Past: October 18 → November 30, 2012
Back to the eye and beyond
“A certain fire pretends to be alive; it awakens. Working its way along the hand as a conductor, it reaches the support and engulfs it; then a leaping spark closes the circle it was to trace, coming back to the eye and beyond.”
Blair Thurman is an artist who uses paint to capture vibrations from reality and then give them form. Using shaped canvases, a technique Frank Stella initiated in the 1960s, Thurman is searching for “a pure way to paint”. Upon meeting Steven Parrino in 1988, he was confronted with his work — rectangular paintings, some of which were emptied out, forming the ovoid shape of a motorcycle belt — in which he observed speed, movement, but also a perfect representation of infinity. From that moment, he turned to the car culture he had been fond of since his childhood as a main source of inspiration. Such elements as spinning wheels, the stretch of a timing belt and spiral shaped motor circuits began to creep into his sculpted paintings — circular forms that allow the eye to wander unhindered upon the works. Beyond their monochromatic aspect, the artist sometimes paints lines that follow the oval or circular shapes of the structures themselves, emphasising their sculptural features, breaking away from the illusory, literal “what you see is what you see” paradigm through a painterly rendition. Because what you actually see is a Blair Thurman. Similar to a giant business card (My Business Card, 1966), the ovoid shape becomes at once a motif, a symbol, but also a sign or a signature. Thurman’s work is evidence to the evolution of abstraction in the 1980s and its appropriationist context, through a double dynamic — both opening the pictorial and symbolic field and distancing itself from 1960–70s abstraction and minimalism. Thurman’s abstract work is in line with his visual take on the senses, that originated in the theory of vibrations. Just like sound, the light spectrum emits waves that the artist observes in nature and translates subjectively in his art. “Life is characterised by vibration. Without vibration, there is no life. The world in its entirety obeys this law. As individuals, we form complete entities; our organisms are operated by a single engine and this engine’s degree of sophistication determines how much we can vibrate, and therefore feel.” In car culture, as a part of the contemporary world, Thurman found a formal, living and vibrant form of purity. Although abstraction is based on reality, it simultaneously recodes reality using simple forms. This subjectivity manifested in Thurman’s work is also reflected through his titles, often linked to personal facts, movie references or puns. Libidinous titles such as American Sluts 2 (1998) or the playful Just Passing Through (2008) confirm the interpretational ambiguities of these emptied out paintings, open to the virginal blankness of the white cube. However, if painting makes it possible to express ecstatic or erotic sensations via scopophilia, life and death are brought together through their respective realities, suggested in such works as Mr Black (2008) — a shaped canvas, as an homage to Parrino — the light installation Mask of the Special Red Death (2009) or another title referencing “Mr Whoppet”, Donald Campbell’s mascot, found floating in the lake where the speed record breaker died at 300 mph. Works such as Tunnel at the End of the Light (2009–12) could be interpreted in various ways: the shape of a car racing circuit, a ring of fire through which a tiger might leap, or a native American dreamcatcher. In any case, the circular figure appears as a symbol of passing through two worlds, between a “before” and an “after”, a “here” and a “beyond” that one cannot necessarily come back from. A kind of infinity. I Turn Left I Turn Right I Go Straight.