Thursday, February 7, 2013

Jonathan Allmaier and Painting-Culture

Untitled (Plastic Points 2), 2012, oil on canvas, 92 x 63.125 inches

Untitled (Six Green Points), 2012, oil on canvas, 91 x 62 inches

Untitled (Green Bumps), 2012, oil on canvas, 89 ¼ x 58 ¾ inches

Untitled (5 Right Palms 2), 2012, oil on canvas, 38 ¾ x 39 5/8 inches

studio view


studio view

Can paintings paint themselves? This question sounds like something a philosopher would ask—and as a philosopher and painter, Jonathan Allmaier is asking just that. In addition to a BA in visual art and a Master’s in painting, Allmaier also holds a separate BA in philosophy, and in his studio the paintings do “make” themselves, or so to say. In his words, he’s the “studio assistant,” taking steps to lay a groundwork that includes the mixing of paint from raw pigments and the building of stretcher bars from scratch to enable the physicality of paint on canvas as it converges with its support.

The paintings that have resulted also hold a dialogue with each other, in a way—and this interchange is the other side of Allmaier’s project. Integral to his process is the study and observation of the finished pieces, observations that result in personal insight as he sorts out what’s going on within and among them. Allmaier applies the very concept of description to his body of work, implementing his own sort of naming convention as he titles his pieces. In his words:
A "pointing painting" occurs when the painting's primary concern is pointing at the stretcher and canvas. Since pointing is not descriptive, the pointing is not done with a brush, but it could be done with anything else:  a stick, a throw, a jump, a hammer, a bottle, a launch, a piece of plastic, etc. A "bump painting" occurs when the painting's concern is drawing on the stretcher and canvas. This is descriptive, but there is no outside object of description: the drawing is not done with a brush, but it could be done with anything else. A "key painting" occurs when there is an outside object of description (in some cases, another painting) calling for the use of the brush.

So, Allmaier’s body of work interacts with itself in terms of the concerns of painting, along with his own observations and assessments which complement the whole. Shedding light on his perspective are his own statements and writings, which I find immensely enlightening—they put me into an Ad Reinhardt, Art As Art frame of mind. In fact, I consider his reflections on painting to be something significant, worthy of much more scrutiny than they’ve currently been given. This excerpt from his document, Materials-culture and Painting-culture is just one example:

The painting-culture reveals the materials-culture, just as the paint reveals the space of the canvas, just as the space of the canvas reveals the scale of the stretcher. This is the intelligence of objects.

The combination of how Allmaier’s paintings have been worked out, along with the theoretical environment they’ve been couched into is a territory one encounters only once in a while, something that I plan on keeping track of in the future. In the following interview, he elaborates about his ideas, his work, and himself—and in so doing, Jonathan Allmaier shows just how intricate the considerations can be when one sets out to paint.

*  *  *

PB:  Your work is so heavily about painting—its materials, its aims and its purposes, yet you also have a complex situation going on with the titles. How do you strike a balance between painterly concerns and the conceptual/philosophical aspects of your work?

JA: Thanks for the question. Fortunately, there’s no need to balance because there’s no distinction, for the painting, between a physical state and a mental state.  The painting materials are already a kind of idea, and the paintings are kinds of ideas too, just as they are kinds of objects – the object and the concept aren’t separate entities, regardless of how we think about it or what we want.  They’re not verbal ideas like we have here when we’re writing or talking; they’re necessarily physical ideas.  Physical ideas are interesting because they are absolutely complex.  That’s what generates the titles and the categories of paintings in relation to each other – my role in that is just to try to describe the work, because I want to learn. 

PB:  Your days spent in the studio sound intriguing. Can you expand upon your goal of wanting the paintings to make themselves; i.e., the steps you take to advance the development of each work?

JA:  I think the key to letting the paintings make themselves is to regard the materials, along with their contingent circumstances (and it’s silly to think of circumstances as separable from an object anyway) as mental states, without distinction from a particular physical state.  Then agency is there already – agency isn’t an abstract, supernatural ether: for us at least, we can only know it or talk about it or have it in relation to some object, and it even can’t be distinguished from a particular object. 

Making the paint is helpful for this.  Then there’s physical color – tangible, weighted color, not just visual color or abstract color.  This color has mentality (not my mentality) precisely because it is physically particular – the concept of the color isn’t impoverished by separation from the world.  The stretcher is a very important step too. The kind of paint (and the way the paint ought to be treated, which is really the same thing, for a given painting) depends on the particular spatial or object quality of the canvas, which depends on the scale of the stretcher.  So the stretcher is a type of drawing, which can get re-drawn if necessary by cutting and rebuilding it.

PB:  As far as other artists are concerned, recent past and present, whose work has influenced or impacted you?  Are there any ancient cultures whose art has been enlightening to you?

JA:  My four cardinal points are Goya, Yves Klein, Andy Warhol, and Paul Thek.  I do like a lot of art from certain ancient cultures, but I also think that culture and artwork can’t be separated in a meaningful way.  That’s something I learn from ancient art, since it isn’t encumbered by our airless Modern notion of culturelessness.   

PB:  Your artist statement is very good read in and of itself. Do you ever go back and read it again to maintain your focus?
JA:  Thank you.  The artist statement is for you and for anyone else that would like to read an artist statement.  I don’t need to read it unless I am trying to improve it (for other people who might read it).  The focus that’s immediately relevant to studio practice comes from painting materials and the paintings, and also from the studio room itself.      

PB:  What keeps you going outside of painting?   

JA: I like to read, especially lying down.  I like Proust, the Arabian Nights, Native American stories, Moby Dick, Saul Kripke’s Naming and Necessity, Thomas Nagel’s The View from Nowhere. I am reading Grimms’ tales now and they are great.  I like artists’ writings too: Robert Smithson, Yves Klein, Van Gogh. I like to run outside.  I like baseball very much, listening to games on the radio and also going to games.  I like the Mets and their baseball-symbolic color (orange for the Giants, blue for the Dodgers).  I got interested in so-called ‘art music’ because of listening to Glenn Gould, and so I asked some friends about it and am listening to Ockeghem.  I also like other kinds of music, I like TNGHT.  And I like to hang out with my wife, Maria Walker!

Images courtesy the artist and James Fuentes Gallery: