Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe

Pink Desert, 1991 

There are two Pink Desert paintings because I wanted to make them be a contrast between two kinds of softness, both pink, one of which depended on the properties/qualities of paint and the other the same but using plastic.  Oil paint, however metallic or like stone it may pretend to be, can’t help but be soft ultimately because it offers movement or vitality like that of flesh.  Plastic can be transparent and heavy at the same time, and I think it important to how we think (of what we are) that we recognize and feel the difference between plastic and glass.  Plastic seems to me to belong to the world of the photograph, glass to precede always the age of film as do stained glass windows.  Plastic is hard although it scratches easily and can bend under its own weight.  I fastened the plexi version of Pink Desert on the wall with screws, remembering Bob Ryman’s “You can put fixtures though the front of a painting, but not through the front of a picture.”  Most of it is painted on the back, so one sees it through the plexi—to me, an echo of how one actually sees oil paint color through a prism made by the oil that has oxidized around and in front of it.  In one painting pink softens the edge of the rectilinear stretcher, while marks in or on the surface are only in, imprecisely in terms of where, a pink haze that nonetheless comes to the front of the painting, as it cannot in the other.  They are both there in a way that if it works you can’t see without thinking of  being in the proximity of a surface that gives way to being a depth but which then seems not so much immensely deep as uncertainly deep.  For that reason it is not clear what one’s relationship to it is.  

    Paintings are first of all there in the room with you in a way that is affects the space and the viewer, directly in the sense of being involuntary.  The paintings are motivated by the film Red Desert, which I think is a very ambitious film because it’s the only one where the director has tried to see things—to get us to see things—from the point of view of someone who is beautiful, remembering that Santayana’s definition of beauty is “pleasure considered as the property of an object.”  Monica Vitti plays a person who is both a subject, the center of the world in the usual way that we all are, and an object in that she is always the center of attention whether she likes it means to be or not.  My recently deceased dear friend Gil Perez knew far more about Antonioni especially and film in general than I do, and he reproached my for brutishness in describing the film as about a woman married to a wimp and pursued by a bore, but it still will do as a rough (as it were) description of her situation.  She cannot not be beautiful, she cannot not be indecisive for reasons that only in part have to do with what she looks like.  Antonioni, precisely and in a very difficult way, surrounds hers with a story about a strike and denouement that solves nothing.  Workers are stolen away overseas by the bore, leaving her and the local economy with less than there was when he came, which was already only a condition frozen by a strike.