Selected texts, interviews and reviews
Deeply imbued with references to the history of art, David Rhodes' pictorial language limits itself to several technical elements repeated by the artist in each painting he creates. Vertical lines of different widths reveal nuances of the canvas surface. The limitation to black paint and the colour of the canvas or paper responds to an intent to mediate the process of painting without the distraction of multitudes of color and toward an expression at once economical and urgent.
Just so, through repetition, and structure, the eye, aroused by incidents, can abandon the quick glance and thus concentrate on the perception of details and how they correspond and so crystalize differently. Then one can begin apprehending the rhythmic, formal, particular differences between the paintings. The precision, and openess in Rhodes' technical process is intended to convey rather than reduce contingency.
Galeria Carles Taché, Barcelona, 2021
The way the artist chose to title the exhibition says a lot about the nature of his body of work, a whole that can be seen as a never-ending and unique series of paintings that paradoxically make diversity arise through repetition. These new paintings are thus organically connected with their precedents. It is not that the artist searches only for simplicity, on the contrary, he also intends to intensify complexity, not in an expansive way but rather within narrow margins. Rhodes has determined these margins by establishing language limits: he paints black on raw canvas, or paper, and composes with vertical lines. Starting from these premises, the outcomes are unexpected: paintings next to each other reveal formal and affective differences.
Vertical lines show different widths and inclinations while the applied paint amplifies the presence of the canvas surface. The concept of the variation helps to understand each individual painting as also a part of something larger, a common harmonic pattern that naturally connects one painting to another and so on. Time is a magnitude that becomes necessary for the apprehension of these works that are apparently simple both in process and result. A slow glance at Rhodes` works proves how this extreme economical expression can suddenly create fluctuations and rhythms.
María Pfaff, gallery text, New Paintings at Tat Art Barcelona (Galeria Carles Taché), Barcelona, 2017
Mary Jones interview for Artcritical 2016, excerpts:
The works are bold and diagrammatic, at once elegant and urgent. Black acrylic paint is applied directly to raw canvas, which is still visible in thin, vertical, skewed lines that slice through the black surface with an intense rhythmic pitch. Reflections, folds, and mirrors may all come to mind, but the compositions are held in tension against any possible convergences, simple readings or symmetry. They reverberate with the particular beauty inherent to clarity spurred to adventurous action.
MJ: You’ve titled your show “Between the Days,” which is the also title of one of the paintings, the others remaining untitled, with the date and city of completion titled with every painting. What’s the reference?
DAVID RHODES: The title refers to a particular idea of passage or contingency. It is simply that the passages from one day to another are irregular, and that this is not even, or homogeneous, this passage is not only a chronological meter. There is a rhythm one feels as days pass and there is rhythm, speed, be it irregular or not, in my paintings. The paintings are also finished when the paint has dried, they take one day to make, this rhythm comes from the materials. For me, that moment in time is important to acknowledge. Although the paintings aren’t about that specific day and place, they are subject to circumstances, and have associations for me. Because I've been so peripatetic, it enables marking a place and time in my own life, as well as acknowledging experienced time's inconsistencies and odd recurrences. Walter Benjamin's idea of "posthumous maturation," Marcel Proust's "involuntary memory" and Henri Bergson's "irrepressible" alternative durations—all state differences from one directional, chronological time. My paintings have a structure and process that reappears, there's not a singular evolution, instead, many moments of recursion.
MJ: One thing that’s very different from Kawara is the scale of your new paintings. How is scale changing your work?
DR: Size obviously alters the way we relate to a painting. It’s also a different kind of intimacy. When a larger surface is present we are able to move toward it and feel both within it perceptually and related to it bodily. Rothko said that the ideal viewing distance for his paintings was around 18 inches. For me a relation to the architecture of any give space is important when considering an exhibition and that relation changes with the size of the paintings. Even small paintings have this clear external relationship to each particular space in which they are exhibited. My paintings can often be inverted, having in many instances two vertical orientations. The internal compositional relations are direct and spare, in music I think of, for example, the compositions of Arnold Schoenberg or J.S. Bach, both of whom use musical inversion and isomorphic partition. Each panel is also a passage to and from an edge or mute internal fissure that is never completely contained or cut off. This is a break and also a connection—the silence between mutual attraction and enmity, take Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville, the scene in which two characters are separated from each other, and connected, by an open door, or Matisse's 'Window at Couliere' the vertical divisions of surface and space, and voided centre, or Giacometti's standing figures, isolated in space, the figure articulated by incisions from surrounding space.
MJ: Could you describe your process?
DR: The process of making is in how the paintings appear, they are very accessible visually. There’s a high degree of given structure that allows for chance and controlled spontaneity. The movement of the painting is like dance, walking or posture in the way it leans and unfolds. Lines are taped in each section successively, each section made consecutively without over deliberation. The lines are several different widths, and always oriented other than at a 90 degree angle. In each section, from one to the next, the direction of the lines is reversed. Between each section of the painting the seam is visible as in a textile or an architectural section. Some examples of seam in architecture are the sectional structures of Louis Kahn's Kimbell Art Museum, the sections of sheet marble of Mies van de Rohe's Barcelona Pavilion and the pilotis surface concrete shuttering marks of Le Corbusier's Unite L'Habitation in Marseille. The paintings are usually made from left to right, although there are exceptions. After each section is painted the tape is removed and the next section started. There’s no planning it all out beforehand, no editing or smoothing out, it’s a question of relationships and constellations as they appear, including all the dislocations, inconsistencies and dissonances. The surface of my paintings are not other than direct consequences of the materials that I choose to work with.
MJ: The color black has so many connotations; urban life and industrialisation, as well as transcendence and negation. Are you using black metaphorically?
DR: The viewer will project what they will, and that’s fine, for me black is not primarily meta. Before these paintings I was using a full range of colour, and I felt the relationships that colour offered were such a subject in itself that I wanted to work in a way in which a colour wasn’t about its constantly various relationship to other colours, but rather in fact with their absence. I'm interested in the monochromaticism of far eastern art, Chinese ink paintings for example, where black isn't used against or in a rejection of color but always in relation to absent color. I'm interested in the aesthetic of Kakuzo Okakura's Book of Tea and aspects of Japanese Noh Theatre. Black and Red figure krater painting of 6th and 5th century BCE Greece has long interested me. Jannis Kounellis used black in an elemental way in his paintings and sculptures, combining everyday materials such as coal or sackcloth. This elemental directness is a contemporaneity that does not exclude historicity. I can identify with this approach it's both Arte Povera and historical enfolding in simultaneity.
MJ: Kasimir Malevich formulated the black square to signify an absolute rejection of any possibilities for pictorial representation in favor of pure expression. Do you identify with this kind of abstraction?
DR: My paintings have different parts in relation to each other, but they're not propositional, and I'm not looking to replace one thing with another as a representation. Associations outside the paintings are inevitable, I'm neither dissuading or encouraging this.
MJ: Can you describe this further?
I feel as if I follow the paintings as they are both made and later in deciding how to continue or not in the next painting. They do not describe ideas that I have a priori, or illustrating something I desire specifically to manifest through painting. They’re not an expression of my ego. I find the paintings of interest so I make more, I consider how I am thinking and feeling about them. To be painting is, or at least can be, a vital counter to the passive consuming of leisure time and entertainment. I want my paintings to have a connection and resonance with the day-to-day world as it is experienced or recalled.
MJ: Is it important to you that there be a feeling of urgency in your work?
DR: Without desire the paintings would be decorative in an uninteresting way, the urgency isn't consciously imposed.
MJ: The surfaces of your paintings are very straightforward, there’s no enhancement. It’s a surface that identifies with its elements; it doesn’t transcend its materials, it underscores them. Is this in the service of immediacy?
DR: It’s a very specific surface. It’s neither stained nor layered, it’s somewhere in-between. It’s a resistant kind of surface, not so inviting. My paintings don’t have an overt element of craft. They’re unpretentious, painted like a wall. Think of Arte Povera: Burri, Fontana, Griffa or Kounellis for example. This directness also embodies the mystery present in the ordinary objects and surfaces that make up a lot of our perceived world. Resistance is an important word here too, against both the spectacularization and the uniformization of complexity in the world. It's a word used by Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub in this respect. There is also Giorgio Agamben's example: J.S. Bach refusing the separation of the secular and sacred in his music, also an example of the paradox that I value in works that interest me.
MJ: Is there a connection to the black paintings of Frank Stella?
DR: When I was at art school, early on I came across a Hollis Frampton photograph of Stella kneeling in front of a painting with a house painters brush, on his way to completing some rectangular concentric lines, and it made a lot of sense to me. I didn’t feel at that moment I could enter into painterly expressionism or conceptual minimalism, there seemed to be too many assumptions that I didn’t connect to, maybe just too many assumptions anyway. But when I looked at the black paintings, they seemed to have an emotion, and sublimity, without relying on a contrived invocation of transcendence. They’re pragmatic in their making, but not without mystery, and they inspired me early on. Later, I found myself returning to something that had a relationship to those paintings without being imitative. Stella wanted to move space out of the paintings evenly, and I would like space to be in the painting unevenly.
MJ: How does writing about art affect your practice?
DR: It accesses a different aspect of my relationship to the work that I see. In the craft of writing unexpected thought connect, or appear and different associations are made that I couldn't anticipate without doing the actual writing itself. It happens to a degree with conversational thinking, but in the isolated experience of writing it can be how new thoughts arrive, and arrive unexpectedly. Thinking thoughts by actively producing painting or writing. I agree with the view that Mallarmé’s poems, and Klee’s paintings, can be thought of as machines that generate form and meaning themselves. Produced, that is, in the Greek sense, and not created, in the Thomist theological sense. Benjamin proposes that language is already a translation of the language of things. Paintings are things too, and we struggle to write about them, or translate them, don't we?
Sharon Butler interview for Two Coats of Paint 2016, excerpts:
Sharon Butler: Abstraction seems to be having a moment right now, but you’ve been making abstract paintings for a long time. Why are you drawn to it?
David Rhodes: Abstraction is now one way of making a painting among many others, for various reasons abstraction has been the only way for me to make paintings, this is despite the fact that abstract painting was often viewed with contempt when I was a student. I was not interested in either making figurative painting, much as I loved many examples of it, usually historically, or in joining the exodus a la mode from painting to other media. I discovered that there are possibilities for me in painting using chance, indirection, the throw of a dice, in the process of making. Also correspondences occurred with other interests, for example fugue and canon forms from music find equivalencies in abstract painting, as does timbre, usually only associated with music or sound, but apposite for visual experience too. I wanted to see what would happen in each painting and by making the same painting in a way, over and over, I was compelled by difference. I think of this now as a form of automatism that releases retrospectively and with fecundity the formal elements that I am unaware of at the time of making each painting. The interstices of line I orient differently, and whilst being relatively very small changes they lead to unexpected constellations. I'm not looking to make virtuosity an effect. In my paintings I don't work to show my preexisting thoughts, the paintings are not propositional so much as they have physical characteristics that lead to new thoughts. As I see it, the exilic power of painting is in the endless, discontinuous, fragmented, nomadic, and always interrogative: this forms and unforms paintings. What we are calling abstract painting is this for me.
TCOP: But what about the black? Let’s get back to that. Do you see it as the absence of color (like light) or the combination of all colors (like paint)? Also, do you mix your own like we were taught in art school?
DR: I’ve always been interested in black as a colour, it's a different and particular source of light. I’ve always been interested in early Italian painting, Cimabue for example, and in Spanish painting, the melancholy in Zurbarán or Velasquez. Also, Byzantine mosaics, like those at Torcello in the Venetian Lagoon, where the inversion to a black ground with white figures interested me, the wall fresco paintings of Pompeii, Attic red and black figure vases from Greece, Coptic textiles from Egypt. Matisse reintroduced black in a radical way, both as a source of light, and as a colour. I'm using only carbon black on canvas at present, I have also used linen and burlap in the past, or Sumi ink on paper. I found Frank Stella's black paintings interesting for different reasons than those that are always used to categorised them, that is for me they are an example of new possibilities; emotional, nuanced, and non-technocratic painting, not reductive painting that represents an end point at all. The matter of fact way of their facture didn't undermine but actually seemed to enhance their sublimity. Also, in my painting any "deductive structure" is not determined by the framing shape, rather it acts as another cut at the paintings edge. The problem of colour is not optical only, it's libidinal, any sublimation is consequential, but not something typically addressed openly in post-painterly abstraction, colour is intimately entangled in a host of social and subjective determinations, including this libidinal economy, it's unavoidable for the viewer too. The first generation of Ab-Ex painters, Pollock, Newman, Rothko understood all this, there is an admirable impurity in their work: there is always more there than formal qualities, the obvious immanent medial restraints of paint and canvas. Optically, I don’t want the black to be assertively cool or warm in itself, but natural light, as it fluctuates changes its appearance. My emphasis on material and process is not what was once regarded as progressive, but which was for me often overly rational, the "sombre order of technical efficiency" as Simon Hantaï put it. One could say about the color black, "The night (black) is the clarity that reveals the longing for colors." I often use paint manufactured in or available in the city or region where I’ve been living and working, so while I’m here in New York I’m using Golden acrylic, in Berlin, Lascaux acrylic.
TCOP: Using local materials is also a nod to tradition. In the old days people used the pigments found in their community.
DR: Yes, you’re right. I am painting on canvas bought in this country from a supplier in Georgia and at 18 to 24 lbs per square inch it has enough surface for me, it provides a clear tactility. This is a found material in one sense, as well as an active element in the paintings, and also a colour. The painted areas can appear less tactile than the raw canvas and I like that contradiction. The physicality of the painting comes simply from the material that the paint is applied to, and the amount of paint. There is a one to one relation with the viewer, two physical entities, one moving in relation to the other.
TCOP: Which contemporary painters interest you.
DR: Many, Helmut Federle, David Novas, Martin Barré also I still look at those from recent history: Burri, Fontana, Kounellis, Hartung, Poliakoff, Hantaï, Rothko, Newman, Pollock. Pollock's influence on European painting is extraordinary, and not the same as his extraordinary influence in the U.S. where his influence was soon directed into post-minimalist sculpture and away from painting, unlike in France. Lee Lozano's angular compositions interest me a lot too.
TCOP: You are fond of French and German abstract painters.
DR: Yes. When I was at art school and after in London I identified with painters who were renewing and exploring painting not rejecting its visuality and material conditions. A reason for moving to Berlin in the Fall of 2003 was that I had always been interested in post-war European abstract painting, German, Italian, French, Spanish as well as that from U.S. which dominated the London scene. There is not such a strong tradition of modernism, or modern art in England, it never became as central to the culture as it did in Berlin, Paris, and later New York. Before the WW II there was a tradition of modern art in much of Europe, it becomes complicated after. That war caused a diaspora, and of course some of those fleeing intellectuals and artists came to New York. I find that despite globalization there are continuing and important contrasts between places because of the context derived from distinct histories. In Germany, for example, Palermo and Förg have long been important artists. The critical discourse around painting is different in Europe to that here in the U.S.. French post war painting had a small presence in London at the time I left (2003) or in New York, these days that is changing, slowly.
TCOP: You’re an itinerant painter! I like that. I went from sublet to sublet for years. I like the way moving around throws the work into a semi-permanent transition mode. I didn’t try to maintain consistency. But it looks like you’ve been able to focus on the same images despite your changing surroundings.
DR: I have been an itinerant artist, yes, a voluntary exile but not entirely in control of this. This also changes the perception of where I'm not, the place that I leave. What happens in the paintings is not a reflection of a place in literal terms, it’s rather about being excilic, experiencing otherness as a person. There are great advantages in staying put too, of course. John Ashbery described American painters living in Paris as "apatrides," meaning that they were stateless, he thought the sporadic relocations and geographic switchbacks of a peripatetic life allowed them to come at painting afresh and slightly off balance. It is interesting to consider this aspect of working, and of making a life somewhere else, whether it's Picasso, Joan Mitchell, Hans Hartung, Simon Hantaï or James Bishop. And in a somewhat different way, as it was not their initiative and they moved so young, Gorky or Rothko. The questions are: what is lost, retained, revisited, and eventually, what remains, in moving from place to place.
TCOP: Have your paintings changed since your last show at Hionas three years ago?
DR: The paintings from three years ago all used the same sequence of vertical lines that essentially made two V-shapes. The rhythm involved and the depth of the space had a focused ambiguity that was less all over compared to the current paintings. Now, all the off-vertical lines are multiplied, this drawing in the surface or tableaux produces a fractured discontinuous space. Diagonals make for a dynamic balance or a destabilised space, undermining any simple idea of a given grid. The lines are between vertical and horizontal, on the way to balance but not there yet, not fixed if you like. I think of the lines as accumulating gesture, interruption, dissonance. When the paintings capture light falling on them an unevenness of surface is revealed. The lines are incised in the surface. It is for me not to do with flatness, but tactility. Working into the surface of the tableaux. I make the paintings quickly, unseen until the tape is removed. I can look at them as the viewer does later, and they do surprise me: any lengthy reflection comes a posteriori of actual painting.
TCP: What about the Music, film, literature, that is important for you?
Music that I listen to includes, J.S. Bach, Beethoven's late quartets, Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, Sprechstimme (spoken singing), John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Billy Holiday, Son House, Ragas, Flamenco, Raga, Neopolitan traditional, all for amongst other reasons the timbre, repetition, structure, feeling. Film, in particular Antonioni, Godard, Rossellini, Ozu, Straub & Huillet, Chantal Ackerman, all directors who use montage and stillness. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, a 1920 German silent film with painted sets, and slanting camera angles, the German angle as it is called. Photographers I look at, Brassai's photos of graffiti, and Luigi Ghirri's Italian street scenes. Poetry, Tu Fu, Sappho, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Hölderlin, Célan, Reverdy, Appolinaire, Jabés, Lorca, Rosselli, Fontini, Pasolini, Ashbury, Bishop, Schuyler. Javier Marias' recent novel I'm reading now.
TCP: You are articulate about your work, is this because you are also writing about art?
DR: Thanks, but I o find it difficult to write about my own work, when I do it's usually in the form of notes and citations.
The range of effects and the nuances of affect presented by the paintings of David Rhodes would be remarkable enough in an artist who set himself few restraints. And yet – initially at least – the defining characteristic of this New York debut exhibition of the Berlin-based British painter is the stringency and starkness of its pictorial system.
On raw canvases that follow the same tripartite division, in a deadpan application of one acrylic black, Rhodes arranges three sets of parallel stripes. These vary considerably in thickness but – in the painting process – the black is clearly worked against strips of masking tape of maybe just two or three widths. And as (rather like a woodcut) it is the exposed raw canvas rather than the acrylic strokes that registers as the signifying stripe.
Reading from left to right, the three sets go top left to bottom right, back to top right, down to bottom right. In one or two paintings of sparse population and thin exposed stripe we can almost read “VA” allowing for the absence of the A’s crossbar and the doubling of its and the V’s shared inner diagonal. But generally his hieroglyph eludes the Latin alphabet, while seeming alphabet-like – a kind of semiotic reverse, in this respect, of Al Held’s Alphabet series, seen last spring at Cheim & Read.
Art historically the most striking resemblance is to Frank Stella of the period of The Marriage of Reason and Squalor although, again topically, the early grid works of Sean Scully (on view at the Drawing Center) are another apt point of reference. Rhodes actually occupies expressive territory closer to the later works of both those artists while retaining the formal rigor of their earlier efforts. Thinking about him this way helps us locate his “minimalism” as proto, or post, in the sense that the restraints of his system serve emotional rather than purely cerebral ends. His art is one of economy rather than reduction per se (is modernist not minimalist as some might put it).
There is unmistakable warmth to the paintings, despite their pared-down qualities. This results from what could be dismissed as studio contingencies and yet feels intentional, possibly even integral. Tolerated rub and burr lend surfaces the feel of (again) woodcut despite the undisguised materiality of canvas and absented tape. But even if Rhodes were able to program a Roxy Paine-like robot to dispatch his paintings for him, several ensuing perceptual phenomena would continue to enrich – to mitigate and complicate – his streamlined modus operandi.
There is the effect, for instance, of proximate bands of black triggering retinal sensations of other colors so that in one painting there might seem to be alternating black and blue. Then there are the disconcerting twists and tapers, in multiple possibilities, where one set of diagonals jar with another in what New Yorkers might want to call the Flatiron effect. The differing canvas sizes seen in the close quarters of Hionas’s Lower East Side gallery and the inclusion in the back room of a couple of works on paper bring home the crucial variables of scale and support in determining the impact of this reduced vocabulary. There is a lot that can be said within strict adherence to a format.
It’s instructive to compare Rhodes with fellow Brit Ian Davenport whose current show of sumptuous stripes at Paul Kasmin is itself fortuitously timed with Ameringer McEnery Yohe’s overview of the perennially scintillating Gene Davis. Davenport juxtaposes skillfully held-in-check chromatic brilliance with the flourish of exuberantly unpredictable puddles in what nonetheless seem like exquisitely orchestrated marbling as the paint oozes out of his pipes of color. Returning to Rhodes, after this over the top pop, is rather like listening to Bach violin sonatas after a Baroque opera. But as with Bach, you soon hear as many voices and as much emotion.
David Cohen, Schwarzwälde at Hionas Gallery, Artcritical, New York, 2013
David Rhodes’ exhibition Schwarzwälde at Hionas Gallery on the Lower East Side is a potent reminder that paintings are invitations to reflect and, at their best, transcend their own means.
At first glance, Rhodes’ paintings are darkly hermetic. Their minimalist clarity and completeness are forbidding, and the viewer cannot find a point of entry. Indeed, Rhodes’ canvases seem to shout Stella’s dictum “what you see is what you see.” Yet, after a few moments, they suddenly open outward.
Using a severely limited vocabulary - raw canvas, thinly stained black acrylic paint, and carefully taped edges - Rhodes creates an unbounded experience. His paintings are full of nuanced perception and keenly invoke of the legacy of modernism.
Rhodes’ paintings embody minimalism’s factuality, employ the techniques of color field painting, and evoke the existentialism of the New York School. The fractured unity of each composition recalls Cubism. All this Rhodes accomplishes without forgoing image - perceiving a forest, here, is a leap, but not a big one. The paintings’ kinetic effect is similar to that of moving through deeply wooded space - close, dark forms passing in and out of one’s field of focus.
Berlin-based Rhodes doesn’t reference just any forest, however, he chooses der Schwarzwald, the Black Forest. A place of legend, the Black Forest beckons to the intrepid, not the faint of heart. Within, unknown dangers lurk, but also untold treasures; it is a place of realized visions, of magic. Perhaps the most potent reading of Rhodes’ recent work is a symbolist one. In his hands, the language of late modernism does not celebrate a definitive aesthetic; rather, it suggests the possibilities of painting. With minimal means, Rhodes paints a total experience - both the forest and the trees lie in wait for the viewer.
Bret Baker, Painters Table, New York, 2013
Michel Ragon writes in the opening paragraph of his essay about the Russian-born French artist Serge Poliakoff (1906 – 1969) published in 1958:
There are a great many people who refer everything back to the past. Does the present frighten them? Perhaps not, but historical remoteness reassures them. You are unlikely to go wrong in admiring a still-life by Chardin. Whereas, even with Braque, for example, you never can tell… Looking at a modern painting, the public will say: "One might take it for a prehistoric picture." Or before another: "Isn’t it just like a new Greco or a latterday La Tour?" It may be that I have yielded to the opposite deformation, for I am in the habit (which has become second nature) of referring everything to the present. Anyhow, past works of art, I readily admit it, interest me only insofar as they help me to understand, to explain contemporary works. Thus, the reason why I am so passionately fond of certain Italian Primitives is that I can exclaim before them:
"Oh, what a fine Poliakoff!"
On a Sunday afternoon driving across the San Francisco Bay Bridge on the way to Golden Gate Park, on the upper deck of the western suspended span that leads into the City, the vertical suspender cables or rods, called hangers, snapped past peripherally as line and texture, angle and light, suddenly and clearly making me think of David Rhodes’s recent black and white paintings, which I’d hung just a few days before. Rather than the bridge experience helping me see or understand Rhodes’s work, instead I said to myself something like:
"Oh, what a fine Rhodes!"
I have driven across this bridge hundreds of times, and that moment of recognition or resonance seemed more than simply a loose association, but instead an instance of visual leap, overlap, acknowledgement, and synthesis. I thought it interesting that the bridge was seen differently after the paintings, rather than the paintings seen as secondary to the bridge. That changed my relationship to Rhodes’s work; art came first and illuminated life, an experience reduced and dense that makes the paintings, the kind that we call abstract, themselves more real, the actual primary source rather than the painted image abstracted from life.
Chris Ashley, extract from the exhibition text for Some Walls, Oakland, California, 2012
Some of the paintings, especially the more minimal paper works can seem like preliminary designs or sketches, however, these works are complete: though they are conceivably unfinished in the sense that they can be potentially expanded in different directions. Therefore all that is fixed or finished is a current state: one possible moment. With prolonged viewing, and without excluding an iconographic reading, spatial and topological modulations and velocities now interchange.
Barbara Buchmaier, Zeit-Zeichen (Time Signs) extract from catalogue text, Berlin, 2005
The lines created by brush certainly are the mark or extension of his hand and thus his body; Jackson Pollock's drips are probably the most prominent example of this notion of "embodiment." It is an interpretation inspired by Merleau-Ponty who's idea that our relation to the world is always via the body, that is "the insertion of the mind in corporeality." Hence his philosophy, and in particular his writings on painting, bring us back to our corporeal existence. The critic Mark Ginsbourne has written of Rhodes' painting in terms of the haptic, specifically, he has described Rhodes' work as being as "concerned with configured space and surface boundaries, a consideration and questioning as to how we frame our perceptions." This work is not in any way a simple reevaluation of post-painterly abstraction, rather it is also preoccupied with an exploration of such interests as the distinctions of structure and timbre in music: Morton Feldman and John Cage as well and J.S. Bach. Like Henri Matisse, Mark Rothko or Blinky Palermo, it is a felt art where passions and thinking are disseminated through formal structures. As much as politics and pathos can be discussed through representation—painting and particularly abstract painting can solicit "joyance" to use Jacques Derrida's term.
Sherman Sam, extract from solo exhibition catalogue, Vis-a-Vis, Palacete Viscondes de Balsemao, Porto, 2005
Some ongoing citations and notes
But, when we have discovered in language an exceptional power of absence and of denial, we are tempted to consider the very absence of language as part of its essence, and silence as the ultimate possibility of speech… But this silence is in no respect the opposite of language, its repudiation or its condemnation; on the contrary, it is taken for granted by words—it is their preconceived basis, their secret intention; more yet, it is the only condition on which speech is possible, if speech is the replacement of a presence by an absence and the pursuit, through presences ever more fragile, of an absence ever more all-sufficing.
Maurice Blanchot Mallarmé and Language, 1947
Kafka’s works protected themselves against the deadly aesthetic error of equating the philosophy that an author pumps into a work with its metaphysical substance. Were this so, the work of art would be stillborn; it would exhaust itself in what it says and would not unfold itself in time. To guard against this short-circuit, which jumps directly to the significance intended by the work, the first rule is: take everything literally; cover up nothing with concepts invoked from above. Kafka’s authority is textual. Only fidelity to the letter, not oriented understanding, can be of help. In an art that is constantly obscuring and revoking itself, every determinate statement counter balances the general proviso of indeterminateness. Kafka sought to sabotage this rule when he let it be announced at one point that messages from the castle must not be taken ‘literally’.
Theodore W. Adorno Notes on Kafka, 1953
Art is an end in itself, rather than a simple reflection of or on reality. Art can be a critique of instrumental reason. Paintings are radical because of what they are, not what they try to say. The desire to make a painting is the starting point, painting can be is its own impetus.
Making paintings today, to quote Jean‐Luc Nancy “...allows for a circulation of recognitions, identifications, feelings, but without fixing them in a final signification.”
Freud, and Marx both recognised that illusion was constitutive of our social existence, and not only an error of reasoning—they looked for material experience.
The concrete is complex in our everyday encounters. Tangible and sensuous materiality, via touch as well as the optical, makes painting a material consciousness.
With the advent of modernism the conflicts of history erupt into art differently, paradox and fragmentation now enter classical balance.
I choose to work within the medial constraints of paint and canvas; black paint and raw canvas. Matisse: "Black is not only a colour but also a light." Kafka: "One must write into the dark." In Kafka's writing the prose surface is not complex or puzzling, it is the simplicity of it that's puzzling. Emotion or thought are form, and vis versa, here they are not distinguishable.
"Once Newton's perfect mechanical universe has fallen apart, Matisse represents space by occupying it rhythmically, a sign after another, like walking, one step after another." Giorgio Griffa
Tactility of colour, and a reserve of exposed canvas surface, are vital to my paintings—aspects that are also present in Matisse's paintings and significantly, Cézanne's paintings before him.
Lines, drawn with tape and over painted black are removed to reveal the substrate of canvas. This is drawing as painting. The earliest marks or drawing were scratches on a cave wall (Vilém Flusser on gesture). Today this still exists: inscribing walls, as graffiti, incised drawing into painting or etching lines in printmaking. Mondrian's use of tape in his late paintings, rather than choosing to painting directly. Hantaï's retained areas of raw canvas in his paintings, working blind, they are important examples to me.
The process of my painting is also blind, as a consequence of my of use tape I am not able to see the painting that will result. Matisse didn't look at his drawing as he worked, Pollock was in and often on his painting not away from the surface as he worked, Hantaï used pliage (folding) to not see much of the canvas as he painted. The ordinary tape I use bleeds, and so does not leaving a perfect edge. Samuel Beckett in a letter to Hans Naumann, "I will all the same give you one clue: the need to be ill equipped."
The visceral is comprehended, but not possessed, through a bodily connection.
In a quarry outside of Rome, Robert Smithson poured a truckload of hot black asphalt down a slope, a work he called Asphalt Rundown (1969).
I am interested in paintings material facticity, both surface and actual depth, as an interrogation of two-dimensional pictoriality as the condition of painting.
Compositionally, the concept of the diagram provokes thought: "...the diagram is commonly understood as a drawing conveying information about something incorporeal. From the Greek diagramma, it means to mark out by lines, to draw – where dia is through, across, apart and graphein is to write. The concept of the diagram revamps hylemorphic theory – the push and pull between form and matter – as well as the relationship between content and expression, the connection between thought and image, and the difference between representation and non-representation." Jakub Zdebik. How does this relate to Kant's 'schema' which is also not an image in itself, but a tool, a process?
"...between poetry's temporal and spatial expanse—by insisting that poetry, scored and scanned upon a page, is fundamentally both architecture and noise." Jennifer Scappettonne on Amelia Rosselli. Also, Rosselli, "I tend toward the elimination of the I. The I is no longer the expressive centre, it is placed in the shadows or to the side." Subjectivity is in flux, split, plural in I/thou.
Cézanne's motif was not stable: he painted on-site where his motif was for him a dynamic event. His paintings are not static constructions, they are combinations of movement and duration, inviting sustained attention rather than a casual passing of time: as music can do. There is rhythm and flattening, a mosaic, and the distortion of shape that recalls Byzantine painting. The situating of a figure, foreground, and a background, space, is interchangeable, side by side, things and that which is usually understood as in-between do not sit in a fixed relation. I connect my own paintings to this experience or structure.
It is vital to stand in front of paintings to experience this.
The irrational intrudes into the structure of painting and reality, as Pythagoras discovered in numbers (the square route of two): as irregularity: inconstancy, randomness and chance are all present in multiplied discontinuities, angles, tilting and asymmetry.
A rejection of perspective as rational imposed order, and a desire to look: as far as possible, without preconceptions. Still a challenge.
I retain both allurement and effacement in my paintings with different ambiguities: figure/ground, emptiness/fullness, symmetry/dissymmetry, static/dynamic. Typically, a vertical and central section oscillates or vibrates adjacent to opposing diagonal lines. When this is blank it is visually unstable in a different way. It moves back and forth between aporia and shape, a different break, gap, cesura: arriving and departing, concealment and unconcealment, in the while, an in-between one movement and another. Uncertainty occurs in this lack of finality—dynamic instability is another kind of balance. I see my paintings as impure, paradoxical, sensuous and matter of fact. They have randomness, muteness, silence. The means and process of painting are as important as composition in the finished painting. Whatever is there communicates in a painting rather than through a painting.
I remove myself from the paintings, though this is never intended to be complete—distancing self-expression, as well as avoiding for myself symbolic narratives, or metaphoric readings. I'm against the use of painting to convey an instrumental rationality; evident contradictions and absurdity are accepted, and valued. In Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot waiting is the repeated and continual deferral of meaning, which is in itself generative of meaning, rather than a striving for meaning—the painfully repetitive and bleakly humorous condition of our lives, not without its own unintentional beauty.
The use of one colour, black, is a concentration of colour, it introduces the presence of the absence of colours. "I would prefer not to." As Melville's Bartleby said. All marks or graphism, even ruled lines are gesture. The taped lines are like stencils, they leave a negative line, they are an empreinte. "We other we deal with the negative." Kafka. The lines dissociate from, and inscribe, the "tableaux." The whole painting is like a fragment, the disjunctive internal divisions recall reflections, in mirrors or on the surface of water, the external edge of the painting is another interruption. The two breaks emphasise inside and outside. The rupture of the connection is the connection (Derrida). Yves Alain Bois argues that an interruption is temporal. It is also spatial.
From "A Note on Amelia Rosselli" by Pier Paolo Pasolini: "One of the most clamororous cases of Amelia Rosselli's linguistic connectives is the lapsus, or slip. At times feigned, at times true: but when it is feigned, it is probably so in the sense that, having been formed spontaneously, it is immediately accepted, adopted, fixed by the author under the aesthetic species of an "invention that makes itself." And so, Passollini goes on to say "as if born outside the mind, almost a physical projection of rationally inexpressible..."
A painting crystallises in the suspended instant that I stop, cease, pause. Everything is on or in the surface. Nothing is held back within the language limit, and nothing is embellished. The painting is there, the viewer also feels being there; in this one to one. There needs to be an insistent physicality and repetition, like the original Biblical Hebrew, rather than the English lyrical translations with imposed and unnecessary vocabulary variations (of the use of "and" for example) of most translations. Translation is an interesting subject for the reception of painting. Painting offers direct physical experience, and thoughtful engagement, dialogue. Thinking is poetizing: "primordial poetry" Heidegger.
The centric axial section of my paintings may elicit identification anthropomorphically, though this is also effaced as the centric void is blank, or in a counter direction: a radical caesura, in tension with each side. Hence mimesis is negated, and with it the promise of identification is effaced. "Meaning inheres even in the disavowal of meaning," Theodore W. Adorno. This effacement is paradoxical, the otherness, where the figure should be, is now silence flanked by articulation. This interrelation is incompatibility. The relative emptiness of my compositions can have an hypnotic simplicity comparable sometimes to Tantric Art. Disjunction across and between the vertical sections is like the difference between Kairological and Chronological time; the transitions are disruptive, active, particular, and not homogenous: predictable and levelled out. The concrete particularities of the oblique lines, their uneven edges and exposed canvas are in contrast to the expanse of black surface, a gesture of writing that is not constructive, but rather disruptive and penetrating (again, from the Greek graphein, which means both scraping or scratching and to write about something).
Rather than following the anterior narrative obsession by which paintings become belated illustrations George Didi-Hubermann refers to the term dialectic (dialectical image) to suggest a way to think of painting away from a positivistic interpretation that implies that through knowledge all will be clear and decipherable; he is considering the opposite, meaning that we relinquish our grasp of the image/painting in order to allow the image/painting to lead us. The nouveau roman, and French cinema focus on the non-teleological repetition of details without the usual conventional plot structure to explore the nature of experience, and the processes of thought.
I don’t proscribe meanings, the viewer will make associations for themselves and are welcome to.
Roland Barthes: ‘A painting’s meaning lies not in its origin, but in its destination.’ In its becoming.
Hubert Damisch on Dubuffet, "...he liked to work in the thickness of the ground—I mean the tableaux—to revel what is beneath." Hans Hartung also worked in the thickness of the surface, informed as he was from his own printmaking.
Jannis Kounellis knew that the objective immediacy of bodily immanence is unsustainable, meaning cannot be fully realised this way, this very difficulty attains a sense of mourning in itself. And, despite the impossibility of the modernist project and because the work is connected to the past at the same time as the present a utopic impulse remains, without an available explanation.
I think of what painting can be, I’m not interested in dogmas of either geometrical abstraction or colour theory; there is for me negativity in my desire for a different way to beauty or sublimity.
Any understanding of painting happens over time, and with other people, in a kind of community.
I approach painting, I don’t say I know already what it is. The function of painting can be to pose questions about our being and our desires, it embodies our orientations in life and it evinces an already fragmentary subjectivity.
Always, there is a "posthumous maturation" to cite Walter Benjamin: an on going change from viewing to reviewing paintings over time, in our own experience and historically. My paintings are neither purely structural nor idealistic. They are not a demonstration of a unique skill. The making is apprehensible and simple but the viewing involves ambiguation: there is constant unfolding rather than an arrival at a destination.
Mallarmé’s poems and Klee’s paintings are machines that generate form and meaning—finding what was not there before; this is produced, in the Greek sense, and not created, in the Thomist theological sense. Heidegger's translation of the Anaximander Fragment is against the profound loss caused by imposed presuppositions in previous translations. Translation is a fundamental quality in all communication. Benjamin proposes that language is already a translation of the language of things. Paintings are things too, and obviously we struggle to translate them. I don't expect my paintings to be immediately intelligible, art is indemonstrable. The more or less abrupt transitions and repetitions in my paintings might also be viewed as indicative of paintings increasing uncertainty over its place in the world, not to mention our own, but I don't set out to demonstrate this.
New York, December 2022 - October 2023