Whole Body Art

Close up view of one of my recent paintings

A book I have referenced here before is From Head to Hand: Art and the Manual, by David Levi Strauss. (Previous posts referencing the book highlight artists Ursula von Rydingsvard and Donald Lipski.)

Strauss writes in a way that his responses to a particular artist’s work often have a universal quality. His best responses to work are ones I seek as well.

For example, in talking about the paintings of Ron Gorchov, he describes a response I seek constantly when looking at work:

Ron Gorchov’s paintings are among the most fully and graciously embodied being made today. They engage our whole bodies from our first encounter with them and sustain this engagement over time. You have to move to see them, and when you move, they come alive. With one’s whole body involved, the mind is also free to move, and does…

On one level, everything is visible in Gorchov’s canvases: the staples fastening the linen to the frames, the backs of the shaped frames themselves, the palimpsests of drawn and redrawn shapes. But when the shapes and colors, and we, begin to move, a new music begins. With drips, washes, and tension-breaking, the conversation between liquidity and quiddity, or luck and mastery, comes into play. “The music of painting comes from manipulating space,” he says, “and from letting the colors sing.”

And the quote Struass places at the beginning of this piece by Paul Valéry is perfect: “The Day and the Body, two great powers.”

How the body participates in the art experience can play out in many different ways. Sometimes it is overt, intense and dramatic. Sometimes it is subtle but burrows into us with fierceness. But connecting deeply and authentically, that is the full body experience. In Roberta Smith‘s memorable line that describes what she looks for—”art that seems made by one person out of intense personal necessity, often by hand”—speaks to that as well.

My personal interest is to create work that is experienced in the solar plexus, not just the cranium. How to make that happen using a visual language that does not include representation is its own challenge. From my most recent post, this quote from W. S. Piero has become a kind of mantra for my time in the studio: “Certain artists give up the making of representational images so that they can see through traditional iconography to the world as it could have been seen only on the first day of creation…today’s artist sees only the freshness of the first day of the world—he does not yet see its ‘face.’”

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  1. Maureen’s avatar

    It’s a glorious feeling to come up a work of art that engages so completely as to uncover what is wholly beneath the surface.

    I like very much the Piero quote, its implications of the presence of endless possibility where seeing has not yet become framed by or appropriated into the representational.

  2. Deborah Barlow’s avatar

    Well put Maureen–”its implications of the presence of endless possibility where seeing has not yet become framed by or appropriated into the representational.” I know you know the power of that. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Ann E. Michael’s avatar

    I love the surfaces of your works.

  4. Hazlo’s avatar

    As a new reader of your texts here, I had my interest immediately caught by this post. First by the image. A very close view at the matter that makes it look quite organic, or cosmic. Magic, in any case. Then I started to think about the body involvement in an artistic experience (from the artist side this time, I mean), and about what happens when the “cranium” does not totally conduct the hand anymore. I do practice a technique of painting that does not give the choice. Fresco painting. That is, only a few hours to achieve a work or at least a hole part of it. And I deeply believe that when no more choice is given, as for me painting in a situation of urgency, a dialog can be established with “something around” during the act of painting. What comes out has often more value than what was initially expected. So then maybe what matters is not anymore representation or not, but only forgetting oneself for a while!
    I ‘m glad to find your place here. Thanks to a link in Venetian Red, another blog I miss.
    Sorry for taking so much place. Next time I promise, I’ll try to be shorter!
    Best wishes.

    1. Deborah Barlow’s avatar

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment, and it is by no means too long. Your experience with fresco does speak to the need for something to happen in a specific timeframe. When we turn it over to some other force, be it our own higher power or something exogenous–it is an extraordinary experience. I took a look at your websites, both Contemporary French Artists and Fresco Painter. Both compelling. Thanks for stopping by!

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