18th Century Solutions to 21st Century Problems.

I was drawing exclusively by the mid-1980s, exploring issues of narrative, content, representation, form and connoisseurship. I copied reproductions of 17th and 18th century drawings but drained the image of the content and its purpose. I would retain, however, the stains, tears, rips, smudges, foxing and other ancillary aspects – the “mistakes.” I was making drawings about drawing.Only later did I learn that these defects were the basis for a system of cataloging – a system of lists, of problems, of defects.

In the late 1980s I saw a show of Jules Olitski’s spray paintings from the 60s. Color field had become somewhat discredited, not unlike de Kooning’s flesh tones. The scale was heroic, but the paintings were not. They were beautiful and cool, and really good, but I ended up being distracted by small sections of the paintings.

I realized that a painting can never be large enough, but it can always be small enough. A small painting can easily fill a wall; seriousness is not inherent to scale.

Material generally reserved for drawing was primarily used for earlier paintings: pencil, gouache, ink. For a time the drawings were larger than the paintings. Later drawings referenced and reflected other media: photography, printing, painting, film. I conflated media to make it appear that the drawings were paintings mounted on paper; conversely, paintings of that time were construed as drawings mounted on canvas.

The work asks questions about the nature of painting and representation; it does not offer answers.

Later in the 1980s, I expanded the self-referential and systematic process that I used for drawing to make paintings about paintings. Monochrome seemed to be the obvious choice – a severe program, which on a bad day can seem myopic, self-righteous and beyond reproach, but on a good day reminds me of Tuesday Weld at her best: cold, controlled, an ethereal and sexy beauty on the surface, but with an obsessive, tragic and gap-toothed core, slightly uncomfortable with and misunderstood by the world, somewhat tangential to popular culture, and absolutely not boring.

The paintings function both inside and outside the world, and belong in both.

Working within specific and selected limitations – color, scale, format – and freely co-opting, but not adhering to, the tenets of Radical, Post-Radical and Formal painting, allowed me to comment on and explore longstanding issues that are inherent to (reductive) painting: beauty, elitism, content, narrative, representation, form, scale, light, space – all the fundamental properties of painting, all within a ruthless and uncompromising genre.
The issues and works that make monochrome so interesting are the same that make it so despised.

The self-imposed limitations – primaries, the basis for all reproduced images – are used exclusively in the paintings, and the exploitation of the standards of a restricted program, in which references to music, fiction, poetry, sculpture, architecture, and photography are also incorporated, led to understated paintings, which allowed a greater latitude and reading. Oil, lacquer and gouache effect the (perception and reading of) physical and qualities inherent to paint: glossy or flat surfaces (self-referencing expanses), cracked, and full surface brushwork are all aspects of “painterliness.” The meaning is the process. And by giving the paintings a built in border/frame, the surface is isolated and exaggerated, and allowed it’s inherent narrative; the narrative is the painting.

For the paintings, the frame is to the picture as abstraction is to content.

The paintings are viewed as one large detail – the entire surface is an inclusive entity; the parts are neither greater nor lesser than the whole.

The reds, blues, yellows and whites in the paintings only look "red," "blue," "yellow" and "white." The paintings look like painting. The paintings look like art.

Unsuccessful fiction (and art) is needy and calls attention to the author. Monochrome narratives can be self-congratulatory and historically position themselves outside of the world or in the mind of the artist in vain attempts to participate in the world.

Titles to earlier paintings were intended as incongruous – the titles were overreaching, expansive, public and loaded with meaning; the work was small and personal. Newer titles use narratives as an additional source of information. Movie soundtracks, which serve the purpose of existing as entities on their own, but also function as descriptive or mood enhancing, usually have very simplistic titles. Finn’s Bar – a (unused) title, a location, from the soundtrack of State of Grace (both lovely titles as well) – would certainly not be out of place as a title for an Abstract Expressionist painting. The titles I choose are mostly from fiction, movie chapters, soundtrack titles, and songs, all usually dealing with narratives of obsession, fetish and compulsion (all appropriate metaphors for reductive painting).

It’s matter of course to approach a painting head-on, to confront it directly; here, the viewer now has an intellectual, emotional and physical relationship with the work – the viewer views the paintings as objects, things with a name and a place in the world.

With architecture, the least difficult part of a building to design is the body; the most difficult parts are the corners and edges, where everything has to meet and fit. Details.

The most satisfying and rewarding part of a poem is not the imagery evoked; it is the emotional and physical gratification of the rhyme – balance, success, closure. There are four words in the English language that do not rhyme with any other word. Three of those words are colors. Hallelujah, what’s it to ya.

The greatest rock band ever is Iggy and the Stooges, as their sound was strictly and purely within and of their limitations: compact yet expansive, a flat noise above a reductive base. Their aim and purpose was to just play loud. Distortion and feedback, the structure of a limited scale, the satisfaction of a hook. The most interesting aspect of going to the symphony is listening to the orchestra tune up, when music is reduced to a clutter juxtaposed only to silence – the space between two notes, an identifiable white noise. The worst bands ever are those whose concepts are generic and base, and whose self-indulgent aims are to overreach in order to invoke the feeling that there’s a greater purpose at work. Higher aims lead to lower expectations – a populist and arch outlook only satisfies the lowest common denominator.

I’m not motivated by objects, but by the idea of them. Nauman whistled into a darkened room to "fill it up."

DANIEL LEVINE - 2004

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