beginning and ending with trains on a table

airform archives blog, 2008

monday february 5, 2007:

looking through a pile of old photographs at the flea market sunday morning, i found this image. its visual appeal is probably clear to people who know my interests in the intersection of modernism and the homespun… by the time i got home and scanned it into the computer, it got me thinking.

most of my work is somehow composed of building blocks – small units that can move freely from one language to another. looking at these small trains in crooked lines on a table the forms feel uncomfortably familiar – as if at some point i’d already made this painting.

at some point i counted the trains in each line, hoping the lines would reveal a secret, maybe each line signifying a letter based its number of units, and the whole becoming a visual translation of some secret word or phrase – but unfortunately the long rows spelled: ggkhgghjj, and the short cluster at the top: dababb.

unable to find logic in my translations, i allowed myself to simply be immersed in the arrangement of units and the beautiful awkwardness of the overall image. i have to admit that i was slightly disappointed when i discovered these were trains, as when i discovered the photograph i had mistakenly assumed they were simply blocks of wood that had been  arranged on a table towards some as kind of aesthetic activity – not that such a thing would be impossible with toy trains… for who hasn’t absentmindedly arranged books by color or counted steps out loud while climbing…

suddenly, my experience with this image led me to one of my favorite painters, and one of the masters of large structures built from single boxlike units towards the creation of objects that revel in a kind of stubbornness, as they tend not to let their secrets be known. in such works, one has to experience on the object or image own terms, and allow the object’s beauty to envelop you.

i was talking to someone on the phone a few days ago about how alfred jensen’s paintings come down to this kind of powerful vibrational moment – where logic and understanding must be let go of, in favor of emotion and experience. for me, there is no need to seek answers from jensen’s mass of specifically arranged units, as much as simply accepting their potential for serious revelatory wandering ( and perhaps that’s what jensen meant by painting ‘remote sensing’ across the top of this painting – as its force can seep deeply into a sensitive viewer from across the room).

i think most visual objects have the potential to affect us in this way; deeper and quieter than the logic of words and understanding; and i hold a kind of secret hope that jensen wouldn’t mind me loving his work for all the wrong reasons.

monday june 16, 2008:

i’ve been thinking a lot about how certain images remain in your mind unconcsiously, and how these things can continue to work on you, even after you feel you have let go of them.

last night i was working on a piece that i’ve been working on for the past 6 month. during its making, things have hovered conversationally as i build – watts towers, tramp art, molecule models, bruno taut’s alpine architecture, terragni’s ideas towards the danteum, the paintings of kupka, and goethe’s words about architecture as frozen music. these inspirational sources tend to bubble to the surface amidst the process of thinking and making. i don’t seek them as much as they simply bubble to the surface during my mind’s quiet conversation with my hands. while i recognize certain consistencies, there are always a number of things that enter the work that i really i hadn’t thought about or consciously noticed as an inspirational presence. last night, i went into my studio to take a picture of all the parts of a sculpture as they were lying on the floor. it wasn’t until i looked at the screen on the back of my digital camera, that i saw the space of my studio as a flattened image, and in a moment of recognition, i remembered a snapshot of toy trains that i found a year or so ago.

at the time, i had written about the photograph in relation to the paintings of alfred jensen, and strangely enough suggested then that the arrangement of the trains could be ‘a score, for the sculpture that i am working on is a visual translation of a 12 page classical music score.

it is rare when a single image or an object can become a model of the connectedness of all things that one makes – as well suggesting a connectedness among all things one responds to in the world. the train photo, and the photo of these objects on the studio floor, reveal to me a kind of intuitive focus – suggesting a working process of both knowing and unknowing at the same time – and in some ways the trains show me more about my work than looking at my work, because it’s difficult to see one’s own works in the light of distance and clarity.

what is interesting to me is that the train photo was taken at an odd angle, so that an image of something lying flat on a table, can be read as cascading downwards – creating a tension between pictorial and actual gravity. when i started to build these piles of wood i imagined they would remain on the floor as a series of small humble architectures. i eventually decided to string them together to allow them to not only suggest architecture, but form architecture. thus the sculpture does not reflect the trains as they were in life, but as they were read in a photograph.

inspiration is a strange thing. an image or object tends to work hardest on me when i’ve seemingly forgotten all about it. conscious replication of images is of little interest, as it tends to deny a source its ability to reveal the deeper truths beyond it. for me, inspirational sources are about planting seeds and allowing them to grow. these things tend to remain unnoticed, until they bubble to the surface, usually in unexpected ways. i don’t try to direct things as much as i try to allow them to jab my insides. in most cases, i don’t really noticing they’re having their way with me until i finish a work, and realizing it didn’t exactly come from where i thought it did.

when walter benjamin wrote that for book collectors “ownership is the most intimate relationship one can have with objects. not that they come alive in him, but it is he who lives in them.” i think he’s both right and wrong, for there are many things we truly do enter and live inside of, but there are also things that enter us – and while they are sometimes slumbering inside us unnoticed, there are times that they do come alive.

in many cases we might not remember these things are in us, but they are, nonetheless, continually working their quiet magic. once in awhile, a moment like this appears, and a  source is generous enough to let you in on its little secret. eventually you begin to have a broader understanding of what you have made, and where it has come from; and in such cases, one realizes that the artist is not so much the guide, as the guided.