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
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
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
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.