Wherefore painting? (part 1)

(Some thoughts garnered from a few hours at Matthew Sepielli's new show at Tiger Strikes Asteroid...)

 What is central to a painting? What is at its core; both physically and philosophically, and most fundamentally, how are these related – or are they?

The reason Matthew Sepielli’s paintings are a good case study for these sticky – and dangerously unanswerable – questions, is that they are overwhelmingly corporeal; meaty and unavoidable. These are objects for which titling seems nearly unnecessary – their presence alone speaks with a certain enough voice to eliminate any overt need for textual specificity. And yet, Sepielli does title them; attaching small rudders to these already careering vehicles. Some of these paintings are indistinct color studies; each color morphing into another, Kosoff-like; line being a near non- entity. In others, the matrix itself is delineated literally, with connect-the-dot-style mapping nets, elbowing and hinging their way across the soupy surface: and in this case, color is sublimated. This seems to offer the beginnings of a thesis: no one formal concern is paramount; indeed as is intimated in Sepielli's press release, the organic exploration informs directly which element or elements the piece moves within and towards – and what materials are intuitively grabbed  and incorporated. Is it then the experiment itself which forms the core of these works? Perhaps…but to posit a more succinct theory, I believe the choice and features of the painted-on form/surface most closely directs the path of the paintings, in a roughly-centralized manner. That is, rather than line in this one, color in that, and surface in yet another, the actual depth, perimeter, dimension and sheer thing-ness of the painted-on form/surface (or object, as the case may be) most universally drives Sepielli’s paintings’ direction and eventual conclusion. 

The series (and this term is used as loosely as I believe Sepielli might use it) of books as surfaces/objects focus in even more closely on this core driver of Sepielli’s work. As with the other paintings, the compositions on the books are centrally organized, but depending on the piece and the choice of incorporated collage that is appliqued to the surface, the perimeter is occasionally pierced slightly by those added elements (or literally pierced, as in State Fair). (The frequency of this does not work against the surface as prime-driver argument; rather it is fairly consistently utilized; enough to consider its absence as the “exception which makes the rule”).  A book, in the beginning as that alone, is an understood and fully-logicized entity, physically: it is read as being complete in its form. In this way, even before becoming subsequently a surface, it exerts a strong influence even on the final parameters of the piece. In other words, the logic of the book, even before paint is applied, reaches ahead of the artist and places certain defining limits and stops on the process. This is a highly organic comingling of mind and matter; past, present and future; meta- and micro-reality – becoming not unlike one of Karl Jung’s famous anthropomorphic Archetypes.

But why these particular limits from the very concept of a book – and why does this feature prominently in these particular works? Put simply, the strongest component of a book’s overall logic is its narrative (meant in the largest sense possible); that is, we logicize and assume, through long and absorbed experience, that a book has a distinct beginning and distinct end, with a center of some length between. And not only is this a theoretical and psychological dimension, it is wrought physically in a form, for us to know tactilely. Therefore this narrative logic is multi-leveled, and that much more pervasive and persistent, placing a particularly strong defining logic on anything added to it, even if that addition, for all intents and purposes, is primarily physical in nature. Thus, Sepielli’s paintings rely heavily on, firstly, the force of surface and form; and secondly, the book “series” even more so because of the forth-going, extrapolating narrative logic. 

 (All images, Matthew Sepiellli, 2010. Titles, top to bottom: Pig Meat; State Fair; In a Fine Net)

(Part 2, next week...)

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