Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Stepping Into the Same River

Anne Sherwood Pundyk, "Pitch," 2015, Latex, Acrylic, Colored Pencil and Stitching on Canvas, 86.25 x 91 inches​

Painters Hovey Brock  and Anne Sherwood Pundyk discuss their painting practices using Kant’s Third Critique and two recent lectures on speculative realism—one by John Searle  and the other by Graham Harman ]—as points of departure.

Hovey Brock: Philosophical thought is a useful way to frame any kind of practice; all practices are fundamentally speech acts of one type or another. So, anything that is born out of a set of conventions, which is what I think painting is, amounts to a very specific kind of speech act. I am interested in all the social conventions that support what a painting actually is and I think this has something to do with non-representational painting.

Anne Sherwood Pundyk : My attraction to Kant’s ideas on beauty in his Critique of Aesthetic Judgment is centered on his logical digging down into how it is we are aware of our own subjective experiences. This and his emphasis on experiencing art in person are central to my painting: the interconnection of the subjective voice and the body. Kant gives us permission to attribute weight and value to the subjective vantage. I gather from the lectures you recommended about speculative realism that you see a shift away from Kant’s emphasis on subjectivity.

HB: I selected the Harman lecture because there is a sense in which the object-oriented ontologies in Harman’s form of realism hark back to Kant’s division between noumenal and phenomenal. Specifically because he talks about those things where we can talk about the object and then there is the object in and of itself, which we can’t really talk about. I find Harman’s division a little too black and white. I like Searle’s approach because he is working from the ground up and at some point we do literally touch on physical objects in the world. I think that there are ways that we do connect with the thing in and of itself. As a way to tie these ideas to our paintings, let’s get to some specifics and then we can bring in the philosophy. Tell me about your technique for making the painting, Wind O. Obviously there is some pouring, some painting; there is a lot going on here.

Hovey Brock, "Anaxagoras, 2015, " 30" x 48", oil on panel, 2015


ASP: I want Wind O to create a space for the viewer where she is the subject. The domain of my painting has shifted outward; I want the viewer to feel that surge of attention and unconditional love. Like all my most recent, large paintings, Wind O is on unstretched, drop-cloth canvas. For me, it evokes a stage backdrop and feels more direct and authentic than a stretched canvas.

Color drives my compositions, which play back and forth between fluid, bleeding forms and vertical, zig zagging interventions. I make large pours, folds and prints with the painting on the floor and move it up on the wall to locate the geometric elements. For example, I made the bright blue pour in Wind O and then folded the canvas to create the central diagonal Rorschach shape. Given the size of the pieces—7 by 8 feet—this is a full body process and that physical presence can be felt in the work. I started the piece in the dead of winter when my studio in Mattituck was surrounded by 4 feet of snow. By the time spring came and I was able to take the painting outside to work. I created the purple tendrils that flow across the painting by placing the painting on a sloped area of lawn and pouring the paint across the surface.  The last element is an architectural reference to a window. It’s not fully rendered; it’s a degenerated image of an opening that was the basis for the light grey panel.

HB: Are you deliberately avoiding any overt references or are there references that I am missing here?

ASP: I am not looking for direct representation. I am not running away from it, but I am just not interested in it. Imagery feels distracting.

HB: Ok. Good.

ASB: I made a suite of 6 new paintings for a solo show at Christopher Stout Gallery, New York last spring called, “The Revolution Will Be Painted.” Several of these along with a new painting are now in, "Unconditional Paint," a solo show at Selena Gallery, LIU Brooklyn up through October 28th. While I used a consistent formal premise, each painting resolves itself in a different way. There is something that has to come in from outside of the parameters of my process in order for the piece to feel finished—let’s call it a “monkey wrench.” So, for instance, the window element in Wind O is not in the local vocabulary of the piece, but it needed to be in there.

Anne Sherwood Pundyk, "Wind O," 2015, Latex, Acrylic, Colored Pencil, and Stitching on Canvas,​ 84.5 x 92.5 inches​

HB: My take on that is that there is something inductive that you are trying to do. You are trying to bring in something outside the logic of your pictorial thinking that would allow it to open up in a way that it would not ordinarily.

ASP: Yes, It’s like a logic pattern: “If it’s not this or that, there will be a third possibility.”

HB:  Sure, this reminds me of Gadamer’s hermeneutic process of reading something and then expanding your horizons based on this reading. He talks about the horizon as a metaphor for what we are able to encompass mentally. As you bring in new material you expand your horizon. The hermeneutic circle is something where you are always going out to the horizon and then back to the particular and figuring out how the particular works within the greater horizon. You bring in your monkey wrench, which is a way to continually expand your horizons.

ASP: That’s great. I like that. So let’s take a look at your painting, Heraclitus.


HB: This is a work that’s painted on a wood panel. I want the wood to show through. Wood is one of the ancient painting supports originally used. In the title I am referring to Heraclites, the philosopher, but also as a form of thinking that operates in the background. Heraclitus’ thinking is agonistic. He is always talking about the road that leads up is also the road that leads down. He says that there is something valuable in the very idea of war because conflict generates something new. “Background” is a term Searle uses that is one part of the thinking about the process of representation.

As far as the color goes, Heraclitus is interested in the energy that is created through antagonism. I picked green as a reference to the natural ways of the world. There is something primitive about the drawing itself, which is deliberate; Heraclitus’ thinking has a primitive aspect. He is one of four pre-Socratics I have chosen as subjects where their writings are all only extant as fragments of copies. The only way we really know them is from the way other people have interpreted them.  I love that they literally form a background to our thinking that is at this point is obscured. There is so much else in our approach to thinking, which is obscured. It’s in the background and you can’t fully recognize what it is. In the sciences, we are finally beginning to have enough understanding of neuropsychology to get a sense of what the background is. I also think the background involves certain fundamental physco-social processes that allow for the construction of representation and the development of meaning. I am using Heraclites and the other pre-Socratics as metaphors for these psychosocial fixtures. These fixtures are very important in the formation of our ability to use these very specific speech acts to create meaning in our world.

Hovey Brock, "Heraclitus," 2015, 30" x 48", oil on panel, 2015

The writing on this painting is from some of Heraclitus’ fragments. I used the most famous one, which translates as, “Stepping into the same river, different waters flow.” Another way you could think of it is, “Different strokes for different folks.” This is a fundamental type of agonistic thinking where your point of view is not going to be my point of view, but in talking we are going to arrive at some sort of understanding. For me, I would call that a psychosocial event that happens in any creation of meaning, right? (Laughs)

ASP: Sure, exactly.

HB: The fact is that while we are sitting here having this conversation we are creating meaning. It’s very agonistic in that you have your point of view and I have my point of view. As the result of talking we will arrive at yet another point of view.

ASP: I enjoy thinking about this arena or space that you are talking about; a background space that we can access—in the case of these specific thinkers—only in second hand fragments. We can’t see an original source but we know it exists. You mentioned the advances in understanding the brain’s functions and how that correlates to psychology. Going back to speculative realism where there is something outside the subjective realm Kant described, I have a question about the background. Where is it? Is it in the biochemical synaptic architecture of our brains? Or, is it in the patriarchal social structures that we have endured and respond to? Where would you place it?

HB: That is a great question. My use of the background is as a very expansive term. It covers a lot of layers. At the bottom most layer, it resides in very specific hardwiring of neurophysical events.

ASP: Would you say that it is found in the old brain? The base of the brain is the oldest part of and where the most animalistic, involuntary thought processes take place.

HB: Yes, absolutely. I went to a great lecture by Scott Soames. He is trained both in neuropsychology and Freudian Analysis. He talked how our sense of being in the world is located in these very primitive brain centers. Without these, we don’t really have a sense of our agency in the world. Jaak Pankseep is a neuropsychologist who has mapped out certain areas of the brain. There are certain fundamental affects that associated with the layer on top of this ancient brain. So the ancient brain in basically, “I’m here.” In the next layer are affects that we share with other mammals.  Then as a social species we have a third layer from which social interactions and relationships and language are controlled. This third layer is what I mean by the psychosocial layer of thinking in which human society is structured.

 Hovey Brock, "Parmenides," 2015, 30" x 48", oil on panel, 2015


ASP: I’m very interested the idea of the speech act. The ability to make a word, to say, “that.” A baby will point at something when she identifies with something. Pointing is the first impulse behind wanting to name it. In a sense, you project something of yourself on to the object. It has meaning for you. There is something very moving for me about that process. Word formation has an emotional component because I feel it connects back to being able to understand and defend your own identity.

HB: No question. I’m very glad you said that it is moving, because I agree. It’s our emotions that actually impel us to go out, connect with other people, talk, and become the basis for cognition. You see this in “Descartes’ Error,” by Damasio. Its not as if emotion and thought are separate; there is a very complex interaction between them. Something about how complex that is to happen is very moving to me because the project of modernism—and I think we are still in a modernist phase—is to try to uncover this manifold background. I think Marx, Freud, and all the thinkers of doubt, said, “We have this surface, but there is more to it than that.” Painting is in a very good position to talk about this phenomenon, not only the context of speech acts, but also about their long historical background. There is a way in which our social interactions have had this long, historical winnowing of certain processes that lead us to where we are now. They have been shaped by history. It’s very interesting to look at painting’s long history as a parallel. When I make a painting its almost as if I am trying to present a map of the subject state that I have that actually brought me to create that painting and this is what I have to offer to other people. I am making the assumption that because you also have subjective states that are somehow congruent with mine, this will actually have some meaning for you.

ASP: I respond to your work, I’m interested in it; I want to know more. I would say, you are succeeding.

HB: Thank you. (Both laugh) Good. We all have this intuitive assumption that there is going to be a sufficient degree of congruency; we will be able to make representations that we will be able universally understood. I am noticing, for example, certain things that come up in your work; the sphere in Diving Bell and Pitch has this wonderful map-like quality to it. Is there something you are trying to work your way out of in these paintings or trying to move beyond?

 Anne Sherwood Pundyk, "Diving Bell,"  2015, Latex, Acrylic, Colored Pencil and Stitching on Canvas, 84 x 92 inches

ASP: As I move from one piece to the next, I think about how Kant described the sublime as something larger than us. I associate that with being overwhelmed by anxiety. I am anxious almost all the time (laughs.) What I am looking for is some way to address that, give it context and resolve it. The things that make me uneasy are important yet somehow unapproachable. They are beyond the horizon. I know something about them, but I don’t know enough to know what the proper, safe, interesting or even funny response should be. The idea of inserting the monkey wrench is one way—in the face of this uneasiness— of being able to find the resources to be clear headed, calm and come up with a way regain direction.

HB: So throwing in the monkey wrench is a way for you to break out of the stability and be comfortable with the instability and in that way you are managing that aspect of trying to hold on to control.

ASP: For me, it’s working to accept the situation. The phrase “going with the flow” comes to mind. If you are skiing down a steep hill and you feeling like you are not in control, then go straight down. Don’t fight the forces and try to do any switchbacks. Its not relinquishing or giving up the struggle so much as dwelling with it, learning from it and saying, “Oh, there’s a new word here.” These paintings aren’t part of a series, so to speak, but I do find that there is a dialogue between them especially because in a concrete way I will do a pour on one painting and press another painting on the same pool of paint. The mirror image of the shape will appear on the second painting.  So, in some ways they make each other. I am motivated to be as expansive as possible about the process. I want to find relief. I change my mind a lot and I know a couple of things, but then I don’t know a lot (laughs.) 

HB: Right. Your story about going straight down the hill made me very anxious. I’m not sure that’s the way I’d go about it.

ASP: It’s about accepting that the moment is about speed. Finding that the momentum is with you and through that you can regain control.  Working from the old brain up.

About the Artists:

Anne Sherwood Pundyk is a painter and writer based in New York City and Mattituck on the North Fork of Long Island. Just as abstraction has transformed representation in modern and contemporary painting, performance poses its own problem to the medium. Pundyk’s new work is a response to the question of how to paint the theatre of agency.  Her painting, "The Revolution Will Be Painted," is on view through February 3, 2017 at The Schelfaudt Gallery, Bridgeport University, CT, as part of the group exhibition, "Reality of Abstraction," 

Hovey Brock is a Brooklyn-based artist and educator who practice painting and social engagement. His current research focuses on consciousness and image theory. He also writes for the Brooklyn Rail and other publications.