Friday, April 5, 2013

This is really interesting... me at least.

At the risk of sounding like a douche, I wanted to say a little about my visual art and use the above images as a reference point. The first image is the artwork that I recently sent to the label that is putting out a cassette for me. I greatly respect that label as it has been going for quite some time and releases work by some truly inspiring artists. I was honored and humbled to have been asked to submit some work for this cassette series and, as is often the case with me, I took far too long to complete the audio. Then, it took me far longer to finish the art work. I struggled with a few ideas for the cover and finally decided on a concept that I thought was good. I executed the idea that I had in mind and edited the image so that it should fit perfectly within the dimensions of a cassette case.

Anyone who has been following my visual art will have noticed that, over the last few years,  I have been breaking outside my standard black and white xerox art and have been straying away from the use of bold and often earthy tones into more garish pastels. Another stylistic change that I have undergone in the last year, specifically, is that I have been working on incorporating frames into my art. In the realm of record covers, this is a move that has been met with considerable confusion. Just about every time I send the art off to the label that is dealing with it, the response I get is something like, "do you want me to crop out the frame?"

I fully understand the confusion. We usually think of frames as being things that are used to present art. They are devices that identify visual space as art and cordon it off from the outside world. Because of the disruption of visual space caused by the frame, the abstract expressionists often rejected its use. It may have been a way of blurring the boundaries between the experience of art and that of other visual experiences. It may have been an attempt to separate that kind of painting from the pictorial associations of past art movements. It may have been an attempt to draw attention to the objecthood of a painting in contrast to its former role as mere depiction of something external to it.

With this understanding of the frame in mind, it makes sense that people would be unwilling to easily accept a frame as part of the artwork for an album cover. But that is why I first started using it. Years ago, when I first began trying to show my work in public, I started collecting odd frames to put the pieces in. Much later, I became interested in photographing xerox art in frames to cast them as three dimensional objects rather than as flat designs.

Another issue that came up in this work takes me back to the abstract expressionists, specifically Robert Motherwell. A few years ago, I was reading his collected writings and became very interested in a series that he referred to as "opens." I was lucky enough to see one in person in Grand Rapids MI (it wasn't my favorite, but was pretty cool nonetheless). These pieces are characterized by very large expanses of one color (there might be some with more than one color though) and very simple lines that start to outline a geometric shape, but then intersect the outside edge of the canvas. The result is an implied form that continues outside of the visual field and kind of opens the canvas up to continue out into the rest of the world. This idea was really interesting to me and its influence started to work its way into my work.

When I came up with the idea for this record cover, I think I pushed my ideas about what I was doing with frames a step further than I was able to achieve before. In the first image, you can see that the bottom edge of the frame is cut off. I intentionally did it that way because the bottom black line of the xerox art is supposed to function as a stand in for that fourth wall of the frame. The whole idea of that piece is an interaction between the image and the frame so that they both work together to complete the rectangle. The result, for me at least, is that, like Motherwell's "opens" the piece opens the cover of the tape out into the world by implying a continuation of the image outside of what is visible. But, more importantly, it sets up a dialogue between the xerox art and the frame. The frame is trying to contain the image, but it is unable to do so because the bottom of it is cut off. As a result, the xerox art piece (which is rectangular, like a frame) steps in to close off the image at the bottom. At the same time, the top, left corner of the image is left open. Therefore, it relies on frame to keep everything closed up nicely. Because the xerox and the frame both need each other to box everything in, it becomes obvious that the function of the frame has been radically transformed. It is part of the image rather than external to it.

If you look at the actual, proposed, cover art, the bottom of the frame has been photoshopped back into place. Now it is just a frame again. The art is the thing inside the frame. The frame is not part of the art. There is no reason to think about the purpose of the frame on the cover.

If the cover goes to print like this, we will all survive. There is no big problem. It just provided a really amusing opportunity for self indulgent thinking: maybe one that is only amusing to me.

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