In the preface to the book Vitamin P: New Perspectives in Painting, Valerie Breuvat points to Barry Schwabsky's observation of how "more and more artists are mixing different media, blurring the limits between disciplines", not regarding themselves as exclusively tied to one medium, but that they, as artists, "...share at some stage, the process of covering a surface..."(Schwabsky 005) Mr. Schwabsky’s observations become clear, as I peruse the works of the 200-plus contemporary artists featured in this text along with its nemesis, Vitamin D: New Perspectives in Drawing. The “painters” use drawing materials and the “draughtsman” utilize paint. Surfaces are not limited to canvas and paper, as artists communicate meaning while simultaneously re-defining craft within the context of modern culture. This causes me to question “Is it painting?”, “Is it drawing?” “Are they separate, and Does it really matter?” It seems to me the language is the same.
“Why are there several arts and not just one?” Schwabsky quotes French philosopher, Jean –Luc Nancy. (qtd. in Nancy) Good question! We live in a time of "blurring", and if art culture truly reflects modern culture than Nancy’s thought clearly seems valid and these two volumes could easily be combined to reflect a society driven by varied technological advances; one which connects layered messaging systems to seamlessly “speak” across platforms through sound, imagery and the written word. There is no “one” way to communicate, on the contrary, we are now expected to connect through multiple technological media, simultaneously.
It makes sense then, that this seamless type of connection finds its way into the art world. through medium. Artists are no longer bound by their cohorts to claim undying allegiance to the purity of one discipline. As Schwabsky states:
An artist such as Karen Kilimnik could make her name with scatter art installations and then switch to painting with none of the agony a Modernist like Philip Guston faced when he made the transition from abstraction to representation within painting back in the late 1960’s. Guston’s actions were seen by some of his best friends as a betrayal. Such strict adherence to positions taken is no longer required of serious artists. (007)
Nor are artists limited to “covering surfaces” in one discipline to communicate, as proven in both texts, where featured artists wield materials and meld surfaces well beyond the scope of tradition, causing labels named "painting" and "drawing" to follow suit.
A fine example is found in the installation, Fleche Arbeiten-1992 by Adrian Schiess, represented in Vitamin P as a "painter" who, reminiscent of Monet, wishes to "capture" the ever-changing beauty of the effects of light on the landscape. However, unlike Monet who placed layer upon layer of pigment on canvas, as he witnessed and experienced fleeting moments of the life and death of flowers, as seen through the effects of shadow and light on the reflective surface of water, Schiess 'lassoes' this same subject and harnesses it's evolving nature, projecting it onto enameled panels, specifically, "gleaming lacquered paint"(Loock 294-295), car varnish on boards, which are laying flat on slightly raised panels on the floor near windows, their mirror-like surfaces "...absorbing reflections from the surroundings" (294) much like the surfaces of Monet's water. But, I ask, "Is this considered painting?" Surely Schiess is covering a surface through the effects of light with the visual element of color, as did Monet. The medium is different, yet the language is similar and the label remains the same. Or does it?
Plate # 1 Schiess, Adrian
Could Schiess' work be considered drawing? Could he be featured in Vitamin D rather than Vitamin P? Its flat display is unconventional to a "normal" painting which hangs on the wall. Walter Benjamin says in his Painting and the Graphic Arts (1917) "....painting demands to be viewed vertically while drawings should be viewed flat."(Dexter 006).
Additionally, Emma Dexter writes in her preface to Vitamin D that, "Drawing forever describes its own making in its becoming". (006) yet contradictorily Ulrich Loock writes of Schiess' painting in Vitamin P:
Color is never visible as such; it appears only in constantly changing circumstances. Adrian Schiess' painting consists of pictures produced by the reciprocal modifications of reflections of the surroundings and the colored surfaces of painted panels ...what the painting displays is always present, always fragmentary, and always different.(294)
Furthermore, Dexter quotes Michael Newman's description of drawing as "...a record of "lived temporality" an in the sense that a drawing is by essence always incomplete", suggesting "...a continuation ad infinitum..." connecting us "...with infinity and eternity. A drawing enjoys a direct link with thought and with an idea itself. Its very nature is unstable, balanced equally between pure abstraction and representation; its virtue is its fluidity. (010)
Isn't Schiess' "painting" "forever describing its own making in its becoming?" Is it not, as in drawing, a continuation ad infinitum, unstable in its constant state of flux as it mirrors not only a representation of the changing physical natural world, but also that of thought and idea itself? These lines between disciplines are most certainly blurred; yet the language is consistent. So, still I ponder, is it painting, is it drawing, and does it truly matter?
Even further, could this work possibly be classified as photography, in which the process of the projection of light on an object exposes the image of that object onto a surface, such as is the case in Schiess' work? Perhaps it is some type of video? Schiess' pigment is moving, changing natural reflection which captures and projects the visual elements of art. As the light moves, the colored image is animated, causing the panel to act as a video screen, only the projection comes not from within, but from the outward surroundings. Whether one smears a canvas with pigment to give the illusion of the effects of light, as in the case of Monet, or uses the light itself to “paint” or “draw” on a reflected surface, the language remains the same. Had Monet lived in the time of Schiess, I wonder if he would have attempted this structure? (Sculpture?)
Let's view Nancy's point from the side of drawing. Artist Marlene Dumas is quoted by Johanna Burton in Vitamin D as claiming:
I would like to make one-stroke ink brush paintings like the ancient Chinese aspired to. They call it painting and we call it drawing." Burton continues that with this statement, Dumas "...willfully occludes an easy definition of drawing per se. Her works on paper prove that this blurring is hardly rhetorical; it points to her particular mode of production. (082)
Plate # 2 Dumas, Marlene
Dumas not only blurs the lines between drawing and painting but also between the elements of the language of art. "It is impossible to decide where any one element belongs more to line or to color", says Burton, "...Dumas' color"..."is also line- and drawing that is also painting...." Dumas uses her medium for her message, which "...cannot be dissociated from her experience as a white South African woman..." "Dumas" says Burton "seems to suggest that confusing the crisp readability of stereotypes is a political act worth pursuing. Smearing into temporary illegibility the edges of what is otherwise taken for granted, hers are paintings/drawings whose color/line knows no bounds."(082)
To validate Nancy's question even further, we can point to artist Toba Khedoori represented in both Vitamin P as a "painter" and in Vitamin D for the same work classified as drawing! (I wonder how many are aware of this, as this was not mentioned by either critic) Writer, Marilu Knode in Vitamin P describes Khedoori's work as such:
She creates big operatic painterly space from fragile sheets of paper unprotected from frame or glass, in order to focus the viewer's attention to her isolated forms" and as"...drawings on paper"..."disguised as paintings in a deliberate effort to "break with certain historical conventions linked to painting: (172-173)
Plate # 3 Khedoori, Toba
Here Khedoori is intentionally blurring the lines between drawing and painting. Covering identical surfaces, her language and her message is the same, yet she is classified under different labels! This, my friends is "blurring", and obviously so. To the writers of these two volumes, it really doesn't matter whether it is painting or whether it is drawing in the case of Toba Khedoori! Or, perhaps they did not even notice.
As you can see, the mere thought of having to classify artists in this 21st century is at best, a blur in itself yet, these 200-plus artists, regardless of choice of medium continue to speak through the universal elements of the visual language of art; the one Maitland Graves defined in his book, The Art of Color and Design back in 1951 when he wrote:
All visual design can be reduced to seven elements, factors, or dimensions. These elements are line, direction, shape, size, texture, value, and color. These elements are the building blocks of art structure. They are the alphabet or scale of graphic expression" (McKnight and Massa)
It was this alphabet that artists of the past used to communicate a reflection of their culture through popular disciplines and mediums, and it remains, for this purpose, the visual alphabet of the present. So, Mr. Nancy "Why is there not just one art?" Perhaps in time, there may be. Perhaps in the sequel, which I call Vitamin M: New Perspectives in Multi-Medium Messaging. Whatever "it" will be called, whoever the players may be, "what it is will then emerge from how it is"(Schwabsky 009) and, I am certain of one thing. Artists will continue to "cover surfaces"; the choice of medium may be different, but the language will remain the same.