When I went to graduate school in the 1960s… I was faced with a dilemma… I was surrounded by ideas about art that I couldn’t identify with. I couldn’t identify with the practice of trying to decide what to put in a painting using a kind of intuition. Or looking at a painting as a vehicle for self-expression. It’s not that I looked down on that, or that I thought it was such a bad idea. It’s just that I wasn’t working in a manner that required that kind of behavior… Then I ran into a person who told me about a couple of books, which I bought and read. One was by the art historian Henri Focillon [1881–1943], called The Life of Forms in Art . The other was a big picture book on Tantric Buddhist art by Ajit Mookerjee [1915–1990]. In those books I began to find things that made sense to me in terms of art production.
[Focillon] had a Platonic perspective, that form was synonymous with number, with mathematics, with structure. And he said that form had a life of its own, had its own reciprocal fitness, had its own autonomous exigency..
This sounds like the tenets of high modernism. I don’t think it followed those tenets in talking about some kind of tautology or self-referential or self-reflexive apparatus. I saw it as a general critique of expressionism, which was central to my problem. I didn’t feel connected with the objects I was making, because when I made them, I wasn’t convinced that there was any connection between my motive to make something and the thing that I made. It just seemed arbitrary to me. I would see painters laboring in front of a painting, trying to decide whether a corner should be red or blue. To me it didn’t make any difference. It could be red or blue, you know? How can they feel good about a judgment that they make? On what basis do they establish this connection? And for the life of me, I couldn’t figure it out.
Focillon gave me the idea that you’re ultimately not the author of the object. You’re more like a vehicle of this realization without an author. With Tantric art I saw visual representation of the same idea. — Charles Gaines*
Sunday, November 3, at 3 pm.
Hauser & Wirth
901 East 3rd Street, downtown Los Angeles.
“Charles Gaines, January 31, 1995,” in ArtCenter Talks: Graduate Seminar, The First Decade 1986–1995, edited by Stan Douglas (New York: David Zwirner Books / Pasadena, CA: ArtCenter Graduate Press, 2016), 172–197.
See Gina Osterloh on Gaines’ Shadows series.
Charles Gaines—Palm Trees and Other Works, Hauser & Wirth, Los Angeles, September 14, 2019–January 5, 2020, photographs by Fredrik Nilsen. Images courtesy and © the artist, the photographer, and Hauser & Wirth.