THE SUBJECT OF PAINTING IS DEPTH
It happens that yesterday Flo and I went to a former synagogue on the Lower East side now housing paintings by the Abstract Expressionist, Milton Resnick. Resnick achieved some fame and some buyers in the 'Fifties and then lived on, an “impossible person” but immensely knowing. He'd been a close friend, a working associate of de Kooning and then lived on outside the focus of attention. A bio by Geoffry Dorfman is titled OUT OF THE PICTURE. I mention him now because I respect him and his work immensely and yet don't see how any of my thinking relates to it. I think his great paintings are accumulations of surface detail and do not operate to bring about any of the actions I consider valuable.
As a foot soldier in WW 2 he'd been through hell. As an old sick man he turned his service revolver on himself. His painting had become junk, illustrations of biblical claptrap complete with crucifixions but before that there was no descent into fantasy in his work, absolutely none and certainly not the illusions and near-illusions I've been after. Resnick spread paint on canvas -or jotted it on, some of them big canvases, taking many months. And I suspect he did no more or less than apply paint to canvas, thickly, corner to corner.
Paintings, in their lack of dimensionality, long for depth. We attribute that to them probably because we project onto them and then feel suffocated if there is no sense of an airy depth. Illusion of course! And only we among the animals paint.
A flat painted surface, a texture at most, reaches out to limiting borders on a skin held taut. Definitely a thing human-made, emblematic of human culture. A transformed if not decorated skin often with a quality of magic to it.
If we have modern expectations, we look at a painted surface for what it can do. We look at applications of viscous substances allowed to harden and then look on to see what it -the complete painting, the composition if you will- can do, teasing out perceptual or conceptual contradiction.
Will it enter the dimension of time by going through changes? it has no existence except in our perception, cannot achieve composition except as we gather all parts in mind. And then discover contradiction, purposeful or otherwise. Contradiction creates change, violent and instantaneous. Such contradictions must be planted, imbedded by the painter. Systems of depth signals evolve so that people of such cultures (with an interest in painting, in pictorialism to be specific) learn without realizing they learn.
And so a painting will be read, or so it seems.