Sunday, December 14, 2008

Implied Theology

Implied Theology
40" x 30"
Oil on Canvas

I have been busy applying to MFA programs recently. As part of that process, I've been procuring letters of recommendation from former teachers. Yesterday morning I awoke to find an email from one of my recommenders* in my inbox. The message cut was incisive, and I felt that it was worth posting in its (slightly edited) entirety along with my reply.
Dear Michael,

I've gotten requests from several of the schools and will write them within the next few days, I enjoyed seeing your blog and your new images, also your very thorough CV. Your work has developed strongly. Still, I am a little confused by the disparate nature of images produced in the same year; for example between FOG and IN THE ABSENCE OF MEMORY. I tend to gravitate toward the more naturalistic images, finding them very evocative of memory and place. Could you tell me a little more about the other images?


Dear Xxx,
Thank you for your thoughtful response. You've hit on one of the central tensions in my body of work and also the largest challenge that I face today. I hope you will forgive the long message. I have tried to be succinct, but the answer is not a short one.

As you astutely mentioned, my work is fundamentally about place, and the disparate images are my attempts to wrangle with some of the many facets of 'place.' The more naturalistic images deal either with direct observation (
Gatehouse Study , assorted cast and figure drawings) or the selective and often nostalgic nature of memory (Selective Memory, in which the trees have been arranged into straight lines, or the Handsome Derelict, in which a shabby, rat-infested, old GMC momentarily regains the luster of youth).

Memory, however, is only one element in the conglomerate that we call 'place.' Imagination colors our perception of place and radically reorganizes our recollection of it. From the toy-box inferno of
Still Life with Hellmouth to the back alley apocalypse of Into the Wilderness imagination plays a vital part in many of my paintings.

Yet as soon as I begin stray from memory, I find myself entering into the land of logic and analytical thought. Paintings such as
Not the Birthday Girl and its companions from the Lost in the Park Series occupy a borderline place where intellect slices away at perception, but the overall impact is still loosely naturalistic. With works such as Transect and In the Absence of Memory, I have tried to push deeper into the analytical realm where representation can be simultaneously diagrammatic, iconic, and illusionistic. Of course, the logic that I see is more the absurd, nihilistic machine of Duchamp than the streamlined industry of le Corbusier. In the absence of memory logic becomes a hellish, dysfunctional monster. This is the essence of many of my nightmares and the root of much of our digital-age anxiety. In fact, in many ways, these paintings are my lo-fi, analog attempt to engage with digital-age visual sensibilities.

I hope this addresses your questions without being too verbose. Big questions, big answers, I suppose. I cannot profess to have adequately addressed the concerns that I've outlined above. Indeed, one of my stated goals in seeking to enroll in an MFA program is to enter into a crucible-like environment where I can figure out how to fuse these disparate elements into a more stable amalgam. That said, I know that selection committees prefer a stylistically similar body of work, so I will not be surprised if this scuttles my application. I've been tempted to lop off whole sections of my body of work in an attempt to be more uniform, but I think that the internal tension is too vital to be left out.

Thanks again,

I post this message along with this painting, because I was literally working on this painting at the same time as I was working on In the Absence of Memory. I switched back and forth (obviously, one is acrylic and the other oil), but would paint on them in the same session. I think this throws some people, but it doesn't seem odd at all to me. It's not weird to think of someone was IMing in broken, online slang while writing a formal, technical document and chatting with the nearest co-worker. Each of these requires a very different form of language, and we switch easily from one to the next. Why not in art?

*This is a dreadful word, but it is what these kind folk are called on the official forms.

1 comment:

Hungry Hyaena said...

Your reply is excellent, Michael. It's clear, yet accepting of ambivalence. Any thoughtful grad school committee should appreciate such generalism. The question is, how many graduate school committees are thoughtful? Good luck!