When studying art history, I have always been most interested in the avant-garde moments of change, when the standard paradigm is challenged, such as Manet’s “Olympia” or Rauschenberg’s “Erased DeKooning Drawing”. Finding a link from the not-so-distant past to the present moment has been a challenge for me, as I wonder where to push next. I classify myself as a painter, but I also realize that painting within the traditional trajectory has its limitations if I want to make honest, relevant art that goes beyond the studio walls. I almost don’t see a place for painting at all in the current conceptual art realm. The art I personally find the most exciting made today exists between media. Even as I push my painting practice to new limits, I keep stepping back and seeing that they are still just paintings, and I am uncertain about whether I am satisfied. It leaves me wondering, where is there for me to go next?
In an article by Benjamin Buchloh, “Figures of Authority, Ciphers of Regression: Notes on the Return of Representation in European Painting,” he explains the return to traditional figuration by artists such as Malevich and Picasso in connection to a more oppressive political climate. He writes, “the key terms of this ideological backlash are the idealization of the perennial monuments of art history and its masters, the attempt to establish a new aesthetic orthodoxy, and the demand for respect for the cultural tradition. It is endemic to the syndrome of authoritarianism that it should appeal to and affirm the ‘eternal’ or ancient systems of order (the law of the tribe, the authority of history, the paternal principal of the master, etc.)” His point that artists do not work autonomously but in the same social, political, cultural (I wish a word existed that combines all three of those terms) climate as every other person or profession has given me the desire to investigate the current climate in which I make my art. His description of this cycle of regression is also applicable to my own artwork (and I some of my peers have experienced this as well). After pushing my painting practice to a certain degree of riskiness, (meaning that only a few people I show understand, like, appreciate, or approve), I sit down and pump out a few naturalistic, “traditional” works, which usually end up getting painted over eventually. Buchloh’s description of traditional values in art as they enforce authoritarianism only confirms my resolve to step outside the traditional modes of painting and art making. My choice as an artist speaks to my own cultural values. I value artwork that exists between boundaries and defies classification; perhaps this value correlates to my protest of confined answers and definitions as someone of mixed race, just as we all experience blatant contradictions to stereotypes and norms.
Art and artists do not exist in a separate world from other branches and disciplines. As an artist, what I want now is for my work to relate to things outside my own studio and personal practice. I have been seeking this through initiating collaborations with many of my peers who work in different mediums and different fields. My goal is to broaden my community while learning new skills.
At the same time, I cannot deny my undying love for painting, and, let’s face it, my unequivocally biased favoritism and interest in painting. Is this passion something I should not ignore? Different reading and different attitudes by various artists whose work I love keeps changing my mind. I cannot decide what to do now, and at the same time I even wonder if it’s a decision I should make rationally or emotionally. It seems that I am, as always, standing with one foot on either side of the fence, wanting to own all the contradictions that don’t want to be reconciled.