Monday, October 3, 2011

Time Is the Diamond:

My solo exhibition of a group of very small works at Some Walls in Oakland, CA closed recently.
To see full images and text about the show, go here: 
Time Is the Diamond













Chris Ashley's essay:
Ken Weathersby’s "Time is the Diamond"
Some argue that painting, like Humpty Dumpty, has fallen off the wall, taken a great fall, and can’t be put back together again: dropped, cracked open, oozed out, and finished. But painters like Ken Weathersby have shown that painting appears to continue living a healthy life long after its reported demise. Paintings do things and are about things that other mediums can’t match. While much art continues on a seemingly rapid path towards newer technologies and entertainment, encouraging fast looking and sound bite-like understanding, the technology of most painting, handmade and viewed slowly, at a finely granular level, might gradually be seen as anti-technology, or rather, as a kind of antidote to quicker, bigger, and shinier art. The technology of painting is more like Fred Flintstone’s car, made out of stone, wood, and animal skins, and powered and stopped by the driver’s feet.
In addition to the fundamentals of painting, however, its literal and conceptual deconstruction is an issue inherent to the medium throughout history. Painting has moved from being made on a specific wall, to being made for a specific wall or setting, and ultimately made to be completely portable and adaptable to different environments. Patronage has shifted among the church, the state, the wealthy, and the commoner. And, periodically, the question asked again and again is, just what is a painting: what shape is it, is it flat, how does it hang, what size is it, and must it be made with paint?
Ken Weathersby’s art engages smartly and sensitively with the possibilities of painting. Simultaneously clear-minded and intuitive, rational and risky, he pulls painting apart and puts it back together, making something new and quirky and thoughtful. Canvases are sliced and diced, but unlike Lucio Fontana’s cuts opening a void, Weathersby’s cuts are surgical, so that parts can be reattached, or transplanted, or opened to view another level of the painting. He cuts, rotates, shifts, reverses, and inserts. The classic grid or checkerboard is interrupted or made imperfect. Fronts and backs visibly co-exist, and the rarely seen chassis, staples, nails, screws, and threads are exposed. Elaborate carpentry normally behind the scenes becomes a central player. Weathersby’s paintings don’t merely question what a painting is, but provide physical evidence of several visual and philosophical resolutions to the properties, problems, expectations, and contradictions of painting by exploring front and back, inside and outside, the plane of the surface and depicted and actual space, pattern and disruption, and craft and art.
Weathersby’s small works, made with foam core, linen, wood, tape, and the images of his work reproduced on exhibition announcements, are not exactly studies. Although they use many of the same motifs and structures and share the same subjects and concepts found in his larger size work, they are individual pieces that can stand alone. To call them miniatures would not be an insult or diminution, but instead a useful label to place these small pieces as a specific set within Weathersby’s body of work. And though small, each works scale reads as large and full-sized, or, rather, right-sized.
Lined up on a simple shelf and leaning against the wall are twenty-two works in less than twelve linear feet, the smallest measuring approximately 2.5 x 1.5 inches, the largest, a real outlier, at just over 8 x 5 inches. This installation, Time is the Diamond, titled after a song by the American band Low, provides an overview and record of Weathersby’s invention, wit, and curiosity, of what painting might be, aspires to be, and can’t overcome. The song’s dense, abstract, almost impenetrable lyrics have a folk quality, listing things the singer is or is not, or has and has lost, akin to the hybrid and transgressive qualities in Weathersby’s art that are ultimately resolved, over time, in honed, precise, finished works:
If I’m not a lion
And I’m not an island
If time is the diamond
Well all right.
Weathersby’s art is extremely forthright but not immediately fully forthcoming; initially appearing accessible, it is complicated, dense, and full of rich and intriguing contradiction. At a quick glance, his images are of a type one might expect to be manufactured, but instead we see that every single aspect of the work is handcrafted, from the elaborate stretchers and framing, to the taped and painted areas, to the surface cuts and insertions. Materially and structurally, he makes plain how the object is made, but there is often a sense of peekaboo or sleight of hand in the layers, displacement, and disruption of image and spaces. One would expect the use of the grid and checkerboard to lead to stability, but more often than not these normally regular fields are set ajar, slid apart, flipped open, broken, or misaligned. This is not art that panders, but rather insists that we engage by visually assembling, disassembling, and reassembling each work’s constituent parts in order to see, experience, and understand a holistic image and object. This is one way that Weathersby’s art extends painting’s possibilities.
Weathersby also extends paintings’s possibilities via the emotional and psychological spaces and situations it instigates. Intellectually, we might encounter his work as a visual puzzle to be solved, but there is more at stake here. What is the emotion of assembly and disassembly, visibility and invisibility, regularity and disruption, and why is this interesting and how does it enhance our lives? What is the psychology of gaps, slips, incisions, displacements, and what use is this to us? Weathersby’s art isn’t cruel or demanding, but is instead made with the utmost regard for the viewer, conveying integrity, openness, and generosity. Respectfully but rigorously, the spaces of the paintings echo the intimate, perplexing, meaningful spaces of ourselves, our bodies and thoughts, the things we acknowledge and know and attempt to share but are often beyond words. In this work we encounter our own self-knowledge and contradictions, aspirations and ambiguity. By confronting the parts of Weathersby’s art we can experience something in bits and pieces as right and whole in many different configurations and encounters. This is Weathersby’s diamond, painting’s health, and Art’s payoff.
Chris Ashley
Oakland, CA
August 2011

2 comments:

Diane McGregor said...

Excellent essay. Your work blows me away, Ken. I hope to see it in person some day. My family still lives in Jersey where I grew up, so hopefully next time I'm back there I'll be able to see your work up close.

* said...

Thanks so much, Diane-- Some time when you are back here in the area get in touch for a studio visit if you want, that would be great!

--Ken