Paintings            GARY BARTEN
Waiting for a Monument - Sited
October 2019
ink, acrylic, and tempera on paper
48" x 37"
Waiting for a Monument

push and pull - between Lucky and Pozzo

Today winter suddenly appeared like a jester and opened a box of sleet, hail and snow in an alternately cloudy and sunny sky. This entire October morning was given over to gusts that shook the trees and made soaring ravens and a lone hawk whirl away into the distance under the wind’s power. Autumn is being pushed aside and the winter jester is pulling the coming season in to take its place. There is no hesitation possible; the anthill is silent, and the dry grasses rattle hoarsely in the cold gusts.
Measuring the year’s activities and accomplishments is likely also to be pulled from the winter jester’s box and brandished in one’s face, bells jingling for attention. A list scrolls out of the box pulled by the cold breeze, pushing as it unrolls before us. Time to add it all up again.

Accomplishment is, of course, the big one. Did you, or didn’t you? No blame attached to any of this, just a blast of cold air. Winter is here and spring seems a long way off again – or perhaps, if ever. What has been completed out of last year’s plans and projections? How’s that edifice coming along that you’ve thought about and designed in your head or in the studio? Maybe it is the sum total of the year's ideas that is the physical by-product, the new foundation and understory. Are all those things working together now to present something that is a grander total than any of the parts? Was there some momentum that pushed you along and was graciously pulled along by your designs? And finally, if this wasn’t intentional then how real will this on-going edifice or bulwark be?

Is anyone waiting to see and hear you, your work, your ideas, feelings, opinions? Perhaps, like others with the same vague status, you are the one who is waiting, again. Ennui at the crossroads …

push and pull: a theory in plastic art developed by Hans Hofmann as a way to enliven the picture
plane in abstract expressionist painting without resorting to illusionism.

At first, back in 1971 in art school, when they talked about the picture plane, I had no idea what that might be, having paid little attention during high school geometry. But, fortunately the Tyler library, small but excellent, contained all the catalogs from abstract expressionist shows in NYC and with their introductory texts familiar insistence on defending the picture plane, it became clear, and the thought of how to practice some of these ideas in a painting could became part of the studio agenda. Hans Hofmann, teacher, colorist, oil paint craftsman would become a guide. His idea that forms interact through color across the surface of the painting, and the push and pull of his vibrant and thickly painted squares helped to illustrate what the picture plane is and how its flatness and stubborn lack of illusionistic depth was one of its most powerful architectonic, pictorial tools. Years later, on the top floor of the University Museum in Berkeley, I could spend hours looking at Hofmann’s rich and vibrant paintings, several dozen lighting the otherwise dingy concrete walls of that museum.

I no longer hold to the abstract expressionist idea of the sanctity of the picture plane. Most likely, working for years in the theater creating illusionistic scenery made the whole idea seem too one-sided, something that demanded allegiance but only partially reciprocated when it came to picture making and painting. Now having found a size and format that seems completely amenable to my thinking about content and method in the studio, I don’t feel bound to any tenets of abstraction but am still very cognizant of the idea of push and pull, as well as the real dimensions, the height and width of the paper support I am working on. Layered depth is added to flatness and becomes my own version of push and pull.

push and pull - memory and the hands of the clock

“Use it all” is what my memory tells me as I begin a new group of paintings and the past is pulled into the present. Having found a solid working routine in my studio here in Santa Fe, I am studying time and the seasons and how memory moves back and forth while the seasons move steadily forward. These two constant influences are the current manifestation of ‘push and pull’ for me, watching the changing patterns of our surroundings while thinking about all the advantages I’ve had over the years that have allowed me to continue working as an artist. People refer to the calling ‘artist’ as a ‘gift’ usually remarking on skill, when what is truly the most important aspect of this is the almost constant attention that it calls for. Pulling us into every aspect of what surrounds us, while allowing us to filter and push a vision out into the world to be shared, we add to the world yet another fleeting monument of artwork.
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