Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe

Ghost, 1998 and Order, Uncertainty, Movement, Immediacy, 1997

Studies for Ghost, 1998 and Order, Uncertainty, Movement, Immediacy, 1997

Order, Uncertainty, Movement, Immediacy (1987) and Ghost (1988) have some things in common that make it worth talking about them together.  They are both big, for me, and you have to both step back to see them as wholes and at the same time get close to the surface to see some elements that are small.  To paint Order, etc., I held a big brush filled with blue paint in one position while I walked along the table.  I wanted movement that didn’t come from one place, but rather had a source that moved along the surface evenly.  The ground is uneven enough to guarantee the field changes because of what’s underneath, so that the surface application is not simply an extension of what it covers.  Ghost also requires that one step back but then get close (or the other way around.)  It is, unlike Order, painted from multiple static positions.  As elsewhere (see Giorgione goes to Jamaica) I used the shadow of a plumbline to locate the clusters of verticals, rather than have a line drawn on the surface.  I wanted it to be as ephemeral as possible.  Color changed quite a bit as I went along.  I wanted it to be gaudy as well as ghostly, and it is the latter in its airiness, the word’s melancholy connotations are irrelevant here.  Like a ghost however, the painting slips away.  Without your noticing very quickly, the stretcher goes from being two and a half inches deep at the left end to only an inch and a half deep at the right end. 

    Put together, they say something about how I work.  A big blue square with an horizontal extension that makes it not quite a square is one thing I typically do.  The left hand side I think of as a margin, that because we (in the West) read from left to right, modulates or otherwise affects everything horizontally to its right.  I have been working like this for years.  The almost or actually square field which it borders on one side is such that you look at it, including at the way it’s painted, but (a) can’t in that avoid finding yourself looking into it or (b) feeling it come at you.  An interaction is occurring which is bodily rather than intellectual.

    Ghost’s format is a good representative of the other thought of which I seem frequently capable.  The work is horizontal, with one movement next to another from left to right or vice versa.  The movements, or areas, which make up the painting combine horizontally, by design as well as de facto, but I think of large works as symphonic and do not wish to the row of differences end where it began.  In this Ghost has something in common, most obviously, with Masurian Lakes and Finn.  Unlike Order, for example, when you see any of those three paintings you see each painting as a whole but also as a sequence.  Everything is there at the same time but also not, it’s there as things that change or accumulate according to a movement from left to right, a sequence as much as a simultaneity.

    You have to get really quite involved close-up with parts of both paintings to get the point.  For example, the way the big blue area connects/is connected to what’s on it’s left is quite different to what happens on the right: the one involving improvisation in the face of built-in uncontrollability (as mentioned), the other protracted repetition of a mark/color/movement. I hope things like this, in the case of both paintings, the viewer lose sight of the work as a whole for a bit.  Instead get off on small differences that turn out to be big.  Ghost involves vertical rows of small dots in one place, clearly thin paint put on with a small brush, on thick porcelain-whitish still wet when the dots were put on, and elsewhere a thinly applied, but with a palette knife and not even at all, rectangle.  It is an example of how I want to put everything in a painting that it needs, a.k.a. that might work.  It might be the most varied work until How Birds Use Gravity, more than ten years late.  

    My work is made of intensity.  The color is like that because, actually, mostly you’ll not have quite seen that before.  I ended up with it because it was in my head as the color of something like a mood or situation that could be a painting.  At the same time I work consciously with materials and methods anyone could (and do) use.  Squares and ruled lines, for example, oil paint for another.  It is therefore easy, I suppose, to miss the point of what might be there.  I mention this here, and might elsewhere on this site, because if you make abstract paintings the level of misunderstanding—closely related to casual disregard—you encounter is quite a thing.  At the level of who has the power—the museums, the principle galleries and one or more critical cabals—abstract painting has all been done and there’s nothing to do but refer to it or maybe be playful.  One can do nothing about this at least for now, it has been this way since the later seventies, is the direct result of Duchamp by way of Warhol and I’ve written about it extensively.  At the level of who doesn’t have any power but is still involved in art in this or that way abstract painting—which I prefer to call ‘non-representational’, actually—is in a significant way worse.  John Baldessari donated Order etc. to MoCA, which was of course great.  They sent two junior people to check it out.  One of them told me it reminded her of  the sea, with the stuff on the left beach and beach towels.  I can see how you could see that.  There is a painting (later I think but who cares?) of my friend Julika Lackner of the sea and beach from above that reminds me of my painting, I think we’ve laughed about it.  I can see the sea too, not least given the title’s obvious reference to Matisse.  But all of that depends on not paying any attention to anything I’ve ever done.  Also, that blue reminds you of the sea ok how tranquil and how deep?  Uncertainty is in the title.  Also ‘immediacy’.  Does it really make you think immediately about being in immediate proximity to a beach towel?  Maybe so, with Ghost I got a lot of comparisons with rugs, pointless to say I never saw a rug like that.  My work is made of intensity, with some relief for it to keep things moving, uncertainty is the point and immediacy essential.  Remembering Foucault’s impatient response to a persistent interrupter, “Don’t keep telling me what Nietzsche said, listen to what I’m making him say,” as far as order comes into it I wish people would not remember one they can fit it into but rather see what I’m doing with what they think they’ve seen before.  Gaudy and sexy will help when it comes to thinking about what’s there, but what it reminds you of should be something hard to name, however familiar.  Newman said he wanted to express the inexpressible, I want to make complexity visible and in both of these paintings it is a complexity made by movements and, in intention at least, rapid change of kind of thing, and mood inflection with that.