“The brotherhood of man on earth will be possible only on a base of kitsch.”
– Milan Kundera
My recent body of work develops out of a continued investigation into issues of Abstract Expressionism and its intertwined relationship with an American culture of (fascination with?) violence. Having recently worked with pairing gestural abstract mark-making with images of explosions/disaster scenes, my recent body of work investigates the response — artistically and culturally — to these phenomena. However, while my prior work investigated the collective response to the disaster itself (and the proximity of that response to the viewing experience of Abstract Expressionism or Action painting), my current body of work explores the collective response to the disaster’s aftermath.
The aftermath of a disaster has a very specific relationship to the historical antithesis of modernist avant-garde practice. This typical response (or, in the case of a disaster, recourse) to mourning appears purely as a kitsch-driven phenomena. Specifically, within an American context that boasts broad, popular, collective participation, kitsch enjoys an integral position. Kitsch reigns as the primary aesthetic style of patriotic culture, appearing most notably in times of collective mourning; it is one in which snow globes, teddy bears, and souvenirs spur on tourism of all kinds in order to offer a nostalgic/sentimental refuge for the sublimation of some traumatic event. My current body of work attempts to understand this usage of kitsch, a long understood binary of modernist avant-garde practices, seen in the context of mourning and the American response to the disaster. My work participates in this peculiar and fascinating occurrence by tempting ideas of the monumentality and innocence. I am primarily interested in exploring the inherently contradictory position kitsch holds, one that is at once a negative (at times described as an ethically problematic experience), as well as one that holds limitless potential for the universalizing of experience. This body of work explores how kitsch objects visually bracket off any knowledge of former disaster, and instead allude through the forms of tribute that there is a shared message of sentiment — and that that alone is sufficient.
In these works, I have been especially interested in the relationship the snow globe, and images of collective sentiment can inherently relate to gestural abstraction. Specifically, I want to explore how the universal appeal, recognition, or collective response sought in expressionist painting is really only possible through recourse to kitsch elements. For example, the snow globe provides an actualized, universal gesture. A viewer doesn’t have to only passively relate to frozen strokes in a painting; instead, he/she becomes author through his or her own shake. Thus, a permanent instant, much like what is shown in a painting, is constantly available for replay. At the outset, the shake of the globe is a gesture that causes an extreme flurry or chaos of movement; however, it always returns to the frozen, settled, moment. In this sense, the timed cycle of the globe provides a constant return, bringing the viewer again and again into a shared experience of the traditional expressionist gesture.
Having studied and practiced painting through periods of its “death,” my interest in aligning it with kitsch, and themes of mourning, is to allow these themes to play out and intersect as much as possible. For this reason, painting provides a unique and exceptional forum to investigate the operation of kitsch in a cultural context, as well as its pivotal role in painting itself. In allowing my paintings to embrace and utilize kitsch elements, my interest is not to distance kitsch by criticism or maintaining ironic detachment; rather, I want to investigate the range of responses it is capable of evoking, and how those responses can functionally assist in abstract painting’s production of a shared experience.