Passengers: In this series, each painting began with a response to a particularly insistent memory. Denon 6, ’76, for example, refers to the gallery in the Louvre that houses the Mona Lisa (Denon 6) and the year in which I first visited the Louvre and approached that wonderful and exhausted portrait, 1976. The River was inspired by my recollection of a funny episode featuring my father in about 1963.
Realizing that memory has informed all of my work, I began looking into some recent research on the subject. Every discipline has its own idiosyncratic vocabulary; in the case of memory research the vocabulary includes, for example, field memories, observer memories, engrams, cues, and encoding, along with many other terms with which I am slowly becoming somewhat familiar … and trying to remember.
In response to certain intense memories (so-called 'flashbulb' memories), after an initial quick sketch, I draw on the canvas with pencil and then with broad strokes of black paint. The drawings are spontaneous and intuitive – rather like the standard art school exercise of making a gesture drawing of the human figure, but in this case without the physical presence of any model.
The black drawings give me a tentative graphic “hook” upon which to build a painting that explores the formal and intellectual concerns with which I have been preoccupied for many years: flat and three-dimensional space; spontaneity and intuition versus methodical orderliness, the achievements of Modernism, and other issues that I have discussed in statements attached to previous bodies of work. Drawing these graphic shapes simply takes me into the theatre of work (the canvas) where the resulting shapes and colours make no overt reference to memories or to anything beyond the perimeters of the canvas. The black graphics are the bones of the paintings.
These works and their titles however, unintentionally have become agents of additional complex encoding of certain memories. Like it or not, I am constructing new cues for the retrieval of certain more complete memory narratives. Perhaps I am stocking the pantry against future need.
David Newkirk, fall 2014