Brent Linn, the first time I saw your work ‘physically’ was arriving at San Jose ICA, on a Wednesday morning, plane drunk.
I bumped into a cherry picker, and thought, ‘whose is this?’ Diagonally opposite was a pair of amoebae. They appeared in the process of dividing. The impression was stark. It was a large wall work.
Chalk marks, mark up, took my attention. I could see that clearly.
I enjoyed how the process of building was incorporated into the piece. It gave me something steady. However, when I examined the lines the giddy resumed. I remember thinking, ‘Geez, there are a lot of colors in there. I wonder how the artist did that?’
I knew it was yours, of course. I had been following your work for quite some time. And a few friends would update me with what you were currently doing. I could see online.
There had been a shift.
Earlier work had straight lines. It seemed volume took over from this. Then it appeared there was a short return to the more flat space, which looked to work well as large wall installation. And then the circle appeared, obviously, the next step. The piece I was looking at was working in the circle navigation.
Of course, I’m talking very generic. None of your lines are straight, except for the markup, or use of a grid. But basic stuff, before getting into the lines themselves, or how they get ‘made’ physical, could you talk about the shift from the more flat planes, the straighter lines, to then a volume–three dimensional markup, to the newer circle-based work?
Linn My answer has to begin with the fact that I have an aversion to making drawings that are either “thing” or “place” – I want my work to shift back and forth between the two.
When I was working with fields of vertical lines, and then later with fields of horizontal lines, the works were Surrounds (with an embedded narrative.)
At a certain point around 3 or 4 years ago I began playing with the space inside of these fields, and this led me to make drawings that are more of a representation of something separate — not just a place. The lines in the drawings diverged from an imaginary vanishing point. Those pieces were mostly shaped — parallelograms and such. They read as discreet shapes, not things, and not places.
One of the things that I learned from those drawings is that the demands of making lines that don’t maintain the same proximity (to one another) is really exciting and challenging and I wanted to explore that further. It took me a bit of time to figure out how I could harness that type of mark making while continuing to explore the thing/place question.
For years I have used the circle to pursue the binary relationship between stillness and movement. For some time that meant that the image of a circle would appear in the middle of a square field of horizontal or vertical lines.
In an effort to embed the circle more fully into the composition I began using the shape to guide the development of the composition. As I set up a matrix of circles and traced their edges I found that my appetite for making lines that ebb and flow, come close and depart, was satisfied.
So that is an explanation of how I began making drawings that use a “circle navigation”, as you put it.
Brent What do you see? When you are making these lines you mentioned that you don’t see vibration. You see the line and its relationship to the other line, in relation to the navigational mark up, in relation to … what?
Especially in the recent pieces the navigation can get incredibly complex. I was showing your work to someone here, and they said, ‘Wow, that’s maximum blast!’ Do you do drawing first? What scale are the drawings? Do you do just one or ten before engaging a large wall work or piece on Mylar?
Linn The drawings that we are talking about really began when I traveling a couple of years ago. I had brought a bunch of drawing stuff along and for some reason I was using 8 x 10″ graph paper instead of my usual Mylar. I was thinking about these works as “preparatory drawings” for works that I anticipated making when I got back home. It was new for me to plan a composition out on a small scale before diving into a larger work but it worked well because I wanted my studio to be mobile.
The graph paper itself drove me to make drawings that were situated on an axis. (Those pieces had both horizontal and vertical axis). And the compositions were (are) rather complicated and a bit unpredictable so it helped to look at them on a small scale before starting a large piece.
To answer your question about what I see when I draw: I have two different positions.
-The first is that of the moment. I am “in” the line completely when I am making the line. I am still.
-The second position is that of standing back and taking the whole thing in. Obviously I need to step back at times just to rest, and when I do I often evaluate how the drawing is evolving, and now and then I will question how the piece is developing (although I try not to do that too much because it can be a distraction).
There is an intense sense of anticipation that begins to grow as I get deeper into the larger works. It’s like watching a plot develop – I want to know what is going to happen but I’m also deeply enjoying the path to the end point.
Brent Also you sent me a preparatory drawing for a curved wall. It’s wild, beautiful, free, yet also so formal and austere. It reminds of ‘da Vinci’ in two ways: what he said about staring at a wall, as well as his anatomical drawings, which sound out very different ‘images’ and ‘approaches’.
Linn Funny that you see ‘da Vinci’ in my work, I spent YEARS studying his sketches and copying them when I was a child. I was obsessed.
Right now I am interested in the similarities between the work that I do and Foucault’s Pendulum (the object/invention, not the book with the same title.)
Until just a few years ago there was a huge Foucault’s Pendulum at the center of the rotunda in the Smithsonian Museum of American History. As a child I spent eternities watching that bob swing back and forth…waiting for it to knock over one of the little objects that sat around the outer limits of the piece.
I’m fascinated by the way that the pendulum marks intangibles in such a physical manner, the way the movement creates a sense of anticipation, the way that the straight line becomes (or appears, depending on your perspective,) unstraight because of the invisible forces acting upon the pendulum…all of this is relevant to me and the work that I am making.
The pendulum swings from side to side with the “perfection” of perpetual motion. But if one were to spread sand on the floor to show the path of the pendulum we would see that the lines back and forth are actually not straight but slightly arched. As the pendulum swings in a straight line the earth rotates below us, so the line in the sand is not straight. Gravity and the rotation of the earth, forces that are not visible, drive the motion; the pendulum will travel in a circle as the earth rotates on its axis.
Part of my interest is certainly based on the fact that it is both an object and a representation of place and time, which as I said before, is something I have been exploring for years.
I also love the fact that the pendulum marks stillness as much as it marks motion. The building that holds the pendulum is still, and the point at which the pendulum is suspended from is also not moving. But the earth is always rotating and so the building is actually shifting under the pendulum. In this way the object demonstrates both stillness and movement, (as well as the theory of Inertia.)
The movement in my drawings is driven by a number of different elements. Firstly, tracing the arch of a series of interlocking circles forms the initial composition. This first line always loops and curves in a way that implies movement, and the first line becomes the driving force for the rest of the composition.
Beyond the implied motion there is the movement that comes through the actual process of drawing. After that first line is drawn around what I call the “matrix” the ensuing marks are completely freehand. These lines show a certain amount of what I refer to as “slippage” – the unintended shifting of the line due to the fact of my human existence and the nevitable imperfection of our actions. This slippage, over time, becomes an organic pattern, which also adds a sense of motion to the drawings.
And yet, the actual process of making these works is dependent on a certain internal stillness and focus.
Brent Back to your interest in the Pendulum: It has been explained that the world appears flat to make us feel comfortable. Otherwise with greater information there would always be this sense that we were leaning off of it. And that, to my mind, would feel a bit uncomfortable.
Linn We are leaning off of the world, but as long as we don’t know it we are ok, right?! Because gravity will keep us from tumbling, so we are safe.
And that’s the point — the simplification of complex ideas and questions is very comforting. Maybe that is why my drawings all begin with just one line – it takes it all down to the basics. And from that point, there is both stillness and freedom.