In my ongoing “Disaster” series, I am interested in exploring themes consistent with Abstract Expressionist painting, and the proximity of those themes to a contemporary fascination with images of explosion, war, dust, and debris. Painting in a period of post-9/11 imagery, a war on terror, and anxiety producing “alert levels,” I find that images of disasters occupy a pivotal role in describing our cultural moment. My images of disasters offer the viewer a chance to participate in an experience of mass subjectivity, not unlike like the aspirations of action painting, while simultaneously attempting to make that experience relevant to our contemporary cultural moment through prodding and posing questions.
In order to impart the disaster experience into my paintings, I exploit a tension between the phenomenological read of a disaster and the view of abstract painting as a literal material disaster: two normally incompatible models of viewing. My reasoning for coupling an illusionism with a more abstract materialist dialogue with paint is to visually articulate the polemics of the disaster. The disaster, as a representational image, offers a depiction of an absent subject, or one at its end. However, in the depiction of this event as absent, it recalls and demands that viewers work to remember its origin, by recalling the original trauma/event. To this point, my painting, through illusionism, enacts a sentimentality or nostalgia for this origin, while my integration of abstraction enacts a tension by optically challenging that illusion. In this sense, my paintings simultaneously involve the viewer in the optical spectacle of the explosion, while pointing to the extent of the medium’s failure to communicate anything other than effects. It is in this sense that I see the legacy of American abstraction as one no longer bound to utopian aspirations, but rather embedded in a culture of violence and spectacle.
Further, a secondary theme in my work is an idea also imbedded in the history of abstraction: that Modernist painting, in particular, is the dichotomy of kitsch and the avant-garde. In my work, I strive for ways to synthesize this essential binary, as I find it to be central to the practice of painting. It is for this reason that I hope my paintings, in the way they participate visually and culturally with the issue of disasters/trauma, will function much like a snow globe: they represent an inexhaustible instant, are able to be repeatedly viewed, yet simultaneously are nothing more than a frozen, stillborn moment. My paintings momentarily provide a “shake,” or distraction, but always with a companion nod to a memorialized frozen moment.
One way to view this spectacle or “kitsch” element in American culture, and related to my above theme of the disaster, is through the “disaster/action” movie or myriad of fetishized explosions existing in video games, television, etc. It is for this reason that all of my imagery is based off of the explosion or post-explosion ruin, to enact a synthesis between the anxiety inducing contemporary visuals of war and chaos with their entertainment parallels of unbridled sensation devoid of consequence. The mark making in my paintings is also the result of a combination of methods, all related to the description of the above concerns. Spray painting is used as a mark expressing a certain anxiety, an expansive mark resulting in an incredibly toxic dust or spray at once marking the surface of the canvas as surface, while doubling to depict illusionistic stains and depths. Large swaths of color are applied with a variation of brushes, destined in their extravagant weight to at some point mimic the disaster, as some eventually drop to the floor, resulting in massive, hazardous sculptures, making a true parallel to “action” painting.
Ultimately, my practice is not aimed at the negation or criticism of painting, but rather seeks to embrace previous models of painting in the evolution of new material forms. However, it is of the utmost importance that these forms and paintings are not made in isolation of either historical and/or contemporary cultural concerns. Additionally, I believe many of my concerns related to the disaster are synonymous with issues currently related to painting, as contemporary dialogues surrounding painting (the death of, pivotal role of kitsch, etc.) seem to very closely mimic the way in which American culture as a whole participates in loss/mourning resulting from prevalent traumas.