Through Concentrated Breath

making images from memory

What Merits Reside in Complication

03 September 2017 by Rey Armenteros

Complication never assisted any form of art – but I simply can’t help it. When I make art, I not only shape the essentials of whatever it is I’m trying to draw or paint but I explore for details that create complications. I invent things, drawn objects that may not have a name because I only placed them in the image because it felt right, like some control box on a brick wall that has pipes leading away from it on the edge of an alley away from the real focus of the image: a figure holding onto a handkerchief weeping melodramatically. When I post art in my various online sites, I elaborate. I seek the longest path. If there’s a way to make things richer, the fascination of such diverse possibilities would lure me down that rabbit hole — the one that might eventually have my viewers scratching their heads to understand what it is I’m trying to say with my art.

But in my view, not only could a painting be complicated, it could show off a dozen textures, meticulous details that I incorporated that I had not identified (since I placed them in because they felt right rather than because they represented something). That one particular painting might then be related to several other paintings in ways that were obvious, to me. And so, I group them together hoping that the viewer can find the narrative thread between them.

Then, I might write about such work and use the opaque language of sincerity “to try” to get the right message across, rather than a pithy verbal point of connection that merely made sense. In recent descriptions of such images, I would use such terms as Shinchon Color and hellfire art, dark drawing and abstract landscape.

I don’t know what all these peripheral matters would mean to a prospective viewer, but as a working artist, I might be shooting myself in the foot. Successful art is nothing if not simple. It is the shortest path to the eye, and therefore the mind, and thus it had better be clear. If it is an abstract image, it should be nothing more than that. If is a portrait, then a portrait is what you should provide without adding a landscape and a still life in order to raise the idea of this triangle of connections.

It seems to me that such simplicity is allowed just one turn of complication. You have seen it a million times before where an artist tries to play with the idea of portrait or landscape without going too far out there; that one point of complication can still safely deliver a message while providing an interesting twist. For example, if you have an abstract painting, it can hide actual things inside of it that the perceptive viewer might look for. If it is a portrait, you can make it of an unknown creature that still retains the human qualities of attitude or personality. You only get that one break of the rules; more than that would get you into the dangerous waters of real complication, and therefore confusion.

When experts say that art is about communication and that clarity will grant success in an artistic endeavor, I understand exactly when they mean. But for me, there is no way around it. The lens through which I see the world is not a spyglass that you can twist to get closer or farther from an object but a kaleidoscope of visuals and the many ways in which they form a dire web in my thoughts. The questions I ask take apart the notion between my images. Does this one drawing of mine somehow feed these five other ones I made afterward? Do they allow the same concepts to materialize? Do these portraits or character studies represent the same people (people I had made up when just playing around with colors and ink) because they not only look similar but they feel familiar to each other? I thrive on such infinitely probing questions. It is exciting to me to negotiate paths into art that raises issues within itself. And I really don’t know how to do it any other way.

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