Artist Statement

White Box (Venice Biennale 2007) is a series of twelve paintings, with two identical versions of six paintings.  Each painting has an individual cardboard box suitable for display or storage.  Each of the paintings is a black monochrome with an artist’s name in white, preceded by the indefinite article ‘A’ (or AN) in 18mm Arial font in text across the centre of each painting.  The six artist’s names incorporated in the paintings are the six Australian representatives at the Venice Biennale 2007.

One series of six paintings are to be installed individually at regular spacing and at a conventional viewing height on the wall.  Their corresponding storage boxes (open – with lid and base separated) are to be displayed below on a low level floor plinth.  The other six paintings (enclosed in their boxes) will be installed stacked in their boxes on a plinth.

The paintings are consistent in composition, format, paint, and paint application.  The supports for all the paintings are the same dimension Winsor and Newton readymade[1] canvases.  Similarly Mars Black and Titanium White colours (from the Winsor and Newton Finity Artist’s Acrylic paint range) are also used for all the paintings.  Using the same brush and application of the manufacturer’s paint ‘from the tube’ determined the low-sheen surface finish, texture, hue, tone, quantity, value, key, brilliance and so on of the surface of the paintings. 

The two colours used in the paintings (black and white) were selected to reinforce other aspects of ‘neutrality’ about the paintings such as the materials and the support.  As a ‘neutral’ mix of colours they overcome using a particular monochrome[2] to the exclusion of others.  Having the same colours for each artist avoids any deliberate reference to a particular artist.  

Each painting is reduced to the basic essence of a colour and an artist’s name, mimicking the temporary signage applied to windows or walls of art galleries to promote an exhibition.  The intention is for simplicity without deliberate or elaborate intervention and variation.  The standardised materials and defined processes simulate making ‘ready-to-make’ products to limit the subjectivity of aesthetic decision-making in the creative process and also allow for accurate (re)production. 

The commercial ready-mixed paint avoids the need to ‘skilfully’ mix a particular monochrome.  The process of painting and the painting itself is only what needs to be done, what is essential.  Process is used more to allow a repetitive and consistent production than remaining as a prominent aspect or subject of the completed painting.  The paintings are meticulously well-finished but without mastery or virtuosity.  The same brush (or in the case of AN ON 2004 – a paint roller) is used to evenly apply the paint with minimal surface distortion or irregularity. 

The computer cut vinyl letters when removed reveal the painted stencil areas (the artist’s names) with particular sharpness and clarity. 

In some respects all the paintings have a superficial similarity to On Kawara’s Today Series begun in the mid 1960s[3].  There is also a similarity in the way the paintings are governed by a set of limitations[4].  Yet clearly the paintings do not relate to Kawara’s preoccupation with time as registered in days, years and centuries.  The paintings are no more an ‘On Kawara’ than any of the other artist’s names that have been appropriated for the paintings.  Rather the paintings appropriate and use the art world generally, and particularly the context and function of the gallery for the display of paintings, as a medium[5].  This appropriation creates a new situation and a new meaning or set of meanings unrelated to the specific artists named. 

While copying or imitation are accepted for academic training (or as appropriation if mediated or disguised) the experience of a painting is expected to be original and authentic.  Authenticity is contradicted by the declaratory simple and direct appropriation of the artist’s name (and by implication their entire oeuvre) using a consistent format and ubiquitous Aerial font to avoid any differentiation between each artist.  Commercial and artistic notions of originality are undermined by the potential reproduction of an identical painting and potential repetition to order.  Paradoxically the aura of originality and authenticity supposedly lost through these acts of reproduction and appropriation are recovered through the same repetition.

These paintings are studiously artless and anonymous.  Nevertheless the ‘named’ artists in the paintings are instantly familiar to an informed viewer.  Normally the cultural status (and value) of painting is enhanced if it can be recognised as a painting by a specific artist.  The ‘name’ (and title) of each painting doesn’t really give any subject or meaning to the painting unless the viewer wants it to.  If anything it draws attention to the fact it doesn’t have any subject.  However it is intriguing how a title can evoke association and seem to have some sort of subject to the paintings.  Therefore, with the increasing commoditisation of contemporary art and promotion of these ‘brand names’, it seems appropriate for the paintings (as products) to readily adopt the advertising strategy of ‘hijack marketing’.

The paintings are based on a Minimalist aesthetic of extreme simplification, repetition and reduction.  Fulfilling only the minimum expectations of ‘painting’, each acts as a proxy for other (unknown) artwork(s) by the artist.  They allude to the ultimate abstract reductionism – an absence of anything visible.  The ‘content’ of each painting is reduced to a common denominator – only the artist’s name – but the artist’s name isn’t the subject.  This doesn’t mean they are meaningless.  In fact they are more open to interpretation than a painting restricted to a particular subject because they don’t exclude any meaning.  Neither is the painting about the materials, just as it isn’t about a subject.  It is a painting.  I attempt to articulate the continuing importance of painting amidst the increasing onslaught of mass media images.  As Chad Elias notes “the commitment to painting is not premised on a denial or affirmation of the end but on working through it.

[1] 305 x 406 x 38mm (12 x 16 x 1½ inches).  The term ‘readymade’ is not used in the sense of Marcel Duchamp’s description of works of art made from manufactured objects, but more as a choice to use ‘ready-to-make’ products.

[2] A prototype was ‘A Robert Ryman” with the grey paint sourced from England as the paint used on the Tate Modern walls (a Robert Ryman retrospective exhibition was held at the Tate in 1993).  The use of a particular material or paint as a ‘neutral’ monochrome in other work has included using oxide pigments as a natural colour rather than mixing paint to achieve an artificial hue, and using the paints used on various gallery walls.  Outline (Metro Arts Brisbane 2004) included three series of six paintings in each series.  One series was painted with oxides; one with the paint used on the walls of the Guggenheim New York (Frank Lloyd White): and one with paint used on the walls of local Brisbane galleries (Local Colour).  All the works in Frank Lloyd White and Local Colour were “white” although in Local Colour each was painted with a different brand of white paint.  When Local Colour was shown in Neo Minimalism (John Buckley Gallery Melbourne 2006) one of the paintings previously only painted with undercoat was repainted with the paint used on the gallery walls.  In addition to the use of generic and prosaic commercial paint, neutrality is reinforced by the use of the same size support for each painting to create a ‘neutral’ shape and avoid arbitrary decisions about shape and dimensions.  An early form of ‘monochrome painting’ termed grisaille first appeared in the late thirteenth century that generally employed shades of grey (the term derives from the French word ‘gris' for grey), executed in a black pigment (such as carbon based lampblack) and an inert white pigment.  

[3] Each of the ‘date’ paintings that constitute this ongoing series is a monochrome field on which is inscribed the date of the day on which the individual painting is executed, in the language and according to the calendar conventions of the country in which Kawara is in when he paints it.  If the painting is not completed on the day he destroys it.  Sometimes he completes more than one painting but on most days makes no paintings.  Each painting conforms to one of eight predetermined sizes all horizontal in orientation from 8 x 10 to 61 x 89 inches.  The artist mixes afresh a unique colour for every painting.  Colours have varied over the years from cerulean blue, clear reds to the prevalent dark tonalities of the spectrum in recent years.

[4] There are significant differences and contrast in the limitations and how they are applied.  However coincidentally when making the paintings it became apparent that painting the artist’s name needed to be completed in a day.  This was for practical reasons as the vinyl letters could be more easily removed on the same day they were applied while the paint was still soft and flexible.

[5] In many aspects the paintings simultaneously articulate a number of issues within the legacy of artists associated with Modernism.