Saturday, April 14, 2012

Can you un-know this man?

Nancy Switzer, "Can Wall v.6 Violet Fusion",  oil on canvas, 60"x60" ©2009 Nancy Switzer

My reading yesterday, in Lewis Hyde's Trickster Makes This World, both served as a continuation from the previous post and reminding me of an experience of seeing a work that informs the same topic .  While in Denver, I saw a painting by Nancy Switzer that embodies the the best balance between the recognizable and the un- mentioned on the previous post.  I couldn't find an image of the painting online, so I grabbed another from the artist's website which points to this balance, one of her "can wall" works.  For me, the works of her Can Walls are the most compelling because they ride the line of that duality, although in this case, it's to a lesser degree than the painting I'm remembering.   Switzer's work focuses on sundries from the pantry; tin cans, cutlery, fish laid out on a surface.  Her paint application  is thick and generally contours around the forms of she depicts. 
I don't know the name of the painting I saw in that residence outside of Denver, but, like the work seen above, it is large and square.   The square is a nearly all over painting of predominantly grey tone, except for a band of black, perhaps 8" talk along the top of the work.  The division between this blackish band and the rest of the body is a little uneven, making for a slightly irregular - and high - horizon line.  The first analogy that comes to mind is to that of a late grey Rothko, but the field of grey is actually a melange of colors, applied thickly - almost to the degree of a Freud, except less brutally applied.  The overall grey effect is also not alien to Freud's palette, there are dustings of pure hues,  but The swells of paint are applied more conscientiously, flowingly.  Thatched is a word to describe the body of this field, not unlike a Kiefer landscape.  I know it's gauche to describe any work through the similarities it to the works of others...but such are the difficulties of conveying a vivid description.
It's a profound work.  Heavy.  The painting is as arresting as a Rothko is.  It's more captivating and assured in its subtle presence than any other recently produced painting I can remember encountering. 

Unfamiliar with Switzers' subject matter when I first noticed the painting, I was surprised to learn that the work is a representation of a large array of silver utensils on a surface.  Similar in nature to the painting below, the work I'm describing renders the subject far more ambigously.

Nancy Switzer, Long Silver Scatter, oil on canvas. via

The great effect of this work is that once one knows the subject, one can read (roughly, but satisfyingly) what's being represented, but this layer of recognition doesn't detract at all from the process of knowing this piece.  So often the learning what a piece is "about" (or what it "is") affects negatively that process of knowing a work for oneself.  Essentially, never being to unknow what you've learned in order to get back to that primary moment of introduction to a work.  Unlike most work, this work doesn't close that door on your experience.  It has the unique quality of allowing one to pass through that threshold  - in both directions.  It's a shame I can't show you.

In Trickster Makes This World, Hyde happened to offer up a few a passage on the very nature of recognition.  In describing Andre Serrano's Piss Christ, he writes:

Serrano seemed to me to be playing with the old problem of recognition.  How do we see what's really in front of us?  The swineherd meets Odysseus on the beach, but does not know him.  Why can't he see what's there?  How does the mind recognize the real meaning of what the senses offer up?  Conjoining an abstracted Christ and the human body, specifically the body we deny and turn away from, the blood and excreta from which we normally avert the eye, Serrano's image seemed to me to ask what the Roman soldiers asked Peter: "Do you know this man?

It's a real tortoise/hare race between our senses and our mind.  That the two are in competition - or I might say that it's the mind, full of all it's embedded agendas, which is in competition, the senses simply are - makes understandable the misinterpretations and inabilities to see what's in front of us.

In following some rabbit holes in writing this post, I came across this post on the Peripheral Visions blog which mentions the Lawrence Weschler book Everything That Rises: A Book on Convergences, a work I hadn't heard of, but will check out.  Convergence is much of what it's all about.

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