James Welling at Regen Projects
At first I can only look and compare and wonder. Regarding the first photographs that I focus on, Nos. 100 and 98, are these cityscapes photographed looking upward from the road? Which is an interruption in the image – the vibrant blobular colors or the jet black? Neither? The edges between these masses are not crisp exactly, instead they have a curiously spherical sawtooth quality the speaks to me of digital or chemical manipulation. The other photographs, as I move to my right from the smaller into the larger room, appear each to be unique images and are not glossy. Those first two (Nos. 100 and 98 again) are smaller. Oh my. Wait a minute. None of these in the larger room is the same size as the next. What on earth? Looking at the list, I see that I am correct. They vary by as little as 1/4″ and as much as 1″ in any direction. Something about this variation is wonderful and human.
Some of the color-filled areas – I shall think of these backgrounds, although I doubt the aptness of this term – have the fuzzy appearance of vintage wool blankets and some appear translucent and light-filled as though gels or sheets of colored plexiglass were used; still others have a bright, cartooney quality.
I caution you that of the work in this show I have so far avoided mention of the apparently architectural geometry of the interior shots in the smaller room. I use the term “architectural” advisedly, because although these pictures appear to present details of some city sited masterpiece of domestic architecture, I suspect that there is a greater game afoot and that concerns beyond simple home illustration prevail in these photographs. (Aah, but my mind wanders.)
Turning once again to the larger and more clearly abstract room I find one near repetition and then another, and a third. An “X” shape is my only guide in the confusion of lines and shapes and the more I look I wonder whether these shapes represent framing, if the beams were photographed from a succession of oddball angles it just might appear so. But, already I doubt my theory. (“There is nothing real here.” I tell myself confidently.)
The black in all of these photographs exists to confound my sense of right (of light, too?). Can blacks be voids if the colored areas are backgrounds? Can a photograph exist without a foreground? When I look from a second angle and greater distance the blacks appear more solid, and then when I draw close in I see that there is no visual depth at all and that both the areas of color and those of non-color “happened” at the same time (just as I am seeing them). “Oh dear,” I think, “there is only photographic space (whatever that is), and I am as a fool, attempting to parse the difference between nothing and no way.”
And this revelation/enlightenment takes me back to the house-shaped images in the other room. The bones of these pictures are indeed derived from drafting skills and Modernism, this much is true, but there appear colors, vibrant and bleached, and some spaces are forcibly flattened, while uncanny depths appear elsewhere as they oughtn’t to. And the lighting – harsh, soft or flattering – each of these is wrong to the truth (that existed before Welling’s camera) and so the whole is a heightened experience and it makes me wonder if simply being in such rooms would do justice to the potential displayed in these pictures. The surfaces that I see (and that I could touch if Regen Projects hadn’t framed and protected the prints behind glazing) are the creation of James Welling: not in the darkroom this time, but at a computer, hefting software. Thereby the artist demonstrates, as with the Geometric Abstractions, that even here, at home (if you will) nothing is as I suppose nor as I perceive it to be. (The press release informs me that the rooms Welling photographed are in Paris’s Maison de Verre and the house and gynecologists office was designed by Pierre Chareau.)
James Welling has a trove of images and information on his website, among the fascinations are interviews the artist has done over the years.
Quoted from Interview with James Welling by Tamie Boley:
“This phenomenon of arriving at en effect in an indirect manner brings me to another influence on Welling’s work – the writing of Mallarme. To quote Welling, he was interested in Mallarme’s “heady ideas about nothingness and existence, the idea of man’s existence of earth and what does it mean…I realized through Mallarme’s poetry you could make art that questioned existence – art that gave reasons for why we exist – ambiguous images that gave you a feeling of existence.””
(I also find in the Tamie Boley interview that Welling is an Aries.)
Quote from February, 2011 Art in America interview with Steel Stillman:
“SS You once said that a photograph records the thing in front of it and the conditions of
its making. What did you mean?
JW There is a narrative behind every image. I often imagine being able to see the photographer standing behind the camera, or perhaps crouching or running with it. Even
an ugly, abject photograph bears the record of its making. When I was at Cal Arts, my
ambition was to create dense objects, works in which many lines of thought converge. That is still my goal.”
Regen Projects http://www.regenprojects.com/
James Welling http://jameswelling.net/
Art in America http://www.artinamericamagazine.com/