Friday, October 21, 2011

"Yet why not say what happened?"

Those blessed structures, plot and rhyme -
why are they no help to me now
I want to make
something imagined, not recalled?
—Robert Lowell, "Epilogue"
~~
"The Innocent Eye Test," Mark Tansey, 1981

If, as Roy Liechtenstein says, "Organized perception is what art is all about," then the record of that organized perception is what we're after. It sounds possible—just paint the landscape exactly, or write that poem about the experience—but anyone who paints, write, sculpts, choreographs, etc., recognizes that distilling the subject into new materials includes some sense that the whole endeavour is a little squirrely. So what do we do with that recognition, which is also part of perception, also real? Do you include, in your project, that inkling you get that the whole endeavor will fail? "It can never be satisfied, the mind, never," wrote Wallace Stevens with such a stern Churchillian insistence that you know he meant what he said.

I've long been a fan of Mark Tansey's work. In his painting, the impossible is often possible: "The literal is the figurative, and the figurative is literal," according to his note at the Gagosian Gallery. The pieces pursue the implications of attempting meaning; they explore the folly or joy of documenting perception. Instead of old school representations of reality—That landscape looks so real!!—Tansey upends the process of translating the three dimensional world to the two dimensional canvas. For him it's not about making the flat plane appear to have depth and life, it's about using what is available via his tools to re-conceive, to re-perceive a real.

Mark Strand: "Time, that's the only problem."
In Mark Tansey: Visions and Revisions, by Arthur C. Danto, Tansey says, "In my work, I’m searching for pictorial functions that are based on the idea that the painted picture knows itself to be metaphorical, rhetorical, transformational, fictional. I’m not doing pictures of things that actually exist in the world. The narratives never actually occurred. In contrast to the assertion of one reality, my work investigates how different realities interact and abrade. And the understanding is that the abrasions start within the medium itself."

The painted picture knows itself to be metaphorical, rhetorical, transformational, fictional. No way could those artists in Tansey's "Action Painting II," (1984) above, paint the space shuttle as it ignites, as it lifts. But that's the beauty of the thing: Tansey's recognition that the paint and the canvas, the fakery of it all, that which we've always understood to be the problem of representation, can actually contribute to its force, its gorgeousness.


Strand quote via Tess Gallagher's "The Poem as Time Machine" in Claims for Poetry (U Michigan P, 1982)

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