SEE NO EVIL:
Ian Woo Interviews painter Jeremy Sharma in conjunction with his new exhibition of paintings and mixed media works entitled ‘Apropos’ at the ICAS Gallery one.
IW: The word exercises bring to mind looking at your new paintings and mixed media surfaces made within the last two years. I use the word exercises based on the serial nature of your works, where a beginning of an exploration with perception and surface is repeated and varied in a spontaneous manner, making several attempts at engaging with similarities and differences. I will start off with two questions. How do you start and what variations do you work towards when making a series of works? What leads you to end a series and start another?
JS: I always start off with an idea, an ideal in my head, but the idea always shifts with the reality of making a painting. One process informs the other. For example the spectrum paintings started off from a color swatch on my computer which I attempted to recreate, not represent, but re-create in paint, with the analogy of paint; pixels are pixels, paint is paint. But I could never quite get what I really wanted, you never get what you want, close, and then something interesting happens, and that chance or accident informs much more in the reality of making a painting. Similarly that led to the greys, because the colours were getting too messed up and muddy, so I pushed it the other way, similar processes pushed to different extremes. A lot happens out of what I couldn’t get originally. The wax-cast magazines came out of my fascination with the nude or figure, I just cannot paint one anymore, not that I can’t, I can do it quite easily but I’m not interested in that, I’m not interested in see apple, paint apple. I’m not interested in a blank canvas. I want to work off something that already exists in the world. I think a lot about the dialogue in creating a painting. The postcards were done with the remainder paint of the ‘gaussians’, hence the title ‘parergon’ because they exist outside what I set out to achieve, but ironically that became just as important. The ‘gaussians’ were really about extracting colour and data to create some sort of atmosphere through this mechanical striations, sort of like a 21st century Turner but more mathematical I guess. It didn’t matter where they came from, the paintings became their own, but their titles are sort of entry points, traces if you will. I am opposed to the masterpiece, the heroic. I don’t think of style in creating a work, I like concepts and philosophical ideas that deal with perception more. You know the filmmaker Robert Bresson, who made his actors repeat multiple takes of what they were doing until their performance is stripped to a purer language of cinema- that’s how I see my paintings going, in terms of serialism, so the first painting starts off very enthusiastic and such, but repeating that in the 8th or 14th painting, something happens beyond me, that immediacy, and you only select what is best. It’s frustrating, not to mention very expensive, but I am obsessive like that, it may look easy but it was never. And I think in terms of variations and not improvisations, so it’s more classical in that sense, like in music, variations of a theme, or chord but the structure remains the same.
IW: You use the word purer language as well as the mechanical in relation to painting. So your example of Bresson pushing the actors to an extreme in rehearsals is to loose their sense of control, so as to unlearn and discover another sphere of consciousness, the indeterminate. It reminds me of John Cage’s idea of indeterminacy where he is obsessed with ways to remove any form of the lyrical or beauty associated with body expression so as to reach another paradigm. It is interesting to note that much of your new paintings have little or no trace of the brush as a traditional hand rendering device. The brush marks if apparent always assumes a single sweep appearing from one edge of the surface to another. There is of course the brushless grey painting where they remind me of windows and blocked light filters. Is this reading of pure painting to highlight the phenomena of physical world?
JS: I would tread on careful ground to say purer (only in relation to Bresson) because the paradox and contradictions will loom over the paintings like a dark cloud, because it was never about purity if you know what I mean. The indeterminate and a different sphere of consciousness seem like apt descriptions because people will talk about surface, materiality and process but they are not ends in themselves for me. The indeterminacy is controlled and not given to entropy; I am not interested in losing control or the paint cracking up or spilling or sagging over or out of the frame or painting becomes more than painting. I like how the four sides govern the painting because I still see painting in terms of pictures, images. Only the postcards have a strong trace of the hand, or rather a knife, someone mentioned attack and that’s it, I attacked the postcards there and then. The grey paintings, and the gaussians, especially the greys, because of the disappearance of the hand – you could even look at them through a photographic code hence them referencing (and these are comments I’ve gotten): x-rays, celluloid, film, the point just before a polaroid assumes an image (my favourite!), windows, mirrors and now blocked light filters. With the greys, it’s even harder, you don’t quite know what you are looking at. There is phenomena here, especially in terms of light, matter and gravity.
IW: Lets move to the postcards, which to me assumes double readings of identities. One notices the historic image or in some instances, a found image. The way it is treated with paint on top makes the content of the image unimportant, subjected as a background, a backdrop to a matching coloured secretion of the image, viewed like a suspended morphing captured in time. I also feel as if the identity of the postcard has been merged with substance of paint as a whole. Perhaps a mutation of elements, a game of parody, to cover up, yet the paint seems to pull the contents into itself (the paint). Confusing one’s recognition of space, content and matter. I use the word negation before, but now I am thinking more of a possession of image. Is the match of paint to the surface colour of the contents in the card an instinctive process? What is the relation formed by?
JS: Double readings, failure of representation etc. I have to find something to the image to respond to, they all exist in the history of images, the vocabulary of portraits and landscapes like a history of representations that I work on. And also the idea of working on reproductions. When I was applying the paint or swiping them off, I wasn’t really thinking of negation or iconoclasm or revealing or concealing. It’s not peek-a-boo. Charles (Merewether) used a word dis/close which comes close. But dis/closure applies more to a reading of the work when its finished. I think its closer to something more primal, a smearing impulsion, why and how we mark surfaces or images. Colour and sensuality could heighten the desired effect. They weren’t meant to be serious at first, something done in jest. They are in a way photo-based paintings and again they concern the image. I remember first seeing the overpainted photographs of Richter and thinking they were so wrong, painting on top of a photograph, almost like it’s taboo or it’s cheating. But I look at this whole uneasy relationship between painting and photography; painting imitating photography, photography imitating painting. I think we had enough of that already. I am very comfortable now with them being themselves and working together, they don’t even have to comply and merge as one. They are both indexical to how they achieve a final identity. Painting is always seen as a laboured process whereas the photograph is instant, can I say I am reaching a median point here?
IW: You brought out an interesting perspective of how one can understand an artist’s intentions before and after the completion of a work. In relation to your casualness implied to the application of paint on photo, there is almost a desperation to block up the image with the act of painting, like an impulse to remove / shift its identity, to disengage its function in this world. I guess I would see that as a personal engagement, perhaps not necessarily related to the final outcome. I am not sure. I also find that your work does not deal with notions of representations but rather a return to formal ideas about absolutism in art making. I would consider that you are making images that have gone through several stages of filters. Complex filters that you hope can restore purity. Perhaps Donald Judd will be proud! But really, it is about painting in order to restore the essence of a picture object subjugating content to a point of flatness, in order that we return to the beginnings of the frame and surface image. You physically flatten all reference to representation to its purest form- that of surface, materiality and distortion, like the variations series of blues and yellows. In those works, I find that you give me the essence of landscape and weather by totally removing all content and imagery to a point of a blur, same with the nudes and seascapes. The blurring creates new content. If I were to use a reference to music it is like the use of distortion transforming the sound production of a clean signal of a guitar to that of a completely different presence. In reference to Richter’s use of blurring, how would you see your use of this act as different? This especially interesting when we relook at the ideals of early minimalism and even abstract expressionism. Are you wiping our every day consumption of images so as to enable us to return to or revisit those ideas of utopian endgames?
JS: I understand what you are saying and what you are getting at. How do I put it? In a way its not so much abstraction but what you are unable to represent by blocking, blurring and erasing. It is about form as it is the content, sort of ideological that way, indistinguishable. Like I said, it’s not about purity or absolutism, I may have thought of that or given the impression of that before, or maybe you and I see them differently. And it’s not as cold, perfect and industrial as in Donald Judd’s brand of minimalism. I like the human endeavour and indeterminacy of creating the paintings, they are certainly imperfect and relational to time and environment and medium, so it’s not quite absolute, almost, I like ‘almost’. So we return to Cage again, it’s funny because I don’t listen to a lot of Cage, but he is a good example, and the analogy of the guitar signal is interesting and you’re right there, if anything it’s more sound than music, more signal than noise. The blurring is a strategy to achieve a desired state of flatness, you could call it a utopian endgame if you want. I know Richter works on a canvas until he cannot go on, and I cannot compare with someone who has painted for almost 50 years, but the fundamental difference is I do not stay as long in the painting, I end the game a lot quicker, it cannot be overdone or too worked upon, it’s a lot more mechanical than you think. People think there are so many layers in the ‘gaussians’ but in actual fact there is one, but the repetition of the gesture is key to the work. Signals, filters, transformation and repetition all point to contemporaneous experience. The works acknowledge computers and digitlisation, multiplicity, fragmentation and technology because I cannot see how they would exist without these experiences.
IW: I was thinking about Judd and Twombly, how both cannot agree and are from different poles of aesthetic concerns. Yet, your work somehow reminds me of the characteristics that these two artists possess, the weight bearing more on Twombly’s romance towards innocence. You mentioned ‘almost’, which brings to mind the example of an axis, where ideas between two opposites shifts and adjust itself. Do you think that contemporary panting needs to find new experiences from reconnecting the network of genres within history painting? To reconnect would be to unplug some links or reestablish new connections. Your concerns for digital and technological aesthetics seems to also point to a way in which combinations of contemporary design and phenomena has found its way into the composite of new panting. However, is the composite mutant? Or is the engineered whole seamless? I guess this is an open question, which attempts to address our constant search for new imagery as painters involved in contemporary art practice.
JS: That’s a good way to put it Ian. Especially with Twombly, his work exists out of technology, right to the beginnings, like a certain kind of antiquity or even earlier to cave paintings. Innocence! Like a child learning to speak, write or draw again, utterances or so to speak. Opposites and shifts, ambivalence...I link it to a certain kind of doubt when you paint, that unknown that you dive into or letting a kind of phenomena take over, ‘almost’ connotes an in-between, like a precipice, or a kind of be-coming or other-ness. I am thinking how painting should be more relevant in contemporary practice, or at least how how it is relevant for me to continue to paint. Aren’t we all already some form of mutant, cyborg or really slow computers? Yet I think what I’m doing links to something more primal. If you knew, you wouldn’t paint, you can only try.
IW: Speaking of cyborgs, you mentioned at your talk that you often imagine that you are making these works for a Science Fiction movie set (or something to that extent). Could you talk about the relationship between imagination and the realization of art works? Again we are referring back to the ideas about the artist’s personal processes and that of the spectators. What I am interested here is in the way in which we artists often need to psyche ourselves up to shift into another realm so as to fully zone out from the realities of life, some kind of serious daydreaming or play-acting.
JS: Paintings for spaceships! That’s what I mentioned. You know the black monolith from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, where the apes gather around and it appears again in the future at the end of the film, that kind of what sums up modernity in a perfect symbol, it’s a mystery, a spectre. It’s a kind of unknown, it doesn’t exist in any time but you have seen it happening in the past, present and future. It knows no culture or history, everything is blanked out and erased and the spaceship is a vessel that is sort of a liminal space between past and future, known and unknown, so it’s got to be devoid of culture or history and continuously in the present, but sometimes you have traces of humanity. Like that fantastic plant life in Tarkovsky’s Solaris at the beginning and in the spacecraft, in fact you get that sense in all of his films, well the ones that I have watched, if memory serves me correctly. That is exciting for me! Speaking of plant life, I have also seen some fantastic ones in your paintings, I think you have a lot of serious daydreaming in your work. But back to this science fiction thing, I think it also has got to be my recent predilection for synthetic paints and composite surfaces as well.
Jeremy Sharma is curently showing in the Singapore Art Museum - Lyrical Abstraction: Works by Jeremy Sharma & Yeo Shih Yun
6 July 2012 to 23 September 2012 and Marcel Duchamp in South-East Asia
Curated by Tony Godfrey
on behalf of the Centre for Cultural Anxiety at Equator Projects, Gillman Barracks, Singapore
15 September–21 October 2012
Ian Woo is showing at Encounter: The Royal Academy in Asia from 14 September - 21 October 2012, Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore and Marcel Duchamp in South-East Asia at Equator Projects.
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