The proverbial distinction between looking and seeing isn’t a matter, as they say, of apples and oranges. It is more one of apples and eating. There are things, and there are the processes in which things involve themselves. My father has always been a man of action. This means several things at once: if he can put his skills to it, he’s interested; if he doesn’t understand how it works, he will learn how; and if he can’t see into its nature, he will look into himself for the closest analog. He will make something happen, and the beauty of action will be rendered on a canvas or a block of wood.
You modern abstract artists, admit it! You’ve let yourself in for the one about what an eight year-old is capable of. It’s been so easy, the ascendancy of the non-representational – and now art is one of those things where people shrug equally whether they like or dislike a thing. No one who has spent any time at all up close to my father’s works would think to pull up that old saw. It wouldn’t occur to them any more than it would if they’d spent time up next to Lucien Freud, say, or Georges Seurat. But how is this a viable comparison? Because, while Freud is stylistically muscular and Seurat is, shall we say, densely intricate, we know for sure that they both represented a world we exist in. But that is the beauty of it: without the umbrellas and lake side loungers and supine depressives in dingy studio apartments in which to frame our appreciation for technique, we’re left with the pure – and therefore somewhat frighteningly irrational – development of an ability, a capacity for expression. And expression is work, when you have to have it just so, when simply having done with it, having it out for consumption, isn’t enough, or even relevant.
Relations, it is said, stop nowhere. One of the artist’s jobs is understood to be the arbitrary freezing of the relating elements in just the right telling posture. Since one cannot show everything, and we know that it is futile to try, one must opt for the most elegant substitute: the moment that shows most. This is what I see in my father’s labors: a body of work that concerns itself with freezing not any particular arrangement of the elements – since his work for many years has been so stubbornly non-representational – but with freezing a view of the very process of relating that all these elements are so fiercely busy about.
I.e., drama. Drama, so beautifully on the surface of life, is not merely the play of surfaces against other surfaces – drama is that little wedge of self-revealing light that results from that contact. Drama is vital, oh make no mistake. But let’s not confuse that with necessity – since none of it is necessary. No, it’s just the light that comes off the thing – you either have a use for it, or you don’t. A little fire comes off your encounter with an artwork – does it matter? Can a little aesthetic drama save your life? Let’s not get carried away. But is it as relevant as, say, the quality of what you put in your mouth to ensure your existence for another day? You better believe it.
Be prepared: my father’s work is very very amoral – that is, it’s not on the wrong side of the question, but rather doesn’t care about the question. Ah what freedom! Would that we all had . . . ah but we do. Simply to have a choice. That is beauty. There is a glow that comes off these canvases. How could light possibly be a matter of morality? They are great works because they glow for chrissakes! No, they are great works because my father spent thirty years tuning the relations between the primed face of a canvas and its many acrylic shrouds.
Can we really be bothered about beauty? If you value your health. It’s funny how a dose of beauty works like a balm on people’s prejudices – and they love their prejudices. But watch when they get a shot in the heart – sticking a nose in a flower will do it. The experience needs to cut through our ready concepts for looking and judging – the fences go up so quickly! What do we know about looking over fences – we either hate what’s there because it’s over there, or covet what’s there because... it’s over there! Here is a fence – in other words, here is your device of complaining. Question: did you build that fence? Or merely allow yourself to be hemmed in by it? Again, don’t just look – looking is the activity of establishing a distance, between you and your – target. Give a try at seeing – that is, give a try at participating in the experience that’s portrayed in front of you by these works. And take your cues for how to go about it from the works themselves. You must be silent, you must relax, and you must positively give in. Difficult, yes. But then, if you value your health.
- Ian West Nov 2007 Brooklyn NY