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Adventure in Pursuit of Actual Abstraction
Inventing color formulas or use in polyester resin occupied much of my concentration in 1969.
There was no assigned plan to what I was composing, no attempt to literally reproduce a particular theory, chart or example. Working with red, yellow, amber, green, blue and violet paste pigments; along with opaque white, black, silver and pearl white mixed in acetone and clear resin I eventually produced about thirty colors.
It was a step in a process of exploration, the goal of which was to make a transparent picture plane. A space for painting that was both present in the physical yet at the edge of visibility. I wanted to work "in" that space not "on" it. So the use of commercially made glass or plastic was eliminated.
The point was to make painting that was not just space and the vacant manipulation of pigments to the end of hued atmosphere or monochrome textures; but a transparent/ translucent space occupied by "something". My choice for the "something" was color in a formed / free-form state. By experimentation I had learned how polyester resin behaved when it was poured, brushed or squeegeed on various surfaces and materials, this was my medium.
By the time I began the making of the color formulas I knew pretty much how they would be used. A casting process done by a combination of pouring and spreading with a wooden plank or squeegee on a glass or formica or polyethylene surface. (1.) This was done in several layers, each of which was clear or slightly tinted. In the first and sometimes second layer, various colors from the formulas were poured in what appeared to be vacant areas (irregular shaped spaces) where the "clear" had not covered the casting surface. This became the "something" composition, free-form coloration in an otherwise empty or translucent space (at times also accentuated by the weave pattern of the fiberglass cloth that was employed for strength and which read as a transparent canvas). Sometimes I would pour only in areas near a corner or edge of the casting surface but for the most part it was all over the surface.
The resulting shapes were unique in form. This was not colorfield painting, stain painting or anything of that nature as I was "casting" color in a thin 3-D format on defined rectangular surfaces (6' x 5' , 30"x36" , 7' 11"x 4').
As often happens with actual-abstractness associations and metaphor began to be attached to these works. Critics saw things in them I never intended or cared about, or tried to make some point about the studio order I had established for their production.
From 1969 to 1971 they evolved with the additions of various other elements, sand, dust, dirt, watercolor, shell chips etc. Eventually becoming densely colored and somewhat opaque they concluded further working. At that point I abandoned the whole process and production, dismantled the interior of my studio and set about its complete renovation.
Early on in the making of the cast-color resin paintings I attempted to introduce some visual geometry in the form of lines within the cast space. I used long thin strips of silver tinsel, laying various lengths into the liquid resin. It worked in such a different manner that I was unable to hold on to it.
Eventually, unable to reconcile it's different nature and success in comparison to the cast-color works I made the blind error of destroying it.
Prior to the period of casting works in resin I had spent a couple of years (1967-1968) working with acrylic lacquer and transmission/reflection pigments, which were spray painted onto transparent plexiglass cyclinders and small sheets. These works were also about color, but this color behaved in a decidedly different manner than conventional pigments, especially on a curved surface.
These were objects of color in real space. Reflecting one color and transmitting another, as they appeared to float about 18 inches above the floor, suspended from the ceiling on thin monofilament wire. Being spray painted I saw them as paintings in the round, continuous surface paintings which I titled All Airline Everything. ( the "airline" referred to both the means of air supply to spray paint the surfaces and to the appearance of the whole finished work as a 3-D "line in space").
The role of these works as objects was heightened by the illusion of their presentation. The first three, which were actually models for the others were constructed of wood, one being covered in fiberglass. Two of these were hung several degrees out of level in a horizontal position. The third and all that followed were hung as verticals. The first four done on plexiglass measured 6' in height and 2" in diameter, the first two woods were also the same dimensions. The fiberglass covered one and all subsequent works were smaller in length and sometimes larger in diameter.
They were equally wide lines and tubes. Fidel Danielli writing in Artforum in 1968 referred to them as "ghosts of burned out Dan Flavin tubes".
Once I had completed the renovation of my small studio I left it empty for a time. Then, very slowly I began the addition various 3-D elements. A hollow rectangular bar of aluminum some six feet in length against a wall and leaning into a corner. A piece of plexiglass rod warped and contorted from exposure to a propane torch balanced on top of the aluminum. Finally a red Dichroic stage light installed in the ceiling and directed into the corner to illuminate this subjective act of balance.
One afternoon on a trip to my local public library, in the art section, I found a book titled "Principles of Chinese Painting". It so happened I was also looking at picture books of gardens in Japan. Both of these had a great impact on my ideas about art, its making and its presentation.
I began to produce 3-D works that were comments on some basic precepts of traditional western painting: space, illusion, light and shadow. Working with a variety of materials including light in various forms from projected to neon and standard incandescent along with glass, mirrors, wood, metals and plastics and at times rock and brick; over the next eight years I was able to produce a large and varied body of work. Small objects to museum installations and work on paper.
The precursor to this activity was the cast resin piece with the embedded thin strips of silver tinsel that had completely rattled my sense of vision with it's light reflecting and bending mystery. The last layer in the casting of that piece was opaque black. It made the whole object a giant black mirror, the silver strips or "lines" flashed through the dark reflectiveness like slivers of frozen lightning.
In the new work the first reflective flat surfaces were black mirrors made by spray painting one side of a sheet of clear glass. These were matched up with components of the other materials described above to produce very spare minimal objects with strong illusionary characteristics that I called "Acts" of art.
During this period I also worked on a large body of works on paper, many of which also carried the "Acts" title.
These were done using various photocopy machines to record the motion of my hand performing senseless random acts or gestures. Usually being strung together in long horizontal banners they resembled some kind of alien stop action panoramas, mostly colored with pastels and inks.
Reaction to this stuff was often varied and laced with humor. I recall one visit I had from the painter Ed Moses, he had come to look over the building my studio was in.
When he came in I had many of the unfinished images taped to a long expanse of wall, maybe twenty feet. Looking at them as he walked past he turned and said to me; "Those are great charcoal drawings!"
I just smiled, loving the convincing quality of their illusion.
In the late spring of 1978 with the part time help of a single museum preparator I was able to construct and install the single largest example from the on going Acts of Art group.
This work, titled "Reflected Illusion Squared" consisted of two 6' x 9' _ inch plate glass mirrors, a sheet of 5'x8' _ inch clear plate glass, fabricated walls, acrylic and enamel paint.
We set the two large mirrors at a 90-degree angle to each other standing in a corner of specially constructed walls. Once the mirrors were secured to the walls the sheet of clear plate glass was set against the mirrors spanning the space between them, with siliconed edges to hold it in place.
Next, I climbed inside this three sided container and hand painted a meandering white and red line across the back of the glass pane, and then on the surface of the two opposing mirror faces, connecting at the juncture of each plane. To do this I used sign painters enamel so as not to leave any brush marks.
The resulting illusion was spectacular. It appeared as a large open top glass box resting on the floor in an opening in the corner of the room. It also appeared to contain "something" that was defined only by its irregular white and red edge. The walls upon which the mirrors were mounted I had painted a very dark translucent green, full of brush marks, a gesture that pointed to the fact that this "real" act of illusion in pristine materials was indeed surrounded, even in whole, contained within the boundary of painted abstract space.
This installation was open from May 12 to July 2 ,1978 at the Newport Harbor Art Museum in Newport Beach, California.
As a beginning summer exhibition it was paired with Frank Stella's then traveling exhibition "Stella since 70" which contained many of his first 3-D metal paintings. Having admired his abstract persistence and innovation for some time, I took a break one afternoon from my own labors and went to have a look in the galleries where his works were being hung.
The works were up, but nobody was around. In fact his crew had finished their work the day before and departed. I had the whole thing to myself, a private preview. After a short time of looking around I found myself in front of the largest piece in the room: a massive relief some 13' high by 18' wide, (2.) expanding off the wall maybe 30 inches or more. You could feel the spatial activity of this thing, its vivid color vibrating, touched here and there by bits of glass glitter sparkle and/or raw aluminum.
It was convincing, the force of a giant triangle breaking loose from it's surrounding space tilting towards me, while the space itself was geometrically being warped and receding back, topped and penetrated here and there by other various enlarged drawing and drafting tools. I was transfixed for a long while as my eyes roamed the surfaces, colors and highly convoluted space. Then I wanted to see more of it. My mind wanted to know how it was here, what held it all together, in place? Of course I "knew" there had to be a mechanical answer, nuts, bolts and bracing.
As I looked closer in and behind various objects I began to like it even more; for its engineered astuteness and simple resolve of nuts, bolts and bracing. It made me laugh, as I thought back and recalled a time one evening in the mid-sixties. Listening to a panel discussion where Stella and Robert Irwin were expounding their respective differences in regards to art. Irwin was very disturbed with the ill manner in which the canvas had been stretched upon Stella's large Protractor paintings; resulting in what he termed something like, sloppy crotches. Stella, ignoring the insinuation said: "we need new colors".
I think this was about the time that Irwin was having aluminum discs hand fabricated by a metal worker in downtown Los Angeles. (Perfect hand made objects).
Anyway, here I was with structural engineering and fabrication that far exceeded those five-foot discs and wondering if Irwin would again claim sloppiness upon seeing the nuts, bolts and bracing not to mention the drips and occasional runs of color over some edges?
My close inspection had brought me as a viewer to a factual reality, something I already well understood. Every illusion has a prop, be it mirrors, nuts and bolts or monofilament wire. We "see" with our experience as much as with our eyes, we know from past experience the edge of reality or so we believe. I was convinced of the giant illusion of abstract reality in front of me. Those oversized triangles, ships and French curves and a solitary double protractor were floating about in a 3-D space of abstract coloration greater than the ordinary field of painting's vision. But my experience told me, of course there was more to it.
A short time into the run of the exhibition of Reflected Illusion Squared I got a phone call from the museum. The voice on the other end informed me there had been a minor accident in regard to the installation. The story was: upon entering the room where my piece was installed, a middle aged woman approached the glass box with it's mysterious white and red edged something-contents, although convinced that it was indeed a glass box, her perception failed to inform her of the true nature of it's single pane double reflection reality. And even worse, that there was no real open space in the corner of the room where the box appeared to be sitting. Hence, attempting to "walk around" the box she proceeded full force into one of the mirrors and fell to the ground nearly unconscious. She was helped up, attended to and recovered with no injury, except of course to her perceptual logic.
A "caution" notice was attached to the floor in front of the work, with that the reality and illusion were changed.
I had thoughts of painting again.
(1.) This casting technique was also in use at that time by two other L.A. artists, Ron Cooper and Ron Davis. Cooper was spraying onto a glass surface and Davis was pouring, brushing and rolling on a formica mold surface.
(2.) Dove of Tanna, 5.5x, 1977. mixed media on aluminum, 12' 10" x 18' 9".
© 2003 greg card
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