In college I did a series of drawings/art-works that relied heavily on processes out of my control. I did things like freeze ice-cubes with ink in them, then let them melt on paper, leaving marks behind, or drip ink in front of a fan to be blown onto paper. In doing this I introduced a greater degree of mediation into the process, removing myself to a greater extent. I couldn't be as sure of the outcome, which bred uncertainty and excitement in me. Unfortunately I no longer have any of these works.
With the recent snow, I wanted to revisit the above-mentioned art making strategy. I used the process of melting or fusion as the primary means, coupled with gravity and capillary action, to move pigment and dyes around the surface of the paper and canvas I used. The consistency of snow will almost certainly produce different results than something like a cube of ice, in virtue of its voids and grain size. Snow has a unique porosity to it after sitting on the ground for a day and night and I wanted to incorporate this quality into the work. Snow isn't readily available year round so the pieces are unique in another way, namely the timing of their production. These pictures are constrained in ways by the seasons, temperature and moisture levels that art-works produced indoors aren't. Leaving them outside overnight meant that if the wind blew, a piece of canvas could be carried away and lost, and one was. This wasn't an issue with the paper though, as I taped it down.
As I made these pictures, which took on a nebulous almost stellar quality, I thought about the degree of my intervention in processes already in action. The snow was already melting, gravity was and is always pulling, the canvas possesses a certain inherent affinity for water. Then I come along and configured certain initial conditions and arrangements so that a causal chain was set into motion, the results of which I could only vaguely anticipate. This process prompted me to think about the fact that so much art is not different in kind as it is in degree from other art.
There are certainly unknowns associated with even the commonest processes, such as drawing with charcoal. I don't know when and if the compressed carbon will break or if the tape holding down the paper will shift and come undone when I'm erasing, I have to develop an intuition through re-visiting the experience over and over. Surely if I let enough snow melt with colors on enough occasions I would also develop an intuition for that process, producing more predictable results. I wouldn't say that developing an intuition, to an increasingly greater degree, would constitute bringing a process under my control. Rather cultivating an intuition results in a fuller participating with the forces already at work in the creation of something new.
When I make art, I almost always anticipate responses to it, this work being no exception. I could imagine someone saying something like "my child could do that," and in fact have heard this response to many pieces of abstract art in the past. In general I find that the aversion many people have toward abstract art is a product of unfamiliarity and fear of difference. I had the same aversion when I was younger and as I painted more I found a familiarity with the discipline's "vocabulary" growing inside me. Along with this emerged an acceptance of the fact that I couldn't always articulate (with words) the experience of a painting. So I've decided that in the future when someone suggests an "abstract" art work could be produced by his child I will say, "Of course! he is an artist too!" The sooner we develop the capacity to traffic in the inexpressible the better.
J0hn Hunter Speier
Recent work, and explorations of techniques, aesthetics and poetics.