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The Post-Modern Forest
It's hard to see the forest for all the trees. It's hard to see our current Post-modern era of art for all the art, some of which may or may not, in fact, be Post-modern. I think if one were to try and find a single word to describe Post-modernism it would be eclectic. Post-modernism is work coming from artists who are totally aware of the entire scope of art history and its development and who try to integrate many of these elements (periods, styles, techniques, whatever) into their current work in making valid, relevant statements regarding the present human condition. It is very self-conscious both in terms of technique, and with regard to art marketing as well. It recognises art's presence as a marketable commodity as being just as important as its role as a means of self-expression and conveyor of beauty.

I've never done this before and I don't plan to make a habit of it, but inasmuch as I know my own work better than I do that of other Post-modern artists, I'm going to hold it up for illustrative purposes. I'm sorry if this seems like self-promotion. In terms of theme, recently I've been attacking lines--not the lines you draw with a pencil or brush but those marking traditional boundaries in art. One of these is the picture frame--that which has traditionally separated the viewer's world from that of the artwork. Another is the line between illusion and reality. The subject matter may sell the work, but for me now, it is only a means to an end. I want to blur these lines, and perhaps too, draw some new ones--not to separate but to bridge.

In a painting I'm currently working on, I use the front end of a hotrod, looking down the central axis. On either side of the nearly symmetrical composition, the front wheels "break the frame" while in the centre, the radiator cowling juts forward from the surface of the board by one-half inch creating a real shadow as well as a painted one below. I'm also working on a painting of an automobile wheel well, in which the fender, wheel well, and tire are rendered in a traditional manner while the painted illusion of a shiny chrome hubcap juts forward from the picture surface. Here the frame is not broken but the painting intrudes three-dimensionally into the viewer's personal space. In my most recent completed work, Memories in Bits and Pieces, I juxtaposed a real still-life next to an identical double-life-size painted one, both framed identically and attached together into a single "double-take" so to speak; causing the viewer to make rapid, instant comparisons between reality and illusion, and to consider repeatedly which seems more real.

With the interactive "block" paintings, I was inviting the viewer to cross over the line from viewer to artist by physically rearranging elements of the painting, or to create whole "new" paintings from my work. With the religious works, I was trying to get the viewer to cross the line from observer in the Death, Burial, and Resurrection to become a virtual participant in the events, drawing obvious reference to the fact that as sinners, we are crucifying Christ all over again. I currently have plans and photos prepared to try and draw a line bridging the gap between photo-realism and abstraction, creating a work that seems thoroughly abstract at close range, then gradually appears more and more realistic as the viewer backs off. It's a still life of crystal glassware on glass shelves in front of a striated mirror background over our bar. If you look carefully, you can see my reflection as I took the photos.

These are all paths of exploration, some of which will lead nowhere, while others will lead to additional, perhaps more intriguing efforts. To me this is the essence of Post-modern art. Some works carry a heavy baggage of message, while others are more on the order of visual aesthetic experimentation. I'm prepared for the likelihood that some are going to be more successful than others. However, all will help me learn how to paint better, help me understand what works visually, and where to go next. If one thinks of Post-modernism as one does the field of scientific research; hundreds of artists (scientists) exploring, not along a single line of inquiry (as in Modernism), but radiating out from a single source--past global successes and failures--in search of new visual insights and means of creative communication, then one can begin to get a grip on what this current art era is all about.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
19 October 1999


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