I thought it would be intriguing to ask painters this simple yet complex question. This query comes with no ground rules—it’s up to each individual artist to find their own approach and direction.
This project will be an ongoing exploration … let’s see where it takes us.
What is Painting?
Featuring Matthew Choberka
“Bankruptcy, no; inadequacy, always.” ~ Gerhard Richter
I’ve been letting the WIP question sit with me for a while now and thoughts that seem maybe not much more than commonplaces arise and persist: that painting navigates a territory that is at once cognitive, intuitive, and physical; that it functions empirically, whether guided by observation, system, or hunch; and always that there is something singular and unique about painting. Even our diction indicates this singularity; we seem often as not to speak the word itself with a capital-P. Many of us take this uniqueness as self-evident, easily agreed on, and very difficult to substantiate, except maybe by pointing…
”see it? ………….THERE.”
In fact, this happened to me again in just these past weeks, stumbling upon a painter with whom I was not previously aware, in the middle of a large exhibition. There was quite clearly a “before,” and “after,” having seen this work. Something new was in the room, and in the world, because the paintings had been made, and because I had seen them.
But having written these lines, I am unsatisfied. I haven’t begun to get at what is really at stake, I don’t think. Which is a lot like making a painting, come to think of it.
How does a painting, down to the single mark, become a vehicle of our thought? And how is that content, untouchable and immeasurable, receivable by others? For me, the potential answers to these questions go far beyond issues of picturing, of images. I guess I believe that we receive paintings most importantly in ways that have little or nothing to do with how or whether they depict. Giovanni di Paolo and Tomma Abts, Rembrandt and Gerhard Richter, Sickert and Merlin James; all, to my eye, recognize and even embrace the impossibility of either controlling or abandoning picturing. They are involved in transactions, between themselves and their work, their works and the viewer, for which there is no accounting. Painters transmit, and viewers receive, all without out knowing how; all of us recognizing a highly contingent, imperfect(able) condition.
When thinking hard about these questions, no formulation is as resonant for me as one informed by a recognition of a “problematics” of painting. As a viewer, if I don’t find access to a kind of problematic criticality in a painting, I’m done. And as a painter, if I haven’t found my way into that mess, I haven’t even begun. Complacency and certitude seem really the same thing, and are for me antithetical to painting. Maybe painting is only fully itself when it embodies this sense of internal contradiction, where materiality, ideas, and recognition are there, and not there. When we experience coherence and continuity, only to sense, and be thrilled by, their slippage. My guess is that we keep painting, in our frustrations and even our successes, because of a whisper that something more is possible, unlikely though it seems that any of us will attain it. This something is always there, on that surface, a membrane between thought and action and feeling. Painting feels unique to many of us this way; the action itself is a place of profound possibility, where a new language can at any moment be established; one we didn’t even know we needed, until we see it there. Is it really defensible to think that this potential inheres in painting in ways somehow not found in other forms and practices? Of course not. And, yes.
Matthew Choberka, Some Time Ago We Talked, acrylic on canvas, 96″ by 72″, 2014
Matthew Choberka’s paintings and mixed-media works engage the instability and complexity of the contemporary world, by way of a serial approach to the image that hybridizes the languages of drawing and painting. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, with recent exhibitions at the Torrance Art Museum in California, galleryELL in Brooklyn, Governor’s Island Art Fair in New York Harbor, Raid Projects in Los Angeles, and Beaux-Arts des Ameriques in Montreal, Canada. His work is currently represented by galleryELL and by Beaux-Arts des Ameriques. Matthew lives with his wife Angela, daughter Olivia, and son Luca in Ogden.
The What Is Painting? Project – More Featured Artists