Between the Retinal and the Cerebral

Eric Fischl The Bed, The Chair, The Sitter, 1999

Krefeld Project synthesized the storytelling devices I’d been exploring throughout my career. In the glassines of the late seventies, I’d overlaid transparent sheets to create a sense of narrative space and time. Then in the mid-eighties, I’d gone to the multi-panel format to break down the narrative elements in my paintings and invite the viewer to participate in their reconstruction. In the nineties I fanned out the multipanels into a series of paintings to tell stories sequentially. With their single sets, dramatic lighting, and tight focus, Travel of Romance and The Bed, the Chair … series functioned like theater pieces. In Krefeld Project I used multiple points of view and montage to produce cinematic effects. But the paintings still had to work on their own—not only as snapshots or interrelated scenes in a larger narrative, but as intense individual dramas vividly capturing the wounds and disappointments of a troubled relationship… I was still manipulating color, form, and gesture to create mood, conflict, and mystery, I was drawing my inspiration from outside the cloistered art world—outside painting in particular, which had long ago abandoned the dramatic narrative—and drawing on techniques from the other arts. [Eric Fischl Bad Boy]

David Salle Post Card, 2014

Here’s the situation as it stands today. Contemporary art is divided into two main camps. On the one side, there exists the centuries-long continuity of work that I call pictorial, and on the other, the growing body of work that is more presentational in attitude—that is, art that privileges intentionality and the delivery system, or context for art. Within these two worldviews, the one is identified with art as self-expression, while the other reads art primarily as a set of cultural signs. This may sound like the old Duchampian distinction between the retinal and the cerebral, but the balance has tipped in a way that Duchamp could hardly have imagined sixty years ago. In the final decades of the twentieth century, the emphasis on theory seriously eroded, if not invalidated, one of the basic precepts of art: that quality which used to be called presence, or aura. Baldly put, a work of art was said to emanate this aura as a result of the transference of energy from the artist to the work, an aesthetic variant of the law of thermodynamics. Few people today would defend that idea. The question remains, what do we have to replace it with? [David Salle on the 80s]

Julian Schnabel Fakires 1993

“I’m not terribly interested in just that sort of source material. I think I’m just as interested in finding an old drawing that I might have made, or a drawing that somebody else made, or a photograph that might have certain kinds of location in it. Even a group of words, you know, that stick in your head… I take these things so personally and literally that I’m there and that is a place. I might pick a color to describe that place, but I don’t ever think that when I make work. It’s not descriptive; I think it’s about observing observation. There’s always that kind of barometer built into it. I think people have problems sometimes when things are too general. In fact, they are not really general at all. Some might seem a little harder, some might seem more hermetic than others, but I think that’s okay too. I think, basically, I’m an abstract artist. I just think that that’s not even an issue. I think everything’s abstract. I’m not mannerist. I don’t think I’m interested in mannerism. If I ever use it in a way, or if manner is like some kind of product of certain sorts of usage of different kinds of materials, then it’s about involution or turning in on that. So I think it’s always critical, I mean I want it to be critical. I mean this aborigine painting, it’s like the head is from an Australian black, from a how-to book, I just wanted it all to get reduced to some sort of emblem, in a way, but I don’t want the emblem to be an emblem that is just synonymous for all of the work; I just want the ideational space that it puts you into to be the same. I want the space that all the different images put you in to be the same. And I think the paintings, some are very heavy and some could be very light, but I think in a way, they still have the same sort of weight and opacity. It’s some kind of physical stop sign or frontality that they have that force you to deal with them as a painting. And I think that painting is irreproachable, or it should be. If it can’t be irreproachable then it’s not terribly interesting painting. I mean you might like a passage in some paintings or think that that’s great, that specific thing, but you have to think the whole painting… or, not think about the painting at all, just have the experience of seeing.” [Julian Schnabel in conversation with Carter Radcliff]

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