This month I have a solo exhibit at the Hatch Gallery at the Delaware Contemporary. From February 1st till the 25th I am showing several new large scale photographic prints. This show’s work is similar to earlier work of mine, in that it is still life but this time photographic rather than painted. This is my second fine art photography show after about 20 years of exhibiting paintings. It has been interesting exhibiting photos rather than paintings, the response has been very positive.
Photography has always figured into my creative process as a painter, as a means of quickly exploring ideas and providing subject matter to paint from. On occasion, in the past I have created photographic work where nothing is gained by the translation into paint, or even worse, something is lost. Rather than abandon subjects that don’t necessarily make good paintings but interesting photos, I have begun to embrace exhibiting my photographically inclined ideas. There is a spontaneity in photography that allows the work to be more contemporaneous, whereas painting is always reminding you of how much effort was involved in the making. Both are equally valid, but each has different strengths.
“Settled” grew out of my day-to-day life as much of my work does. My daughter had an antique tin doll house that had become a fixture in our house and I sort of fell in love with it. The shiny surfaces, the colors, the graphic printing. I began to ruminate on the doll house and think of how it fit with my work. I have always been fascinated by still-life in that simple objects or materials are given life through an almost alchemical process. Doll houses seem tailor-made for still life in that they have a life all their own already. They are their “actual scale” but we easily imagine them as their imaginary scale. They are simple tin but are easily imagined as fully furnished homes. These are objects with a life of their own already, before I even mess with them.
I started to imagine the image of a doll house within a house, and that as the scale increased so would the level of detail and realism. The small house is an ideal, that is a perfect rendering, the larger house represents reality, with dirt and maintenance to worry about. As I thought about this, the idea of the real world entering the ideal began to take shape in the form of a house fire. The house is photographed in a flat one point perspective, giving few cues as to the dimensions of the house, then in this world, the smoke wraps its way around the house and out of the windows. There is something humorous about a real world problem that would never be faced in the idyllic world of childhood make believe. But these are actual objects that might actually be destroyed in a fire. There is a sense of play that becomes soberingly real and then playful again. For instance, while a house fire could originate in an a real house, what is the source for the tiny fire, an even smaller electric blanket or a tiny overloaded outlet?
I began to collect more of the tin doll houses, they all had a sense of simplicity and nostalgia. Their colors and shapes are oddly familiar and while they are not exactly from my childhood, they seem to represent a collective childhood of tv dinners and “My Favorite Martian”. There is something very iconic about the American home and these houses are dripping in whatever substance that may be. So, confronted with this imagery, my instinct is to somehow damage or undermine the fantasy, while still reveling in it. It is sort of like the joke, “Why do you keep coming back to this restaurant if you hate it so much? Well the food is shit, but they give really good portions.” Philosophically it might be more in line with the conflict between the ugly truth and the comfortable fantasy that we all grapple with. It is with this thought that the show’s title “Settled” can take on a spectrum of meaning.
After photographing the house fires I started thinking of the imagery of the neighborhood and began to consider how I might construct an aerial view of a neighborhood. This started to touch on the imagery of some experimental paintings I did about 3 years ago, and took of quite quickly. I would use astroturf for the well-manicured lawns and carpets for the pavement and then set out neighborhoods to photograph. I wanted the same flat otherworldly look as the house fires so rather than a more organic photo shot close to the subject I wanted a more orthogonal look, so I used a special architectural and product photography lens that allows the photographer to selectively remove distortion by shifting the lens off axis. I also shot from a long distance to squash the perspective cues.
For the fly-over images I was driven by many of the same ideas, centered in still-life. The objects represent both the beautiful ideal and reality. A perfect metaphor for art itself. The houses are still brightly colored and graphic but on closer inspection are missing windows or have sustained damage. When you are able to see in the back of the houses, they are clearly empty and ultimately a facade. There are no inhabitants , no cars, no life anywhere including the artificial turf. Simultaneously, it is a glimpse at a carefree time somewhere in our collective identity. Or perhaps a bittersweet memory locked in some cranny in the childhood portion of our gray matter. Both versions are intertwined and necessary in any true understanding of being.
In the end, I felt compelled to make the work as it is, I only really try to decode it afterwords to gain some kind of insight into what drives me. I can be wrong about my own motivations only to decipher new meanings later on. I like that way of thinking because it leaves the job of wondering why to you, and makes art a unique experience to every viewer.
Please stop by the show if you can make it, I would be glad to give you a tour.