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Acts of Art

Early Chinese painting was accomplished with a minimal amount of means in material and color.

Japanese Gardens are havens of aesthetic order at the edge of natural chaos.

Both of these disciplines reflect-use the natural world of things held fast in highly ordered choreography of form, shape, texture, light, shadow, space, time and color. The gardens actually have the upper hand though, as they are part of and in what they represent. Whereas the painting is still only a "sign" for what it portrays.

In the painting, space is flattened, stacked in a horizontal recession one area over another, yet elongated by accentuated vertical formats of presentation. A narrow area of vision, much like a tall corridor is the standard result. And most odd is that these are landscapes for the most part, but it would seem they were meant to be "read" in the same manner as a written scroll (of course there are exceptions where the format is horizontal and many also contain calligraphy as part of the visual information ).

The Gardens "borrow" elements of distance with low horizontal walls or foliage to be "looked" over and beyond. Again a notion of stacked space. It's abstraction, although not of the pure constructive type; yet just as highly constructed and visually ordered element by element.

It's those aspects, which I was most impressed with as I perused a couple picture books on both subjects, which I had found on a library shelf in 1972. I have always liked picture books for their just something to look at quality. It was never my intention to absorb all the fine points of either subject. I just wanted to "see" what these things looked like.

I had been thinking about objects, sculpture that might illustrate pictorial dynamics, rather than the iconic-totem of usual practice. Having just renovated my small studio, I had the perfect environment to begin these explorations.

Wall space was a major component of this activity, being the ground factor in most all of the works (1). It's use was critical for establishing an eye level presentation. Many of these pieces also employed glass, clear and painted black and 2nd surface mirror. The reflective qualities of these materials were also primary components, as reflected image would make up a significant part of the whole work.

Illusion seemed a reality, because it was so plain and clearly reflected; never presented with a motive to hide the means of illusion or the 3-D sculptural aspect of it's material basis. And as with the Oriental painting and gardens, "placement" in the compositional whole was all- important.

Color in this work was almost completely eliminated and replaced with the basic graphic extremes of black and white, sometimes enhanced with metallic silver, bronze or copper acrylic pigments. Other materials used included: plexiglass, redwood, masonite, aluminum, roof rock, brick, gravel, sponge, cardboard, dyed yarn, neon, various other light sources and images produced on various photocopy machines.

Many were realized as studio installations, being dismantled or destroyed once I had become completely familiar with them. Some were documented on film, either B & W or color slides, many were not and in some cases the documentation has been lost or destroyed.


Following are descriptions of a few significant works.

KUAN, 1973
Glass mirror, redwood, white roof rock.
66x47x12 inches.

A 12x12x1/8th inch glass mirror, mounted on the wall tilting towards the viewer at a 45 degree angle, with a five foot length of 1x2 redwood attached to the front surface of the mirror at the central axis in a vertical position coming just short of the floor by about two inches. The bottom area of this wood strip was spray painted a flat white without any masking, allowing a natural fade into the redwood coloration. Below the bottom edge of the wood strip, covering a narrow rectangular area of floor space was a carpet of white roof-rock.

A viewer looking into the wall mounted mirror saw, by reflection, a square of the rock carpet below and a right angle formed by the actual wood and it's equal reflection; appearing to float and recede into some sort of visual hole in real space (the mirror).

This work was sold to a private collection in Los Angeles shortly after it was completed, once it was installed I never saw it again. There is a single B & W image of it.

Frame of Reference, 1974
Redwood, silver glass mirror, black silicone.
21 x 21 x 3 _ inches.

A redwood frame work butt joined using screws. Two mirrors of equal dimensions set into the interior of the frame against each inside vertical edge at a 45degree angle to the wall on which the work is hung. The resulting illusion was that of a block receding into the wall plane, which was actually just an angled reflection of the wall in the mirrors. The leading edge of the redwood frame was covered with black silicone, creating the illusion it had been impasto painted with oil paint.

This work along with several others disappeared after an exhibition in France in 1975.

There is B & W documentation.

It was also the first in a long line of works using this illusion or a modified version incorporating a single horizontal mirror, which by 1982 numbered well over 40 examples. It's still an open group, which I add to on occasion.

Reflected Sky Horizon Window, 1977.
Plate glass mirror, steel, cast-concrete.
75 x 108 x 40 inches. (see sculpture, 1970's)

This work was a site-specific installation on a Private beach residence in central California.

I made a proposal after spending the longest day of the year (June 21) at the location making calculations using sticks and string to measure shadows and the Sun's transit across the summer sky. Unsure of my conclusions concerning shadows and reflections, the owner of the property showed them to an engineer at a nearby airforce base where he also worked. He concurred everything I had predicted was exactly what was going to happen. This was not rocket science, just observation of actual facts that were needed to determine exact placement and ensuing reflections and shadows.

The configuration was an object designed for a dual purpose; the first, was to reflect an image of the sky just above and behind the position of a viewer which also happened to be above and behind the beach front residence (the Eastern Sky).

The second purpose was, while reflecting the Eastern sky, simultaneously present a specific window view of the Western horizon line over the open ocean; in effect, affording a perfect sunset view on the occasion of the longest day of the year.

Fabrication was accomplished with the help of a mason, an Iron and steel fabricator and a glass shop. I gave dimensions and coordinates to the mason who then had concrete poured into a form that he built on site. This cast slab was reinforced with steel re-bar to help with overall strength and prevent cracking or fractures due to the movement of the sandy foundation soil. Additional strength was obtained by using a concrete mix that is common in freeway building.

The steel elements were fabricated in a shop working from drawings that I had provided.

The glass mirror which was some nine feet in length at it's ground touching base, was cut into its trapezoid shape and installed into the steel frame work by professional large glass installers.

The overall form of this piece was that of steep trapezoidal pyramid sliced vertically just behind its apex. Front view was a trapezoid mirror tilted backwards from the viewer by some 53 degrees.

Sides were right angle triangles of steel also tilted, but inward towards the center of the glass sheet. The steel framework and sides were bolted together, then anchored into the concrete slab, again with bolts. The back was open concave. If it had been closed it would have been a vertical trapezoid plane.

The window through the mirror was accomplished by removing the silver from the verso in a specific shape and size; which was also a trapezoid elongated and turned upside down. This produced not only a window but also a subtle illusion of a flat plane floating in the reflected sky space.

All of the exposed steel and mirror back were coated with a mix of silver and red marine enamel.

Although highly dramatic and well liked by the few who actually saw the finished work, evidently it was not as appreciated by those who lived with or near it.

In the early fall following it's completion, I was told it had been damaged by a severe coastal storm which included being partly submerged in high tides. As brave as these people were at the outset of this project their courage seemed to recede with the out going tides. They acted as though they wanted the piece repaired, but seemed unable to understand that was not a matter of free labor on my part or anyone else's.

After many months of attempting to solve the problem of repair I finally gave up, after having an art dealer act as a go between and present them with a written proposal regarding the repairs and costs. They never responded.

I doubt they ever wanted the work to survive beyond its alleged damaged state and it may well have been a matter of pressure from neighbors who wanted it removed from "beach front" sight.

The damage may well have been vandalism.

At most these were amateur's playing at the game of art patron and collecting; in the yard and on the wall equals some status and less time window shopping at the mall.

I was later informed they had it removed with the use of a bulldozer.

I personally shot a roll of color slides on the day it was completed. It appeared in a small magazine article sometime later, other than that it just came and went like the seasons.

Having never had the opportunity to personally view the alleged damage it was never clear what had suffered the most by the so called excessive exposure. Wind, rain, sand and salt water are a potent combination for cosmetic alteration.

If it took a bulldozer to dislodge it from the site, indication would be that it was engineered well enough to withstand storms, tides and winds. But I have to admit it was vulnerable in its purposeful reflective-ness. The glass, equal to anything employed in a large picture window had the added risk of being open on it's back side, even though it was sealed with many coats of enamel and silicone at it's edges. The expansion and contraction factor of direct beach sunlight during the day and very cool or cold at night were not the best for the silver coating that made it a mirror.

Often I have thought of a second version of this work, but the location is what made it what it was. A second one would need an equally attractive venue. And the glass would have to be replaced with mirror-polished stainless steel or bronze.

Light and Hand motion, 1974

In 1974 I occupied a studio on Lincoln Blvd. in Venice Beach, California. My immediate next door neighbor was the painter Pat Steir. She had come from Manhattan to hold a short term teaching position at Cal Arts in Valencia. On occasion we would have casual afternoon talks about art or whatever. On one such day I walked in as she was spreading out a large number of black and white photocopies on a table and the floor. These were just a bunch of random images she and her students had made that day. Their faces, hands, objects in a grainy gray and white that looked like a cross between drawing and film.

I returned to my studio still thinking of what I had seen. I began to wonder what would happen if the object being "copied" was in motion? How would it be recorded, if at all? I decided to find out. With the help of another friend I was able to get access to a high-speed copier in an advertising sales office. After business was finished for the day I was able to work with the machine for about 45 minutes to an hour. In that first run I made about fifty or so images of my hand holding a small piece of glass mirror; moving in fast, random and senseless acts.

Back at my studio I began to piece the images together as if attempting to put together fragments of some alien stop-action recording, or solve a puzzle. It seemed almost like film stills or a visual code, like sign language.

I continued experimentation, adding colors using pastels, colored inks, spray can paints, etc. Finally settling on pastels, inks and colored pencils. They were hinged together using a transparent book repair tape I discovered by chance. The format was horizontal and a few times vertical. I also experimented with mounting them on masonite, drywall and other materials. Once completed they were spray coated with clear acrylic.

In this process not only was my hand in motion as it was being "imaged", but so was the light bar in the machine which was "making the image". Hence, I began calling them Acts of Light and Hand Motion.

Between 1974 and 1979 I made many hundreds of single images and maybe 250 or so actual finished works; which ranged in size from 8 _ x 11 inches to multiple panel pieces of 7 or more feet in length. The first of these were exhibited shortly after their completion at Basel, Switzerland. Following this they were exhibited widely, many going into public and private collections. Continued production of this body of work required the use of many photocopiers over time. I worked anywhere I could find someone willing to give me access to whatever facilities they had. Often, in trade for a finished work. Documentation was done in both color and B & W.

Principal Part, 1973.
Argon gas discharge light (neon), redwood, plexiglass.
Actual dimensions not recorded.

One of the principles of perception is the determination of " object-ness" or the comprehension of three dimensions. In artistic depiction this is traditionally presented/accomplished by modeling of form; giving it a sense of reality by indication of far and near, light and shadow as well as shape and texture.

Shadow is a product of light that is blocked by something of greater density, scale is not an issue, only density of matter. It can be a grain of sand or a bowling ball, either will shadow in the presence of light. Equally, either will also reflect by the nature of it's surface and material texture; giving rise not only to it's form but also it's identity: sand – bowling ball.

The goal in making Principal Part was to mix this up a bit.

First, I made a drawing of the word "light" in a casual script typeface on a sheet of 1/8th inch thick plexiglass. This, I then cut out on a jig-saw followed by flame polishing the rough cut edges with a propane torch.

Next, I made a drawing of the word "shadow" in an upper-case block letter typeface. This drawing was given to a neon manufacturing sign shop where they translated it into a 3-D glass tube sign. The tube was coated white on it's inside and filled with Argon Gas; this made a very nice bluish-white light when charged with electricity. I then painted the front surface of the glass tube letters opaque black. This blocked or "shadowed" the light from frontal view. The next step was to construct a redwood shelf that would be mounted to a wall surface and become the stage for this perceptual act.

The word "shadow" was placed along the back edge of the shelf against the wall. The word "light" was attached to the front edge of the shelf. Front and back were separated by several inches of open space.

When turned on the word "shadow" spread it's white glow on the wall space behind it and became the light source for the darkened space in which it was presented. The word "light" became almost invisible in its window pane reflective transparency.In other words, you looked through the image of "light" to the image of "shadow" which was actually the indirect light source.

This work went into a private collection in Santa Monica, California soon after completion. It was exhibited once in a group exhibition titled "Light" at the Scripps College Art Gallery in Claremont, California in 1974. There was a single B & W reproduction.


(1) The wall was a factor as I attempted to stay within the bounds of normal practice in the presentation of pictorial concerns. There was one exception to this format, a medium scale freestanding floor piece titled Act of Squared Reflection that I first fully constructed in Paris, France in 1975; and again in 1980 at the San Diego Art Museum. This second version was larger in scale than the first, both were dismantled after their exhibitions and have not been reconstructed again.

© 2003 greg card

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