Color: Nature and Reality

The Matrix, Warner Brothers, 1999. Written and Directed by the Wachowski Brothers.

The transition from signs which dissimulate something to signs which dissimulate that there is nothing, marks the decisive turning point. The first implies a theology of truth and secrecy (to which the notion of ideology still belongs). The second inaugurates an age of simulacra and simulation, in which there is no longer any God to recognize his own, nor any last judgement to separate truth from false, the real from its artificial resurrection, since everything is already dead and risen in advance.
Jean Baudrillard

Red or Blue.

I am always surprised by the power of color. It affects us in ways that we don’t expect which makes color a dangerous thing. Case in point – when the Sistine ceiling was cleaned the unexpected riot of color found under the centuries of grime caused a huge controversy. For many, Michelangelo would never be seen in quite the same way again. His pure white marbles and strong monochrome drawings took on an entirely different meaning in the face of the deluge of hue painted on that ceiling. Form and Structure were seen as being threatened by Color, Light and Space. A whole new idea was forcing its way into our world and it changed what we thought we knew, what we thought we had seen.

Over the years we have become used to our chromophobes draining color from our pictures in order to accentuate the black and white of Structure and Form. These monochromaticists mistakenly believe that color is extraneous to any real issues of visual meaning, and they are suspicious of the power of color, especially when color easily evokes emotional connections. But things have changed. Since the 1980s we’ve seen art become more of a social/political commentary rather than a personal adventure, and as this didacticism has increased a new kind of chromophobe has emerged. Postmodernism continues the tradition of suspicion by sucking the meaning out of color – making it yet another found object placed in our way to provoke “discussion” of an issue. Rather than eschewing color entirely, the POMO gives us every color in the rainbow, or should we say, every hue on a color chart. Starting with Warhol, this new way to use color became a focus of Postmodern practice. It drains the meaning, the experience of personality from any visual encounter. Color is used as part of an interaction, as a means to participate in a culturally mandated, institutionally sanctioned critique of a socially emboldened, politically enhanced art entertainment experience™. And in their way, Postmodernists, catholic in their tastes of hue, remain suspicious of what any specific choice of color might mean.

Color in this sense is used as a selling point, a deus ex machina, the facilitator of a purchasing experience rather than a reason for visual contemplation. POMO is all about fetishizing our expectations, breaking narratives into elliptical codes and re-contextualizing meaning into packages of institutional critique while maintaining the viability and fungibility of institutional dogma. By inundating us with color the POMO leaves us drowning in endless choices. It is this illusion of choice that brings us to an endlessness of forgetting. We no longer retain thought or even experience deja vu, because we no longer remember, our computers do it for us. We choose our color for the first time every single time. Is it any wonder that we are surprised when our blood runs red, our veins trace blue, and our eyes shine green in the hard yellow light of an early spring morning? We prefer the chart of choices to the lived experience – we can make color fit our expectations rather than feel for its meaning. You might call this sort of color “camouflage” – color used to subvert the meaning and power of color.

To experience the meaning of the blue pill we must paint it in just this way. We wake up in our beds, we remember nothing and we go on with our studio lives – choosing our latest fetish from the color chart of endless possibility. We accept the “reality” of this construct, the everyday sureness that what we know is what we are doing, that one thing leads to another. We know what is expected of us. We know that we are in control.

Neo: Why do my eyes hurt?
Morpheus: You’ve never used them before.

Ah, but the red, that is something different. When we enter the red world color begins to take shape, to form essential relationships, to reveal itself as dangerous and unexpected. For the chromophile this sort of color is a revelation, it conveys something more physical, something thicker about our experiences. And when we encounter this sort of color, like Caravaggio’s Red Drape or Delacroix’s Boudior Rouge, we find vision. We experience a shift in how we understand our realities. The promise of the red world is that we will see a deeper truth, one connected to our very nature, one that is specific to who and what we are. We won’t know how things will end, how the color will look, how our expectations will never meet the reality of other existences. This sort of color is not easy and it requires more of us.

“Reality”—the idea that something really happened—is providing us with that thrill right now. We’re riveted by the rawness of something that appears to be direct from the source, or at the very least less worked over than a polished mass-media production. Living as we perforce do in a manufactured and artificial world, we yearn for the “real,” semblances of the real. We want to pose something nonfictional against all the fabrication—autobiographical frissons or framed or filmed or caught moments which, in their seeming unrehearsedness, possess at least the possibility of breaking through the clutter. A deliberate unartiness: “raw” material, unprocessed, unfiltered, uncensored. David Shields

It’s here that we see the change from the Postmodern to something distinctly different. This idea of reality, once held at a distance through our prolonged desire, has become, in the early 21st Century, a Hunger. We have moved from the abstract, from the map, the replication and the simulation, to the physical, the impassioned and the ‘real.’ For David Shields this is the crux of the matter. We want things to be unmediated, unprocessed, uncensored – RAW. All of these terms evoke a physical involvement, an unknown element of chance, the reality of fucking up – Consequences. It also brings up the idea of a new kind of morality, one connected to that physical element. What happens when there is no return policy, when the rubber breaks, when the pistol is drawn or the towers fall? At the end of a long flight when the plane has landed, nearly every passenger immediately turns on their cell phones and calls or texts someone. Why? Those who stand waiting to greet these passengers will be there at the exit gate. One can continue to travel to the office, home, or hotel before issuing the online reconnection. Why the need to instantly immerse in the world of invisible dematerialized communication, to acknowledge that our disassociated consciousness is now available again? What assurances does it give and/or require and to who does it give it? Why are we so willing, so needing, to immerse ourselves in this extended field of ethereal desire? Why blue, not red?

In our studios that is the question we must ask of ourselves. What happens if we continue on into the red world without the immediate gratification or the reassurance of longing? What happens if we speak directly about our life? What happens when we confuse the art with our emotional experiences? Will this enhance our color, change how we see it, how we use it? Will it be as compelling as the color being pumped directly into the back of our minds through these electronic screens? Will this studio light and space open up or will it show us as smaller human beings, stilted and uninteresting? When we determine to engage color in the red world suddenly we come up against our failings, our weaknesses, our limits and our humanity. We compare our vision to the known conscious comfort of the dematerialized world of pure color. It is a struggle to create our own reality in and through this simulacrum. We must find a way to paint these things, these small definitions of our very character and vision, using the charts and the purity of manufactured hue. We must find a way to claim these Postmodern things as our own. This “reality” may not be truth, but it can feel like it is, and more important, it can feel that way to others as well. And it is in the feeling that we impart something real.

Color will continue….

Let It Ride

I do this for a living. I’ve been doing it for…fifteen years? Play the circuit. One track closes, another one opens. Some big places, some dumps. And I met all kinds of characters. And believe me pal, you, are the champ. I really hope you win. Yep, you’re the greatest I’ve ever seen. I’ll tell my grandchildren about you.


I had written a lengthy post about life, theory and art, but what the hell. I’ve nothing real to impart these days. Everything out of my mouth makes me sound like a pompous douchebag. So, I’ll just shut up and wish you all a Happy, Prosperous and Healthy New Decade! I’ll also leave you with this, the best line in the movie “Let It Ride” –

“You could be walking around lucky and not even know it.”

Can’t Help It…

I don’t usually do this without a reason. I try to use videos to augment a concept. But in this case I’ve had this music pumping in the studio for the last couple of days, and I thought what the hell (having a blast!) So I won’t bore you further with exposition and share the experience.

Can’t Get No…

I think that this Fall season is shaping up as a tipping point in the art world. Why?

Well, this from Charlie Finch

“When it recycles the same half-dozen Hollywood personalities and tries to market news about a handful of art dealers and collectors as fresh stuff, the art world is advertising the fact that it contains a couple of thousand not very interesting people who are awfully satisfied with themselves long after their celebrity shelf date has expired… Add to this the fact that the artworks themselves are simply a long parade of tired visual one-liners that would embarrass Marcel Duchamp and bore Andy Warhol and, Miami, we have a problem. ”

This from Peter Schjeldahl

If you spend more than twenty minutes with the three-floor extravaganza, you’re loitering. The New Museum could just as well not have done the show while saying it did. The effect would be roughly the same: expressing a practically reptilian institutional craving for a new art star.

This from Jerry Saltz

The aughts began with buzzing border-to-border energy and happy complacency. But instead of the love spreading and everyone becoming “famous for fifteen minutes,” by decade’s end art-worlders fixated on a tiny clique of mostly male, mostly high-priced artists: Murakami, Hirst, Eliasson. Warhol’s dictum was infernally inverted to “In the future, only fifteen people will be famous.”
(He goes on to write that the piece of the “aughts” is Koons’ Puppy. Koons actually had this topiary made at Documenta in the early 90s in order to apologize for his Cicciolina series. Rather than a 21st Century harbinger of new art forms, it is a fin de siecle piece of an exhausted, mannered and decadent Postmodernism. What EXACTLY is going on with Jerry these days?)

This by Matthew Collings

The Warhol of the period that “Pop Life” is interested in is a boring churner-outer of market fodder. He had been a social observer, and he was still that in a way, but his relationship to his subject had changed: He had gone from satire to sucking up. His art was “disturbing” only because it was tedious to think about it. Since he died, academia and the market have gone to work on him in their different ways but with the same effect: We’re now conditioned to think of everything he did as loaded with significance. But what we see by him in “Pop Life” are images that look as dull and distracted as the mind that created them must have been at that particular point.

You can find other reasons for dissatisfaction here and here.
(Not forgetting to mention the broader context that creates the POMO market for these works – here, here, and here…)

Now maybe it’s not fair to lump artists together but, that’s what happens when things begin to look and feel the same. Some artists are stronger than the others but they all seem to embody an aesthetic, a feel, a zeitgeist that is beyond its due date. Many of us are fed up  having this late Postmodernism shoved down our throats in EVERY institutional encounter. So after trying and trying and trying we just can’t get no

This Town’s in Tatters

All this chitter-chatter, chitter-chatter, chitter-chatter ’bout
Shmatta, shmatta, shmatta — I can’t give it away on 7th Avenue
This town’s been wearing tatters (shattered, shattered)
Work and work for love and sex
Ain’t you hungry for success, success, success, success
Does it matter? (Shattered) Does it matter?
I’m shattered. Shattered.

Miami has swung ’round once again, its pure evil radiating in the South Beach heat. The so-called art press, in its relentlessly cheerleading way, has been spinning recovery in big headlines over the last couple of weeks, and the pace of “news” has accelerated in the last few days. After all, how is one to recoup the Basel overhead and New York lifestyle moola in this depressed economy without shovelling bullshit at an increased speed. Dubai aside, what’s to worry? The sad sorry truth of this Miami Basel we won’t hear about is how the government has stuffed the investment portfolios of the formerly distressed wealthy with a trillion or so in tax dollars. That’s a no lose situation for high power investors – TBTF means Tax Backing for Titanic Fuckups. First class frequent fliers and their Geitner bonus money have gotten the green light to decorate their third penthouse apartments with second rate Postmodern work. Even the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal have gotten into the act, spreading the word that just about anything can be priced for the market given the right publicity! Take, for example, this gem:

“A hefty steel chair, an award-winning design from 2008, now rusted and encrusted with barnacles and seaweed. Dixon had it thrown into the waters of Biscayne Bay right in front of Craig Robins’ house after the show last year. “The idea was to dump it in the water, thereby saving about $500 in warehousing fees, which is good during a recession,” said Dixon. “As a designer you’re just telling a story.” The chair was dredged out of the water last week but a cleaning lady mistakenly had it taken to the dump. “She was right in her analysis that it was a piece of crap,” said Dixon. The chair was recovered and now sits on a little plinth with a bright pink buoy attached. “It’s a double-dip recession so it will go back in the water after Design Miami and sit there until the recession is over,” says Dixon. “Then it will be worth a lot of money.””

How many times have we heard this same story about a contemporary work of art being carted off to the dump because some unsuspecting working class slob, just doing their job, did not recognize the Art? This chestnut has been roasted one too many times, and it’s a frickin’ bore already – even if they’ve found a “new” way to turn “crap” into “money.” Meanwhile back in NYC we are experiencing a hit parade of big sellers and blue chippers. Hockney, Guston, Richter, Benglis, Kelly, Fischl and many more are now decorating the walls of white cubes all over the city. New ideas are hard to find even in the best of times, but today, new ideas are beside the point. Money is our main concern – who’s got it, who can make it and who can sell it. Most of my friends are just trying to keep their jobs and hoping to get on with their next piece. As for me, I’ve been really gratified by the impact that our series on Color Light and Space has been generating. There’s a hunger for new ideas, new insights and new visions that extend beyond the market place and the art fair. David Shields calls it Reality Hunger, a craving for reality beyond the slick Postmodern media environments and calculated outsourced products that continue to define our lives.

I’m not interested in my own consciousness per se, my own thoughts per se. I’m interested, I hope, in what Yeats calls “mirror turn lamp”—self-investigation that goes so deep that it turns primitive, mythic, “universal,” and thus one’s own self-investigation becomes investigation of some larger cultural/human tendency, trait, characteristic.”

This is something I’ve been working at in the studio and on Henri. The idea of moving away from mediated reality to get to a more involved nature. Color, Light and Space play into these ideas, and how we approach them in our paintings determines how others experience our work. Simple right? Well, not really. Especially as we stand at a juncture – the end of the Postmodern, the end of the sliding, elliptical world of the endlessly New New. And as we break away from this POMO replication, we find our hunger demands that we make our work out of our own natural experiences in the reality we’ve inherited. We crave the thickness of things in our dematerialized world.

Stay tuned…

Addendum: I saw this piece in the NYT on William Powhida discussing Miami, and I thought it right on point – “The bubble never burst, it just got smaller…”
AND this in the Huffington Post

Color Light & Space – Alan Kirby

Postmodernism Curbed? Contemporary TV Comedy and the Apparently Real

Miranda Gray, the art school student who is kidnapped by the besotted and asocial Frederick Clegg in John Fowles’s novel The Collector (1963), passes much of her time in her locked room drawing. Ill-educated and uninformed, Clegg judges her work by the only criterion he knows: whether or not it is a “good likeness”. As an adherent of a late modernist aesthetic, Gray responds to his assessments with understandable contempt, but they have the merit of focusing attention on one of the most enduring of artistic puzzles, the relationship between the aesthetic object and the real. Clegg’s assumption that the purpose of art is to achieve an exact reproduction of the real is disdained by Gray, who believes that the role of the artist is to, as it were, personalize the real, to infuse it with a singular vision, a signature style, within which the work’s quality or its absence will inhere. Almost half a century since the publication of The Collector, today’s reader is unlikely to be very sympathetic to either character’s aesthetic doctrines. Postmodernism was to redefine the real as a fiction which artworks rely on but cannot be accessed. The postmodernist real is already swamped by representations, images, fictions themselves; the postmodernist artwork places itself among preceding and competing artworks, seeking neither a “likeness” nor a “vision” of something supposedly located beyond the field of representation. The author, neither the minion of a “real” which s/he slavishly seeks to mimic nor its godlike reinterpreter, becomes a fiction too, ironically signaling his/her position within this kaleidoscope (or Joyce’s “collideoscope”) of pre-existing texts. In J. G. Ballard’s words:

We live in a world ruled by fictions of every kind – mass-merchandizing, advertising, politics conducted as a branch of advertising, the instant translation of science and technology into popular imagery, the increasing blurring and intermingling of identities within the realm of consumer goods, the pre-empting of any free or original imaginative response to experience by the television screen. We live inside an enormous novel.

In my book Digimodernism (Continuum, 2009) I argue that one of the signs in the 21st-century cultural landscape of the exhaustion of postmodernism is the retreat of this notion of the necessarily fictive real. In its place, I argue, has come the aesthetic of the apparently real. Owing something to the example of the Dogme 95 filmmakers at the end of the last century, this aesthetic finds its natural home on television, most banally in the genres of the docusoap and reality/interactive TV. It has also spread across television comedy (sometimes spun off into films) in shows like The Office, Jackass, Ali G, and Borat. The real in such texts seems to be unproblematically held out to the viewer: what we see seems to be real, though the naivety of this aesthetic is in fact entirely deceptive.

Within the contemporary TV landscape, such programs stand at the opposite pole to Seth MacFarlane’s Family Guy (Fox, 1999-2002, 2005- ), which many critics have hastened to label as “postmodern”. Depthless and affectless, Family Guy alternates broadly between two styles: a foregrounded pseudorealism supposedly and ironically sited relative to the traditional genre of the family sitcom, with its domestic squabbles, petty tensions, learning, and loyal loving; and the cutaway snippets, brazenly antirealist and often alluding to popular culture (ads, other shows, movies, etc.). Though these styles are routinely blurred by the show’s makers, Family Guy recognizably deploys a fictive notion of the real as composed of a miasma of texts, above all The Simpsons, through which one can navigate but beyond which, to paraphrase Derrida, nothing lies. Despite its moments of brilliance, I would argue that Family Guy’s collapse of the postmodernist sophistication of the Simpsons’ aesthetic into a snarky and punkish juvenilia suggests a reductio ad absurdum, a decadent final stage in the decline of an historical style. It’s to the point here, though, that Family Guy relies on a specific use of color, light, and space: clean and even primary colors; logical, structured, and staged framing; brightness and precise illumination. This is the look, of course, of an advertising that glamorizes and simplifies the world it evokes; there is an idealizing crispness and well-lit sheen to Family Guy that suggests a store catalog, though this is immediately played off – with a “subversiveness” which will be wearily familiar to long-term observers of postmodernism – the pervasive ugliness and stupidity of the characters depicted.

At the other extreme to Family Guy, it can be argued, stand Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO, 2000- ) and Armando Iannaucci’s The Thick of It (BBC, 2005- ), the latter recently spun off into the movie In the Loop. These are sophisticated examples of the apparently real within the field of the sitcom. Both shows variously deploy a “documentary” aesthetic: hand-held cameras that wobble and shake; natural and uneven lighting and sound; entirely location shooting; underdressed, stark sets; washed-out colors; retroscripted dialogue (where the actors improvise within a known framework, much like “life”); “caught” or “stolen” shots filmed through physical obstructions; distorted angles, wonky framing, or blurring of images as characters “suddenly” shift position; camerawork that, in rapid exchanges, “cannot” keep up with the “unpredictable” switches of speaker; dialogue that is sometimes inarticulate, incoherent, repetitive, awkward, or confused to the point of inaudibility; and so on. The primary effect of these techniques is to make the viewer feel that the events depicted are genuinely happening; moreover, it is to make us feel that we are actually present at them, since our “behavior”, reified by the camerawork and reinforced by the content of the shot, positions us within the process of recording itself.

Comedy has always drawn on the kind of embarrassment, humiliation, and pain episodically depicted by David and Iannucci. However, the advent of the aesthetic of the apparently real permits such authors to seemingly insert the viewer as implicated witness into the toe-curling scenes which their plots throw up. In fact, these are not “documentary” techniques, and not only because David and Iannucci unambiguously present their shows as fictions; they are not even “faux-documentaries” in the style of the BBC’s legendary Ghostwatch (1992), since no viewer is likely to be fooled by their ontological status. Instead, the battery of techniques works to mimic the physical movements and perceptions of someone actually there at the time and in the place of filming. To speak, then, of an apparent reality in these shows is to refer to something visceral, something experiential, with no basis in hard fact. This distinguishes them from the 1960s’ cinéma-vérité techniques of The Battle of Algiers or The War Game, which were driven by a desire for naked truth about recent colonial history or the effects of nuclear war; such films, which superficially resemble these shows, believed in and sought to capture and communicate a dogged “likeness” to objective fact. David and Iannucci, by contrast, purvey reality after postmodernism: the fictive real may have disappeared, but there is no motivating belief in the accessibility or desirability of objective truth. They therefore present their work as fiction which is experienced, physically and perceptually, as reality, without extending this to the realm of the objective; that one show involves several famous people playing a version of themselves, and the other alludes to well-known personages and events, does not, paradoxically, enhance their apparent reality. This latter is conveyed and felt, but it has no intellectual or philosophical content.

Yet even on these terms the apparently real is problematic. Why, for instance, should washed-out colors strike us as “real”? Walking down a street or moving through everyday public or private places affords us a plentiful supply of color. The answer, it would seem, is that the techniques of the apparently real are no more than the flipside of Hollywood’s traditional professionalism, with its fixed camera set-ups, well-equipped studios, huge props budgets, hi-tech lenses, crisp dialogue, posed scenes, careful and artificial lighting and sound recording, and so on. This is filmmaking as industrialized and expensive artifice; the systematic negation of these techniques therefore looks to our eyes like spontaneous and cheap “reality”. Yet this is doubly misleading. On one side, these shows depend to a self-evidently high degree on professional expertise: they require experienced actors, deft editors, non-diegetic music, and painstakingly honed scripts (if only in outline) which, far from clinging to a naturalism that may be supposed coterminous with apparent reality, in practice weave artificial and complex webs of coincidence and strategy to arrive at self-consciously far-fetched conclusions. On the other side, unmediated experience does often appear to us, as already noted, as rich in color, visually posed and structured, and well-lit. Hollywood’s vast commercial success has conditioned us to read its techniques as marketing devices, as insincere trickery designed to part us from our cash; in unreflecting reaction we may assume that life as it is directly and authentically lived (should we feel at ease with such thorny and whiskery terms) eschews such promotional devices. It goes without saying, however, that whatever techniques they may employ, David’s and Iannucci’s shows are also commodities in the cultural marketplace; the apparently real is not some post-consumerist nirvana, as David’s own stupendous personal wealth attests.

It is 25 years since Fredric Jameson noted that “aesthetic production today has become integrated into commodity production generally”. He claimed that this would spark a culturally dominant aesthetic that was depthless and affectless, that recycled imagery in a blizzard of pastiche and allusion, a postmodernist art, in short, of Family Guy and the fictive real (Warhol, Prince, Sherman, etc.). It might be felt that Jameson assumed too narrowly that art would inevitably mirror or interrogate its own prevailing cultural-historical conditions. Yet when this response grew tired or stale, such conditions might, without losing their force, induce artists to revolt against the supposed necessity of representing or addressing them. Rather than achieve a “likeness” or critique of a “world ruled by fictions”, such artists might then find ways of suspending or circumventing that global tyranny, in particular by seeming to resuscitate that early 60s’ shibboleth, the unmediated real. If so, the apparently real would become merely another visual expression, subsequent to the fictive real, of postmodernism; in this case, it would not signal a decisive move in contemporary art beyond the postmodern.

There is some truth to this point. However, texts such as David’s and Iannucci’s do achieve an important innovation: whereas postmodernist fictions would undermine their own illusion by breaking the fourth wall and addressing the viewer, David and Iannucci suck the viewer experientially into their productions in a way that reinforces their own perceived reality. The flatness of the fiction is not critiqued or undercut in a skeptical, deconstructive manner; instead, it is extended out toward us in a finally spurious but experientially powerful way such that it appears to engulf us. We feel that we participate in such fictions in much the way that we are implicated, potentially or actually, in the haphazard text-making of Web 2.0 platforms. David and Iannucci do not take their own texts apart; they expand them outward in their own production till they seem to encompass their own viewer. Consequently, they have no use for self-conscious fictiveness or the cultural backward gaze; instead, they recuperate a real which, under special and known conditions, is held to be here right now, and which derives its contemporaneity from the multiple and onward authorship of the Internet: a digimodernist real.

For more information about Digimodernism or Alan Kirby follow the links provided.