Archives for posts with tag: Warhol

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Damien Hirst Spot Painting

There is an abandoned building near Iroquois Ontario that says, “I love Christine Kirkwood by Cole”. Sometimes it’s difficult to know what’s important, but this message has stayed with me like poetry. Christine Kirkwood sounds very beautiful and I think Cole uses all of Christine’s name so he can call up her complete and perfect idea. If he knew her middle initial, that would be part of the conjuring as well – Christine J. Kirkwood. Their relationship does not seem equal to me, just like their names. Christine Kirkwood probably does not love Cole. She may not even like him, or for that matter, know who he is.

I also find the word, “by” in “I love Christine Kirkwood by Cole” very significant. It is definitely childlike, but it also reveals an important truth. “I love Christine Kirkwood” is the title of a greater work by Cole, not just a simple statement of fact. Our feelings involve the whole of us, all of our bodies, including our nasal passages and bowels, and no matter how sophisticated we become, we can never produce an expression that equals a state of our selves. Loving Christine Kirkwood is so much more than can ever be said. We remain alone with our secrets and yearnings except when they are unintentionally revealed to a steadfast interpreter.

Artists are like Cole in that intentional self-expression may not be possible. Self-portraiture, on the other hand, certainly is possible. Whenever someone makes something, that artefact is accompanied by an imaginary someone who is plausible as the person who made that something. This is not the artist – this is an image of the artist in the mind of the viewer. The writer-person who you are starting to imagine as you read my words is a good example of a plausible imaginary someone. My thoughts on Cole are also an example.

Artists can manipulate this image of themselves to help them appear clever, or innovative, or whatever it is they want for themselves. But it is difficult to be a perfect manipulator. It follows from this that the image of the artist that becomes apparent in a work of art is only partially intentional on the artist’s part, while the rest, that being the artist-desired part, is unintentional or perhaps even an error or oversight depending on the artist’s mendacity. Friedrich Nietzsche says that reading a philosopher’s works uncovers the character or moral health of that philosopher. I am saying something similar about art and artists. If my claim holds, it could be a great boon to the hermeneutics industry.

klee.ancient-sound

Paul Klee, Ancient Sound, oil on cardboard, 15″ x 15″, 1925, coll. Kunstsammlung, Basel. http://www.sai.msu.su/wm/paint/auth/klee/

The thought of ancient sound is truly delightful and reminds me of some lines from a poem by Hans Arp, “No one detects now the track of his baby shoes. They left not even a threadlike trace of a tiny hiking-song in the air.” [Hans Arp, “The Seraphim and Cherubim” in Three Painter Poets: Arp, Schwitters, Klee, Harriet Watts trans., Penguin Books, 1974, p. 32]

The self-portrait that Klee is showing me is a playful, modest person who takes great pleasure in poignancy. My imaginary Klee has charmed me. It’s also a beautiful painting.

Sometimes a painter paints in a particular way just to make a painting that is painted in that particular way. These kinds of paintings are meant to look just as they look. This is a very straightforward kind of painting, and it makes a much better door than window. In other words, the painting that is right in front of me is the thing intended to be seen, and the painting is not meant to be seen through to something else such as a talented imaginary artist.

It is very nice that some straightforward, door-like paintings are about the paint itself, or the support for that paint (formal concerns), but it is much more interesting when straightforward paintings are also about something else as well, this often referred to as “content”. But content contains an unfortunate metaphor – content is not inside a painting, content is the painting perceived.

This is why a straightforward painting, even when it is about something else as well, ancient sound as an example, still makes a better door than window. The painting is the thing to be seen, not an imaginary painter or an alienated context such as “the history of art such that this painting is a part of it”, “the history of art such that this painting is a clean break with it” or “an appropriate stance on a burning issue of the day”. These latter kinds of paintings are conceptual paintings.

A conceptual painting is thus an object that is presented as if it were a painting. Some fancy people might call this a simulacrum, but I believe these two things are different. Unfortunately, I don’t find it worth the time just now to clarify that distinction. Thus, a stretched canvas that has had paint applied to it by a human and then been hung on a wall could well not be a painting at all. Fun.

Conceptual painting is not straightforward – it is painting that is presented as painting in order to make a point about something unrelated that is not there to be seen in the painting itself. It might be something like, “The person who made this painting has a new and better understanding of some particular strand in the history of art up to and including this painting here which is making this very point”.

It will be up to the viewer/interpreter to figure out what that understanding might be. An official artist’s statement can be of great value in this regard. The long tradition of the artist’s manifesto has evolved into a standard business letter document to help viewers negotiate these conceptual issues. Most contemporary artists are wary of the artist’s statement. To keep their inscrutability intact, it is better to leave this to their gallery representatives and the critics who write articles about them.

Conceptual painting of course, is a wonderfully clever thing to do, and it makes the painter an art historian and theorist worthy of respect. It also makes the conceptual painter not a painter at all and the conceptual painting not a painting, in spite of the fact it looks like one.

In my opinion, Damien Hirst’s spot paintings are fine examples of conceptual paintings. There is nothing to be gained by merely looking at them, just like all conceptual art, knowing about them is sufficient. There’s more on this in my preface to The Communist Manifesto without Nouns.

I think the spot paintings are primarily about how art is a kind of money, which is not a terribly novel idea – the idea of the cultural commodity has been nagging the conscience of artists for quite a while. Oscar Wilde said that a philistine knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. This comment may or may not be applicable to this discussion, although I suspect it is. I feel confident that Hirst’s Spot Paintings are conceptual paintings with a debt to Warhol, and they therefore they have nothing to do with spots.

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Georges Seurat, Le Bec du Hoc, Grandcamp, 1885.

Seurat, on the other hand, was very interested in spots.

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satiescol97 6.5x9.5x58

Steve Armstrong, Satie’s Column, 6.5″ x 9.5″ x 58″, acrylic on wood, 1997.

schoecol96 7x10x94

Steve Armstrong, Schoenberg’s Column, acrylic on wood, 7″ x 10″ x 94″, 1994.

I find spots interesting as well.

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And Robert Fones also sees something interesting in spots and dots..

wonder_bread

http://archives.chbooks.com/online_books/head_paintings/wonder_bread.html

Here’s Fones from the Coach House books site:

WONDER BREAD

I have always liked the simplicity of the six dots in the Wonder Bread logo and its evocation, in product design, of Modernist principles. I remember seeing the logo as a child and associating it with one of my favourite comic book characters, Little Dot, a girl who was obsessed with dots and collected them the way other people might collect coins or butterflies. To construct this painting I found a Wonder Bread logo on the side of a truck and photographed it in order to find out how many different sizes of dots there were, and how the dots were arranged. As with Pancetta, once I positioned an altered configuration of dots on the face, I extended them back in perspective as if they were solid material. I thought of the eyes and tongue as planes of material cutting through the solid logo, hence whatever colour they sliced through was carried forward or backward in pictorial space. The head ended up looking clown-like but rather tragic, as if it was unaware of the dots on its face.

I see more in Fones’ piece than he mentioned. He mostly described the imaginative play that artists enjoy so much, “I extended them [the dots] back in perspective as if they were a solid material”. Fones’ playful attitude towards his work seems similar to that of Paul Klee. But besides this, I see a metaphor for perception. The spots to be perceived by the face are on the outer surface of that face, and they leak in through its sense organ holes. It says to me that the things I perceive are not “over there”, I am actually touched by everything. There is no empty space between me and the things I experience. On my part of course, this is just more of that imaginative play that artists enjoy so much. It’s also worth noting that Klee’s “Ancient Sound” is also a reference to perception.

And to get back to Seurat, he was a very earnest fellow researching the limits of the relationship between granularity and continuousness as it applies to perception. There might be a reason why spots and dots seem to lend themselves so well to meditations on perception. Henri Bergson published Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness in 1910 which also considers the issues of the discrete versus the continuous. It was based on his doctoral dissertation of 1889. For what it’s worth, this was contemporary with Seurat.

As an aside, Seurat also made absolutely superb pencil drawings. I love them very much.

seurat drawing
Georges Seurat,
Aman–Jean, conté crayon on paper; 24 1/2″ x 18 11/16″, (62.2 x 47.5 cm) 1883. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/61.101.16

 

Discussion Points for ISTP Novices, Fledglings, and Supplicants

Was Hirst’s character impugned?

Was this text theoretical, or anti-theoretical, or both?

Is there any urgency to understanding the distinction between a simulacrum and something that is regarded as if it were something else?

Image at top: Damien Hirst Spot Painting from http://www.pasunautre.com/2011/12/28/art-in-2012/

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williams-web
I’ve just discovered an interesting artist, Alan Uglow, thanks to an article by Gregory Williams in The Brooklyn Rail (Image courtesy of Brooklyn Rail) The painting on the right is from 1994, the serigraph “portrait” of the painting is from 2000.

This was going to be about Uglow and me and possibly Gerhard Richter and how copying your own work is a way forward from appropriation, the arbitrariness of subject matter, and the general flatness of everything. Then I got upset.

The problem started when I searched for Sherrie Levine to confirm she was the one who did rephotographing. That’s when I stumbled on this painting of hers, part of a series completed between 1987 and 2002. This particular one is from 1988.

Sherrie Levine plywood

So why am I upset?

I made these two plywood knot paintings in 1993, and called them The Things at the Edge of the Universe 1 and 2, 45″ x 50″ and 15″ x 26″.

edguniv93 45x50

thgsuniv93 15x26

So of course they have something to do with appropriation and how it is related to the difficulty deciding on subject matter when all things seem equal. They are ‘found’ compositions to some extent. All I had to do was colour them in.

We’re living on a very smooth plain, it’s difficult to find things sticking up enough to warrant sincere attention. This also has a bearing on attitudes to copyright, which is the reason everything I publish has been under

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

But there is more. These two paintings are not just about appropriation, the lack of reasons and commitments, and the act of choosing itself. The latter two were well covered by Warhol and Duchamp respectively. The first one, appropriation art, is mainly a rehash of Warhol and Duchamp’s ideas taken to their end point. When youthful spite subsides, it’s time to respect your tradition. That’s the only way to change it. (T. S. Eliot, more or less.)

These two paintings have rounded corners, mildly suggestive of cathode ray tubes, what TV’s looked like in 1993. They are covered in very scratched quarter-inch plexiglass which elevates visibility to a second simultaneous picture plane. The plexiglass has a gridded array of holes drilled in it for finishing nails and the occasional screw. The grid is not square with the sides of the work, which gives the grid some tilt, but no vanishing point.

The nails hold the layers together, but they are also visible objects that travel through all the virtual objects generated with paint and scratches. Nails as wormholes perhaps, the things at the edge of the universe maybe – and all along we thought it was the painted knots. “Ha ha”, as Bosse-de-Nage the dog faced baboon would say. (Please refer to Alfred Jarry’s Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician).

For the most part I don’t mind obscurity, but there are times when it’s frustrating. Frustrating because I feel compelled to defend and explain my work when I come across things that look quite similar – plywood knot paintings for example. But as Mosheim apparently said, “Renown is a source of toil and sorrow; obscurity is a source of happiness” [I got this from  J. W. Von Goethe, Conversations with Eckermann (Washington and London: M. Walter Dunne, 1901), p. 6. And I have no idea who Mosheim is.]

Thankfully, I think it’s possible to feel schadenfreude for my own misfortune. Grimly satisfying wound licking isn’t half bad. While flattering myself that my work measures up to his, I can easily imagine myself in the circumstances of Kurt Schwitters. He said we shouldn’t worry about his obscurity and poverty because he knew very well how important he was. And he is important – his shadow continues to grow, just as Picasso’s shrinks. Therefore, I will not be bothered by the fact that I seem to have made a career of being overlooked and underestimated.

mz-231-miss-blanche-1923
http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/kurt-schwitters/mz-231-miss-blanche-1923

1923 – and it contains seeds of almost all the ‘retinal’ art that follows. (“Retinal” is a reference to Duchamp’s pejorative term for all art that isn’t ‘conceptual’, for lack of a better word. It seems to me though, that visual art would use a retinal vehicle.) And looking at this one humble collage from 1923, I know I have a lot of work to do. The insidious influence of theory still drives me, I’m not retinal enough.

Sherrie Levine has made her career as an “appropriation artist”. She came to my attention in 1980 when she rephotographed pictures by Walker Evans and showed them as her own. It was a brilliant choice because Evans was such a damned earnest photographer, living in a time when artists really thought they were making a difference (aesthetic, political or both) – Schwitters, John Heartfield, Rodchenko, and so on. Levine’s move was a refreshingly bitter thing to do.

I’m sympathetic with appropriation, and in the 1970’s I tried my hand at it with a series of one-piece collages. From time to time, from 1976 to 1999, I tore things from newspapers, magazines, brochures, and maps that appealed to me, mounted them and signed them. These two are both coincidentally from 1979. I picked them because they look nice on my computer screen.

collage 1979

collage map 1979

Seeing that map once again makes me think it would make a great painting – a little bit of a Richard Diebenkorn Ocean Park Series thing going on.

Richard_Diebenkorn's_painting_'Ocean_Park_No.129'
From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Richard_Diebenkorn%27s_painting_%27Ocean_Park_No.129%27.jpg

My use of appropriation was sour grapes and cleverness to some extent, but it still had a hint of vicarious escape from media saturation in it. I took back the initiative, the choosing, I was less of a passive consumer. That was the do-good, Schwitters part, but that’s hardly adequate.

Appropriation is basically a rehash of Conceptual and Pop art. It is the blindingly obvious thing to do after Duchamp and Warhol. It’s also a one-trick pony to establish an art career – but if you keep doing the same thing for long enough, you’ll probably get famous. Morris Lewis demonstrated it and General Idea satirized it. As far as appropriation goes, I couldn’t be bothered with anything more than some scrap booking – there are so many other things to think about.

So much for being vexed, and onto the matter of copying your own work. I have three rules for art making: It needs charm, it acknowledges its roots in a tradition, and it contains some other idea, hopefully a new way to see or understand something. That’s a tall order, and I know I don’t always succeed.

In 1977 I propped a book on the arm of a chair. It was open to a photograph of Marcel Duchamp taken by Alfred Stieglitz and I photographed it. I then signed and dated the photo. If art were physics, then Duchamp’s Law would be, “The art of a thing is the choice.” I chose Stieglitz’s photo to be my art.

Levine’s photos of Evan’s photos are more pointed – they’re just the photos with no surrounding context, they’re about appropriation, pure and simple. My photo is polluted with context: the image, the book and the chair in my living room – frames within frames. Besides appropriation, it’s also about my sense of being on the outside, looking through a window into the art world, like watching a family dinner while standing in the snow. Art students sometimes feel that way, very Dickens.

Duchamp 1977
I also enjoyed signing the front – photographers rarely do that.

I 2000, I photographed my photograph and printed it on enough paper to write a screed. It was intended to be amusing like my Artist Statement from a previous post.

Duchamp 2000

It says, “I don’t think Jeff Koons and Sherrie Levine are Postmodernists. I see them as Academic Modernists, Duchamp’s epigoni reworking the readymade concept ad nauseum. My student work of 1977 reflects the same concerns: I accepted what I was taught about permissible museum-grade transgression. To a certain extent, Modernism seems to have been about the quiddity of art itself. Assuming this problem has been solved, and as far as I know, it hasn’t, the next logical step is the quiddity of quiddity. Unfortunately this issue is extremely abstract, and artists are better applied than theoretical philosophers. Instead, let’s suppose for a moment that some point would be served if we were to force historical facts into a dialectical process. This granted, the next dialectical step is to reconsider the ideas negated by Modernism. Notwithstanding De Stijl and Earthworks, (because historical facts must be carefully chosen) the negated ideas are the Beautiful and the Sublime. The other next dialectical step is to chose the particulars of Modernism which need to be negated. Let these be transgression and the logical model of art practice. Therefore, I am pleased to announce that my dialectical thinking has discovered the possibility of a post Modernism. It only lacks a name.”

This definitely illustrates that I had developed some hostility towards theory.

Not much more to say. Here are three related works:

barrel collage 1979
One-piece collage, 1977.

barrel drawing 1999
Pencil drawing, 1999.

barrel photo 2000
Photograph, 2000.

cumuluskleinindex

http://www.berndnaut.nl/index.htm

When I came across Berndaut Smilde, I immediately liked his work. There’s a good reason for this: To a certain extent we’re ploughing the same field. I herewith have a passable excuse for posting some of my own work.

1080 fresco

Brain Cloud, from 1983, 16″ x 22″. It’s a fresco of sorts – acrylic paint mixed into Polyfilla(TM) on aluminum window screening stapled to particle board with a hardwood frame painted with commercial enamel. This is also my opportunity to point out that I came up with the silly idea of a brain cloud way before Tom Hanks was diagnosed with the same affliction in the movie Joe and the Volcano. It also seems to be the case that I have based my career on materials and approches that beg to be underestimated. It’s passive-aggressive I suppose.

ut88 7x9'5

Another silly title … A Case of Meteorological Hyphenization, 1988, 7″ x 9.5″. This one’s a colour photograph (a C41 print in fancy talk) mounted on plywood (which I gessoed to protect the print from acid in the plywood), surrounded by linoleum and covered with clear table top epoxy. On the very top there are two blobs of titanium white oil paint connected with a cotton thread that came out of my clothing – my pants probably. One needs to seize opportunities when they arise. The usual description of art would have said, “mixed media”, but that’s not very informative.

I only just realized, while writing this, that this hyphen in the sky is a precursor of work to come close to twenty years later.

prmrs92 20x29

This one’s included because after all these years, I still really like it: The Infinite Choice of Primaries, 1992, 20″ x 29″. It’s a copper foil covered circuit board painted with acrylic and mounted with linoleum on plywood. I obtained a stash of un-etched circuit boards from my local scrapyard which is a great place to browse – except for the dog. My friend was bitten by the dog once, but perhaps because he’s a communist, he didn’t sue the proprietor. He needed a lot of stitches.

My daughter’s friend tried putting on some red/blue glasses that came with a 3D comic book to look at this painting. Hilary was a funny girl. She’s still funny, but now she’s a woman. Little did she realize that as an art college student I had spent quite a while experimenting with various “hand-tooled” methods to suggest or produce virtual three dimensions.

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David Rabinowitch – Metrical Construction in 13 Masses Montreal

The lovely thing about the circuit boards are the arrays of tiny holes. They remind me of miniature David Rabinowitch sculptures, an artist I’m fond of.

A 28310

At one time, 1974 maybe, I made a scale model painting of Barnett Newman’s Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III, 1967. It was about 8 inches wide, on stretched canvas, just like Barney’s version. HO scale New York School is a very amusing idea, especially when you don’t take the weave of the canvas into consideration. That makes it more of an “essencing” as opposed to a model. I made up “essencing”. Unfortunately, I’m not sure where the painting is now.

extphen76 8'5x13cropped

This pencil drawing is called, Externalization Phenomenon, 1976, 8.5″ x 13″. I was an art student at the time and I was teaching myself how to draw, because you don’t learn that kind of thing in art college – it’s more about attitude, networking and fashionable theory. At the time it seemed radical to me to develop a skill, and in particular, a skill in one of the least valued mediums at the time. The futility of hand rendering in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction was extremely appealing to me: It seemed like a conceptual art kind of thing to do – a do-it-yourself homemade variety Sol Lewitt or Andy Warhol process. I’ve always found it easy to commit subversion in a way that no-one notices. In my student days I also made some Minimalist pieces with hand tools – take that Donald Judd! The art hanging on the wall in the drawing was a pseudo-minimalist piece I did the year before. As for the title, I was reading a lot of Jung at the time and he uses the term ‘externalization phenomenon’ to refer to synchronistic events. With my developing drawing skills, I embarked on a series of drawings of ghosts.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I still draw from time to time. This is a drawing of the newspaper from 2007, 22″ x 30″. In all modesty I can say it’s amazing what I can do with a 2B pencil.

screw

And this is a single object still life from 2008, also 22″ x 30″. I like single object still-lifes because multiple objects gets a bit too narrative for me. I don’t do allegory.

Kipping2

This is Kipping, 20″ x 28″, 1984, oil on corrugated fiberglass, named for a good friend of mine who painted many clouds back in the day and also liked to distress the support to create ambiguity, something Clement Greenberg called one of the chief sources of pleasure in art.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I like to put things in boxes and I don’t often use masking tape. Instead, I’m obsessively careful and usually get into a very pleasant meditative state when I do it. Untitled, acrylic on MDF, 11″ x 14″, 2006.

ellipsecloud2007

Untitled, graphite on paper, 9″ x 11″, 2007. Peculiar clouds, I don’t know what came over me. It might be about the formation of clouds as putative objects.

2009 black2 16 x 16 a on panel

These last two show my interest in IBM Selectric(TM) typewriter balls which has been with me at least a decade. They give me an interesting new take on clouds. The black one is untitled, acrylic on panel, 16″ x 16″, 2009. I press the typewriter ball into the dried surface and then rub the white paint into the crevice as if I were inking an intaglio printing plate.

2012 001

This is also untitled, coloured pencil on paper, 9″ x 11″, 2012. With dry media, I press the typewriter ball first and then the pencil scoots right over the crevice.

The point of all this is much more difficult to articulate than how I did it. Suffice it to say that language seems to reflect our hard wired fundamental categories of understanding (Steven Pinker). But I suspect that the cart is sometimes put in front of the horse in that language is given the honour of being the filter. Oh, never mind, this is irrelevant, my hostility towards post-structuralism is irrelevant, and there’s no way I’m sufficiently well informed to venture anything useful on this subject. Once again theory tries to step in to justify art. Art needs no justification whatsoever.

I just think it’s interesting to pretend that linguistic elements are real in the same way as rocks and clouds, although, it would be easier to devise a language/cloud analogy than a language/rock analogy. Then again, maybe not. That would make quite the poetry contest. Nonetheless, it’s certainly easier for me to draw and paint language as cloud-like as opposed to rock-like, but that’s probably because it’s the cloud metaphor that intrigues me. The letters look as if they came into being in the sky, just like clouds and stars do. That thrills me. It seems so mythological.

2012cropped

A detail of the drawing to make it easier to see. I have around 20 typewriter balls thanks to eBay – various fonts, scientific symbols, Japanese.

EOS Aug 08 352

untitled, 11 March, 2000, acrylic on paper, 38″ x 50″

This is my first blog post on my first blog, and I have to say, Seth Godin is right: It’s scary to just get out there. I’ve had gallery shows and published in magazines, but this makes me realize that in those circumstances there were other people who gave permission, other people to share the opprobrium. Having decided to actually move forward, I had to choose something for my first post. My initial thought was something about Susan Sontag, Rosalind Krauss and Agnes Martin but that will come later. I have decided to start with this painting, I suppose mostly because that would make this post about me and this is, after all, my blog.

It’s been almost thirteen years since I made this painting, and my assessment of it has vacillated over all that time. I’ve made things that I love unconditionally without wavering, and I’ve made things that I despise. It was a liberating moment when it occurred to me that I didn’t need to keep failed works around polluting my studio. If they can’t be fixed, destroy them and throw them away. But I’ve never decided whether this planet painting succeeds or fails, but what I wrote in pencil at the bottom is kind of interesting:

“There is a way of painting that is conceptual. I have decided that painting is tedious, or to be more precise, I have discovered that the paintings I find tedious are the same ones that I now recognize as conceptual. By conceptual painting I mean a) painting that isn’t motivated by painting; b) painting that presents itself as painting instead of just being painting; and c) painting that has content more alienated than even traditional subject matter. In other words, painting that presents itself as painting about something so that it can be about something else entirely. People trying to be that smart are just plain tedious. Prefixes such as meta and post are often used to talk about conceptual painting as if it were an epiphany”.

I still agree with all that. Point a) stands – interesting painters love paint, they love working with it and they love looking at it. Points b) and c) I now see as a single point and I don’t have a problem with them either. Damien Hirst’s spot paintings are a perfect example of painting that presents itself as painting instead of just being painting, or in other words has very alienated subject matter. His work doesn’t seem to be terribly engaged with any of its precursors – dots or spots from Seurat to Robert Fones. Hirst seems to be doing a Warhol on painting – repetition as a kind of disrespect. Hirst exhibits paintings as the product of his being an artist, not as an artist who paints. Not interesting.

At any rate, my painting seems to be a cartoon version of a Hans Hofmann. That’s just me engaging with my tradition

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