-Mixing on the same surface neo-or hyper-realist motifs and abstract, lyrical or conceptual motifs means that everything is equivalent because everything is good for consumption.
I am operating from a position of concern, a concern found in the action of description. I am thinking of the terms in use: ‘mixing,’ ‘same surface,’ ‘neo-or hyper-realist,’ ‘abstract,’ ‘lyrical,’ ‘conceptual,’ ‘motifs,’ ‘equivalent,’ and ‘consumption;’ of how they have been entrenched in the lexicon of contemporary art theory, and subsequently, how they now pass by often unnoticed in critical discussions. While statements such as Lyotard’s, taken at face value, do much to describe what many have called: The Global Present (a label for perpetuating discursiveness, for celebrating the arrangement of complex dialogues mixing vast de-centered ethnographic, polyphonic, and multifaceted styles), it also asks the person who experiences the work to contribute to this plurality. The concern of this discussion lies within this very action of engagement.
In the contemporary, the work of art has become something of a target, of a nexus point, and therefore has altered the role of viewer engagement. While the history of Modernism could be seen as the story of vacating external references, of an emptying out and negating any idea, or term, that would get in the way of ‘pure form,’ The Global Present seems to be in direct response to these actions. On the blankness of a Malevich square, a viewer came to the realization that the square was again filled by the broad range of socio-economic-political concerns surrounding it, and the term ‘pure’ became polluted by its own definition. While it appears that such a methodology has won the day in the hegemonic visual culture of the contemporary, its methods of victory harbor a mechanism that cannot go unnoticed. Behind the love of input (the constant action of putting ideas, and narratives onto, or into, things) that drives The Global Present condition, operates the action of mixing.
If one thinks of any kind of mix, one is obligated to consider what is mixed. A “mix,” by definition, is predicated on the knowing of what it contains. When one thinks of a mix, he or she does so by listing its different components, and then uses this inventory for description. Subsequently, one performs the action of identification, in that identification means a recognizing of attributes. Lyotard has positioned one here listing: ‘neo-or hyper-realist motifs and abstract, lyrical or conceptual motifs.’
However, to label something as ‘lyrical’ is to knowingly disregard the term ‘realist’, to actively choose the former and input it into use, and, as such, to drive a conceptual wedge between the two motifs. But such a dividing, according to Lyotard, takes place ‘on the same surface.’ While for The Global Present, ‘the surface’ can be expanded to the entirety of the contemporary art scene, or, at least, to the wall separating two separate works within the same gallery, it is not uncommon to find such a dividing occurring within the same work.
A compositional device comprising a history of its own, the juxtaposition of disparities manifests as far back as Vrubel’s: Demon from 1890 (if not sooner), expands in the works of the Cubists’ and Dadaists’ collages, became explicit in Rauschenberg’s Combines, and, according to certain critical positions, visualizes the evolution of The Global Present with extreme accuracy. While Lewis’s paintings appear as direct descendants of this genealogy, in actuality, they advance in the opposite direction. Whereas Rauschenberg transformed the energy of post-World War II American urbanization into kaleidoscopic surfaces of mixed-media, Lewis turns towards the personal, and restless, energy of her subjects to generate her imagery.
These are portraits, not mediations on popular culture, and are underscored by the “inner being” of their subjects, translated through the vocabulary of paint. In the tactile juxtapositions of discursive brush work, abstract patterning, glimmers of realism, handwritten and stenciled words and phrases, multitudes of ideas race through the images at speeds metaphorically visualizing the complexity of human existence. Depicted are Heideggerian Dasein’s being-in-the-world-being-with-others.
Muir Woods / Self Portrait
Yet, an understanding of Lewis’s works falls short to only delimit them as presentations of the complexity of existence by disregarding the implicit duality of existence’s being-with-others. Painted as they are, these figures reach out to the viewer through gestures and gazes soliciting a response. Just as the writing on the canvas asks to be read, the people ask to be known. This activity of knowing someone constitutes another example of mixing via requiring the action of identification. Again, one lists attributes he or she is presented with in order to compose a description. But, considering the subject that is mixed, a human being is perpetually being, perpetually in-action, and subsequently never completely delimited to a static list of attributes. Thus, while the canvases display the complexity of human existence, they more significantly display the un-finalization of getting to know someone. A figure in a Lewis painting looks at the viewer saying “this is a complex and on-going relationship where I show you this very complexity by both exposing and hiding myself at the same time. I appear in words and images, and disappear into them as well.” They are paintings of restless moments of identificat-ing, and the subtle beauty such moments entail.
The use of portrait painting historically was to ground a likeness of the subject, and solidify that likeness for eternity. It was to amass a list of attributes that one could refer to without performing the action of mixing. Yet, what is truly immortal about a human’s existence is this very action of mixing, of existing, and of exposing this existing to others. As portraits, Lewis’s paintings do just that, and remind their viewers that pervading the complexity of The Global Present, acts the complexity of The Being Present.
-Valerie Lewis is represented by the Magoski Arts Colony, located in Fullerton California.
Posted 12th April 2014 by Arnold, H.C.