“Science manipulates things and gives up living in them. It makes its own limited models of things… Science is and always will be that admirably active, ingenious, and bold way of thinking whose fundamental bias is to treat everything as though it were an object-in-general - as though it meant nothing to us and yet was predestined for our own use.”
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, 1961
Virva, can a lump of paint speak?
Your stark maroon brushstroke stretches almost four feet along the surface of that piece of cardboard; at first glance it looks like it was done crude and fast. But that single winding mark lingers, takes another stride, and becomes two distinct shapes that dangle from the top, on the left a frontal rectangle, on the right a slow squat arch that cuts through the bottom of what was once another rectangle and then trails off like the handle of a kitchen saucepan. In one precious flourish of paint is a strong-willed sway of flexing fitness. Whoa. This visceral form is obviously not a depiction of an ancient axe, a child’s pushcart or a confusing road sign. Nor do I detect any political or historical claims like those ascribed to Motherwell’s black elliptical shapes in “Elegies to the Spanish Republic.” Yours is an encounter of a different kind: fanciful but real, assembled by hand, and visited by your imagination. It is the simple, direct and mysterious fusion of fact and fiction, achieved with confidence and shunning all pretense. Over here a pearly white mark begins a little absentmindedly, then turns a wobbly corner, shifts gears and ends up all the way over there. Now it murmurs “mountain”. Last year you formed makeshift letters, for instance that almost “e” and “a” facing each other in a tense stalemate or that recurring approximation of an “s” that appears often enough that I know it’s most likely intentional. On those occasions the paint is applied like lava: dense, slow, and deliberate but still edgy and brisk. But the weirdest thing is that you merge all these ingredients like a cook with a spatula: straightforward, not-to-be denied, and purposeful. Virva, you are chomping on the present tense.
Meanwhile, I am “soul-searching” or as Frank O’Hara aptly wrote: “I’m quietly waiting for the catastrophe of my personality to seem beautiful again, and interesting and modern.” At best silence fills my day: inert and blunt. Hands on, hands off: it’s a workmanlike approach to an existential problem. I need more nimbleness. So today I might want my work to deliver like silk stockings: tight, sheer and sexy. Tomorrow I’ll produce artwork that is atypical and funny: like this pale, goofy, bulging shape recalling my mother’s Eero Saarinen Tulip dining table. And along the way please provide me some bliss like when the Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio captures the little dog gazing at the engrossed St. Augustine staring out the window of his study. It blows my mind that the patron saint of sore eyes would have such a kind, dedicated and loving companion.
Imbedded in space I see an echo not unlike my face or body: drilled, nailed down in pious insolence. I’m dreaming of blazon arms dedicated to muteness, purged of manipulation. I’m lured by those crazy moments that could/might communicate another possibility or another way out and by that wild card in the puzzle that must be unconditional love. Virva, I stay on my toes because on some rare occasions, alone in the studio, the mark, the pour, the shape, the surface, the atmosphere, and the lump of paint can be seen entirely on its own terms, speaking to me from beyond all reason, like things in themselves.
G.N. September 2015
Virva Hinnemo and George Negroponte. Kouros Gallery, May 2011.
Two artists in the same house make for a lot of regression. To some it may look predictably poetic, like two fried eggs. In reality it’s more of a tussle than you might imagine because energy moves unevenly through the veils of creativity. A room of two can get crowded when the audience is constantly standing by. But the dividends can be substantial. Good days are measured in moments: a glimpse into a world where nothing matters more than to really see something for what it is. A helping hand and eye can lovingly clear the way.
Making art here in Sweden is like a visual lottery ticket: you keep scraping away at the surface, hoping for some luck. Considering the odds, it’s a shot in the dark. Imagine trying to invent a new landscape while it invents you. The world here is basic; you can visually graft a Braque or Malevich onto the Swedish horizon but a Kandinsky doesn’t work. The finicky is outlawed here. So how does one proceed? On tiptoe or do you make some noise? In our house visual ideas don’t bounce off walls, they float around like enchanted spells. Our apparently divergent means are pulled in the same direction. Not some carefully calculated idea about cancellation but rather the spooky awareness that a few gestures are all that is needed.
Virva’s work is anchored by her athletic touch. Eschewing easy grace, her work is marked by a distinctly corporeal handwriting throughout. Her off-centered forms don’t dance; they trudge or traipse by you as in some social encounter. Her tough-minded elegance gets fitted together like a Finnish sauna hat. These works don’t flash; they glow in their almost hidden geometry. Their quirks and bumps are never smoothed over; their scumbled surfaces allow the world to keep seeping in. This isn’t an artist sightseeing, it’s mystery freshly articulated. Recording each and every stab at securing reality in a nutshell, Virva’s economy and color are like a daily diet of earth, bark and munched grass.
I’m in my Omega Workshop wrestling with humble beauty; manufacturing a codex on the durability of drawing. Birch plywood and wallpaper bring folk imagination to meet Donald Judd. I keep telling myself the ancient Greeks did the same thing by playing so keenly with fact and fiction. My vision isn’t naïve but my eyes are innocent. Cultural baggage moves slowly but surely and stays lodged in one’s memory. But the newness for me is everywhere and the old routines don’t necessarily work. Miraculously, while I receive and absorb all this new information, the world stabilizes just enough so that a dignified response is possible. The tautness of wallpaper focuses my attention and upends my religion. I’m carving light; releasing it from the clutch of the wall. Once again seeking out that frozen, indelible moment in time. As always, the path of art incises quotidian brambles and fog. Say good-bye aloofness.
Sweden is the land of equal footing and exhibiting with one’s spouse could become mandatory. Two making one rings true for us these days because it’s an altogether different approach to expansion. In this equation, lyricism gets reshuffled. The intimate ambience of the marriage bed diffuses the boundaries of the studio wall. And the everyday becomes work, rooted in the spirit of teamwork. It’s the most sublime test of temperament because it really takes two hearts.
George Negroponte February 2011