I find myself pondering this statement-turned-question often. I also find myself saying, “I am just a painter.”
Certainly, as a documentary or didactic vehicle, painting’s usefulness was replaced long ago by the speed and accuracy of the photograph. Yet, like classical painting, photography cannot always escape the actuality of the subject matter captured.
Video, and sometimes performance, can provoke profound emotional, visceral and intellectual experiences. Video in particular, can compete with and satisfy the desire created by the insistent mass-media culture in which we exist. Yet the experience of video and performance is often ephemeral. For those seeking beauty, the methods can render the viewer bereft. A return viewing may offer nothing to enhance the experience.
Painting has the alchemy and the voodoo. Representational or abstract, painting can effect those same intense experiences. It has done so for thousands of years, with the same humble material, pigment suspended in liquid. The stuff, applied with intuition and practice, is bolstered conversely by imagination and lived experience.
The alchemy is often the hook that turns a visual into a painter. It is a heady, sensuous mixture of plasticity and color. It incorporates smell, movement and texture. It is the satisfaction derived from transforming the infinite into the particular and the pleasure of making something from nothing. For the painter, the alchemy is the love potion.
The voodoo is the realization. Rembrandt never met the Prodigal Son, yet he painted his return with acute insight and sensitivity. When I saw the work, I recalled every grace granted and found myself crying in the middle of the Hermitage.
In contrast, the modest, abstract paintings of Raoul De Keyser (currently on exhibit at David Zwirner) negotiate the gap between object and space and explore the tension amid color and form. While they talk about their paint, these paintings also materialize an aesthetic very different than the jam-packed, monumental canvases symptomatic of a recent, more conspicuous time.
In its innumerable forms, painting remains relevant. Perhaps it’s wise. It has the capacity to simultaneously reinvent and reflect upon itself.
Last night I visited Chelsea for the opening of the Fall Season. There was a lot to take in. I encountered and admired examples of those other forms, but I sought and contemplated the paintings. Dead? At least for the painters, not yet.
(photo: the floor in my colleague Russell Tyler’s studio)