The Expressive Mark
& Other Ideas I Stole from Painting
With the art in The Expressive Mark & Other Ideas I Stole from Painting I wanted to continue my work with tools. I’m interested in tools because they are extensions of us, and like the things we surround ourselves with they act as still life. These tools are meant to express an absent subject, much like the Dutch still life where breakfast has been laid out but the eater is curiously absent. We may, therefore, invent our own subject or possibly become the subject of these types of still life. My suspicion is that within my work, when we imagine the hand that fills the work glove, swings the hammer, or grips the pliers we often imagine a male hand.
Of course we should not exclusively imagine men as the only possible users of tools because women are as capable of using a tool skillfully. But I am compelled by our default to tools as masculine things. Another proof we might look to is the pejorative use of tool.
If I was to call someone a tool, my subject would generally be male. He is acting without thought or regard. We might think this individual is completely filled with action to the exclusion of thought or empathy. Me might also be saying that he is a phallus or dick. Tool is often used to allude to the male genital. In all these cases, maleness is described in terms of what it does. Maleness, like “toolness,” is a case where form follows function. The term “form follows function” is perhaps the great mantra of modern architecture & design and was coined by the functionalist architect, Louis Sullivan. So a hammer’s form is a transcription of its use. The handle is long so it can provide leverage, the head concentrates the force down to a relatively small area, and the claws at the back allow for nails to be forcefully wrenched free. In all cases, the hammer is an action in search of a subject. The hammer is looking for a nail. The nail is passive, acted on, pounded.
However, the tools in The Expressive Mark & Other Ideas I Stole From Painting have been stripped of their usefulness. They have been made passive, decorative, pretty by the application of paint. Like the abstract expressionists that attempted to make painting into an action but failed to do so. While miles of canvas and gallons of paint were expended in the pursuit of painting as an action; I think ultimately the history of paintings as useless, beautiful surfaces has persisted. It’s the conflict between the usefulness of tools and the uselessness of paintings that provides the energizing conflict of my work. It also seems to be an apt metaphor for the traditional conflict between notions of masculinity and femininity.