Memory, acrylic on linen, 20"x30" © 1992 (private collection)
Perhaps this idea of static dynamism/dynamic stasis as represented in a painting like Air III can be understood more clearly when juxtaposed to my Irrigation of the Soul series (based on the writings of St. Teresa of Avila). Although Irrigation of the Soul incorporates the static/dynamic experience, it also elongates the process of change or transformation through space and thus represents a more strictly temporal mode of experience.
The idea for Memory emerged from a series of paintings I originally titled my "line" paintings before I really had any notion of how such line paintings would relate to the ideas concerning "time" represented in my earlier work. Indeed I had been more interested in the transformation of symbolic meaning than in the representation of time per se when painting my "shape" works. I began simply to wonder what would happen if I used one line to create transformations by overlapping it upon itself, rather than having however many separate, self-contained lines (shapes) doing the work. Later it became clear to me that, as is inherent to the word "linear," I was becoming interested in a possibly less abstract, more fixedly temporal understanding of change.
This exploration of linear, temporal change became an interesting departure for me on a number of levels. For one, it allowed me to create a sense of narrative, however abstract, and thus a bridge between my more figurative and my more abstract work. This was important to me because I felt that my figurative work was exploring many issues similar to those expressed in my abstract work, but there seemed to be quite a large gap between the two. As can be seen in Uncarbonated Catharsis II for instance, similar issues of challenging barriers and breaking down confining structures are at work, buy only insofar as they are tied to a specific incident, a specific moment, and specific issues of cause and effect. The line paintings, on the other hand, give the possibility of depicting a linear narrative through time in a more dynamic, and yes, since the lines are not straight, less linear fashion. But whereas, in some regards, the shape paintings use repetition of form as a means of giving time the illusion of standing still, these same shape paintings can also be seen as stripping away the deeper grooves of time, and though time doesn't seem to stand still in the same regard, movement through time becomes slower.
An example of using a line painting to create a narrative can be seen in The Flowering of Narcissus. The Flowering of Narcissus depicts my interpretation of a mythological event; rather than interpreting Narcissus as being only superficially "narcissistic," I interpret his self-obsession as a profound looking inward, leading perhaps to surprise but also terrifying and cathartic self knowledge, perhaps a basis for enlightenment. There may be some irony in this, like Atman facing Brahman. In one sense, the narrative depicted in this painting can be traced by following the path of the line (which in some cases runs off the canvas). However, the lines that define the situation take on a passive role in relation to the planes created by the filled-in space between the lines; the planes have a much more active presence on the canvas than the lines which define them. Since the planes connect points on the line by different routes than the line takes itself, and since the planes tend to overlap upon themselves, the notion of linear cause and effect is challenged once again.
Memory came forth quite spontaneously after a period of almost neurotic examination of the peculiarities of my own memory. While reviewing old journal entries or even commiserating with friends, I became increasing aware of many vagaries and inconsistencies. My formulation of the "myth" of myself could contradict others' formulations in what could be sometimes bizarre or caustic ways. I came to consider the act of memory to be, in many ways, a creative act, an act of re-creation. When people share their memories and find discrepancies among themselves, the creative act of remembering becomes all the more volatile. As depicted in my shape paintings, a single event can give rise to multiple perspectives and interpretations. What I found even more shocking were the discrepancies I found I held within myself. For instance, when reviewing old journal entries, I would often come upon details concerning events I had forgotten about. Say, for example, I had aggrandized and created a myth about some lost romance. When I found a detail I had forgotten in relation to this romance, I would incorporate it into the myth of the romance and, in so doing, recreate the myth. One thing I found to be of particular interest was the extent to which the sudden recall of a forgotten detail could significantly alter the overall tone of the myth.
Perhaps the most disconcerting experience is finding a journal entry that depicts events, people and feelings I can no longer remember at all. And yet there it is, recorded in my own hand writing. This sort of speculating can lead me into strange states of mind from which the inspiration for a painting is conceived, but I should note that I don't always realize or fully understand the thing I have been inspired to represent until later. Interpreting paintings is often akin to dream interpretation. An "inspired" state of mind might run as follows: Why do I remember this moment and not that moment? Will I remember the present moment? I don't remember most moments. What makes the moments I do remember so special? Each conscious instant seems something wholly unique and separate and not part of any causal chain or sequence, and bizarre memories of dreams that I know I dreamed x number of years ago pop into my mind, and I don't know why I have this relative sense of when they occurred or why they are even in my mind at all. . .
Whereas The Flowering of Narcissus attempts to enlarge upon a particular component of the collective subconscious, Memory attempts to present the process of memory itself as another means to enlarge, to pick and choose. In fact, I think Memory depicts a sense of being able to take particular moments out of their causal context. Interpreting mythological images can make the historical and collective seem immediate and personal, while the fishing around in one's own memories, in many ways, seems to be a process of transforming the personal and immediate into the collective and historical. If I can find an overlap between my own experience and that of some dead poet, then haven't I, in a sense, enlarged my own experience? It doesn't seem possible for the individual to define herself without either positive or negative reference to the collective.
In Memory, the line, which can be interpreted as the life line, defines every shape it creates, but when the shapes overlap and are filled in with color, the line, however primary, becomes passive. The planes of color, depending on their relative vibrancy, have a greater or lesser impact on the viewer. While the more intense planes can be interpreted as the events one might remember more clearly, it is important to note that the intense colors are only intense in relation to the duller colors, and therefore can only be seen as having significance as "intense" within relation to the whole. Understanding the impact of relative intensities is a way to understand how the events we don't remember or don't remember clearly are of equal and perhaps greater importance in the construction of the myth of ourselves; murky, half-remembered, un-remembered events provide the ground in which our memories occur. The existence of this contextual ground is perhaps why the sudden memory of a forgotten event or incident, however seemingly insignificant, can have such a jarring impact: it could be that a change in the structure of the subconscious, the contextual ground, is more critical than the structures or myths or stories that we consciously create. The most haunting elements in piece of literature can be the details that are purposely left out, as was part of Hemingway's strategy. I think this subconscious ground has a tendency to shift in relation to the conscious ground, and therefore, I think the shifting quality of the colored planes on a relatively dark background is appropriate.
I hoped to portray in Memory some sense of mystery as well as an active, if abstract, sense of flat, linear time being shot through with overlapping, out-of-time experience. The act of remembering seems to be a process of jumping through time at random. If we could not access memories randomly and could only arrive upon a particular memory by looking at past events in a reverse sequential manner, if we were unable to take a memory out of its linear context, then depending on the rapidity of our thought processes, we would be perhaps incapable of expression or creativity or even a sense of identity.
This sense of being able to run in and out of time and to create loops in it via the process of memory gives me the perception of a malleable eternal moment. In this vein, it is important to note that the line depicted in Memory is closed, self contained. Because it is closed its beginning and its end are imperceptible, and frankly, I don't even remember where I began or ended it. Like the circle, it can begin anywhere and nowhere and it always ends up in the same place, but unlike the circle, it is multi-faceted. Perhaps it is a maze? I don't know. I do know that I often have the odd experience of going back to an old environment after a significant amount of time has passed elsewhere and feeling upon return that the events that have occurred elsewhere can be looped off as and aside while I have a feeling of never having left the old situation. Even so, the old situation can take on a new and almost other-worldly aura. This type of experience clearly has something to do with memory, and perhaps it is depicted in Memory by the line's path and return path through various planes, causing any particular plane to be broken by intermediate planes of different colors. Perhaps the overlapping of planes can also be interpreted as the intermingling or fusion of non-sequential events within the memory itself.
Although I consider an immediate, un-analyzed interaction with a painting to be essential to the aesthetic experience, I enjoy the process of deciphering my work. Like memory, such attempts are acts of re-creation. The process of interpretation can be a necessary precursor to the forgetting (which believe me I did for a long time as it is now 2005 and this was written in 1992) of the interpretation. Such active forgetting, I think, enhances aesthetic appreciation perhaps because it momentarily puts the interpretation back into the subconscious ground.
paintings by title |
paintings by theme
© 1997-2005 Temple Lee Parker
© 1997-2005 Temple Lee Parker