Friday, October 3, 2008

The Remarkably Wordless Eva Hesse

I've been in a love affair with Eva Hesse since about 1993--when I first encountered her work in Lucy Lippard's fantastic black and white monograph. At the time I'd just begun college and, being that I'd grown up in a rural part of Northeastern Pennsylvania, I hadn't had a ton of exposure to artists un-co-opted by those mass-marketing entities so adept at, for instance, slathering Van Gogh's Starry Night across coffee mugs and tote bags. (They've never quite gotten around to seeing the positives in disseminating Eva Hesse's visceral, atonal oddities in quite the same way thankfully.) I found Lippard's book in Svoboda's Bookstore--a remarkable State College institution no longer in existence, it's demise the result of all the usual factors of course--and though I'd never heard of Eva Hesse and furthermore, found her work incredibly jarring and hard to even SEE initially, I bought the book and read it cover to cover at my parents' dining room table over Christmas break.

I recall being absolutely astonished by the work in the midst of what also was a kind of repulsion. Its adamant materiality overwhelming and RE-DEFINING the minimalist grid--pumping blood and mess into those seemingly unwaveringly straight strictures--well, I'd never seen anything like it before. I found myself (in a way) wordless--consumed fully by their idiosyncratic visual presence. That quality of "Eva Hesse wordless-ness" continues to be a propelling factor in the art love affairs I've had since Hesse (Lee Bontecou, Mark Bradford, Pierre Bonnard, Fra Angelico, Manet's little still-lives) AND I tenaciously search for it in my own studio.

But wordlessness is elusive in the midst of making. We are all highly adept at naming and sorting out the world around us--so to remain suspended in a place where you cannot speak about what you see is endlessly challenging, and in my opinion, a major reason to keep working. My tactics toward the goal of constant invention/re-invention/surprise/visual-bafflement-that possesses-surety-nonetheless/clear chaos are varied, but here are three I can think of for now.

1. Negating originary source (I am constantly painting with a purpose in mind that is then denied when that initial painting on paper is cut up, reconfigured and forced into new definitions/new proximities, never quite allowing the originary meaning/intent to have its day.)

2. Knowing and unknowing alternate. But what is necessary is that the un-knowing be full, complete (and not be sly knowing in diguise) with all its attendant frustrations and confusions.

3. Navigating the barrage. (I tend to pile on the colors and shapes, so much so that I am lost--or hope to be, whether I always am is getting harder and harder to insure as time and work goes on--and now must make a way out/invent a way out of what should not be given the time of day anyway.)

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