This post was largely drafted via dictation to Siri (iPhone 5) en route to work.
Francis Bacon, a largely self-taught artist, said that the first mark of the canvas was the most powerful.
Bacon had an artistic vision that was informed by the various media of his time. So, movies like Battleship Potemkin and images like the pope frequently easily entered the frame of his canvas. Bacon was painting not things or portraits but a visual schema of his psyche, one littered and entangled with images both representational and symbolic.
What of impulse before the Gestural scraping of paint on the canvas for that first “indelible mark”?
What I’m asking is what happens to the paint in the heart and the mind prior to the first mark on the unprimed canvas? Ever prolific, this too was recorded for Bacon. He would actually test color and test the way his brush hit a surface on the walls in his studio.
What of all of this practice? Is it meaningful? Is it something to be recorded? Is it more than practice?
It felt like scientific study. A question is asked, a hypothesis is pronounced or declared, and off goes the scientist to decide if the process or the outcome is something worth investigating further. It always felt like this for me. I would grab my alto saxophone or my trumpet and I would play completely alone in a room or a racquetball court somewhere in town. Almost everything I played was recorded on a cassette. I suppose I recorded out of habit or out of necessity to hear what those sounds not only sounded like while I play them but once I was out of that moment.
The sound invariably changed once I left the moment of actual creation. My ear would pick up things that I just liked in retrospect, but it felt like something worthwhile. The process became the art, the meaningful pursuit for some communication or the meaningful pursuit of a way to communicate with sound. The communication may have been only shared with myself at the time but had some significance in the way I processed information in a variety of other subjects.
This morning I’m listening to David Gross. His album, Things I’ve Found to be True, captures this gesture before the published gesture I guess. However, none of this feels like simple practice. If feels very much like David Gross is scraping into the messy areas of creativity to find something just beyond his reach.
Do the quiet scrapings that move through the sound space of Gross’ record originate from the same space as the automatism-based drawings of Robert Motherwell or Matta (his teacher)?
Does this experiment in silence or in near silence have any root in the foundation of the movement known as “New London Silence” with which cellist, Mark Wastell, and harpist, Rhodri Davies, are known?
Heddy Boubaker’s Lack of Conversation does the same, albeit dramatically different in process. Boubaker may focus more on filled space then Gross, but both have an intense need to do things with the saxophone that may not have been heard before or prior to their respective recordings. It’s not so much about the recording of something that’s never been done as much as it’s about recording something that you don’t know what it’s going sound like prior to playing. It becomes an act of freedom and also bravery.
Something about this area artistic creativity reminds me of Paul Auster’s White Spaces a prose (almost a prose poem, and it is included in his collected poems) that captures a sense of emptiness (or, rather, openness) that very few artworks capture. There is a great deal about this piece here.
In the last few years, several musicians have taken to almost “erasing” their sound to bare minimal marks. Assembling just the brass and woodwind players alone, one could create an orchestra of silence or near silence. These include Nate Wooley, Axel Dorner, Radu Malfatti, Greg Kelley, etc. This list could go on for days if one were to collect the names of musicians that are often working on the outside of normally accepted musical sound, like Gabriel Paiuk (sound artist from Buenos Aires) and Taku Sugimoto (guitarist from Japan). The list is endless because artists are all searching for that method of communication in a time where probably so much Sal fills our day it’s a stripping away to the essential elements that informant memory or soft around the subject. It may even be the stripping away of the subject itself.
One famous example of this is Robert Rauchenberg’s Erased to de Kooning, a pencil drawing by Willem de Kooning that was erased by Rauchenberg after being given permission by the artist. The image, or what is left of the image, is mounted in a beautiful frame. The “indelible marks” are almost nonexistent; they become pentimenti.
What is it that draws me to this openness? This erasure?
Why am I entranced by Mary Ruefle’s Little White Shadow, a short book, appropriated and erased by Ruefle in the creation of something new? Isn’t this a reworking of Radi Os (Ronald Johnson) or A Humument (Tom Phillips)?
Why do I create work that is also engaged in some secret history of absence or erasure? What do I gain from it?
There is so much more that could be connected…so much more ether, nothingness, absence, silence.
Maybe I am interested in exploring this creative “first act” or non-act…because I am a teacher. The moment that a student learns…there is a magic that happens in that moment. Some term this a “lights go on” moment. Some call it awareness. I think it has to be the most powerful emotional moment…reaction to awareness of learning. It is something beyond what I could ever hope to describe.
As I write this free thought exploration down, I am thinking about how art isn’t really separate from that moment at all. It is that moment. It must capture something that is not able to be captured, something that is just outside of normal “practice” or just beyond reach. To get there, maybe we have to erase what has come before.
Maybe we have to erase ourselves a bit.
Perhaps all art needs to be destroyed and erased and lost in order to build the simplest of blocks of coherent expression back into existence. Maybe, it’s a building back to relevance.