and spiritual interests and his attempts to translate them—in a
way that most good literary translators comprehend—into a
language in which he can better understand them or reveal
them to a different audience.
one of the things i was very interested in was a series of colored symbols such as a red square with a black X inside or green filled in oval with a black plus sign inside. these were used in the notebook for his arcades project and those symbols are relatively known, but their meanings are still not entirely known other than each was used to mark certain themes in the notebook so as to be able to organize fragments together later. What excited me about them was that they sort of looked like avant garde graphicnotation that john cage, stockhausen, etc. were exploring the 1960's.
after recording all of the symbols in the first week or so, i began to explore the materials and because i could not read the primary information (i.e. the text), i started LOOKING at everything. at some point i realized the way that benjamin crossed things out were completely inconsistent, and i ended up notating 40 different ways of covering mistakes - a squiggle, a
horizontal line, a box filled in, an X, several X's, etc. and so i "claimed" them, and named each method based on its form (so that a black filled in triangle was "black bird" or a kind of crosshatching became "basket"... and i made a video related to the material in 2012
here's a link:
for the paintings in the exhibition, i used the same marks to develop the paintings, using index cards and pulling them blindly and layering the images via chance operation until the original form was lost to a sea of forms... and when it sufficiently dense, i started to look at the lines as a
kind of rorschach blot until i started to see forms - which certainly do seem connected to landscape and architecture as you mention.
so i asked them to make me a few stretchers with canvas... they told me emphatically it would be very very different, but i figured i had no choice, as i was in the beginning stages of this body of work and didn't want to sit around waiting for materials... of course, they were right, the new surface was totally different - allowing me to suddenly shift the way i make paintings which never would've happened without this simple snafu! what i noticed immediately was at the early stages of the painting the thin paint would be absorbed into the canvas surface very very differently than on the primed linen (obviously the weaves are quite different)... but i was
shocked at the difference and after finishing the first piece on canvas, i put the 5 larger paintings on linen under a tarp and deemed them the end of something, while the paintings in the show are the beginning of something. they are much much thinner in terms of paint build-up, and my process with them has been much slower, probably because i don't know yet what i'm doing!
messerli: Even your title, “ragpicker," suggests the influence of numerous others.
‘here we have a man whose job is to gather the day¹s refuse in the capital. everything that
has crushed underfoot he catalogues and collects. he collates the annals of intemperance, the
capharnaum of waste. he sorts things out and selects judiciously: he collects like a miser
guarding a treasure, refuse which will assume the shape of useful of gratifying objects
between the jaws of the goddess of industry.’
and this is benjamin's words that he added to baudeliare's text at the end:
"this description is one extended metaphor for the poetic method, as baudelaire practiced it
since i was ruffling a fair amount of feathers by researching the work of one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century and not being able to read the texts, i looked to benjamin to offer me "permission". I wanted to be respectful and to have this conversation with his notes in a way that felt somehow akin to some of benjamin's own methods, etc.
so these two quotes - baudeliare and benjamin about the ragpicker as a poet, it sort of felt like exactly what i was doing - sifting through the "least important" materials to bring them to life again and to give them representation in the work so that they might acquire meaning again. i mean, i was doing exactly what baudelaire described - taking everything that was
crushed underfoot and finding "treasure".
the proof was that most of the questions i asked the archivist, they could not answer, so i was clearly looking at things that had for the most part been ignored.
when i made the body trace drawings, i ridiculously thought they would look like maps and no one would ever know they were figures (i made them by linking up a piece of plexiglass the size of my body. laid the paper face down on the ink, and then laid down my body on the backside of the paper and then with the stick side of a paintbrush, scraped the image via pressure--and i could not see what i was doing, since i was working from the back. when i pulled the first one off of the ink i was floored at how much the figure remained... and when i pulled the one that we will call "the klimt" I thought long and hard about cutting it into pieces and putting it back together so that the figure would be impossible to see. instead, as you saw,
i decided to move in another direction by emphasizing the figure, but silhouetting it in black. it was not so much an aesthetic decision as a risky decision, to bravely own what came about, as opposed to forcing it to do what i know or what i like - which was in many ways the intention of the show... because in these too, there was a sense of beginning.
the first influence was a short interview with le corbusier during the building of a city in india called chandigarh, and corb described the buildings like a body, and each sector was a limb or organ, and those limbs and organs were the parts of my own body that i traced in each one.
another interesting aspect is that after finishing these drawings, i found a polaroid photograph of myself at age 7 standing next to a piece of paper my height, with a tracing of my body (filled in to look like an army man!). so while these feel very new, i suppose i'm simply repeating childhood experiences... and i do think as i get older, i find myself reflecting a lot
more on early childhood experiences of making things.
messerli: Are there other influences I'm blind to?
messerli: I loved this show (as I loved Howard Fox’s show of your work in 2010), but it so different. Has something major happened? To be able to do a New York show and an LA show at the same time, that's truly amazing. What drug are on you on? Or, more seriously, what so energized you. I'm not asking for a defense (who needs that?) but a helpful clue to your obvious "turn" (as Celan might describe it) in your work.
i'm sure you know as a writer, there are ways that you do things and there are also things that hover at times like flies, and yet you keep swatting them away, but they keep coming back, and at some point you acknowledge them. i consider myself an abstract painter, but as a viewer, i don't only respond to abstract paintings. i also think that over time people come to know certain aspects of your work, leading to expectations. my interest is in being able to move wherever the work or the source suggests, and i felt in this work i was not afraid to go wherever the work wanted to go. as artists, we generally think we are free to do as we please (and we are free), but we also (whether we admit or not) can't help but acknowledge that people see, hear or read what we do in relation to what we have already done. what was energizing was seeing the "klimt" and being excited, not because i made a so-called figurative work, but because that drawing in particular had the potential to contradict expectations in terms of what I do, and that, more than anything else, was energizing.