January 2007

The Content of Nature

James K-M, 1988

Paul Cezanne, our father of modern art, a Moses who never reached the promised land, wrote in 1904: “Treat nature by the cylinder, the sphere, the cone…”

In other words, and for my purposes, the square, the circle, the triangle, the three basic forms in nature.

Essentially though, the square is reduced to the vertical and horizontal, the circle to the curve, the triangle to the diagonal.

The vertical and horizontal incise space and stretch time, the curve contemplates itself, the diagonal traverses surface.

Simply, to incise space is to sin, to stretch time is to tempt fate, to contemplate self is to meditate, to traverse surface is to gesture.


A Metaphysics of Appropriation
James K-M, 2007

The Mayan calendar is due to end at the winter solstice 2012 and is considered to signify an ‘end of time’ as we know it. What an ‘end of time’ means exactly is uncertain but it does seem that a significant transitional shift of consciousness is coming and is already underway. How does one prepare for this transition? Only by cultivating one’s own patterns of abstract interconnectedness.

In my recent paintings, cross cultural appropriation can allude to Native beadwork, old floor tiling, post New York school abstraction or minimalism, a board game without pieces (since the work moves without them), a Navaho blanket, or Aztec or Mayan sacred geometry. These aspects represent appropriated traditions that don’t usually coexist and a collision of cultures that are also somehow resonant with each other. They coexist here as metaphysical appropriations beyond the kind of appropriation that is gestural and ironic. Colours are intuitively appropriated from 20th Century war uniforms, hunting lodge flags, badges or blankets. This simultaneity can be referred to as a metaphysics of appropriation. Yet my work remains within the realm of Western abstract painting. It is constrained by the square piece of plywood which interacts with a stained grainy surface revealing a sentient conscious unknown superimposed by a contemporary abstract figure.

As well, the following thoughts are expressed in these most recent paintings. While the art community and popular culture aficionados have been intrigued by the novelty of appropriation of visual culture, there has been a 2nd kind of appropriation occurring simultaneously. Much like the secret 2nd transport machine in the film Contact that actually does reach its extra-terrestrial destination, this 2nd kind of appropriation can be described as non-ironic, multi-ethnic, abstract, metaphysical and much subtler and more intuitive in the way it recycles visual culture. Borrowing from across cultures as well as across time to express more than just a summation of Western visual culture, appropriation(2nd) expresses a summation and a connectivity that has something for everyone.

This is the secret, subtle, simultaneous 2nd destination or goal that appropriation gestures toward and is the escape from the cyclical limitations of recycled visual culture. Rather than recycling or cycling visual culture, appropriation(2nd) spirals visual culture. Both are abstract, metaphysical and geometric processes, but while the first nervously waits for a new cycle to announce its demise, appropriation(2nd) spirals into ever more profound levels of play and abstract interconnectedness where there are no boundaries, except those defined by the inherent language of the medium and tools that the artist chooses to play with.

Cultural appropriation occurs regardless of how explicit we make it and metaphysical truth will always be replayed in a contemporary style in any age. As long as the contemporary spirals along from age to age we can never say that it’s all been done.

My working method is to go to Home Depot and have them cut a sheet of ½” plywood into 8 squares of 2’ x 2’. On each square I apply two coats of a single colour of wood stain. My current palette of stain is black, white, red, orange, yellow, pthalo blue and pthalo green. My current palette of acrylic is the same but with three shades of red, raw umber and raw sienna.

I find that there are two main advantages to working again with paint (and stain) instead of the digital print. First is that the grain of the plywood surface becomes an important part of the work and second, that I am now able to create a unique subtlety by painting, for example, yellow acrylic on yellow stain, or black acrylic on black stain. Both create a mysterious subtlety that I could never achieve digitally.

My content is geometric, abstract and colourist.

Although I’ve lived in Vancouver since 1983, I grew up in Toronto where I became aware of painters like Ad Reinhardt, Jack Bush, Mark Rothko, Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Sonia Delaunay, Arshile Gorky, Piet Mondrian, Barnett Newman and non-abstract painters like Henri Matisse, Paterson Ewan, Emily Carr, Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach and R.B. Kitaj.

In the late-1970’s I came to know the work of the Neo-Expressionist and TransAvantGarde painters like Julian Schnabel, David Salle, Francesco Clemente and Enzo Cucchi. I consider all of these artists to have a strong metaphysical content and I resonate with this kind of primal expression in all art forms, especially painting. Similarly, I hope that my paintings convey mystery, mysticism and the metaphysical.