Artist Voice/Artist Choice is a program where Minnesota artists use ArtsConnectEd.org to connect their own work with the collections and resources of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Walker Art Center.
This Set examines my painting Strange Loop (2008) through connections to Vija Celmins, Sol LeWitt, and George Morrison. I selected these artists in part for their artworks, but more significantly for their voices. In their own words, these artists articulate qualities and concepts familiar to me. Sometimes that familiarity is an allegiance and other times a dissent. This Set explores those parallels and divergences.
For a current artist profile and statement, please visit my information page on Groveland Gallery's Web site.
Visit my mnartists.org page (http://mnartists.org/Abigail_Woods_Anderson) to view an online gallery of my work.
This Set compares and contrasts my painting, Strange Loop, to work by other artists. Before making those connections, let's examine the painting.
Strange Loop is a blur of interlocking brushstrokes on a ground of black paper. The slender marks of paint are packed so densely that interstitial spaces become fine contour lines. The brushstrokes resemble blades of grass in hues of green, yellow, and brown. The grass-like elements tangle impossibly—at points threading along like discrete loops in a diagram, while at other points defying logic in favor of white noise. At the crux of this snarl is a figure-eight.
Detail of Strange Loop (2008) by Abigail Woods Anderson
Gouache on black paper
5.875" x 4.875" (detail area is approximately 2" x 2")
View the entire Strange Loop painting, via Flickr
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Incomplete Open Cube 8/3, 1974
"When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art."—Sol LeWitt
This quotation is so logical (in theory) and yet so enigmatic (in practice). My work is not conceptualist, and yet it is plausible that there might be a "machine" behind Strange Loop. Could the painting's character have been inevitable? Derived by controlled repetition and guided by a meditation on notions of the strange loop? Behind my work, the machinery might resemble DNA code more so than pulleys and cogs. The "code," to me, is a matter of constructing rules and constraints. Similarly, LeWitt created work based on instructions, formulas, and plans.
In the purity of his practice, LeWitt eschewed many traditions that I am not ready to abandon. Whereas LeWitt sought to free art from a dependence on the skills of craftsmanship, these abilities consistently play a positive role in my work. As for execution being a "perfunctory affair," I admire that commitment but resist it in my practice. I find an innate meaning in process. There are ideas that only develop as bi-products of labor—concepts that enter one's consciousness as one engages in making (and not before). The relationship of concept to process is not a one-way street, but seems to involve feedback loops and layering.
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Night Sky #6, 1993
Celmins' Night Sky #6 and my Strange Loop both evoke infinity, proliferation, and mystery. On the surface, they employ signifiers such as the night sky and the infinity symbol. But if these images had been made by some instantaneous process, would the message be as rich? These works are made with time just as clearly as they are made with paint.
Celmins' practices of working from photos, "redescribing the image," and choosing "impossible images" resonate with me. "Look and make your hand do what your eyes see. How you draw it becomes what it is."—Vija Celmins
Celmins' quote allows that there exists some a priori subject that the eyes see. This brings to light the different interfaces between observation and painting: painting from life, painting from photos, painting from memory, and just plain painting from brush and palette. I find it most satisfying to fuse these approaches into a multi-modal (and illogical) rendering.
In her words and in her paintings, Celmins intimates the charm of trompe-l'eoile, the alchemy of verisimilitude, and the temptation to coerce drawing into acts of deceit. But what attracts me to Celmins' work is the ineffable tension between illusory effect and candid artifice. That is the riddle of her work. To borrow the language of curator Heather Green, the subject matter exists as an extension of the medium.
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"By this time my paintings were studio paintings, painted inside. All imaginative. I still began with subject matter—a whale vertebra, a piece of driftwood—then I built the composition around these."—George Morrison
Did Morrison's studio resemble mine? Did he surround himself with detritus from the forest and shore? Fragmented fossils, delicately decayed leaves, insect exoskeletons, eucalyptus seed pods, and shreds of lichen. The affinity I feel for Morrison's work is rooted in our mutual reverence for nature.
"I try to attain precision, refinement, ambiguity, and a sense of the organic through a preoccupation with textural surface"—George Morrison
We can experience Morrison's predilection for texture by examining the scumbling in his earlier paintings, the weathered wood of Collage IX: Landscape, or the understated weave of ink lines (left). The notion of "textural surface" also interests me, as I interpret that broadly to mean not only the physical tegument of a painting or sculpture, but also a paper's micro texture, the simulated tactility of patterns, or the sensation of depth achieved by mottled colors.
Morrison verbalizes four characteristics of his work and vision: precision; refinement; ambiguity; and a sense of the organic. These attributes, and the inherent tensions among them, carve out a rich territory. What holds my attention are the dynamics, the potential for precision and refinement to counter ambiguity and a sense of the organic. Attaining equilibrium, a state that embodies two truths at once, is an engrossing endeavor, an endeavor that might have captivated Morrison as well.
A final artist's quote concludes this Set: "The pleasure of painting proves the necessity of it."—Gerhard Richter
I've discoverd an additional layer of enjoyment exists in descrying connections from one painting to another, through time, or despite time. I encourage you to mine the resources on ArtsConnectEd and discover connections to your creative work.