Friday, September 15, 2006

Painting As Obituary

Jackson Pollock Alchemy, 1947

When I am in my painting I’m not aware of what I am doing. It is only after I see what I have been about. I have no fears of making changes, destroying the image etc. Because the painting has a life of its own.
Jackson Pollock, 1947

MANY lives of its own?
HAD many lives of its own?
Like the city street a traveler sees for the first time. First glimpses construct for him “the street”. All future changes will be compared to this original. As if this was the original state of the street. Time changes this street as the traveler begins to understand the quotidian decisions and catastrophic accidents that have constructed it before his arrival. Building a narrative of past and future still fraught with lingering mysteries around his first glimpsed eternal marker of present.
When I have lived somewhere long enough to feel my own feet wearing down the streets I walk on each day. When I can imagine the thousands of other feet before my own. When I know what was there before, and how it was eliminated. When I know what is there now will be replaced in time.
I am terrified.
The finished painting is like this first glimpse, but without the terror of continual alteration by you or any other. With the relief of something you will not wreck, improve, or change by looking. The relief of not having to act, to encourage, to put in motion or to stop. The relief of not being asked to choose the form of what you see. The painting has no physical future. It allows you unlimited time.
Earlier I wrote that painting should not be an obituary. But no, the painting is different kind of obituary(here’s where the lack of good analogy for painting falls flat). As obituary, painting’s cohesion as a single image without the beginning or end of a written text can address the unlimited narratives of its own lives in being made.
By what is still visible in each painting, all narratives of making are described. If eliminated, they are still suggested by those still visible.
Battering a painting into a single narrative is a redundant act of heroic violence I am loath to attempt.


ang said...

oh hey will,
here's the begining of a proposal i wrote a while ago for a film i was gonna make. maybe it has nothing to do with anything but.. maybe it's similar to this idea of evolving/refigured (temporal?) narrative despite it's architectyness (that's a real word). sorry for the length:

Traditionally, film has utilized the space of cities and their architecture as backdrops upon which a narrative is superimposed, however I am of the belief that a series of culturally loaded narratives already exist within the urban fabric and that they can be revealed and questioned through a filmic process.

In the collection of essays entitled “Passages: Explorations of the Contemporary City”, Graham Livesey refers to Ricoeur’s notion of mimesis as it relates to the function of plots (or narratives). He puts fort the idea that a narrative “takes place by preference in the field of action and its temporal values”. Ricoeur’s model is threefold;

1) Prefiguration – what already exists: “…architecture and spatiality can be considered as part of the world that prefigures narratives, as both meaningful structures and symbolic systems”
2) Configuration – the temporal glue that holds disparate elements together: “it mediates between individual events and a story or narrative as a whole; it gives shape to a succession of events.”
3) Refiguration – the poetic/interpretative/creative act: “…the intersection of the world of the text and the world of the hearer or reader…. The act of interpretation reveals worlds that might be inhabited and contributes to our inhabitation of the material world. This does not apply only to reading, but also to our physical engagement with the world.”

Livesey also makes reference to Michel Butor’s notion of “trajectory”. Trajectory can be understood as the temporal movement through space – lines that are drawn in space or a narrative. When multiple trajectories are drawn they form a network or web of non-linear paths or narratives. He states that prefigured narrative trajectories are “distorted or shaped by objects or structures, such as architecture, that define and modify space.”

Anonymous said...

Hey Bill,
Just thought I'd drop a heyya. I think this might be my fav painting so far!! It definitely intrigues me. Been there, done that thinking of the changes of the street and people who have been and will be.... Keep doin what your doin

Anonymous said...

Just realized it appeared as though I was complimenting Pollocks painting...I meant your collection from your link. Just so ya know

Karin said...

Hi Wil:

Recently, Mathieu and I bought a barbeque. The assembly instructions consisted primarily of an annotated diagram of each of hundreds of bolts, screws, pins and parts positioned in their proper spatial relation to one another -- hovering! -- but not quite yet assembled. This, my dad later told me, is called the exploded view.

In past journals I have attempted to write the exploded view of a moment. A moment harbours as much latent information as one has patience and faculty to extract.

Pollack likes his finished paintings because they give him an exploded view of "what [he has] been about". In them, he recovers what he had temporarily surrendered to the act of painting: consciousness. In the painting, the time (his unconscious self?) has become present and decipherable to him.

You seem to share his sense of relief when you write about what completion is and is not, but not, I think, his delight (is that it?) in oblivion. Too bad for you? I'm not sure. Am I right to understand that painting is like becoming aware of the whole time of Painting, including your own future pastness, in the instant? I do not think there is relief from this anxiety, and I wonder: isn't it a half-truth that "the painting has no physical future." Isn't this part of what you -- er, I mean, your paintings -- do? Or, is it did?


P.S. Hey! Thanks for being persistent. Let me know what kind of feedback you're looking for and I'll try to oblige.

Wil Murray said...

I'd say that the "having no pysical future" is me grasping at the profound statement.
Angela asked me in response to this post what narratives I was referring to, the narratives of creation or of viewing. These two dovetail, one starting at the other's end.
But I would argue that the narratives of creation is ended with the painting being finished. And so these narratives have no future.
It is these narratives, and not those of the viewer that I am mostly concerned with in making.

I want all the feedback. I can't afford a schooling and just want some writing that is aimless and some response and be able to track my own thoughts...and see what this does.

Wil Murray said...

"Am I right to understand that painting is like becoming aware of the whole time of Painting, including your own future pastness, in the instant?"

Yes, or maybe aware of the whole time of the painting that is describing itself. Like a language that teachs you to read it from your seeing the very first word.
The relief is a confusing one, I don't know if I am describing my own relief at having finished a longer participating in a terrified constant change, the heart swelling work of one day being deemed awful the next, the harrowing constant search for completion. Or am I describing my own experience as a viewer of paintings, relieved at seeing something that doesn't expect anything of me, will not change etc.
I think the former. Maybe it is presumptuous to lay that on the viewer.