I began 2019 by turning my attention to canvas. I locked into a direction too early, which was the result of wanting results. My radar was out of sorts. I would wake up one day and see that something good was happening and on another day I would be despondent because it all felt like a waste of time. For my process that’s too flippant, I may have doubts but I know how to be decisive despite the doubtful voices.
With the benefit of perspective I realize now that I was making decisions in the middle of the process. These paintings were not done and I was trying to decide whether they worked or not. It’s like deciding whether an album is good by only being able to read the lyrics of the songs; too many elements were missing.
I went back and forth with them for a year. I overworked a lot of paintings. That gave me some refreshed anxiety as I was pushing with so much effort and all I could come up with was a mess. By November I yielded. I wanted to clean up before the new year, create a clean slate and forget the whole thing. I took the first painting that felt like the biggest failure off its stretcher. The clean sharp edges of the unstained canvas formed a pristine frame around the disaster I created. I was struck by how much the painting changed. What was I looking at? It transformed completely. I meant to roll it up and put the painting into a garbage bag. Instead I laid it out carefully onto my studio table and smoothed out the edges, transfixed. The raw canvas was soft and fragile; it frayed slightly where the scissors hit the weave off center. I gently took a hold of the loose strands and pulled them across and off. They rippled through the vertical weave leaving behind a wave of crimped canvas. I did it again, and again and again.
The image that popped into my mind was that of Penelope from the Odyssey. In her attempt to abate the aggressive suitors that wanted to take her husband’s place she made a promise to choose someone to marry after she completes weaving a burial shroud for Odysseus. Penelope weaves during the day as a facade and at night she undoes the work as an act of faith that Odysseus is alive and coming back to her. It’s an act of unyielding confidence in her own intuition. And a quiet fight for her home.
I unravelled a bunch more tests through November and December. It’s a punishing activity. There is no way to do it other than slouched over like Gollum, methodically pulling out row after row– eyes strained, fingers numb and callused. There is also no way to project how it will look, so I just have to get to the end as long as it takes.
Moving into a new studio gave me a solid break from looking at, obsessing over and analyzing the work I did in 2019. When I came back to it, the unravelled pieces created a contrast with works I left untouched. The originals that worked became the collection of studies titled Open Air, which was about sound, routine, memory and time. Where the original studies are indulgent and maybe even nostalgic, the unravelled works are retrospective. They’re about going back, about rethinking, undoing something, maybe fixing it, spending time understanding a mistake perhaps, and at the end being at peace with the state of things. In a way these works give physical shape to time and contemplation. The metaphor within these works for me personally as it relates to my process is that although it felt like I wasted a whole year I was actually going somewhere that is not instantly gratifying. It’s about faith and perseverance, things that happen under the surface. I am really proud of these works and I’m excited about having this technique in my arsenal as I make new works and apply it to other ideas.