Growing up in New Jersey with no art in my life, I thought a painting was a sunset or a basic landscape until I was fifteen. Yet I loved etch-a-sketch, spin art and paint by numbers. (First conceptual kid art really.) They each provided a given set of parameters you had to work within as both a conduit and chance.
The first “real” painting that stopped me cold was at MOMA in NYC. It was Network of Stoppages by Marcel Duchamp, 1914, and was the first painting I had ever seen that wasn’t based on representation, abstraction or observation. It was the very first conceptual painting I had ever encountered, and it engaged an entirely different thought process that I had never considered before but felt immediately drawn to. His process involved a more systematic approach to painting yet with an element of chance and irreverence to it. All of those ways of working interest me to this day.
In 1964 Duchamp explained, “This experiment was made in 1913 to imprison and preserve forms obtained through chance, through my chance. At the same time, the unit of length, one meter, was changed from a straight line to a curved line without actually losing its identity [as] the meter, and yet casting a pataphysical doubt on the concept of a straight edge as being the shortest route from one point to another.” Duchamp said the work had been crucial: “… it opened the way–the way to escape from those traditional methods of expression long associated with art. …For me the Three Standard Stoppages was a first gesture liberating me from the past.”
What I discovered viewing that piece at 15 is that the experience of standing in front of great art always does the same thing to me: stops me in my tracks, points out my own limitations as to what I thought was possible in Art. These viewing moments make me reconsider emotion, or they make me uncomfortable, inspired, in awe. They change me. The first time I saw Piero Della Francesca, Philip Guston, Josef Beuys, Bruce Nauman, Ross Bleckner, Rebecca Horn, Mathew Barney, Jeff Wall, etc., I remember each experiential encounter– where I was standing, how old I was and in what solo museum show. Powerful work leaves a lasting impression, stored in your memory bank, of every work of art you have ever laid eyes on, and these particular moments almost always made me reconsider and question my own work.
As an artist you want to push yourself beyond what you know. For me it involves the combination of hand and mind, computer and camera, to find or rethink something, to make us see differently, explore materials or new orders and find a new path of imagery making. Using a computer I am able to play with a systematic approach by layering up multiple images and then randomly turning off layers, or asking the computer to numerically remove a percentage of color, then see what is left behind. I always look for ways to make the process itself more random, less destination and more encounter: the chance Duchamp spoke of. The element of surprise, like a magician’s puff of smoke, is a great thing in art and I love it every time I feel it.