I haven’t made any paintings in a very long time. So, as a kind of idle fantasy I thought about what kind of paintings I would make if I did want to make them. I would want to keep them within my practice of designing them in software and then using the digital sketches as maps for the actual paintings, just much more realistic-ish than simple drawings. This method is what I was doing in the early to mid 1990s when I last had a burst of paintings. Since my paintings are always as much a conceptual exercise as they are paint on canvas, I thought about “what” they would be paintings of, and what kind of painting makes sense to me. My interests are greatly changed since the 1990s. I’m not the kind of person to stick with one method of working or appearance, and so for sometime I have considered the work of Vermeer. What would it take to make paintings like Vermeer, only in the 21st century with contemporary subject matter. That’s when I came across the work of Emma Tooth. She is much more influenced by Caravaggio and Holbein, but she is definitely running in a similar direction. Her work is muscular and dark, while I am more interested in the space I am in than the people in that space. This gave me a new appreciation for the photo-realists. However, their work is more photo than realist.
Then I noticed in Emma’s work the consistent reference to the works of the masters and how cleverly she quotes them. That set me on a different tangent. I began looking at contemporary uses of vernacular photography – selfies, cellphone photos, and such-like. I realised that these are all products of distortions and in fact, they are often run through filters to make them look like photos from other times and other media (slides, ektachrome prints, etc.) I thought that was interesting and thought about how would this work using my previous methods of taking abstract gestures in digital imaging apps like Photoshop and running them through various filters. That is how I designed all my paintings in the 90s. I thought – what happens if you use a photo of an artwork and then run it through filters, and this series was the direct result of that experiment. Some of the results are fairly obvious, bordering on literal. Others, not so much. What I found was that, like in the mid 1990s when I used photoshop’s wave filter extensively, the filters I am using in other apps (paint.net, for example) have other results. And these results had a degree of predictability. The photoshop wave filter process culminated a few years ago in my book, CODE.X which can be found at Amazon.com. There I took a cruciform (X) and processed it using the wave filters in a very orderly and progressive algorithm. I see CODE.X as the logical conclusion of my paintings in the 1990s.
These new paintings had to be different. And they are. I decided I would use images of important works of art. How these works are determined to be historically important is completely patriarchal and so full of bullshit as to be really quite ludicrous even with a cursory examination of the so-called canon. Other artists are doing an admirable job of deconstructing and disabusing us of the canon. I thought that it would be most valuable and within my skillsets to take a different approach, where the cannon is transformed into something very different and identifiably my own.
Our day and age is one of massive info overkill and the over presence of the image – to the point where making striking images are no longer really possible for artists – the most arresting images are not by painters or even photographers, but by citizens or news crews with cell phones and cameras who happen to be in the right place at the right time. Since the heroism of the image is no longer a viable practice, many photographers and painters have spent their time making paintings and photos of dreary minutae and actively avoiding any kind of emotional engagement. That to me is not interesting. I would rather take the uninteresting and make it vital. I see that as an ethical decision. Life is short – terribly terribly short. And to clutter one’s existence with dull images of drear seems unethical or simply “Wrong”. I was looking at these “great paintings” and working from Benjamin’s dictum of the loss of aura of art in its reproduction (and the contradictory results, where the most reproduced works have the most aura and social cache) I thought it might be interesting to appropriate these images and “make them my own” and use software to incorporate them into my production algorithm and visual practice. So, I collected these images and processed them. Then I thought about titles and since they were (usually) processed beyond any recognition the point of maintaining their titles was also a pointless effort – they needed new titles. So I developed new titles for each such that they provided a kind of linguistic and emotional resonance, a poetic and subjective interpretation. Rather than use a computer to process this, I used a very effective emotional computer – my own mental abilities and affective responses to the works and their old titles and cultural histories. This resulted in a kind of breadcrumbing back to the original. Sometimes the images themselves can be interpreted from the original if the viewer has enough of an art history education. Otherwise it may seem opaque. I think that’s fine as it allows the viewer the see these as completely new visual experiences independent of their referencings.
I am more fond of some of these than others. What I am presenting here allows you to see my process of visual inquiry in this series and how it evolved over time. All those presented have “made the grade” in some way – I have ditched at least 10x as many as I have kept. Some of those you see here may get culled at a future date. Still, each of these has some value for me. They were all made in April 2015.
-Henry Warwick, June 2015.
They’re not listening still.
I’m your national anthem
You make me feel like I am free again.
Call me up and give me a reason for living.
helpless helpless helpless
This is not a painting
Trying too hard.
Prime Numbers, 1-2-3
Que faire quand on a tout fait.
Violence Completes the Partial Mind
Breakfast of Champions
Cloud of Unknowing
Messages Scratched In Sand