February 1 - March 7
As a curator and gallerist, one of the highlights of the process is the studio visit. Not only to provide context to the work I expect to see, but frequently for the surprise of spying the work of others that the artist I’m visiting has collected. One such encounter occurred over two years ago when I was visiting the studio of the very talented RT Pece. After packing and loading seven or eight Pece paintings, I was standing in his home and became focused on a bizarre and haunting portrait that hung in his dining room.
The portrait, which resembled a Rorschach inkblot in its symmetry, refused to be ignored. Not because it was screaming with vibrancy or scale, but because its monochromatic slightly grotesque appearance nagged at my imagination and challenged my perception. I was told it was a Paul Paiement early piece, and though I didn’t do any further investigation at the time, the image remained in my memory.
Flash forward to the magic of social media when one day Bob Pece was posting about artwork he had collected by other artists. I chimed in to say how vividly I remembered the Paiement in his dining room. Paul saw my comment and informed me that he had many of the series from the late 90s still in his flat files. And in this exchange, an online event was conceived.
I am interested not only in the work that is exhibited here in this electronic event, but in the fact that the dialogue that prompted this exhibit was formed over social media. I’ve fought against the growing ubiquity of online “venues” for a long time. I still believe that art is and always will be about the pilgrimage to encounter it in person (as I did inadvertently in Southern California two years ago). But the ironic fact that this particular work should be given an electronic second look lies in the dialogue’s beginning over social media. Created well before social media even existed, how fitting that these faces found another voice on Facebook in the long run.
The choice to exhibit these only online is in part because of the limitations of the small gallery space AGENDA currently occupies. To display these paintings in the gallery would likely crowd the limited space and distract the visitor from seeing each piece individually. Here in this iteration the work can be seen both in its entirety on a single page and individually by scrolling through each one. The inherent duality of these works carries forward into future Paiement work which I highly encourage the audience to investigate.
A Reflection Upon the ID/Face Series
In the mid 1990s I created a series of works on paper that referenced the Rorschach ink-blot test. It is a test designed as a psychological diagnostic tool. The neurotic patient would project personal characteristics and emotional dis-functioning onto the symmetrically ambiguous image. I was intrigued by the reflection and symmetry of the images. An image on one side of the paper when replicated in reverse (on the opposite side) creates a larger more complex image. Most importantly, I was intrigued by the overarching metaphor it implied—in a cultural sense. In addition to the design of the Rorschach, I was intrigued by the concept of psychological projection as purported by the influential Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung. As a defense mechanism, he said that we project our unwanted emotions onto other people. For example, a cheating spouse might suspect their partner of being unfaithful.
In 1993, Dave Hickey published a book called The Invisible Dragon which turned the artworld on its head. For decades, the concept of beauty had been disregarded (by artists) and considered frivolous and shallow. Hickey’s book aimed to make beauty acceptable again. I became interested in our western, contemporary notion of beauty. It’s a tradition that emanated from the ancient Greek philosopher, Plato. As a result, ancient Grecian culture gave us the “Golden Ratio.” Since antiquity, artists such as Leonardo da Vinci used the ratio to define symmetry in structures including the human body. Simply put, bodies (and faces) that are more symmetrical are more beautiful. My ID/Face series of watercolor paintings were designed to overturn this notion by taking symmetry and beauty to an absurd level. My imagery came from pop culture magazines from the 1950s and 60s such as Vogue, Time, and Life. These magazines contributed in cultivating and idealizing our cultural ideals of beauty. In addition, I was fascinated by the crude quality of the printed photographs that left the images somewhat ambiguous. This allowed me space to project my imagination onto them.
My ID/Face series of watercolor ink on paper paintings were executed in 1997/98. They were created in the same manner as Dr. Hermann Rorschach’s ink-blot test–using similar toned ink. Working from photographs of faces from vintage magazines, I painted one side of the face. Before the watercolor ink dried, I folded the paper (creating a crease) and printed the mirror image on the opposite side of the paper. Leaving a crease reveals the process. The printed image appears incomplete and ghostly. Using the printed image as a guide, I repainted the image to match the opposite side. As a way for the viewer to identify with the faces I painted them life-sized or human scale. These paintings were exhibited at Stefany Martz Gallery in Soho, New York City in 1998. They were installed in the corner of the gallery. I configured seven paintings on the left wall and seven on the right. The corner of the room was intended to replicate the crease in the paper as a way to continue the theme of reflection.
Since the exhibition in Soho, these paintings have been stored in the flat-files of my studio. Taking them out (after 20 plus years) has revealed (to me) how they align into the trajectory of my inquiry as an artist. Conceptually, these paintings expose my mind at work—processing perceptions, ideas, and thoughts. An observer can see how the ID/Face series evolved into the Hybrids series. In the Hybrids paintings the viewer is engaged by inconsistent or nearly symmetrical design. The insect imagery on the left side isn’t the same as the techno-imagery on the right. In a sense, I’m playing a visual game with the viewer—hide the image. My desire is that the viewer’s interactive experience with the artwork (and hence the artist) will initiate them to look within themselves—to reflect on their own perceptions and develop a greater understanding of who they are—their own IDENTITY/FACE.