Friday, December 28, 2007

The Process is the Idea which is the Process

The paintings of Magnus von Plessen fall in the center of the philosophical and conceptual debate around painting itself. His paintings are built of paint and also of the physical removal of paint, in a way that immediately invites the viewer to think on painting as a physical object in and of itself. The construction and physicality remain obstinately present, even as the viewer drifts into the 'imagery', often traditional portraits, self-portraits, or architectural/interior views. A student of traditional European painting, von Plessen suspends us in a place with any resolution: the imagery is impaired by the physicality; the physicality broken by the invitation of imagery.

From The Art Institute of Chicago "Focus" Series:
Plessen’s canvases are built with a careful amalgam of discrete vertical, horizontal, and diagonal applications, alternatively thick and translucent, resembling bars: “The one straight stroke has to denote all that is supposed to be happening in the painting,” he says. Regarding Felicity, which he has at times called Felicity, 146 Brushstrokes, the artist states, “on one occasion I counted up the number of strokes in a painting. I was able to reconstruct the time in which the work had been painted. . . . It is not what I see that determines where I put the brushstrokes. They tend rather to follow a mental image of what I can touch. That’s what makes them so independent. But you can only do it in places; you can’t cover the whole painting that way. You can’t grasp hold of everything. The things you try to grab hold of slip away.”

Through the intersecting ideas of the vertical/horizontal line as a structural atom (representative of everything, crucial and perfectly expressive) and the addition and subtraction of these vertical and horizontals we experience the created experience of creation: we are taken to the act of creation itself, to the relationship between the eye and the mind, which again von Plessen alludes to with the idea of "touching" within the mind.

That his created experience of creation, mental and physical, yields an image which quotes a traditional portrait is an even greater feat. But without said image we would not work so hard in front of his paintings: the imagery keeps us looking, expecting, and putting together. (We tend not to work for abstract paintings, we assume that what we see is what we get). Von Plessen's experimentation with the mental mechanics of painting excites me, I feel along for the ride in his world of construction and creation, where the focus rests on the process of both artist and viewer.