From the start, I knew that I wanted to make paintings from the broken television “grid” photographs, but they posed a lot of technical difficulties. To begin with, I paint in oils. Making a clean stripe in oil is more difficult that with acrylic paint. With acrylics you can mask out your stripes with tape and then seal it with a clear acrylic layer, then add your color and it won’t bleed. That pretty much insures that you will have a sharp edge.
“Gate”, 18.5 inches x 34 inches, photograph, archival inkjet print, ©Leslie Parke 2018
It was the atmospheric look of the background that most held my interest in the photographs. How to achieve that? I thought a spay gun might work, but having once tried to spray paint chair in my living room, I know that the paint, suspended on air goes everywhere. In very short order I could destroy all the work in my studio, as well as, stacks of paper, rolls of canvas and other materials. I would need a spray booth.
A person in my building, Keith Davitt from Thirsty Cat Fountains, suggested a spray painter that achieved its effect through vibration. He used it to glaze his fountains. It was much less likely to permeate the air in the studio. I still haven’t settled on a solution, but I am leaning toward an airbrush, like a spray gun, but much more refined and allegedly easier to control.
I wasn’t going to let a need for new equipment stop me. I thought of other ways I might achieve a similar effect.
Rothko mixed pigment with rabbit skin glue in an effort to achieve both depth and luminence. (The glue is what artist’s used to size their canvases. First layer was usually the glue by itself, followed by pigmented glue called gesso.) Agnes Martin worked with very thin acylic paint.
I thought of all the ways I might get the atmospheric background. Spray painting was one way, glazing (using thin layers of transparent pigments suspended in medium), coloring rabbit skin glue, all seemed possible. But as I was set up to do some pouring in my studio I thought I would try that first.
Once I poured in the background I started adding large areas of color.
I knew that I don’t really have the personality to make absolutely perfect stripes. With oil paint I was anticipating that some of the color would seep under the tape. Like Barnett Newman, I was going to live with it. You wouldn’t think choosing the right tape to make your stripes would be that great of an issue, but it turned out to be. There is the issue of the stickiness of the tape. Will it pull off the painted surface below it? Will it block out the layers of paint over it? Will it stick to the canvas and not pull off at all? And then there was the issue of the width of the tape. You can usually find half inch tape at the harware store, but any smaller than that you need to scour the internet. The main issue for me was to get the tape to stick.
While I fololowed the photograph in a general way, I was not entirely sticking to the color scheme. I wanted a little more vibrant color in the final piece.
What followed next was not what I expected. I would lay in the colors and then see that this passage was working, but that one wasn’t. I felt as though it was like playing music. Passages would work, but then how did it work with the whole piece. And other parts were just plain wrong, but why? The painting was tutoring me in what it needed. Here is what it needed: the “ground” needed to be organic, the poured surface relating the the quality of the atmosphere in the original photograph, as well as, being a signifier that this was made by hand and not machine. Colors next to each other had to work together, but there were also passages across the surface of the whole painting that needed to work together. Unlike the “flat surface” that painting has been emulating since the begining of the last century, this painting sat not on the surface of the canvas, but in space. For the whole painting to work, certain stripes cleved to an imaginary plane, while other moved in and out of that plane.
Here are some of the versions it went through. I hadn’t expected the process to be so specific. That is, only certain colors of certain values and certain instensities worked in certain places. Change one, you had to change many of the other ones until it all worked together again. Here is the final version:
“Gate”, 40 inches x 72 inches, oil on canvas, ©Leslie Parke 2018
You may notice that the original photograph also had horizontal stripes. This canvas was not the right proportion to add those stripes, but there was also the consideration that if I attempted to add them and failed I would have ruined weeks of work. I am now in search of a way to also incorporate those stripes.
Inspiration in my work often comes from the most mundane things. Before visiting my brother in Maryland, I received a text from him with this picture:
My brother moved this television from Florida to his new home and it was damaged on the way. He could still turn it on and off, but all he got were pixilated lines and roving colors across the screen. I told him not to throw it out until I saw it.
For three nights I photographed this screen using my Sony Mirrorless R7 camera, my iphone and my brother’s Canon. I didn’t have a tripod with me, so my brother lent me his ancient one — the sort where you let eveything flop into place and then you don’t touch it for fear that it will fall over.
The screen was, in deed, crushed. You can see the damage in the upper part of the TV. Since the television was flashing and lines of color were moving across the screen, I wasn’t sure quite what I would capture in a photograph. I expected halos of light, blurry areas due to unstable tripod and shooting free hand. In fact, I wasn’t sure I would get anything.
I took hundreds of photos. Eight hundred, in fact. Each night I would go through them to see what might work and then used that as a guide as to what to photograph the next night.
As I looked at the photographs their connection to mid-Century Modernist painters of lines and grids was obvious. But as I have written elsewhere, each artist used the stripe differently. The subject, application, meaning and outcome were different in each case. You have Noland’s horizontal formalist stripes, Riley’s black and white op-art stripes, Barnett Newman’s “zips”, Gene Davis, Frank Stella, and Ellsworth Kelly, But I sensed something different in these photographs of the television screen, here the grid seems like a cross between Agnes Martin and Rothko. The modulated light in the background appears to be like atmosphere or weather. It was moody and the stripes punctuate that mood. The photos felt spiritual to me, as though we could walk thorugh them into another world. I think that that feeling came, in part, because the light eminated from the television.
“Breath”, 19 inches x 34 inches, archival inkjet print, © Leslie Parke 2018
When deciding which photographs to print, I always consider how the ink works. To me, the printer is another painting tool. There are things it can do well, such as creating a super dense black, and other things that do not work well in this medium. For example, today, while printing with Michael Williams, artist, former assistant to Ken Noland and my printer, I wanted to do a print that was predonimantly dark values on one side and white on the other. Printers don’t actually print white, White is created by the absense of ink — as in watercolors, white is the paper showing through. With so much white in this photo, it would just look like there was nothing there.
What felt like a thing is the original photograph, is nothing in the printed version. But other things, like an infinitely modulated gray background with precisely rendered colored lines looks great.
“Fields in Fog”, 25 inches x 34 inches, archival inkjet print, © Leslie Parke 2018
Shushan has several loops: roads that lead out of town and circle back. Each loop is about four miles long, just the right length for a walk. I don’t know what it was about this walk, perhaps it was the fact that I was listening on my iPod to a lecture on Clement Greenberg by David Ward, curator at the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institute, but I couldn’t take three steps without seeing another work of art in the landscape.
It started when I saw the Albrecht Dürer at the pig farm. [Albrect Durer and the Pig Farm] As I continued on my walk past Nolan’s Dairy farm, the tires used to hold down the plastic that covers the silage reminded me of a series of farm paintings by Altoon Sultan.
As I headed back toward town, a reflected tree in the river reminded me of Barnett Newman.
And the railroad bridge of Sean Scully.
Sean Scully, “Without”
Passing Pook’s Farm and Slaughter House there was a Nancy Holt culvert.
Nancy Holt, “Sun Tunnel”
And as I neared home more glimpses of Barnett Newman.
Barnett Newman, “Concord”
Brower Hatcher, “Crucible Ann Farrand”
In 1973 I spent a winter as Brower Hatcher’s sculpture assistant, when he was teaching at Bennington College. Today, 27 years later Brower dropped by to catch up. It seems that our ideas are more in alignment now than they were then, even though we haven’t seen each other in the intervening years. It is not that our artistic ideas are so aligned, although one could find some interesting parallels in our interest in light and the desire to envelop the viewer with our artwork, but our ideas about community and how to be an artist in the world are.
We both came out of the tradition of object based art with the artist as the maestro — remember Picasso was still alive in 1973. The way to your public was through the dealers, and in those days they served as gatekeepers determining who was in and who was out. There were two prevailing views of what art was — what Clement Greenberg said it was and everything else. Bennington was ground zero for Greenberg’s view. Both Barnett Newman and Jackson Pollock had significant exhibitions at Bennington. Although I think Tony Smith organized the exhibitions, Greenberg was somehow at the center of all that.
When Brower came to Bennington, sculpture seemed to have a linear progression from David Smith to Tony Caro to Isaac Witkin. Caro and Witkin were connected through Saint Martin’s School of Art in London. Brower was recruited from St. Martins. But he arrived on campus as the anti-structuralist. His work at the time were fields of color made from wire. It was as though someone captured the skeins of lines from a Pollock painting and colored them with Jules Olitski‘s spray paint.
Brower Hatcher, “Coor Monolith”
I came to work for Brower just when he was transitioning to pieces that remained open and expansive, but for which there were points of connection and the beginning of an internal structure. Looking back on the work now it was an obvious move. Being in the middle of the process the move was not remotely evident.
Brower Hatcher, “Untitled – 1979”
I spent my days bending metal fencing in the sub-zero weather of Vermont. Then I welded pieces together with a Mig welder, which instead of welding rods had an automatically fed wire that was charged at the tip. If I missed my mark, which was easy to do when aiming at the joint between two wires, the feed wire would shoot out about a foot and have to be cut off to start again. One time the lead wire shot up my welding gloves into an artery in my wrist. Blood spurt from my wrist about a foot into the air. If you could have seen this fountain of blood and some of Brower’s subsequent sculptures, you might see a correlation.
When I recently came across Brower’s work on the internet it was thrilling to see how the work had progressed. Following his own visual logic he was able to expand the field’s of color and turn them into complex structures that span huge areas of space. These huge webs of interconnectedness is the paradigm that we live in now. But it was not something that we envisioned at the time I worked with Brower. It was a very monolithic world back then. And that was reflected in everything, including how art made its way into the world.
Brower Hatcher, “Aurora”
Brower was not comfortable in that monolithic world and found that through public art projects he could bring his vision to the public directly — a way that was more inclusive of community. He is very interested in how art intersects with community both in the process of making it and in how the community interacts with it once it is made. His public pieces tend to become the center points of the communities in which they are built. Just as the Eiffel Tower or the Fountains in Rome become a symbolic center in their respective cities, so do Brower’s sculptures in his. It becomes a place of interaction, and the surrounding areas become vital commercial centers. A sense of place, an identity, and a corridor for interconnection is born.
Brower Hatcher, “Tillie”
You may wonder how this relates to me and my work. I am still pretty stuck in the object oriented art world. For me the shift is in my sense of community. I have believed for a long time that there is a fundamental shift in how the world operates. The old paradigm is the “dog eat dog world”, “survival of the fittest”, “what is mine is mine” . The new paradigm is all about connectedness, mutuality, sharing and enhancing one another’s lives. One does not win now by cornering the market, one wins by expanding the market to include like minded people.
Brower Hatcher on Bridge
So the next time Brower and I work together, it will be in the spirit of mutuality and I will not be the art slave out in the frozen tundra shooting welding rods into my arteries.
Artist biography: Brower Hatcher was born in Atlanta. He attended the Vanderbilt University School of Engineering and received his degree in Industrial Design from Pratt Institute in New York. He studied sculpture at Saint Martins College of Art in London with Sir Anthony Caro and William Tucker. He was on the faculty at Saint Martins for several years and returned to the United States and joined the faculty of Bennington College where he taught for 13 years. Hatcher left teaching in 1986 and has since has built more than 35 public art projects throughout the U.S. Hatcher is a recipient of three National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, a Guggenheim Fellowship and an honorary Ph.D. from the State University of New York. He works at the historic Steel Yard in Providence, R.I., as the artistic director of Mid-Ocean Studio, Inc.
Brower Hatcher’s artist statement: My goal, and that of Mid-Ocean Studio, is to create culturally relevant 21st century public art projects. Mid-Ocean is a collaborative group of artists, scientists, fabricators and technical personnel. Our work reflects an ongoing interest in the underlying geometry of organisms and living systems. Our works are typically powder-coated stainless steel ‘cellular matrixes’ built from computer-designed, multi-layered geometric frameworks. Our works often contain various combinations of relevant embedded objects, in this case glass and LED lights. Nature is a strong inspiration in Mid-Ocean’s work and we continually strive to find new ways to incorporate aspects of the natural environment into the work itself.
Brower Hatcher’s Website
Jackson Pollock, “Blue Poles”
Does it make you feel differently about “Blue Poles”, knowing that Tony Smith and Barnett Newman worked on this painting with Jackson Pollock?
Tony Smith, “Wall”, 1964
Barnett Newman, “Jericho”