The concept of Enframing is used in my work as a way to define an approach or method to making a body of work.  I was introduced to this concept in researching my thesis in reading Martin Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays” (New York: Harper, 1977) in Grad school.  Heidegger writes - 

Enframing [Ge-stell] means the gathering together of that setting-upon which sets upon man, i.e., challenges him forth, to reveal the real, in the mode of ordering, as standing-reserve. Enframing means that way of revealing which holds sway in the essence of modern technology and which is itself nothing technological.  (p20)


Pretty incomprehensible … but what struck me about this idea was that the word, its action and its meaning where so connected to the way I make art.  Pushing onward, Heidegger uses this term in an active sense that points to the contextualization that defines a potential quality, something like the notion of a “standing reserve” - ie. a body of water is a resource as defined by an electrical plant.  In its standard sense - “gestell” - means framework.  For a bookshelf it is the structure - but in the active sense - the bookshelf as a container for knowledge means something entirely different.

In its application to making art work, I used it to define the structure of a context as well as the visual form of the work.  In the visual forms of a painting, the shapes, colors and arrangement are charged with suggestions and references.  This notion of ‘enframing’ was a way to understand how those connections were made to those references - why do we read a brush stroke as energy, motion direction? Why are angular structures male and spherical structures female? 

Other concepts that are central to art making is the idea of Poesies and Praxis - “to make” and “to excercise”.  Poesis is the activity in which something comes into being that did not exist before.  Praxis is the act of practice without having an end result.  Both can be physical - like birth (Poesis) and improvisation (Praxis) or metaphysical - the blossoming of an idea, thought or experience (for Poesis, the end is the intention, for Praxis, the process).  In considering the two concepts (and there a centuries of debate) Aristotle seems holds the idea of Praxis in higher regard: 

Such for example, is the relation in which workmen and tools stand to their work: the house and the builder have nothing in common, but the art of the builder is for the sake of the house. (Pol. 1328 a 27-35)

Using these concepts - frame-work and the process of “bringing -forth” has provided wonderful pathways of thought that guide my practice as an artist.

The Search

One of the many obstacles an artist faces is this pressure to make ‘new’ work.  I believe first in making work of some quality, which means there has to be a level of craft, connection and understanding of material, as well as having good ideas and stimulation in the work. I rarely concern myself with the concept of originality, believing rather, that evolution, time and history will decide what stands out or not.  Work that touts itself as ‘NEW” is often so mediocre once your eyes adjust to the glare.

My search lead me to one of my central ideas - and its the basic questions of how did ‘art’ come about in the first place? It’s so hard to escape references especially growing up through the period of Semiotics, Post-Modernism and being educated - that the search for a personal space to find one’s own process is difficult amid the din of culture and contemporary discourse.  I found myself looking into the past to a period of making art where there were few cultural references to art, and where the references were indeed primal.  

The Paleolithic period in which humans painted on walls and made ornamental designs on carved ivory was a creative sanctuary for me.  It was rich and full of beginnings.  The space of the cave which later evolved into the powerful shapes of domes, mosques, and temples display the centuries of artistic creativity.  The surface of these edifices  are encrusted with the same desire for imagery that moved the original cave dwellers to express the forms of a cosmological world and vision.  As with the concept of ‘enframing’, the technology defined but also expressed the character of the vision - in the case of Paleolithic Art, the connection to the wall was tactile and direct.

The connection to the cave - as a physical space - as a relationship to our physical bodies is an experience that we reconnect to whenever we enter into a sacred space, whether real or metaphysical. In researching my central question, I learned that the way the cave dweller made images was influenced by the neurology of the Homo Sapien mind.  H.sapien which literally means “wise man” share the same neural network today as it was 70,000 years ago.  For Linnaeus, the father of modern biological classification, to connect the classification of species with the function of “thought” emphasizes not only our egocentric orientation but also underlines the fact that the H.Sapien was an intellectual creature.  This intellectual function and our unique ability to think in metaphors, is where the process and practice of making art originates.  

The hallucinatory functions of our brains also play into why we are such image driven cultures and individuals. Like many sighted creatures, we see with our eyes but also with our minds.  The function of what science call “duality” is a function in which mirroring takes place on a neurological and subconscious level.  The brain is even able to duplicate affected functions in healthy areas, moving areas of speech etc. to different parts of the brain.  I make this detour to point out that hallucination as a mental picture is “real”.  In the sensory deprivation of the cave - shamans endure long periods in which the hallucination is the same as what is visibly seen.  The merging of the real and mental image is how these cave paintings are thought to be made - a projected image that fuses with the physical dimension of the wall. ( For more read: “The Cave in the Mind” by David Lewis-Williams. Thames & Hudson; Reprint edition (April 2004). “The Origins of Consciousness and the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” by Julian Jaynes. Mariner Books, 1976)

Created around 32,000 years ago, the art of Chauvet consists of Europe's oldest cave paintings. The cave was discovered quite recently, in 1994. The charcoal is not the only mark on the wall, frequently there are scratches incised into the rock surface itself. It is still unknown whether these incisions are made in conjunction with the drawings themselves. Also, each layer of drawing could be separated by thousands of years that were revisited and redrawn upon. http://www.faculty.umb.edu/gary_zabel/Courses/

Created around 32,000 years ago, the art of Chauvet consists of Europe's oldest cave paintings. The cave was discovered quite recently, in 1994. The charcoal is not the only mark on the wall, frequently there are scratches incised into the rock surface itself. It is still unknown whether these incisions are made in conjunction with the drawings themselves. Also, each layer of drawing could be separated by thousands of years that were revisited and redrawn upon. http://www.faculty.umb.edu/gary_zabel/Courses/


The artist staring at the tabla rasa, the museum goer gazing at a painting share a common experience with their artistic predecessor, although each coming from very different points of view.  What i was interested was the construct that allowed the eye to be mediated - sight controlled through the mechanism of thought, psychology, neurology - to bring forth the possibility of the artistic experience and form.

Finding Form

My experience as an architectural photographer introduced a way of seeing through the frame of a 4x5 camera - under the black cloth, the world was dark and upside down.  Using the camera itself was a mode of ‘enframing’ which trained you to have a preconditioned idea of the image you were recording.  The picture was taken not looking through the camera but by looking directly at the scene before you, the shutter clicked when you recognized the moment the image occurred.  This mode of visualizing the work imprinted on the way I would look at space on the canvas  The image was already there as a concept, whatever revealed itself was a separate reality that was either accepted or not.  The challenge was to merge the idea of the picture with the actual photographic negative.  The analogy of the cave - whether  Platonic or with the experience of the cave painter - relates closely to the photographic process.

The search to understand perspective brought me to the world of early European painting - the Northern circles around Bruegel, Van de Leyden, and in the South, the Italian painters of the Renaissance.  Visiting the Cathedral in Assisi, Italy confirmed all the creative suspicions and notions I had of why there was painting on walls, of hallucinatory spaces and the use of architectural structures as a living vessel that we cherish from the womb to the cave to the temples.  There was embodied the use of framing devices that separated the images from one another as well as the image as defined by the paneling of the walls and floors.  Geometry abstract shapes created sensory experiences of depth and movement around the painted figures and walked the visitor through the layout.  The entire edifice was a total visual system and has continued to inspire my choice of color, shape and subject matter.

The central nave of Basilica of St Francis of Assisi, Italy. 1228 AD.

The central nave of Basilica of St Francis of Assisi, Italy. 1228 AD.

The Wall

Much has been mentioned about the wall - and it continues to be important in my work as a conceptual and physical construct.  As a conceptual matter, the wall links my contemporary practice with the early cave activity of wall painting, the canvas as a surface onto which a mental projection is taking place that is guided by the painted forms of the picture.  It is interesting to note that the hallucinatory experience of cave painting is different to Paleolithic cultures that make work outdoors where the sensory input has its own unique influence.  In the cave, the absence of light, warmth, and comfort all attribute to provoke the hallucination - as if the shaman was eliminating all external influences to isolate only that which is mental.

I like Ellsworth Kelly’s idea that the wall is the support of the image, and that by extension the configuration of the room plays into how we see the artwork.  Kelly’s acknowledgment and modern interpretation comes from European influences as much as Sean Scully’s paintings are about the physicality of the brick walls that borders and dissect the Irish country side.

As framing devices, the wall is the theatrical membrane on which illusion, reality, narration and metaphor exist.  The first tromp l’oeils were painted on the frescoed walls of Pompeiian villas, and there we can see the framing devices that transitioned our visual journey from the “real” parts of the wall to the areas in which the eye was tricked into seeing a still life or a scene from life.  This concept of trickery, and to expand further, the ‘other’, the ‘outside of reality’ has resonated much in contemporary culture. We see but not see because what we see is theater - how much of this device is used as spectacle in present day politics and gender issues…  It is interesting to note that similar attempts to create illusive spaces were also done with tile mosaics.  However the tile maintained its object-ness while the painted image was transmutable.  In the long run, the painted surface, as a veil, was a membrane that was more believable and thus more successful because it was embedded in the surface of the wall.

The transition from real to illusion, from profane to sacred space, from conscious to metaphor are subtle visual games that I include in the artworks.  In the early large scale drawings on canvas, the architectural space becomes inconceivable through the tyranny of a didactic pictorial system (Image 1).  The perspective point, which brought resolution and logic to pictorial rendering of space is here the omniscient ruler, stretching its law to the edges of the deformed images. (Note:  The first known picture to make use of linear perspective was created by the Florentine architect Fillipo Brunelleshi (1377-1446). Painted in 1415, it depicted the Baptistery in Florence from the front gate of the unfinished cathedral. The linear perspective system projected the illusion of depth onto a two dimensional plane by use of ‘vanishing points’ to which all lines converged, at eye level, on the horizon. Soon after Brunelleshi’s painting, the concept caught on and many Italian artists started to use linear perspective in their paintings. Also see De pictura (English: "On Painting") a treatise written by the Italian architect and art theorist Leon Battista Alberti. In first version, written in vernacular Italian in 1435, Alberti credits Brunelleschi with the invention of linear perspective.)

Masaccio  (1401 – 1428) the first great painter of the early Renaissance period, was the first artist who demonstrated full command of the new rules of perspective; the figures in his paintings have volume and the buildings and landscapes realistically recede into the distance. Masaccio is seen now as being the initiator of the new style of Florentine Realism. From http://www.op-art.co.uk/history/perspective

Masaccio (1401 – 1428) the first great painter of the early Renaissance period, was the first artist who demonstrated full command of the new rules of perspective; the figures in his paintings have volume and the buildings and landscapes realistically recede into the distance. Masaccio is seen now as being the initiator of the new style of Florentine Realism. From http://www.op-art.co.uk/history/perspective



In the resin based drawings, layers of perspective views are assembled on top of each other, the depth of the entire space is seen all at once, making it impossible to see one particular space. One has to except the image as a whole, and navigate through the tangled lines with sheer logic. (Image 2)  This seems to be the strategy found in Islamic Art and the use of Arabesque.  The density of Islamic decoration provokes an utter surrender of the senses to the artistic forms that originate through Allah. (Oleg Grabar, The Formation of Islamic Art. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987)

I made a departure from the perspective works in the Mosaic based paintings to explore the image using just the decorative elements that would adorn the buildings.  Arranged in groups and individual cells, the tiles form relationships and recognizable patterns that are repeated throughout the different paintings. (Image 3)  Just as the large drawn canvas pieces would represent one continuous interior, the Mosaics paintings act like a magnifying glass on the floor of an endless space that the viewer is crawling through, with their eyes close to the floor or the wall.  This adherence to the flat surface is a reaction against my former works which dealt with deep space as the subject matter.  In the process of making these Mosaic paintings, I discovered that a visual vernacular was forming - in this case the language spoken just by triangles.  The canvas was divided with consecutive diagonal divisions, and the triangle, formed by cutting the rectangle diagonally became the unit that all the patterns where made from.  Similar to cuneiform writing, made with a singular triangle stylus imprinted on clay ( another version of a malleable membrane), the Mosaics became over time a reality of their own.  Interesting to note that the invention of cuneiform was not to create written language, but as a system to monetize economy transactions - they were the first ledgers, invoices, contracts and checks that expanding civilizations needed in order to trade. 

This journey has brought me to my current work which uses simply the framing devices as a starting point for my paintings.  (Image 4) There is nothing that gives your work meaning other than the aspect of time - it is the one thing that establishes a sense of evolution and history.  I could not have gotten to this point before going through everything else, and the arches and frames that I’m painting now carry all the proverbial luggage of the past works.  In the Frame paintings, the ground is worked with multiple layers of primer.  Sometimes the ground is under painted with darker colors and sometimes the priming is thin enough to see the canvas texture.  The paintings in many ways is about the ground… in school they teach you to prepare the ground for the type of painting you want to make.  Rembrandt starts with the traditional Umber and brings forth the figure from the shadows, and Morris Louis stains the raw canvas allowing the paint to seep and flow.

Somewhere in between, I develop space in my ground as a place for emptiness and where you meet the surface.  There are moments when I am applying gesso to the raw canvas that I feel I am corrupting something by masking it, hence the awareness of the surface is constant in the process of painting.  On the “framed” areas, I build up from the ground so the paint lies on top away from the canvas texture.  Here, the colors play with modes of shading and modulation, interlocking tiles of color that absorb and repel the attention of the gaze.  As a whole, the frame moves the gaze into pockets of emptiness, there is no perspective point to offer any logical reference to pictorial space, there is no central figure, no story.  The subject matter is missing in the traditional sense, but its is open and invites interpretation.  When art stopped having to mimic nature, it turned the mirror on itself.  Nevertheless, reflected in the background, the laws of nature prevails - light, gravity, form.  Paintings for me reveal their own process, narration and history.  The way one sees the work is the painting, the paint itself is the subject and the practice is for the sake of painting.


Images

Images 1  Altar, Temple, Mosque 2005. Charcoal on canvas - 3 x 12 feet.

Images 1 Altar, Temple, Mosque 2005. Charcoal on canvas - 3 x 12 feet.

Image 2  La Mezquita 2013. Charcoal drawn on epoxy resin, with acrylic. 24 x 36 inches.


Image 2 La Mezquita 2013. Charcoal drawn on epoxy resin, with acrylic. 24 x 36 inches.

Image 3  Well I Wonder 2017. Acrylic on canvas. 52 x 42 inches.

Image 3 Well I Wonder 2017. Acrylic on canvas. 52 x 42 inches.

Write here…

Image 4  Vesuvius 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 20 x 16 inches

Image 4 Vesuvius 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 20 x 16 inches