When I was an art student, I was taught about color threshold. While exploring color mixtures there is a point where one color becomes another. This point could be a debateable. For example, a color can appear yellow but depending on its proximity to another color, the same color can appear to be green. A precise measured chroma does not guarantee a precise definition.
The artist Richard Cramer, was one of my mentors at University. For many years he focused on making abstract paintings that explored color thresholds. While he later continued the same maticulous approach, his subject changed. First he introduced abstract characters and later narrative scenes emerged.
How Cramer moved from geometric abstraction to a focus on imagery involved a change in thought, a tiping point, or threshold where one type of work led to another. A more recent example of his work can be found below.
While I am reminded of many other thresholds, even a record titled On the Threshold of a Dream, the birth of my child this summer highlighted another transitional state. Before he was born preparation involved gathering clothes and new furniture. When I saw his new clothes washed and hanging to dry, it felt like a moment on the threshold of birth. However, when the baby arrived under emergency circumstances, I also came to realize that certain thresholds do not have forgone conclusions.
While the outcomes of events can be uncertain, change is a constant and faith can be a source of stability. Fortunately the little boy crossed the threshold, though I know each day is a challenge of its own kind.
The drawing/painting below was started from a scrap of paper found in a puddle on the way to work. The paper appearing at the top of the drawing was a hand written solicitation that became unreadable. I imagined it being about a lost cat or a room for rent. Using the cut marks on this paper, lines were extended and a new territory was added. Within the larger image, a view of interior and exterior space gets combined. Occupants of the building appear and for certain there is at least ‘one room for let’.
Elsewhere, in the detail of the drawing, one sees signs of activity and life on the balcony. Personality almost gets lost when quickly viewing window after window on a tenement building. However, on closer inspection, ultimately a more idiosyncratic identity emerges.
I recently wrote notes regarding what I thought qualified as meaningful art. I quickly became lost in contradictions. Craft and construction are unavoidable with regard to making art. However, quality craftsmanship does not necessarily guarantee successful art. For example, fastidiousness can bring attention and value but it can also obscure a message or expressive exploration. Success can inevitably be connected to a counter balancing perspective. A key problem I felt was determining what gave artwork its authority (i.e. what made it relevant). Prior to photography artists were closer related to artisans and had more clearly defined roles. In the digital age we are awash in imagery, and for this reason it may be harder to gauge lasting relevance.
Considering monetary value or where art housed does not identify its complete importance and arrives short of its essence. This central issue seems to require a study of cultural undercurrents. Underneath implicit technical or conceptual intent are hidden messages. Some of these messages may occur by chance and reveal more about our desires and true feelings. We detect covert information by the way it transcends proprieties (e.g. branding does this with clear visual markers of status) aimed at bringing about certifiably acceptable results. When we find art we lose ourselves of the gallery, the artist, the price tag, and acknowledge the message.
I would encourage others (myself included) to consider more deeply the concept of “living off the grid”. Extreme examples may not be possible for most people. However, there are degrees in which we can test our independence (i.e. living somewhat off the grid). When realizing our potential we are gaining the best tools to understand humanity and art is a reflection of our humanity. Insight can be gained from fixing broken products, planting trees and vegetables, writing creative letters, cooking from scratch, among other activities. Along side manually problem solving, mining for revelation is critical (i.e. a higher or alternative plane of thinking). This is not a prescription to master life, rather an effort to be deprogrammed. Inquisitiveness is a foundation. If one chooses to paint, sculpt, write, or make music in a creative way, then art may be found in the undercurrent of events.
I have a particular memory from childhood of being on a tree farm at night. Because the trees were small (pine trees for Christmas I assume) the sky seemed big. I remember my father being there. We were separated from cars, houses, and other people. Most of my life I wanted to recapture this sublime feeling of harmony, fresh air, and beautiful sights. While my memory of this experience feels palpable, I am uncertain what was real and what I am imagining to be true.
To duplicate this scene with all of the complex emotions involved is not possible. However, I can inch toward it through art and an openness to new experiences. Through artistic practice, a window can open to more to deeper feelings. To create with less willful intent allows magic to happen in its own unfolding way. With the tree farm fresh in mind, I decided to make a pine tree of my own. Differing from trick or illusion, true magic provides an evocative spark that could arrive even with a solitary tree.
At the beginning of the year I asked three questions. This post attempts to address two of these questions (see below).
1. The absence of an explicitly planned outcome means that an unconscious element is at play. Yet, how deep is this connection to the unknown and what is its relation to a wider collective unconscious?
2. While mysteries are uncovered, are they substantial? Do they extend beyond the small mysteries of how a picture comes together (i.e. in a way that is slightly different than the creator would expect)?
Over the past couple months, I worked on a drawing where my mind was both engaged in the artistic process and focused on these self prescribed questions. My growing understanding is that the answer to the questions above are felt and exist on a middle path. In eastern philosophy there is a way of dealing with paradox and seemingly intractable problems by finding what is called the “middle path”. To accept a yes/no (i.e. boolean) answer to a multifaceted and speculative problem is not possible, yet there is a solution. The solution is not to seek more facile words. Rather, the answer is to look for a means to eclipse the contradiction. This is perhaps where art can be most relevant because its primary function is to display something that words alone can not full-fill (this would include poetry which uses words but grasps at a vision beyond one dimensional meanings).
What is felt, intuitive, and unconscious surrounds this path, because it deals with the unknown. While interpreting the realm of dreams has merits, it can also reveals the limitations of summary description. We begin to see patterns of formulaic conclusions (e.g. the dream is about loss, fear, a hint at the future etc.). If we only look at where the unconscious intersects with the conscious, it will remain shallow. However, where the dream is unpredictable and varied is in the texture of its details and its relationship to a wider context. Likewise, one can not merely look at the material surface of art to find its depth. Art has a middle path. Descriptive words alone are not expansive enough. The texture, form, and trace of action point to something timeless. Without the skills to realize a middle path one skips the ability to see alternatives, additionally there is little chance to know the smell of roses.
In a global way, what we gain from a perspective that has more than two sides and is not neatly summarized is a more genial and attentive society.