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Najeev 1, from a new painting series

I found an extraordinary essay by Steve Baker titled “To go about noisily: clutter, writing and design.” I’ve been mulling over the issues he raises for several weeks and I am still formulating my thoughts on this topic. Clutter: It’s a much more complex topic than those hoarder reality shows would suggest. When I come to some clarity, I will write more about Baker’s essay.

But an epigraph from Schopenhauer that Baker uses at the beginning of his piece caught my attention: “The surest way of never having any thoughts of your own is to pick up a book every time you have a free moment.”

Really? My first response was, that’s not about me since I don’t pick up a book every time I have a free moment (but how about every other?) In all seriousness, my thinking life is best described as hybrid vigor: I am happiest when there are other points of view to consider. I like an idea landscape richly textured, and the origin of the flora and fauna doesn’t matter to me at all. The Schopenhauer approach is too stark and monastic to appeal to my pluralist (or as some would say, excessive) tendencies.

And what’s more, the best ideas stand up well over time, and they can still feed you when you come back to them later. A good example is this quote by W. S. Piero from his book of essays on modern art, Out of Eden. I first posted it on Slow Muse in 2007. When I ran across it quite by accident this morning I wanted to share it here again.

Why are the jets and emulsive tracks of paints in Pollock’s Lavender Mist: Number 1, 1950 so compelling? It’s not only because he was creating a greater plasticity of space and laying out dozens of contested fields of formal activity where disintegrating patterns pitch against imminent, struggling stabilities. There’s something one can’t reduce satisfactorily to formal terms. In 1964 the Romanian-born Eliade, who was a great admirer of his countryman Brancusi, spoke of “nonfigurative painters who abolish representational forms and surfaces, penetrate to the inside of matter, and try to reveal the ultimate structures of substance.” In order to talk about Pollock, and Rothko for that matter, in other than purely formalist vocabularies (and to avoid the useless argument that both were representationalists masquerading as abstractionists), we have to…talk about the sacred and the mundane. Eliade also says that non-representational art corresponds to the “demythologization” in religion advocated by Rudolph Bultmann. As Christianity may dissolve the images and symbols of its traditional narratives to confront once again the freshness of religious experience in our secular, materialistic time, certain artists give up the making of representational images so that they can see through traditional iconography to the world as it could have been seen only on the first day of creation. Moreover, he says, today’s artist “sees only the freshness of the first day of the world—he does not yet see its ‘face.’ The time of the epiphany has not yet arrived, or does the world truly have no face?” I think Pollock and Rothko worked to paint that facelessness. For Rothko it was toned with a magisterial, voluminous solemnity. For Pollock the tone was one of self-devouring conflict.

Revisiting the past: “Tuffesse,” 20 x 50″, from a body of work I painted about the same time as this original post

This post first appeared here in April 2007. In looking back through that period of time I found these quotes from Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari still relevant and useful. A Thousand Plateaus is one of those timeless books that continues to be a fecund source for ideas, stimulation, provocation, inspiration, insight.

I spent last week at the Ad:Tech interactive advertising and technology conference in San Francisco talking to people about where they see the Web heading and what life online is going to look like in a few more years. The range of future views I heard was, as expected, diverse. While I do not have a clear idea of my own about how all the plethora of possible scenarios will play out, what did emerge was the distinct view of this space as a potentiality, an undefined, nonlinear, anything-is-possible vortex. I kept being reminded of A Thousand Plateaus, the mindblowing, rhapsodic “book” (hard to call it that) by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. A few salient quotes:

The principal characteristics of a rhizome: unlike tress or their roots, the rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature; it brings into play very different regimes of signs, and even nonsign states.

A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo.

Unlike the tree, the rhizome is not the object of reproduction: neither external reproduction as image-tree nor internal reproduction as tree-structure. The rhizome is an antigeneaology. It is short term memory, or antimemory. The rhizome operates by variation, expansion, conquest, capture, offshoots.

Once a rhizome has been obstructed, aborified, it’s all over, no desire stirs; for it is always by rhizome that desire moves and produces.

The wisdom of the plants; even when they have roots, there is always an outside where they form a rhizome with something else–with the wind, an animal, human beings.

Write, form a rhizome, increase your territory by deterritorialization, extend the line of flight to the point where it becomes an abstract machine covering the entire plane of consistency.

We have lost the rhizome, or the grass. Henry Miller:…”Grass is the only way out.”

Make rhizomes, not roots, never plant! Don’t sow, grow offshoots! Don’t be one or multiple, be multiplicities! Run lines, never plot a point! Speed turns the point into a line!

The Twins, Castor and Pollux, by Dorothea Rockburne

I think the reason I paint, or that I do whatever I do, is to deal with (I don’t think of it as unconscious) subliminal knowledge. And I do think that one has knowledge about things that haven’t occured yet, and I try to work for those kinds of knowledges. For me, these are emotional truths.

[Subliminal knowledge] is what I call developed intuition. What I have found is that when I learn something—while you are using it at the moment, it’s right at the top of your brain. But, as you move on and are using newer information, the formerly learned information goes into a mental file and with time that file goes deeper into the drawer and becomes what I call sublminal information. It is trained intuition because the files begin to combine, all on their own accord.

Dorothea Rockburne, in conversation with Denise Green
Metonymy in Contemporary Art

This is one of the clearest statements I’ve ever read of what it is that compels me to paint. Rockburne’s distinction between “sublminal knowledge” and the unconscious is also a key insight. The visual material that we internalize is a bit like the bubble under the tablecloth—you know it’s there, but it is nearly impossible to nail down. It just pops up somewhere else, having morphed into yet a different shape. As Rockburne suggests, the mixing it up happens with or without conscious engagement.

Another provocative suggestion in this exchange is Rockburne’s reference to prescient information and how, as an artist, she is seeking access to those other “kinds of knowledges.” But that is a topic for a whole other discussion.

(Note: This post originally appeared on Slow Muse in March of 2007.)

[Note: Recently I went in search of a particular post on Slow Muse from several years ago. In the process I found so many others that dealt with topics that are still, all these years later, speaking to me. So I have decided to start a recycling series. From time to time I’ll share content that is still bouncing around in me, still offering its own kind of inspiration. This first one originally appeared in January 2007.]

From Agnes Martin:

My interest is in experience that is wordless and silent, and in the fact that this experience can be expressed for me in artwork which is also wordless and silent.

Agnes Martin, portrait by Charles R. Rushton

Martin also talks about how she first began using the grid in her work:

When I first made a grid I happened to be thinking of the innocence of trees and then a grid came into my mind and I thought it represented innocence, and I still do, and so I painted it and then I was satisfied. I thought, this is my vision.

The Tree, by Agnes Martin

Martin’s work exudes a quiet humility and a transcendent, uncomplicated purity. The power that exists in her paintings is tangible yet rarefied. When the Whitney Museum mounted a Martin retrospective a few years ago, it ran concurrently with a show of work by Basquiat. People in his exhibit were engaged in lively discussions of Basquiat’s larger-than-life iconography and wild-handed expressionism. Two flights down, in the Martin exhibit, there was no gaggling or chatter. People wandering in fell silent as if on cue, respectful of the sepulchral reverence that had been created by her subtle and evocative work. Sitting “wordless and silent” amid those paintings was full immersion Martin.

I have thought about her line, the innocence of trees, many times. Her equating of the grid with innocence is still an idea that I find poetic and provocative—I don’t speak grid in my own work—but I do feel its fulfillment in the delicate armatures of graphite in her paintings. The large hearted innocence of nature, and of trees, just may be the delicate armatures of our existence. Like her grids, they require close viewing to capture fully. And, like her work, they call for a moment of wordless silence.