Persimmon Life Studies

Giddy Construction – Ken Weathersby

147, Acrylic on Panel with Inset Canvas, 20″ x 16″ 2006

Background

Ken Weathersby’s painting 147 J kicked off the ‘Artists Review Artists’ over at Thinking About Art with a review by Pam Farrell.
Pam did an excellent job. Still, though, I wanted to know how these giddy surfaces were constructed. I was interested in the cut-a-way, the replace, and the sometimes hidden—the strategies and things that muck with the head as much as they do with the work and the reading.
In a couple of very quick emails Ken generously offered the things I was after. I gave my take on a particular work, and sent it in flying with a little query tacked on the back,
Ken’s reply was ‘not inconsistent’.

Conversation

BH Firstly: How are the lines created? Are they hand-drawn? Is this a mechanical process–just a matter of getting down the information? Have you intentionally set off the wall / floor reading with the lines?

KW The lines in 147 are actually made with white graphic tape on a black ground. I almost always create surface grids in the paintings by first drawing, then laying out masking tape in stages, and then peeling the tape after painting. In this case the lines are very fine– 1/16th inch in width– and I started with the idea of using this thin graphic tape as a mask. It looked right on the surface, though, so I secured it with medium and left it on as a permanent part of the painting.

The ‘facture’ is always a negotiation between doing something straightforwardly and efficiently and the irregularities and adjustments demanded by contingency. Things start in my mind as matter-of-fact ideas of process but always get more complicated or odd in realization.

The wall / floor reading or evocation of a room is there. It’s another set of tensions around optical vs. literal space. If you read it as a room (which is challenged I think by the vibration of the line) you still have the central painting, the inset canvas, not just facing away from you, but embedded in the wall. Really inaccessible. There’s a sense in which the outer area, the ‘room,’ frames the thing we can’t see, the denied (reversed) painting. The symmetry suggests it’s a frame, but spatializing the outer area, which happens under conflict between perspective and perceptual action, undoes that.

BH In 160, the surface has a slightly different treatment. Could you discuss that?

KW What we are really talking about is the surface treatment of the untitled painting that is physically attached to the front of 160. On my website, you can see in the detail image, which is the next image after the frontal one, that there is a relationship of two canvases, one attached behind the other. It might be hiding, or parasitic, or– well, using any kind of metaphor like those is more interpretation than I want to give you, but anyway, 160 is the title of the painting in the rear. The larger one in the front, the one whose surface we are talking about, is untitled. The surface grid in that painting is penciled, taped, and painted in stages. There’s an idea of perfection, but there are always glitches, imperfections, runs. Sometimes I repaint and clean up these glitches more, sometimes less. This one is glitchier. I tend to use these very tight grids where there is a sense of it almost dissolving to gray from a certain distance, a sense of impaction where a lot of contrast and attention is squeezed into scale small enough that it tries to nullify itself. 160 is handled similarly to the front canvas. Although its surface is relatively inaccessible to view, in person you can see a bit of it if you press your cheek to the wall and look past the edge of the untitled painting.

BH. If I can focus on 147: Even though I asked about the surface and lines first, I was aware how the eye catches the whole thing at once. Though the parts are running at very different speeds. The optical buzz of the dark surface shoots the fastest. Then it’s the whiz, the direction of the lines that splay out and slow as they approach the bottom edge. And, all along, there’s this embedded reversed canvas that indeed does appear to sit very flat and flush with the larger canvas.
Its position reminds me of a door, though it’s not one that is going to let anyone in, or out, so I’m back convinced enough that it is just a reversed canvas. Though it reads somewhat out-of-kilter with the fast buzzing lines of the painted canvas.
The embedded one, its face to the wall, shows what is behind the larger canvas– the stretchers, the folded-over corners, and the staples–the facts of a very different process compared to the facts and optical pop of the framing canvas. The reverse reads object. Inert. So inert that it bothers me. Or makes me wonder why I hadn’t considered the inertness of the canvas before. That the larger framing canvas is actually just as inert as the small reversed one becomes even more of a puzzle. Though considering differences are just a matter of side, treatment, and temperament, the painting as ‘optic’ and ‘entity’ starts to grow on you in a strange way.

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