Mari Eastman, Pan and the Santa Ana Wind
Today’s stray breeze, my friends, bringeth me news:
The Great God Pan did not die alone on that stony island in the Aegean all those thousand years ago.
The North-east wind brings Pan’s message:
“He That Still Lives holds gifts, gifts of telling, gifts of asking. Intelligence and Rejuvenation are ours, sayeth He, if only we…”
And here, at this point, as if in a text torn from the very grasp of Ehécatl, our Pan’s message to us, His children, stops! Wonder we, “What is it that I must needs perform, what Herculean task undertake?
For weeks now we’ve wandered – as automota, breathless and by rote, without reason, limpidly, bleakly; tiny is the effort we muster to our usual motions.
Lost is purpose. “Where went passion? Whither my fervor? Ooh, if only…”
But (and this straight from On High) STOP:
Upon the horizon appears a gleam of intelligible life, Yea, an élan of enlightened discourse: by the power momentarily granted to me by Pan I offer you
An Extended Conversation With Mari Eastman
November 1, 2011
The following dialogue was inspired by a series of panel discussions held at the Mandrake Bar back in May, June and July. The discussions had the overarching title of Talks on Painting and each brought together diverse Los Angeles painters. Eastman was involved in organizing these talks.
As events, the talks had mixed success – they were narrowly themed and people who make art without making paintings felt left out, as the discussions did not stray much from their focus of ‘what to do with paint on canvas.’ The two talks that I attended were organized around characters of power from grad school, and in fact on each panel were a leading LA pedagogue and several of their students – adherents and drifters alike.The topics brought forth for discussion, too, might have reflected the ages and the working histories of those posing the questions.
As one and another of the participants said to me, “This feels like a really good place to start. I learned a lot last night about what works and what not to do next time.”
What did work – and what has stayed with me since the time – is a sense of open and companionable, if sometimes cranky, conversation among panelists, organizers and audience. It may be that LA is small enough as a center so the common ground can hold many of the artists who live here, but beyond this geographic fact I think that artists working in their studios do come across similar questions, and that the circumstances of exploring ideas – the practices of inquiry which become art making – lead people to share more than their individual natures (anarchic, skeptical and quixotic) might lead one to suppose.
My big summing up that leads directly from an artists talk at Mandrake Bar in Culver City to Changing the World:
We all are in this place together and one can only learn to do well by doing at all. Since the summer I’ve found a number of conversations and inquiries taking place that reflect a generally supportive nature among people who are committed to asking questions and moving forward.
And yes, I mean this to sound as Utopian and far-reaching as it does. Out of simple conversation, by having the initiative to take open-ended, thoughtful and responsible actions, one can begin to change the world. Whatever else they might be doing, these are the lessons I get from our friends down at City Hall. It’s not that big a step.
And now, back to the matter at hand – our conversation with Mari Eastman:
July 22, 2011
I hope that houser well. [ed. I can only guess that it was my intent to type: “I hope that you are well.” I blame my large, calloused thumb.] I understand that you’re likely to be busy with plans for the July 31 talk. To which, by the way, I am very much looking forward!
I want to thank you and Jill and Rebecca for the work you are doing on
these talks – I have been talking with people in many parts of our
community and find that conversations are springing up all over. I’m
having a blast on Notes on Looking with interviews and other
Do you have time to meet and talk about your role in and plans for
these Talks on Painting? Oh – and about your experience thus far. I
feel like I can offer the community an additional dimension for
conversation as well as provide support for your efforts.
Let me know if you’re into this. I look forward to seeing you again soon.
Sent from my iPhone
July 22, 2011
I’m so glad you have been enjoying the talks. Thank you for writing about them. I would be fascinated to find how who the people are who have been talking about the talks and what they say.
Yes I would be happy to talk more about the talks. I can do it via email, in person gets a little trickier what with the toddler etc. but not out of the question.
July 23, 2011
Good grief Mari, I was not aware. Congratulations – toddlers are the kind of people who make life wonderful!
I understand and I work well by email.
What was your interest in organizing these talks? Are the questions you raise drawn from your practice?
How are the conversations so far changing your thinking or adding to your understanding of art making and your own practice?
Hmm. Abstraction v representation is the upcoming topic on July 31. I’ve talked with several painters recently and over the years who work in abstraction or representation and who are questioning each practice and also challenging each practice to function like the other.
Sayre Gomez, in his recent show at LCP (June, 2011), exhibited realistic looking paintings – inscrutable images of white-gloved hands tugging at a window, and also inscrutable texts. These ‘real’ images, drawn without contextual information from the web, look and feel like abstract paintings – one may always see in abstract paintings images that resemble things, but that hover on the tip of recognition. I wonder if these so called random images, drawn from Tumblr sites, are a form of abstraction for today? These images seem to function like the nonrepresentational tools for painting-making that were discovered and developed in the last century.
Do you know Sayre or his work? I recommend him to you. Especially as I understand from Jill that the Talks on Painting will continue. Sayre speaks very interestingly.
Steve Roden over his career has been a determinedly abstract painter who makes use of formulae and tools for the derivation of marks which become almost images. Although his paintings remain abstract, they contain the proper information to lead a viewer to the real. More recently, in his paintings and film work with his grandmother’s rocks, Steve is challenging the possibility representation and the abilities of abstraction.
Because of the panel last month I sought out Brett Rogers, and when recently I visited with him I find that a grandparent is helping him to also challenge his own practice and thereby add to our community’s discourse on this subject.
And in talking briefly on the subject with Matt Chambers, as I wrote at one point in Notes, he brought up the dilemma he sees of artists quoting successful passages from historical painting, both representational and abstract, rather than struggling to discover their own language to explore contemporary painting.
Oh dear, I recognize that I have begun by asking questions and then I launched into an essay on painting… I am hopeful this will raise some thoughts in that you will share.
Thanks and all my best,
August 14, 2011
From Mari Eastman:
1. What was your interest in organizing these talks? Are the questions you raise drawn from your practice?
Going to one (a panel discussion held in 2010) at the Mandrake in which Rebecca (Morris) was a panelist and feeling invigorated, inspired, and like it ended too soon. As I was there I realised the Mandrake as location was the missing link…mixing alcohol with heady debate was the key. In any case, booze or no, talking about and listening to talking about art is one of my all time favourite things to do. Sometimes when I’m visiting grad students, doing undergrad crits, I have this feeling like, I cant believe I’m getting paid to do this, it’s so much fun! Not all parts of teaching are like that of course.
Yes some questions raised are drawn from practice. Rebecca, Jill, and I get together and throw around ideas, but we also approach moderators for ideas.
2. How are the conversations so far changing your thinking or adding to your understanding of art making and your own practice?
During the pre-discussions as well as the panels I realise people think more similarly to me in their process than I realised. Also, just connecting to different painters and learning more about them and their work is great.
However, as I organise the talks I feel like the main thing I am learning is how to organise talks…its definitely a learning curve and with each one I think about how to move to the next, or what could be improved.
3. Hmm. Abstraction v representation is the upcoming topic on July 31….
Can you give me some examples of nonrepresentational tools for painting-making? Do you mean mark-making like Pollock’s drip? If that is what you mean I think images function differently but I can see where you are going with this. The drip is so iconic I guess it can function as a signifier. What you are describing sounds with the tumblr sites sounds to me like the work of the pop artist James Rosenquist. The effect of that work, for me is kind of like montage…you know…20th (and 21st) Century problem of information overload…
I dont look at many Tumblr sites to be honest. I am not v. tech savvy and lifestyle blogs depress me. (where people photograph their interiors, outfits, and meals.) My messy life does not pass muster in comparison!
I have not seen Gomez’s paintings, so I can’t speak to them. However there is a lot of work that blurs the boundaries – eg Lari Pittman – recognisable icons within an almost frenetic design. Abstraction or representation? It side-steps the question. When I look at it I do not think about the history of painting, more about graphic design. I could see an artist using random web images in a similar way but if the approach is photo-realistic I start thinking about James Rosenquist again and I dont see that as abstraction.
I will check him (Sayre Gomez) out.
August 14, 2011
I just looked at Sayre Gomez’s work. I was way off with the JR comparison. I liked it. It is like a very elegant Hannah Hoch meets Yves Klein. I dont think so much of abstraction vs representation – I think collage. Surrealist collage.
August 20, 2011
I hadn’t heard from you and just wanted to make sure you got this. (Eastman’s previous message, dated August 14)
August 20, 2011
Hi Mari, sorry – I’ve been pretty crazy.
I did get your message, thanks!
On your question to me regarding non-representational tool for painting making. I was thinking of the history of abstraction, which (I think?) came at the beginning of the 20th century and end of the 19th. I mean the way of making paintings whose images do not represent or illustrate any thing. I’m not sure why you went straight to Pollock?
Going from that beginning in my mind I understand abstraction as, well, not meaningless but certainly not tied to particular meaning the way representational painting is. Am I crazy or out of step? I didn’t study painting or art history, except through my own reading and looking.
About Sayre and a cohort of web image pullers, I guess (in almost a contradiction to what I stated above) if old time abstractionists rejected representation as inert in their modern crazed world in favor of pulling bits and pieces of the world and from the world of symbols – personal and cultural – to make amazing paintings that spoke to their experiences. Well, if that – then today, in our modern crazy world, the bits and pieces that artists might draw from would be images – which in the old days would have meaning – inherent and given – and now are less than symbols and certainly less than images used to be. That’s what I see Sayre doing.
I, too, find sites devoted to random images a bit overwhelming if not depressing. But then I like text :-)
I brought in Abstraction vs Representation because that is how I read the announcement, was I incorrect?
And can you tell me about collage and especially Surrealist collage? I’m a little familiar with Max Ernst’s collages – is this your reference? How does that work inform your work? And how does/would Surrealist collage look today?
August 21, 2011
hi geoff thank u for email. will respond to some stuff and some later.
1. …tool for painting making…
i didnt know what you meant by a “non-representational tool” so i guessed a type of mark-making, ie the drip. would u clarify what you mean?
2. …I understand abstraction as…
no i agree. although i see it is a language of its own which to some degree has become codified. eg the drip refers to pollock, ab ex, painting on floor, there is more if i had more time, so now i would argue it does have meaning…though not as overt maybe as an image or icon…or rather, it is not narrative.
look up hannah hoch. sayre is a good example of a re-investigation of surrealist collage today
August 21, 2011
hey – thanks for getting me to look up Hannah Hoch!!! What images!
More for me to learn about, thanks! and I guess my “non-representational tool” was referring not to paint handling but to making images. Maybe because I’m not a painter I don’t think of paint handling in the way you might. Weirdly I still think of “making a painting” as very much like making a picture, so in my mind abstract painters make abstract “pictures” out of brushstrokes, out of physical bits and pieces. What I should ask is if one can use existing images as one would use brush strokes, or marks? Meaning like “mark making.”
Can an image be a type of mark?
Re: learning to think about current work in the terms associated with Surrealist collage – I am eager!
Mari, I’m really grateful that you are spending time with me. This series of emails is wonderful for me and for my education.
October 31, 2011
picking where we left off ages ago…
Maybe it’s me but I think of inserting existing images into a painting as a form of appropriation, or collage. In my mind it is not mark-making.
Mark making for me is going up to the canvas, in the moment, brush, stick, bowl of paint or whatever in hand and making a unique…um…I can think of a better word than “mark”.
I also think of many abstract paintings not as images but impressions of a moment in time. (And when I say moment that moment could have lasted anywhere from hours to months. But within the painting one literally sees seconds of time – eg a brushmark that you know – and anyone who has painted the bathroom or made finger paintings as a child would know – took a few seconds.) The record of a person having been there and made his or her physical experience a visual one. This is my interpretation of a lot of ab-ex like stuff. There is a lot of abstraction that I do not see in this way at all, eg constructivism and its progeny.
Thank you for your kind words – as I said before I love to talk about painting.
Ive been following your blog and enjoying it.
see you around town,
Cherry and Martin website: http://www.cherryandmartin.com/home
Try Harder: http://try-har-der.blogspot.com/
Sayre Gomez website: http://sayregomez.com/news/
Kavi Gupta page for upcoming Sayre Gomez exhibition: http://kavigupta.com/exhibition/109/windowsandmirrors/works
Fourteen30 (because Fourteen30 is always worth checking out – hello Janine!): http://www.fourteen30.com/index.cfm
Steve Roden at Susanne Vielmetter: http://www.vielmetter.com/artists/steve-roden.html
Albright-Knox Art Gallery website: http://www.albrightknox.org/collection/
Venetian Red blog with two part post on Hannah Höch: http://venetianred.net/2010/01/16/hannah-hoch-the-good-girl-with-big-scissors-part-i/
Link to home page of Venetian Red, because you really should visit: http://venetianred.net/
Beautiful Decay: http://beautifuldecay.com/2010/09/28/lari-pittman/
Ooga Booga website: http://www.oogaboogastore.com/