The fact was that we were coming out of the pandemic, to where we are right now. I had to make works that spoke to that, that NOW.