Thursday, October 6, 2011

jesus paintings

Western devotion is located in the secular fields of popular and commodity culture.  I am using vernacular images from these fields to make devotional paintings of Jesus.  My source material is culled from fashion and Hollywood - languages of spiritual poverty.  In this way, each image has to transmigrate from the profane to approach the hallowed through the process of painting, if at all plausible.

The Jesus paintings are imagined and idealized representations of thirty-three year old men with beards, long hair, and simple clothing.  Beyond that the paintings have to embody the icon of Jesus, without any of the associated iconography – no halos, crowns of thorns, blood, sacred hearts, or hand gestures.   I am not trying to lead the viewer by loading the image, but rather touch on more nuanced associations that are firmly established in the collective consciousness. 

Each Jesus painting is a different iteration of a fixed set of ideals, and the process is a visual form of searching that may be understood as analogous to spiritual seeking.  The paintings in relation to each other concede failure, and failure separates the seeker from that which is sought.  It is in this fissure that the idea of Jesus, as an externalized, imagined ideal, is possible.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter 2011

Jesus paintings in progress: Left: Viggo Mortensen, Right: David Gilmour

Nine years ago on Easter Sunday I was sitting in the Nob Hill Masonic Center in San Francisco, for the last day of a meditation intensive with an Indian Guru.  I was there because I wanted to learn to quiet my mind – most of my thoughts had become involuntary, mostly torturous, and completely redundant.  I was not looking for a spiritual practice or a religion, and I inadvertently got both. 

This past summer I decided to paint the anomalies that were in my head – the pictures and ideas that were persistent and pestering but out of context with what I had been doing.  Many things have emerged from that (ongoing) exercise, including a better sense of what interests me, and what unites seemingly disparate work. 

Beneath all of the work is an inherent skepticism of the authority of painting and its dubious function as commodity. I often poke at these concerns through subject matter, as in a 4’x4’ painting of a 1.5”x1.5” sticker that was affixed to something that I bought from CVS Pharmacy.  The sticker read:

This item intended for sale at CVS/pharmacy.  If found at other outlets call 1-866-439-8724

Another strong emergent conceptual concern (that is completely fraught) is my sense of failure in paintings inertia.  This borders on crazy thinking, because I am ascribing failure to fact.  I am literally and figuratively disappointed that a painting is, for instance, subject to gravity, and I always want it to do more than it can do.   The ongoing group of work that I call “paintings that do something” attempts to ameliorate this failure.

Failure is not only a condition that I view as endemic to painting, but also to my paintings in particular, however I don’t view this as a problem. I recognized years ago that whatever it is that I am looking for, it is found in the process of working, but never the work.

To get back to the exercise of painting anomalies: 

I wanted to paint a portrait of my brother based on a faded, wallet-sized yearbook photograph, and although it seemed a doomed proposition from the outset, I tried.  There were questions of sentimentality and nostalgia, the obvious omission of a conceptual framework, and the overall decayed condition of the photo, which I was not trying to emulate.  I worked on that painting for several months, painting and repainting it.  When I felt that I had made it as best I could, I called it done and sat back for a long look.  For all of my efforts, it didn’t have any of the aliveness that I had hoped for, and I flashed to Madame Tussauds Wax Museum.  The thought occurred to me, “if only it (the portrait) had real eyelashes...that might enliven it!”  The next day I implanted real eyelashes into my brother’s painted eyelids by puncturing one hole at a time in the canvas and embedding hair.  You don’t have to see the painting to imagine the train-wreck.

A lot of back-story to talk about this post!  The experience of trying to make a portrait of my brother made me want to paint portraits, but the questions of who I would paint and why seemed irreconcilable, until I thought about Jesus.   

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

sorry, we closed

A national controversy erupted in the mid 1990’s over the proposed use of Ebonics (African
American Vernacular English) in public schools in California.  The issue fomented interesting debate from linguists, and virulent diatribes from racists. 

At the time, I had a classic sign posted in my studio that read “Sorry, We’re Closed”.  In solidarity with the pro-Ebonics movement, I blacked out the contraction “We’re” to read “We”, and in late 2009 I made a painting of that sign.  Sorry, We Closed.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

gabriela trzebinskis' calendars

My good friend Gabriela Trzebinski keeps a desktop calendar to manage her Lymes medications, record her symptoms (which she then has to report to her doctors), and schedule related appointments.  She has systems for color-coding texts and round stickers that correspond to her symptoms, and pictographs (fire, brains, hands, airplanes, fleas, etc) that are a form of visual shorthand.  She can look at any calendar entry from past 11 months and report exactly what was going on with her body and mind on that day. 

Gabriela didn’t begin the calendar as a form of art making, but she has increasingly recognized it as an intrinsic form of visual expression that has become an art form.  In this way, the painting that I made (above) of a section of one of her pages is collaborative.  It is the first large-scaled painting that I have made of diaristic material that is not my own.

This painting is a recreation of a section, and I hope that when translated into painting at an amplified scale, the correlation is made between effort and subject matter, and there is equity.

The original calendar pages are complete and amazing works unto themselves, and you can see them at:

Sunday, December 19, 2010

rachel hecker studio december 2010

Studio view 2007

For the past several years, I have been making paintings of my hand written lists, notations, appointment cards, half-used sheets of stickers/labels, and other accumulated paper detritus. I am interested in the unselfconscious nature of the imagery and the unintentional poetry, and how these collections become inadvertent diaries of how we exist in the world, exposing foible, banality, repetition, desire, expectation, habituation, ritual, hopefulness and doubt. I refer to this work as painting for convenience, but I approach and think of it as sculpture. What I am trying to do is to remake rather than represent things. Given this criteria, I prefer to present the work relationally, fully cognizant of space, and resisting the stasis of the wall. The work seen below- while made up of 40 component parts - was not complete until it was installed for a show that I did in 2009 at Texas Gallery in Houston called “my world is really small and you are in it.” The work was stacked against two long facing walls. Here are two installation views:

my world is really small and you are in it, 2009, East Wall, 22 paintings, 45’ length, Texas Gallery

my world is really small and you are in it, 2009, West Wall, 18 paintings, 45’ length, Texas Gallery

I still make these paintings when something strikes me as particularly poignant, but I also find myself moving towards images that question painting in general, and my sense of repetitious failure in particular. When I finish a piece, and I am always disappointed that it is “just” a painting or a sculpture or a drawing. I expect the work to do something that it can’t do - to resist its own inertia. I don’t believe in objective reality, so the things that exist as matter - including my own work - appear as the props of phantasmagoria. What is interesting to me now is the fact that I continue to make work (with respect and love) that can only end in failure, and I am taking this on more directly in the form of content. For example, I am working on paintings that I call “Paintings that Do Something”, which I interpret as a non-sequitur, and I recently tried to “rescue” a portrait that I painted of my brother by implanting it with natural eyelashes, as a way to enliven it.

Studio view, 2010

Top image:
Paintings that do something / Anamorphic Skull, 2010, acrylic on canvas, 20” x 96”
Left - Right: 
We Closed, 2009, acrylic on canvas, 60” x 84” 
Love Daddy, 2010, acrylic on canvas, 14” x 22”
Paintings that do something / Scintillating Hermann Grid, 2009, acrylic on canvas, 72” x 54”
This Item intended for sale at CVS, 2010, acrylic on canvas, 48” x 48”
Paintings that do something / QR Code Painting, 2010, acrylic on canvas, 60” x 60”
Visitor Pass, 2010, acrylic on canvas, 20” x 30” 
Not Made In China, 2010, acrylic on canvas, 12” x 72” 
Fall Risk Bracelet, 2010, acrylic on polystyrene, 16” diameter x 6” x 1/8” 
Right Wall: 
Portrait of My Brother / Yearbook, 2010, acrylic on canvas with implanted natural eyelashes, 72” x 60”

I carefully hand-paint as an act of redemption - I am trying to save the image. (I do not use vinyl stencils, printmaking, or photomechanical processes). My investments of time and care reflect a belief that value is not endemic to any particular thing, but rather experienced, moment-by-moment. Slow painting is like turning the beads on a rosary.

Paintings that do something / Anamorphic Skull, (detail: view from left), 2010

I have a complicated relationship to painting (the noun). I love its history and deplore its authority. I believe that its quaintness – as a gesture in the face of technology – is a great strength, and its torpidity an ultimate disappointment. I am interested in the enigmatic idea of “paintings that (actually) do something”. The skull can only be seen without distortion as the viewer moves towards or away from the image, changing the image and enhancing the metaphor.

The QR Code (above top) is a type of bar code that I first imbedded with a photo of a chimp looking in a mirror (above bottom), then made a painting of that QR code. If you download a QR Code application (free) to your Smart Phone, you can hold your phone camera up to the painting and the QR Code reader will (within seconds) show you the image of the chimp.

Above is a detail from
Scintillating Hermann Grid Variation, 2009, acrylic on canvas, 72” x 54”, from “Paintings that Do Something”. This optical illusion is a variation of the optical illusion discovered by E. Lingelbach in 1994, which was a variation of the Hermann grid illusion, discovered by Ludimar Hermann in 1870. The scintillating grid illusion is characterized by random black dots appearing and disappearing at the intersections. You will most likely be able to experience this phenomenon in this detail from my painting.

Visitor Pass, 2010, acrylic on canvas, 20” x 30” and Fall Risk Bracelet, 2010, 
acrylic on polystyrene, 16” diameter x 6” x 1/8”

A good friend of mine was recently hospitalized. I try to remember what some people try to forget.
This gives me a heightened sense of exigency.

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