Spooky Action at a Distance
Grandparents like to tell stories about the olden days. People spend whole lives, whole fortunes trying to bring back the past. What if, in the not so distant future, our daily experience were so altered that we could not remember the way things were, not at all. The present would then be the past and the past would be something precious, something nearly impossible to revive but not entirely impossible to imagine. This is the starting point for this body of work.
These are glimpses into worlds that exist either in real space or not, in which people have done their best to reconstruct what it might have been like to have a home, to walk through a forest, to bathe in an ocean. This is a time when the virtual has supplanted the real and the real is the stuff of imagination. Were trees brown or white or had they a pattern? Where were the doors to the places called homes? If clouds were real, could they be turned on and off? Have snakes and people always been equal?
Some time in the 1930s Albert Einstein coined the term “spooky action at a distance” when dismissing a paradox of quantum mechanics that seemed to measure identical behaviors in vastly separated particles. In an age of the virtual, it is in fact plausible that an iteration of a particle, a pattern, even a person could occur in multiple “places” at once. If one moves, the other moves, if one fails, the other fails. Partly because this is in fact a method I use in the creation of the works, and partly because the term is suggestive and playfully disturbing, I thought it fitting for this body of work.
There are a wide range of artistic and cultural influences at play here ranging from Henri Rousseau to Frederick Church, to the neoclassicists and on to movie posters, science fiction art, and video games aesthetics. My favorite experience in viewing and making art is existing in a state of uncertainty; Oftentimes, disciplines such as gaming and science fiction illustration are designed to lend clarification, the experience of ambiguity is not usually part of the equation. So in a fantasy illustration a dragon may be seen at the very moment it is being slain by the hero, in a video game the objective to free the prisoners may be a clear and constant theme, or on a sci-fi book cover, the particular mechanical details of an imagined invention or vehicle may be the obvious intended object of interest. For these prints, I have drawn influence from many of these types of sources, but have sought to distill them in such a way as to retain the kind of ambiguity I crave in my work. I mean to capture moments of humanity, moments of limbo, to present people as they are deciding something, just before or just after a personal triumph or tragedy. In this way I see these works as akin to history painting, allegorical painting, and genre painting, though the genre or the moment of history they may capture be entirely virtual.
For some time I had been making sculptures with clay, plaster, Bondo and other material directly by hand and arriving at some distortions in the forms I was creating that were less than ideal and less than deliberate. In order to have more control over the kinds of distortions and to better allude to a virtual world of characters and places that were increasingly becoming a part of my daily life, I purchased and learned some 3D modeling programs which allowed me to sculpt in a virtual environment. Afterward, using a combination of techniques involving a 5 axis CNC router, hot-knife carving, and hand sculpting with epoxy resin and a fiberglass substitute, I was able to realize these originally virtual sculptures at life-size scale.
While working in these programs for the purpose of addressing sculptural concerns, I realized that some of the issues I had confronted in making paintings might be solved using related software and processes. I had always been in the habit of conjuring alternate realities in my paintings, bringing to life a brand of far-flung dreaminess thick with gummy pinks and candy greens and reds, worlds overrun by children that may just as well have been conjured by them too. But while I always hoped for and expected a kind of lavish off-the-wall-ness, I still wanted those spaces and the scenes to seem viable... if not probable, then possible. I worked hard to imagine how light and shadow would react in a given space; I experimented – I built small maquettes, and worked from observation, I assembled pictures in Photoshop, I cut, I blurred, I composited. I made life-size sets in my studio to use as sources for my paintings.
Each of these approaches had advantages and disadvantages. One of the key disadvantages to working from direct observation for the kind of spaces and figures I was wanting to conjure was that my imagination was limited by available materials, space and resources... One of the key disadvantages to working from pictures, even or especially from composites was that the light sources were bound to be different in each or all of the images. Colors may or may not be linked, the spaces, the sense of atmosphere could, and often was at odds - and I wanted things to seem believable.
The 3D programs I had begun to learn to solve sculptural concerns, started to suggest possibilities for painting as well. In these spaces I could create and cast figures in practically any number and orientation; I could have complete control over the amount, location, color of the lights. I could dictate the atmosphere. Once complete, I could construct a composition, choose a point of view and use it as a source from which to paint. I did this for several paintings. It was not long though before I began to want to maintain the native digital appearance of some of the works I was constructing, I liked the digital wreckage, odd pixelation, the appearance of distorted vectors, a base geometry gone awry; there were textures that would gain little from being translated into paint and figures whose unsettling hyperrealism would be compromised if subjected to the brush -- ultimately I began to want to see the works as they were, only printed large with good pigment on good paper. As large pigment prints they would carry the weight of the paintings for which they were originally intended to serve as mere sources. In this format they would also have some of the neatness of photography while retaining the digital residue I so liked and maintain their reference to the world of the virtual, the world in which they were conceived. While these digital works are not a replacement for my painting and sculptures which I continue to make alongside these, even now, it is precisely the fact that this kind of work is not photographed, not drawn or painted, or even modeled exactly, but that it has aspects of all of these that makes it seem to me today to be an ideal embodiment of my studio experience up to this point and a welcome addition to my already multi-pronged practice.