Painting. Drawing. What I say. What they say. Writings. Curating. Teaching. Video

What I Say

Peripheral Paintings
For me, these paintings contain innumerable possibilities. They are: perceptual experiments; a play between figure and ground, between forms and content, irony and beauty; a comment on censorship and the degrees of the forbidden; an attempt to put non-objective art in dialogue with representation; a play on Arthur Danto’s aesthetics; a challenge and embrace of semiotic theories of art; a bit of perversity, indulging in beauty while denying it; a way of revealing and concealing personal content; an attempt to reach the metaphysical through the material.

Some viewers may try to reconstruct what is hidden behind the square (if anything). A few might play psychologist and try to figure out what I am hiding, or what I am hiding from. I imagine that most viewers will be annoyed at having a black square ruining a perfectly good painting. A few might see this as anti-art, good talent wasted by perverse aesthetic times. Someone might think a few of the works are pornographic, but will have little to go on, and may eventually realize how much of the profane is in the mind of the viewer and how little is in pictures. A few will consider the art historical lineage of black squares and see how these may relate to that tradition. Most viewers will just wonder if the square is painted over a picture or the picture over a black ground. Several may attempt to lose themselves in the non-objective space—reverse the habitual and block out the distractions of the material world (sex, violence, possessions, even nature) in favour of the presence of nothing.

Though I feel that in most cases there is too much information in the borders, I am amazed that several pictures go unrecognized by some viewers. Quite a few tell me that they unable to read the pornographic scenes. I wonder if this is true, or if they are censoring their words, or if their mind is censoring the scene. It may also be that they are unfamiliar with such representations (or such scenes in real life) and cannot construct the image from the partial information. So, for example, fewer people are able to read the ménage a trois scenes than can read the images of individual men or women in more familiar cheesecake poses.

One of the reasons for the compelling power of erotic images and accidents is that they are peripheral to the everyday gaze. Such events are, literally, in the case of accidents, inversions of regular experience. They command attention. We are eager to understand and are frustrated by not being able to read or understand all events and images.

These paintings are perverse. They refuse to give viewers what they want. This observation led me from accidents and pornography to think of our postmodern moment and how the new taboo is beauty and sincerity. I began to illustrate this by painting and yet also obliterating conventionally beautiful subjects: flowers. The combination is melancholic. I was also thinking about other things that we are not supposed to look at but are compelled to. Boys are supposed to measure up to men, we are to look to men for examples but not look too closely. The pictures of body builders offer this impression of the desire to see without being seen, to look at men’s bodies while not being the subject of a returned look—which might lead to anxiety (homoerotic panic, or the panic of being thought of having homoerotic desires, etc).

I was also interested in the aesthetics philosopher, Arthur Danto, and his thought experiment concerning a series of red squares. They all look the same but were made for different reasons and therefore have different meanings. Many are works of art; others are not. Danto has spent more than 35 years puzzling over the problem of how, in the case of such identical things, one is a work of art and another thing like it in every way is not, it is a mere thing. The trick lies in intentions, and most importantly, in how those intentions are signaled by titles and other texts.

So, my black squares, while nearly identical, mean differently in each case. I have also altered the squares so that while all are black, they are textured to suggest often-dramatic differences. In part, I did this to suggest that the squares described by Danto might be identical in thought, but would show differences in fact. Behind this gesture is an effort to challenge the colonial project of philosophers and semioticians who believe all images can be equated with text. To trouble such readings I have created a strategy with the titles. I could have left them untitled, but that modernist gesture could lead viewers to think of these works as a species of minimalism, which they are not. Instead, the titles are more about the problem of reading than about the content of the images. The titles are interchangeable and not the property of individual works. This discourages the viewer from reading for intent (mine) and instead they read for themselves.

Finally, perhaps, I am interested in the metaphysical and the possibility of meditating on a blank square—pushing the distractions of sex, death and the material realm to the periphery—clearing a space for detachment.

David Garneau
September 2002


* * *

David Garneau
Associate Professor at The University of Regina
Faculty of Fine Arts, Visual Arts Department.
RC 245 | (306) 585-5615 |