Mixed media, collage, assemblage. I appreciate that when the work leaves the studio it belongs to the space it inhabits and to those seeing. However, the work for me, is simpler - these are paintings. The substrate is taped together which I understand is where the viewer can attribute a number of technical headings. It is a surface on which to paint - cobbled together neatly and with an abstract structure in mind. Yet, it is just a surface.
Our time. Moments of holding shit together, in any way we can. Watching things falling apart in front of us. In real time. Everything fragile and at the same time shockingly strong. The structure of my work is based on a 1930's book, still in fine condition - holding together, hand made by grandfather.
The point here - we are using what we have to communicate our anxiety, concern, desperation, horror or for that matter the exact opposite. Our joys, reverence, a sacred view - all of it fleeting, transient and impermanent.
My work is strained, fragmented, the material holding. At the same time, how long will the center hold? My thinking is- it is not holding - at least the center we thought we knew is not holding.
We now witness a particular type of first in our relationship with social media; constant minute-to-minute violence, death, blood, masses of concrete rubble, individuals, flesh, murder and destruction. The "most", in the shortest amount of time, in our experience of modern warfare. Perhaps most shocking in all of this, even beyond the agonizingly relentless images is, - no mercy.
And with this I am continuously brought back to Avalokiteshvara who hears the cries of the world. I don't know how much more Avalokiteshvara can actually withstand, how much more can be held? What we are being taught by social media is a type of fact. If we are paying attention, we see that this reality has been going on infinitely, for many people, in many places. Not only must there be a ceasefire - but we must acknowledge that the horror we are witnessing now, in Palestine, is one of the greatest teachers of this lifetime. It is a monumental cost for all of those teaching us; lineages of families, all ages, gone in seconds. As of today 28,000 individual lives in four months - -. The center is barely holding. Perhaps it is only Palestine that is keeping it together.
North American Censorship
The horror of this time continues to leave me speechless. For me, words cannot begin to express what I am feeling and thinking. That does not mean I am saying nothing, but it seems that my visual work is shouldering the responsibility. A recent discussion I had with someone in the "art world" stated to me, their reality, that some gallerists are looking closely at artists Instagram and websites; choosing not to show work based on what appears to be artists' political leanings. Censorship. Not necessarily of work but of the individual who makes the work.
Protest and censorship come in many forms - Modern artists faced the label of "Degenerate". Nancy Spero's war paintings, Leon Golub's Mercenaries all "questionable" at the time of their creation. Artists now exiled for their work, living in the US and around the world in places seeming to be less and less tolerant of free speech.
Personal liberation is at the root of the work; either the tone of the work strikes or the expectations that arise in the mind of the viewer complete the work---sometimes both.
As some reading this are aware, I am from Chicago, and I often describe it as a place that "made me who I am". Among the most sage teachings - and there are many from my hometown - is that one needs to "pick a team". You pick your team, you remain loyal, and you're in it for the long haul.
This does not mean you are disrespectful of the players on the other team. You have friends on both teams -- but when the rubber meets the road you don't switch allegiance. It's the Cubs or the Sox. You are recognized by the city park you are from, your community parish, the bar across the street, or the major cross streets where you live. That is your identity. There is a certain degree of simplicity with this and there is also complexity. You have your independence - you do your own thing. But - the core of who you are, your ethical compass, comes from your community. Ultimately, whether it is literal or otherwise -- you are taken care of by "your place". When the shit hits the fan, your response is in the fiber of who you are and all those who contributed -- good or not. You are held by it. It is your innate sense of direction. Knowing when to walk away and when to stand strong in support of what is right. It is your balance.
If you are quiet long enough you can feel that steadiness in your solar plexus when you stand, when you sit, when you walk. A combination of ancestors, your lived experience and your current environment. Your mind and heart are cradled by this. It is a basic goodness - a free will - and with that you pick your fucking team.
Every day sentences emerge about our current condition. It is "our" condition. From there the work arrives.
If you are not responding in some way to this time, you are complacent to this horror and you are agreeing to this condition. You have given your consent.
If you are an artist, you are particularly remiss in your lack of response, because the visual world is dominant, and this is your work. Humanity is your work. The humane is your work.
Full Circle, Full Spiral
When have we come full circle? Is it important to recognize? Does it happen for everyone? Who tells us? Can we see it ourselves?
“Keep your actions faithful”. A Buddhist teaching that I felt most deeply when I found out that it was written above the entrances to Enrique Martinez Ceyala’s studios by his hand. The action of writing that alone is a teacher. Fast forward to this moment as I read letters exchanged between Ernesto Cardenal and Thomas Merton – then back to a few months ago to see my dearest friend of 40 years point out to me that I have gone “full circle” – she does this by sending me a photo of a work I created in the late 1980s. What she points to is absolutely and deeply true, something only she would see. I begin to trace the path.
And now my arrival to Santa Fe; which year? ’80? ‘81? ‘82? Years..., ok, ... 2022. An important understanding has been opened and closed. “Closed” in this case means sealed. It has sealed who I am. The proverbial conversation or promise or both with my 18-year-old self.
The conversation was initiated in order to pick up where I had closed the door. Why close the door? Because there needed to be a retreat. And there was for 20 + years and then --- now --- all the teachings of that time and all the teaching I have done brings me to a particular clarity. This is a simultaneous return and continuation. It is old and new. It is my roots, my honesty, and for some, will be an unknown. For those who have not known the history of my work; "full circle" is true --- or perhaps it is a full spiral - as Webster would define it: "winding around a center or pole and gradually receding from or approaching it".
It is in some way a comfort to rest in the once closed and familiar personal space(s) that I left many years ago.
The retreat was necessary, and equally necessary is the return.
Note: On the Joan Mitchell Fellowship 2023
I was deeply honored to be nominated for a Joan Mitchell fellowship this year. I would offer that whether one is nominated for a fellowship or receives one, it is a game changer. At least it was for me. The nomination clarified a litany of things.
Three simple things are below:
The first and the most important was feeling a difference between acknowledgment and recognition. It is a paper-thin veil that separates the two that is for sure. However, there is a difference. Suffice it to say, I easily can favor acknowledgment. The nomination acknowledged my work. There are many extremely powerful artists in the world making very captivating work; I do not need “the world” to recognize that I am doing my work – the acknowledgment of my work by the establishment (let’s not choke on that term; instead accept it for what it is) is sufficient. The recognition through publicity, the monetary award which is immensely helpful and gratifying, and the expectation of what work is to come is a chapter in making that I realized, for me, felt restrictive. It is a performance that at this point I do not want to do. To my surprise, a weight was lifted when the awards were announced. I go back to work, albeit restricted financially, but in some ways that seems like a small price (sorry for the pun). This makes me aware that I am, perhaps, a different generation of artist.
Recognition, for me, can nurture a notion of lack. The acknowledgment is a nod that is softer quieter and full. The truth of why one makes work is challenged by a nomination like this. What is your greater purpose? What is the longevity of work? Receiving a fellowship cannot help but affect (and effect) one’s production. Money and the “luxury” of the field are likely to alter something about what one is doing. We all see those who received recognition and end up succumbing to a type of making that is different than what the artist was originally recognized for.
Secondly - timing. My work currently is not within the stream of a popular trend. It could be said, easily, that my work is currently very unpopular. This is clear and obvious and there is nothing wrong with that. It is all timing. Ultimately, History makes the decisions.
And finally, I cannot underscore enough, the beauty and poignancy of the artists and work that have been chosen this year. The award takes an incredible financial load off of artists’ shoulders; we know our “out-of-pocket” over the years is enormous. And perhaps even more so, the sacrifice of what we have done without, that severely restricted the making of our work.
There is some sort of learning curve in all of this that I feel, more than I can articulate. Ultimately it has something to do with resting in the awareness of acknowledgment; a type of seeing that is not necessarily spoken of but is of a type of quiet appreciation for which I am very grateful.
Found Notes from Planning "In the Garden in the Distance"
As I am getting ready for my next show - to be named, I came across these ideas from In the Garden, in the Distance. I like them.
A Conscious Stream on the Path of Abstraction
I didn’t think often of my childhood. Now, as I am older, it slowly unfurls. Nostalgia - pieces of memory and questions. What makes me who I am at this time? I never had time before to consider…. Who does when they are trying to survive in their teens, twenties, and on?
I am finally allowing the cradle that surrounds me to be, let go. How does one acknowledge and discuss a relationship with the energies of those who have passed/past? Agnes Martin, Ad Reinhardt, my grandfather; did Agnes Martin teach me how to engage with all of them? Or has the cradle given permission to find these energies…? Thomas Merton, D.T. Suzuki, his museum in Kanazawa, Japan….
Where have I landed? I have not. Instead, I float continuously between small spaces – moving between an austere and minimal upbringing by an immigrant family and the influence of Eastern philosophy and practice. This is woven together by a golden thread of fine art education that began at age 11.
Where does that leave my life’s work as an artist? It leaves it right in the center of Abstract art’s earliest European and American roots; combined with a desire to identify a visual language that conveys a spirit or a truth or both.
It rains lightly as I write. I hear each drop of rain on the aluminum roof. Every single drop takes its turn and then moves on to its new home and form. Here, the place I have lived for 20 years is a pink morning, cool for the first time in weeks.
I am last in line to hold and acknowledge your blood and to speak your names with understanding. In the Garden, in the Distance embodies the spaces in which I exist. Abstract art, a practice of symbols – a different language – which, realistically, is what often frustrates a viewer – not understanding the language that is being presented.
The most useful definition I have heard for abstraction came from the painter Robert Motherwell who quotes his teacher, mathematician, and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead. Whitehead talks about abstraction as the residue of the essence of things.
This rings true. In the 21st Century Abstraction takes many forms – at the same time the root of circles, squares, triangles, rectangles, etc, combined with color, shapes and forms, repetition of units, and monochrome and their inherent properties are what make such a diverse language and yes, the language sometimes needs to be translated for those who do not speak it – because the language has meaning - all abstraction has meaning. The more one studies the language of abstraction the more one understands.
And that is where one begins to enter through the simplicity of line shape and color (layer 1). Surface (layer 2) when and where the work was made (layer 3).
Time, place experience. In some ways exceedingly personal in others universal. What is that balance?
What is the balance of symbol and a material of shape and form that communicates the story and how does one choose that language? The visual language of art. For me it has been a way to offer a personal unknown that ultimately manifests as one view of our lived experience the specific made universal.
In the Zen tradition, all bodies moving in unison are one body. We are one body. Abstraction is a common language square, triangle, square, color.
In the Garden, In the Distance as a phrase floats on its own. We attach the meaning based on our lived experience. It is an abstraction until we engage with the possibility of its meaning.
What is present and familiar may also be obscured by time and memory.
The New Website
It is August. Shockingly. Record heat in many places in the world. Santa Fe a bit milder, but testing us all just the same. For quite some time, I have been thinking about further simplification of my studio practice. Is that possible? Always. Some aspects are visible, others not. This is a reaction to the oversaturation of media in general and the self-importance that many artists are rolling around in.
...Perhaps, another post in a month or two of a list of things that led to this realization. Until then. Here it is, my new website on Google. Who knew?.. Fast, furious, simple - no frills. Three pages. First page: only four images of my current work. Instagram, which I do greatly appreciate as a studio tool and curate carefully, documents my regular studio activities. A bit of commentary to support the work, if someone wants to understand more theory and personal thoughts, is available there.
Second page: general statement on the work, artist statement, and abbreviated CV.
Last page: You are here - looking at my studio notes. There are many. Over time, I will add those that seem to be most relevant from the other website for those who want to do the deep dive.
The entire "old" KiesslingPainter.com website? What about that? I will shut it down and hold onto the content for reference.
I do believe visual art is visual - one must sit with the work. And any thing - any form, can be understood by any one if time is taken. All visual work can speak for itself. The viewer only needs to take the time to look and listen with sincerity.
Single Pointed Emptiness: You’re Not an Artist
It’s morning. Grateful that we have had water on the mountain. I am wrapping up “The North” and getting ready to leave for New Mexico. It is time to return. Being on the mountain, making work, and connecting with folks here for the last few months is more than enough. Studio work is always primary. More now, than it has ever been because it is full-time. It was always a trade, a decision, a balance. Any and all sacrifices are worth making to make work. Most things are not sacrifices. If one is doing what they love — nothing is a sacrifice.
All this to say less was always more for me. Fewer people, fewer words, less self. Four artists and what they taught me come to mind. Teachings embodied; deeply, daily – as I walk into the studio.
Patrick Dougherty; I heard him speak years ago. Someone in the audience asked about what makes success or failure in art. I just remember the deep intensity of his response. People who did not “make it” or “continue in the field” “did not need it enough.” Michiko Itatani; many of her words occupy the mind space in my studio. Perhaps the most simple and poignant for me to hear as a young painter was “The only thing you need to be an artist is a room and a hot plate.” 40 years later, this, more than anything informs the truth of my practice. Enrique Martinez Celaya who I often mention. Among his most important teachings was managing expectations. This covers a lot of territory of course. In my mind, the most important is the “trappings” that we think are necessary to make work and the reality of what is crucial in the making of work — I would offer there is a vast difference there. This is supported, by another important influence, Nancy Spero, who when speaking about her early work, in particular, the War Series, talked about making the work in her kitchen after her boys were asleep because the work was visually disturbing for them.
There are so many people in the field; artists, curators, critics, historians, gallerists, etc. who think they know the way art should be made and presented – the white cube, etc. Ultimately, none of that matters. This is similar to the belief that a “good” meditator can meditate under any condition. I believe this applies to making work –cut through the romantic notions. The single-pointed vision. Working on the kitchen table, in a barn, in a coffee shop, outside, in the bathroom, in a big studio, etc. it all works. Just as long as we don’t believe we are artists or that we are making art. We’ll be fine.