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September 19, 2014

Marc Handelman Rethinks Image Culture

Who:  Marc Handelman
Where he was born: Santa Clara, California
Where he lives now: Brooklyn, NY
Occupation:  Artist


What he is working on:

Right now I’m working on three interweaving projects –a series of oil paintings, watercolors, and an artists’ book. In this larger body of work I’m thinking about things like the illusory opposition or false separation between nature and culture, and the sense of Nature as something radically unstable, grotesque, ironic, queer, and non-self identifying. I’m interested in the very un-naturalness of Nature, its ever-mutable figurations, and way in which it so effortlessly naturalizes ideology. I think Art and especially painting are implicated in profound ways, both in how these beliefs, values, and desires have historically been given form, and also in how they might be questioned, or seen differently. I’m working with a range of things in this work –the phenomenal, embodied experience of light based images, stock imagery, 19th century floral painting, anthropomorphic botanicals, projection-screen glass, and corporate sustainability reporting.

Flower Head, Idyllic, Vertical, (Left) and Close-up, No People, Scenics, (Right), Watercolor on paper, 2014, Image, courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York, NY.

Do you incorporate elements of your environment in your work or does your inspiration stem from an imaginary landscape?

I often find material to work with in the things that I encounter in the environment around me. For example the last body of work I made was definitely influenced by living in an area with a huge marble industry. I’ve also made work drawing from the billboards above my old studio. But generally I tend to take most of my material from mass culture and image culture, and rarely from an observed location –it’s a form of reappropriation more than appropriation. But there’s a way in which by being remediated in painting, it has to pass through a different imaging process. It has to pass through a body and a subjectivity. It get materialized in different scales, and with different surfaces often with distortions, disfigurations, omissions, and different areas of emphasis. I wouldn’t call where it comes from imaginary, but rather it has to be re-imagined and is internalized and subjectivized. I would add that even our seemingly objective or routine views of nature or landscape are themselves governed by a kind of constructed and imaginary projection.

Dark Ecology, 2013, Oil and Projection Screen Glass on Canvas,
Image, courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York, NY.

It seems that some work is undergoing a degradation of some sort. Is this your intention?

In some works I make, the intention is really to keep the forms, surfaces, and delineations absolutely, even fetishistically pristine and ordered. I’ve also made works like you described where there seems to be a kind of degradation, entropy, or chaos in the image or with the material. On the one hand, I like to experiment with what happens to the image and its rhetoric when something unknown is introduced –an aleatory gesture, material incident, some kind of breakdown in the picture, degradation etc… One might think about these things as ways of contesting forms of authority, mastery, and power, and at times they can be. But I’m also highly skeptical about how the appearance of forces like these can so easily be taken as critical. Just think of all the recent advertising, hipster boutiques, and new bar aesthetics that use affects like distressed surfaces, patina, stains, and repurposed detritus as a way of inserting a false history –the latter being examples of techniques that mask gentrification. It’s about an affect of authenticity –be it aggression, or transgression, or indexicality. I’m really interested in the problems around these aesthetics, and my work often tries to complicate these fantasies about ruin and recuperation, or defacement and reification.

Tomorrow’s Forecast: Strikingly Clear., 2009, Oil on canvas,
Image, courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York, NY.

Can you explain why you choose to juxtapose prints and digital projections in some of your gallery shows?

I think you’re referring to works in a show I did in Berlin a few years ago. This was the first time I had ever made and shown these sorts of works on paper which were made with inkjet and watercolor. The same goes for the video projection. There was a kind of inversion of media here I guess. The prints were inspired by these creepy images from corporate environmental reports, so they went from a screen-based space to the physical page. The video projection was actually a translation of an artists’ book I made whose 700 pages were treated like a cross-fading montage of sequenced images. That wasn’t necessarily the intent to specifically juxtapose them in this way. But they are clearly linked by their shared mode of seriality and repetition and in the way the subjects, images, and information inhabit different medial bodies.

Botanical, or Towards an Image of Ethical Procurement, 2011, Watercolor and Archival Inkjet on Paper, Image, courtesy of RECEPTION, Berlin, Germany.

In your series, Geological Sketches, colors acts as indicator of place, or spatial awareness. What are you investments in “location”?

That’s a great question. I think each of those paintings functioned really differently. The color really acted as something that drew in or repelled the viewer. Some of those spaces were very flat, shallow or static, while others were full of movement and depth. The question of place with regard to color is more complicated. In choosing particular kinds of marble, I was going for something kind of heavy, foreboding, austere, and aggressive. I wanted them also to feel kind of generically modern. I was thinking about places like corporate lobbies, banks, and institutional architecture that register affective forms of power. But none of the marble paintings refer directly to specific architecture, or locations in the world. They are far more about an image than any actual location. I would argue that the same is true today in how actual marble cladding is used. Its function is to produce a generalized image-effect: solidity, stability, clarity, wholeness, totality, order…. These paintings were ultimately about the realness of affectivity. By contrast, a sense of “location” was very important in the Roman Empire whose various uses of marble were equally indicators of the reach of its trade routes and conquered territories, or later in the case of the Third Reich where the use of Roman travertine helped to mythologize a notion of imperial predestination.

MH-wild-5Geological Sketches at Home and Abroad, March 2011, Sikkema Jenkins & Co., New York, NY. Image, courtesy of Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

What is your next challenge?

I’m deep into the questions in this current body of work, so I am really just trying to bring these different projects that I described at first into a greater dialogue, and also expand the range of some of the formats and imagery. I’m especially thinking about this series of “Screen-Paintings” which use micro-sphere projection-screen glass and oil paint and produce these very contingent viewing experiences as they reflect back a shifting light from the surface of the paintings as the viewer moves in relation to them. The imagery in these works becomes more associative and less stable. I’m also continuing to work on this series of large watercolors that explore something like an analogue logic of stock-images from the 19th century. In this project, I’m looking at these paintings from the late 1800’s by Martin Johnson Heade. In roughly two-dozen of them, he features the exact same motifs! literally contour to contour –orchids, humming birds, buds, branches… I want to play out all these uncanny repetitions, overlaying them, juxtaposing them, folding the idea of the natural scene in on itself.

(not yet titled), 2014, Oil and Projection Screen Glass on Canvas, 62.5” X 43.5”, Image, courtesy of the artist.

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What is your WILD Wish?

That’s for the psychoanalyst!

text by: Michael Valinsky

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