Originally inspired by the earliest printed typographic books, American conceptualist Mel Bochner uncovered a completely new medium for his painting in combination of velvet and paint, stepping lightly into a domain of kitsch. Plushy surface inherently exudes plastic luxury, kitsch and flashiness of the Elvis era, while alluding to the all-American dream with housewives and their homes. Simultaneously, the velvet makes a perfect unprepared canvas, proving itself an ideal material for Bochner’s linguo-painterly exploration. The marriage of the two worlds, the highbrow contemplative creation and the tackiness of the lustrous background, became an ideal container of the heavily layered Bochner’s work, rooted in Jackson Pollock’s Abstract Expressionism, concentrated on the meaning of the paint itself.
Going Out of Business! (and other recent paintings on velvet) is the new Mel Bochner exhibition, showcasing the latest body of work of the acclaimed artist, at Simon Lee Gallery in London, which hosted a big George Condo exhibition earlier this year.
Mel Bochner creates his paintings from a very conceptual angle, although painting is generally viewed as a traditional artistic approach. His concept lays in the exploration of the expressive potential of paint itself, an idea deriving from the Pollock’s post-war method. Similarly to the great master of Abstract Expressionism, Bochner allows much freedom to the oil color, relying on the pictorial aptness of its own chemistry. The ‘paintness’ of his works is contained in the fact that paint is not hand applied to velvet, but through a somewhat complex and unpredictable mechanical process. Initially, a computer-controlled laser cuts text into a thick acrylic sheet - an actual printing template. Subsequently, each word shaped hole is filled by up to a pound of oil paint by hand, separately. In the end, velvet canvas is pressed face down onto the printing acrylic plate, everything it placed in a hydraulic press, where vertical pressure of 750 pounds makes the permanently painted mark on the fabric. The creative process, although completely modernised, greatly resembles the woodblock printing of the incunabula, books printed before the invention of the moveable type. It's not entirely different from Warholian repetition seen in, for example, his Shadow paintings, but it has little hand engagement.
Despite the control of the template cutting, which is particularly precise, or the selection and arrangement of colors, a number of unpredictable effects is expected in the final result. Depending on the temperature, humidity, viscosity of the fluid and the pressure, paint will react with the material differently each time, where the bleeding fragments of runny color, around and in between the lettering, remind of the Pollock’s dripping, while the thick layers of paint give out a bas-relief impression. Once pulled off the matrix, the letter-shaped marks are left on the velvet, occasionally shocking, but always surprising to their creator. All of the unforeseen painterly effects conceptually affect the written text, alienating it from its original meaning, rendering it unreadable and thus questioning the inherent meaning of linguistic tools.
Going Out of Business! exhibition at Simon Lee Gallery London opens on October 14 and runs through November 14, 2014. Aesthetically leaning on typography, while conceptually delving into philosophy of painting, the works of Mel Bochner will present his newest studies in painting, concept and chromatism, for the first time after his successful London exhibition in 2012 at The Whitechapel Gallery.
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