Hunter College
New York City
December 7-11, 1987
Master of Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition

Wood & Paint, etc., approximately 3' from the wall, sitting on the floor


Lerner......6' x 9' x 4"


Franklyn......6'9" x 7'6" x 5 1/2"


Merrill......6' x 11'3" x 6"

THESIS STATEMENT
Barry Silver
Hunter College of the City University of New York
Department of Art
December 7-11, 1987
Master of Fine Arts

     The building of objects and working with shaped canvas are the two focal points of my interests in the visual arts. As a result, the three pieces in my MFA exhibition incorporate elements of both architecture and painting. In talking about those pieces, therefore, the influence on them of both areas must be discussed.
     Before concentrating on art in college, I studied architecture, and many of the methods and ideas I use in constructing my art are architectural in origin. They include the complex support system required by the pieces, the facades the pieces present to viewers, and the alteration of physical space in the gallery resulting from the relationships among the pieces themselves. The size of the pieces is also architectural, as was their manner of construction and installation for the exhibition, both of which were carried out with the specific exhibition space they were to occupy in mind.
     The forms of the pieces are themselves architectural, based on three buildings whose entire construction processes I observed over the last couple of years. The most striking element in all three buildings was the contrast between black glass and beige concrete they exhibited, set on different visual levels and creating an interesting interplay of light, form, surface, and shadow. (I have tried to approximate that interplay in the design of my own pieces.) However, each building was unique within its own surroundings, to the point of being out of context with its immediate environment. Each was a monolithic fragment of architecture, beautiful in its grotesqueness.
     Buildings, needless to say, break the traditional rectilinear space associated with painting, and that idea intrigues me. By including windows and arches in my pieces and allowing the viewer to look and walk through and behind all three, I also allow the viewer to experience art as one would a building rather than a traditional painting on canvas.
     Moreover, with my paintings I have tried to direct the viewer's focus beyond the traditional concern with pictorial surface alone. When the viewer walks from front to back of my pieces, he or she moves from painted facade to construction support system, from perception of completed art object to (hopefully) awareness of construction process. In addition, this should provide the viewer with a perception of the stages of construction from skeletal beginnings to finished work of art.
     Even the planning of the pieces involved methods similar to those used by architects. Architects often photograph the sites on which they intend to build for study purposes. I photographed many buildings in order to decide which one best suited my own needs. These I narrowed down to three. I then made what could be called architectural sketches to determine which elements from the original buildings were appropriate for my paintings. I transferred the final sketches to grid paper (1 square of grid = 9 inches square on the final painting: this was a fortunate measure as the tiles on the floor of the exhibition space were also 9 inches square, making it easy to position for the show). Then I built cardboard models to scale in order to study better the spacial relationships between the three pieces of art. The final step - as with architecture - was to build the full-scale pieces themselves. I used wood for the painting surface because it was sturdier and smoother than canvas. Wood also helped me construct different visual levels with cleaner perpendicular lines. I used glossy black paint to produce the effect of windows and flat beige paint to produce the effect of the concrete exteriors. Everything was measured and cut by hand - similar more to the construction of scenery for plays then actual building construction by architects, but far different from traditional methods of painting.
     Turning to a consideration of painting influences on my work, I would like to start with an idea I first encountered while studying architecture but found of use only later in my art. It comes from Gestalt psychology and might be stated as: The whole is different from the sum of its parts. As I began studying art, and felt attracted to the shaped canvases of artists such as Ellsworth Kelly and Frank Stella, it occurred to me that I could abandon the traditional manner of painting an object within a rectilinear framework and make a shaped canvas itself the object. And as I worked with a number of shaped canvases, I came to see that when stacked or placed in juxtaposition, they assumed shapes and relationships different from each piece alone.
     When I first started working with shaped canvases, the paintings were either in one-solid color or in multi-colored stripes. Later I stacked several shaped canvases on top of each other to produce more complicated forms. I next turned to the use of complex grids that ordered the color and defined the structure. And then I began separating elements of grid paintings into separate panels, each of which could be viewed alone but together made up another, different, whole. The last series I produced before the pieces in my MFA exhibition used a circular grid. I removed part of the circle, allowing the wall behind to complete the painting. In order to construct these circles, it was necessary to build a complex support system. And this use of wood led me to try substituting wood for the canvas itself.
     The MFA pieces incorporate all the above developments. While not shaped canvases, the overall shape of the works are themselves the objects to be viewed. The color schemes are simple but contrasting - light versus dark, shiny versus flat - and geometrically defined. A portion of each painting has been removed, allowing the background and the other pieces to interact with it in different ways as the viewer changes positions. All three pieces required complex support systems, and are painted on and constructed out of similar-sized wood panels, not canvas.
     Architecture and painting. The pieces in my MFA exhibition have been influenced by both: They are six feet high, more the size of paintings than of actual buildings. And yet, they are above the average person's eye level, similar to the larger scale of architecture. They also sit on the floor away from the wall, allowing viewers to walk in and out of them as one would move through a building. Some might call them sculptures because of their three-dimensionality. And yet sculpture can be seen in the round, while my pieces have a definite front-to-back relationship. In this they are closer to painting.
     Buildings are the models for my MFA exhibition paintings, but not in a traditional way. People have painted architecture before, but I have tried to take the architecture out of the traditional rectangular painting framework and make it the artistic object itself. This Exhibition Statement has tried to explain the stages of that process.


Top of Page

© 2011 silversmokedesign