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Lisa Rock & Sam Carr-Prindle: “Splitting Image” at Some Walls, Oakland, April 7, 2012 – May 27, 2012
Lisa Rock and Sam Carr-Prindle are painters with separate studio practices who also share an ongoing collaboration in which both make paintings based on a non-representational drawing or collage either of the artists produces and both agree to work with. While the resulting paintings, which would commonly be labeled abstract, share certain characteristics—image, shape, color—each artist inevitably applies her or his own sensibility and touch to the painting’s process, surface, and edge; the resulting works aren’t duplicates or copies, but rather something more like fraternal twins. Since the paintings produced are based on a shared source, they are not really abstract but are closer to representational, though they are not attempts at reproduction or realism; that is, both artists work from the same given source, and each painting attempts a translation, interpretation, or painted representation that resembles, but doesn’t reproduce, the source.
It’s not uncommon for artists to work from the same source at the same time; anyone who has worked from a model or still life in a studio, or has ventured en plein air and shared a landscape, knows this. But it’s much less common—in fact, surprisingly, no precedent comes to mind—for two abstract painters to share an absolute, single source in order to each produce an independent painting. Certainly, there are many artists who produce paintings that share certain characteristics and imagery with those made by others, though this is more in the realm of influence and emulation. But to intentionally share the same source, as Rock and Carr-Prindle do, is unique.
There are of course precedents for duplication, but these are quite different from Rock’s and Carr-Prindle’s case. For example, Robert Rauschenberg’s well-known pair of nearly-twin 1957 combine paintings, Factum I and Factum II, are of course produced by the same hand. Bernard Piffaretti makes abstract paintings that are divided down the middle; on one side he makes a painting, usually rather gestural, and then does his best to duplicate it on the other half of the canvas. This approach allows him to paint just about anything he wants, since his art’s main idea is based on replication and its success or failure, not in the single image. Of course, there are many examples in history of painted copies, some by students or apprentices in workshops or studios, and some by the original artist; Clyfford Still painted copies of his own work, and Giorgio de Chirico is know for practically cannibalizing is oeurve, but an extreme example is now known from the recent revelations about how the Prado Museum’s copy of the Mona Lisa was likely made by someone working next to and following Leonardo’s process during the making of the original. In painting, however, given the variation in medium, tools, and individual ability, we will never see the level of literary replication achieved in the version of Don Quixote produced by Jorge Luis Borge’s character Pierre Menard.
The pairs of paintings by Rock and Carr-Prindle under discussion are actually quite different from each other, similar to how various musicians or singers will cover the same song differently; consider the differences in texture and impact of Buddy Holly’s recording of his song Not Fade Away against The Rolling Stones’ version. Rock’s touch is painterly, with brush strokes and soft edges, and her layers of paint and buildup of strokes show her in search of the image, drawing in mass and shape. Carr-Prindle’s paint is even and flatter with firmer edges, and his process is more premeditated with a graphic-like quality. Seen together, the different approaches are striking. Rock’s version of Happy Recalcitrant contains a shimmery, blurry field of indeterminate depth on which a shaky, two-fingered, yellow armature is improvised and leaned together, while Carr-Prindle’s presents a precisely constructed and stable version of the yellow armature on an even, gray field. In Untitled (pink), Rock’s stack of multi-colored, boulder-like shapes settles into a somewhat expected and believable feeling of pictorial form and gravity, yet the sense of space and layers of Carr-Prindle’s stark, planar, silhouetted shapes, though crisp and orderly, is ambiguous and unsettled. Family resemblance compels comparison and contrast. An initial sense of sameness turns to close looking and double takes. An uncanny, resonating twinness gives way to strange yet significant difference, ultimately revealing each work’s individuality. We find that a common source does not lead to a common art work.
Within the project’s context, and during simultaneous exhibition, the finished pair of paintings give rise to a number of interesting ideas about artistic production, originality, quality, and cooperation.
For example, consider an artist’s search for imagery and subject matter: Which matters more, what one paints, or how one paints it? Is one idea or image as good as another? How much do artists trade in ideas or images, and what is the balance of the two? If an artist’s focus is on ideas then perhaps how it’s expressed or communicated—painted, printed, projected still or moving, performed, or using words—matters less. If the artist is a painter, and that medium is primary to the artist’s work, aren’t ideas ultimately in the paint? Willem de Kooning, whose work shuttled back and forth between abstraction and figuration, said, "In art, one idea is as good as another," and also, "It’s really absurd to make… a human image, with paint, today, when you think about it… But then all of a sudden, it was even more absurd not to do it." In other words, why shouldn’t a painter do this or that, and remain flexible and adaptable and open to suggestion?
The conditions of Rock’s and Carr-Prindle’s collaboration questions notions of originality and authenticity: What does it mean for artists to share and copy a common image? Although artists want to claim originality, most ideas and images are received, so given one or the other the artist will typically attempt to make it one’s own. Personal taste, sensibility, age, ability and other factors will affect the use of an image or idea and contribute to meaning, so the place of idea and image may be secondary to medium. Artists can’t always identify or control their work’s ultimate and various subjects, content, or meaning, and in the long run they can’t control their work’s relationship to that of other artists. Art’s use and standing is arguable, fluid, and mutable. Art operates in the domain of openness and arbitrariness, social situations and influence, accident and reaction, reflection and iteration, and even the absence of choice. Overarching intention can shut down dialogue; instead, honest, unconditional, and agreeable exchange can extend art’s reach, touch, affect, influence, and communication. Rock and Carr-Prindle confront this head on by accepting idea, sharing image, and focusing on painting. Evidenced by their individual and collaborative work, both artists here maintain a high degree of exploration,
Given two contemporary paintings based on the same image, how do we know which is the better painting, especially when each artist has a different material approach? Perhaps it comes down to personal taste: one viewer likes brushwork and more paint, and another prefers a flatter, cooler approach. It’s likely that these two collaborating artists don’t even think competitively; there is no race to be best. In the project considered here, judgment of aesthetic quality and success is circumvented and suspended, instead turning assessment into a case of difference—each artist’s performance and production—and dependence—the similarity of works by two artists hanging in proximity, establishing affinity, gurgling individuality, co-exiting peacefully. This is an interesting and potentially fortunate situation in which an artist can operate: making and exhibiting one’s work within a context where failure is moot and dynamic exchange is imminent.as long as the two works are exhibited simultaneously. Recognition that the artists have cooperatively exercised conceptual foresight and providencethat ensures meaning and life for their art is compelling, even if unplanned.
Lisa Rock’s and Sam Carr-Prindle’s joint project is a demonstration of friendship, trust, and generosity. For many, and perhaps especially artists, setting aside one’s specific interests and direction to work collaboratively is not easy; the idea of collaboration is a sign of rapport, but the continued act itself is unselfish. The context in which these two artists have chosen to operate beyond individual studio work locates social acts within art. Engagement in joint process, production, and exhibition is an affirmation of alliance and solidarity, empathy and support, commitment and reliability.