Riffing on Roland Barthes:
The object in view assumes an exalted place: modern painting is a painting of the object. In it, Nature becomes a fragmented space, made of objects solitary and terrible because the links between them are only potential. Nobody chooses them for a privileged meaning, or a particular use, or some service; nobody imposes a hierarchy on them, nobody reduces them to the manifestation of a mental behavior, or of an intention, of some evidence of tenderness,
This series developed over the past over two years. That was a time when I crossed the 65 year old threshold and wanted to revisit things I’ve been working on over the past 20 years or so. It’s not exactly a greatest hits compilation as this is all new work, but it pulls forward themes from several series that stay important to me always—abstract meditative beauty anchored by sacred geometry.
Very directly acknowledging how the basis for much of my work was as an object for meditation, the WHITE FOUNTAIN, BLACK FOUNTAIN, and THESE ARE THE YEARS IVE SPENT, started this series and reached back to the “Fountain” paintings series from the late 90s. I was encouraged by a memory of Lynda Benglis at CalARTS to less critical self-expression (so these were worked and worked again so they would look spontaneous).
From that “look of spontaneity” on the first three paintings, I started to work back into a sacred geometry that would include a look at what ties these images together. The PINK and GREEN FOUNTAINS demonstrate the set up that underlies all pieces in this series, the symmetry and the connections between objects in a direct manner with nothing hidden.
The next several pieces were conceived as reactions to the ones that came before and as preludes to the ones that came after. In SHOTGUN SHAKTIPAT and GOING DOWN SMOKING I was diving a little deeper into the iconography of the Tantric painters. The purposes of my images are not too dissimilar from the Tantrics. But rather than painting scale and purpose proscribed by ritual and tradition, my effort was more about that subtle balance of objects in our manifest world–a leaf, a patch of ground, an arrangement of buildings or the run of a meadow—that I arrange in a way that may invoke a remembered practice.
My paintings provide an aura of calm not through an illustration of some imagined higher state, but create the object or combination of objects that could, on naked exposure, return that sort of experience.
SO LONG ED is homage to the great Ed Moses on the occasion of his multiple retrospective shows a year ago, recognizing his effortless facility. Ed can turn some simple stripes, a grid, and seemingly random marks into not only wonderful paintings but a jumping off point for endless variation.
ONCE FOR BLOOD and ONCE FOR LOVE are straight appropriations of tantric painting objects that I arranged, like the originals dependent on the placement of opposites including of color, shape size, surface, edge, proximity, in a way that would invoke a memory or a contemplative experience. ARK was a natural continuation of the combination of objects I used in ONCE FOR LOVE, with the sacred geometry coming more to the forefront.
Combining the Sri Yantra, which has become common in western imagery, together with the golden mean, made compelling and solid objects. See this Yantra in the layout of ARK and all the rest of the works in this series, especially the next three, with varying degrees of surface visibility.
An intention developed to effect extravagance with the creation of these objects, to connect them to a net of objects all of equal regard, and further connect across the expanse of the picture with none left outside. Each object contains its opposite and is opposite and separate from all the other objects, yet becomes part of Indra’s Net. In ONCE FOR SPORT objects attached to Indra’s Net rotate around a silver Sri Yantra anchored in a space and divided by a golden mean.
GONE ARE THE DAYS WE STOPPED TO DECIDE WHERE WE SHOULD GO, WE JUST RIDE, a line in the Grateful Dead’s “Crazy Fingers” Hunter/Garcia song describes the context of how objects in the painting were being assembled with the calling to keep working without intention. My painting process is, of course, all stopping and deciding through some sort of balanced flow, so that lyric seemed a nice irony for titling.
I closed out this series with SO EASY TO SLIP, titled of course from Topanga’s iconic “Little Feat” Kibbee/George song. Painted in response and as a warning (mostly for me), that nothing will slip off the page. Even though the Sri Yantra is centered almost half off the page it is still anchored by the golden mean and every object in the picture is anchored to every other through color, shape, size, line and angle.
One of the things you will determine from looking at these paintings is that the details are important. The proximity of one object to another, a fleck of paint, a seemingly random line, the interaction of color over small or large distances; details make up the objects that stay with your gaze. During a time of contemplation, a detail may come back as a pathway to access another order. That determines, in part at least, what I am doing with these paintings.
Bill Jehle, January 1, 2018
3 responses to “exalted objects: solitary and terrible”
I enjoyed seeing and reading of your show. Glad I made a move on Link’d in. (Hard for me to use with ADD.) I like the flow of time and thoughtfulness. My paintings are old now, but possibly all slip with a sense of humor. Maybe. Congratulations!
Thank you Libbi for looking at the work and leaving a kind comment. I have trouble with Linkedin too,
Wow, these paintings really open my chakras. Sorry I didn’t get closer than 200 feet from them. They look like some of your best work.
Love, your son,