Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Day 25: Cave Painting

detail from Migration, Stephen Nguyen, 2008

"Any one who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light, which is true of the mind's eye, quite as much as of the bodily eye; and he who remembers this when he sees any one whose vision is perplexed and weak, will not be too ready to laugh; he will first ask whether that soul of man has come out of the brighter light, and is unable to see because unaccustomed to the dark, or having turned from darkness to the day is dazzled by excess of light. And he will count the one happy in his condition and state of being, and he will pity the other; or, if he have a mind to laugh at the soul which comes from below into the light, there will be more reason in this than in the laugh which greets him who returns from above out of the light into the cave."- Socrates, in Allegory of the Cave

I had a studio visit with Stephen last week. He is making large black wall paintings from floor to ceiling. The subject matter varies from tire treads running up the length of the wall, to birds smashing into the wall, to silhouettes of piles of metal or trash (it's hard to decipher which). They are smoky, with contrasting surfaces of hyper matte and high gloss. The contrast is what makes the image. Right now two of his walls are totally immersed in the darkness, but he plans to experiment with doing all four to create a space of total immersion- a "cave". Stephen has been working out various ways to make the viewer activate their eyes in relation to his work, filling in the "missing information" that he chooses to omit or obscure, for a long time now. The wall pieces seem to be taking the idea further and more completely.

As we were leaving his studio the lights were off and only the light from the hallway leaked into the space. These threads of light caught the glossy areas of the wall, surprising me by illuminating the treads and feathers more clearly than before. Everything else dropped away and these details were all I could see in the otherwise dark and depthless space.

Stephen's site

First Impressions, Judith Thurman, New Yorker, June 23, 2008

No comments: