Category Archives: Thursday Thoughts

Thursday Thoughts: Looking at Julie Mehretu’s “Mogamma II”

Mogamma II, Julie Mehretu, 2012, 180"x144"

Mogamma II, Julie Mehretu, 2012, 180″x144″ (Be sure to click on image and scroll through the amazing complexity of the marks)

The above image is the second of Julie Mehretu’s Mogamma, A Painting in Four Parts. These four paintings were created around the time of the Arab Spring and consist of a complex web of gestural marks and vector lines overlaying technical wireframe drawings of Al-Mogamma (a government building in Tahir Square, Cairo). Mogamma is also the Arab word for “collective.”

All four paintings hung together to give you an idea of scale.

All four paintings hung together to give you an idea of scale.

Like most art, Mehretu’s paintings diminish when not seen in person. Much of the meaning of her work lies in experiencing these complex images at their massive scale and being unable to take in their entirety at once. They read one way from a distance, but as the viewer approaches they must select a portion of the image to examine more closely. Because it is physically impossible to see everything at once, the viewer must slow down and allow their eye to explore and discover the painting. Each person will see something slightly different as no two people will examine it in quite the same way. As Mark Godfrey said, “viewers have to abandon the desire to fully master what they see.”

Mogamma II, detail

Mogamma II, detail

In writing about Mehretu’s work Richard Shiff said, “The culture is complex, contradictory, and commodious; for better or worse, it tolerates extremes of opposition, assimilating diverse impulses, nevertheless avoiding collapse. To navigate a hyperculture of this sort requires a hyperimage, a perspective far more complex than a map of eighteenth-century trade routes…” I think what I find so fascinating about Mehretu’s work is the way in which her paintings function as hyperimages that juxtapose our perspective of chaotic experience with the suggestion of an underlying order. Her paintings are models and metaphors for a way of thinking about culture and reality.

Mogamma II, detail.

Mogamma II, detail.

“I think architecture reflects the machinations of politics, and that’s why I am interested in it as a metaphor for those institutions. I don’t think of architectural language as just a metaphor about space, but about spaces of power, about ideas of power.” – Julie Mehretu

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Thursday Thoughts: A Community of Order

The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard

The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard. I highly recommend this book, not only to artists and writers, but anyone who is interested in living life with a greater sense of awareness.

“But how can housework be made into a creative activity? The minute we apply a glimmer of consciousness to a mechanical gesture, or practice phenomenology while polishing a piece of old furniture, we sense new impressions come into being beneath this familiar domestic duty. For consciousness rejuvenates everything, giving a quality of beginning to the most everyday actions. It even dominates memory. How wonderful it is to really become once more the inventor of a mechanical action! And so, when a poet rubs a piece of furniture-even vicariously-when he puts a little fragrant wax on his table with the woolen cloth that lends warmth to everything it touches, he creates a new object; he increases the object’s human dignity; he registers this object officially as a member of the human household… Objects that are cherished in this way really are born of an intimate light, and they attain to a higher degree of reality than indifferent objects, or those that are defined by geometric reality. For they produce a new reality of being, and they take their place not only in an order but in a community of order.

As anyone familiar with my work can attest, I have a deep and abiding interest in geometry and order However, that geometry can feel cold and empty. I am drawn to an ascetic and severe aesthetic of sharp edges and rigid rules. I can feel a lack of warmth in my work and all but my most successful pieces feel defined only by their geometric reality. This summer one of the professors in my graduate program pointed out that all of my work depicts from a distance. Everything is on a distant horizon, shown from an aerial perspective, or abstracted to a degree that it is seen only in diagrammatic terms. I’m not sure what to do with that information yet, but I’m becoming increasingly aware that distance in my natural posture towards both art and everyday tasks. Perhaps if I begin to approach the mechanical gestures of the everyday with that glimmer of consciousness I will find a more intimate reality. Instead of the cold distant order of the theoretical I can find warmth in a community of order. 

Detail of a recent experiment with Dura-lar and layers. Jacob Rowan. 2016

Detail of a work in progress experimenting with Dura-lar (a translucent surface) over paper. Jacob Rowan. 2016



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Thursday Thoughts: Art according to Hans Hofmann

The Search for the Real by Hans Hofmann

The Search for the Real by Hans Hofmann. I definitely recommend getting your hands on a copy of this book. 

“Creation is dominated by three absolutely different factors: first, nature, which affects us by its laws; second, the artist, who creates a spiritual contact with nature and with his materials; and third, the medium of expression through which the artist translates his inner world…The impulse of nature, fused through the personality of the artist by laws arising from the particular nature of the medium, produces the rhythm and personal expression of a work.”

It should be noted that what Hofmann means by “spiritual” should not be confused with the religious use of word. For him the spiritual is an emotional and intellectual synthesis of relationships perceived in nature, rationally, or intuitively.

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Thursday Thoughts: How Artists Change the World

David Brooks recently wrote in an article,

“We are often under the illusion that seeing is a very simple thing. You see something, which is taking information in, and then you evaluate, which is the hard part. But in fact perception and evaluation are the same thing. We carry around unconscious mental maps, built by nature and experience, that organize how we scan the world and how we instantly interpret and order what we see… I never understand why artists want to get involved in partisanship and legislation. The real power lies in the ability to recode the mental maps people project into the world.”

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Thursday Thoughts: Fitting into a larger society

“In the Japanese language, and thus in the society, a person is conceived of as a flexible and easily linkable dividuum, that is, as part split from and belonging to a larger whole. Everyone is educated to shake off the delusion of a separate individual ego, and to express supra-individual values… In contrast, the Western mind has tended to envisage the human being as a perfect and self-contained individuum (that is, indivisible whole) who should be educated to distinguish oneself from everyone else. We are encouraged to view the self as real, to discipline I and to express highly individual values. The desire to produce individual genius, a “superman,” has haunted all of Western history.”

Source: A really fascinating essay about the Japanese word “Ma” which deals with both the objective and subjective aspects of the idea of space.

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Thursday Thoughts: Logical Pictures

I recently came across this quote in an essay by Robert Smithson, “A ‘logical picture’ differs from a natural or realistic picture in that it rarely looks like the thing it stands for. It is a two dimensional analogy or metaphor. A is to Z” 

I realized that in my practice my primary interest is in logical pictures rather than representational work. Within that idea I’ve been thinking a lot about 3 categories: maps, diagrams, and notations.  A map records an overview; a diagram distills the material of an indefinite field into a logical set of terms or relationships; a notation is a form of symbolic representation or record. I’m currently working on a series of drawings to explore and clarify these distinctions. 

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Thursday Thoughts: Intelligence

On Creativity by David Bohm. I can not recommend this book enough.

On Creativity by David Bohm. I can not recommend this book enough.

To paraphrase: Intelligence is a kind of mental alertness, which is in essence a sort of perception. It is flashes of insight which are not merely a product of memory and training because in each case we have to see anew. It is an act of perception in the mind but is also of the senses, aesthetic, and emotional. It does not arise primarily out of thought.

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Thursday Thoughts: On Originality

“One prerequisite for originality is clearly that a person shall not be inclined to impose his preconceptions on the fact as he sees it. Rather, he must be able to learn something new, even if this means that the ideas and notions that are comfortable or dear to him may be overturned…It is impossible to overemphasize the significance of this kind of learning in every phase of life, and the importance of giving the action of learning itself top priority, ahead of the specific content of what is to be learned. For the action of learning is the essence of real perception, in the sense that without it a person is unable to see, in any new situation, what is fact and what is not…

…One thing that prevents us from thus giving primary emphasis to the perception of what is new and different is that we are afraid to make mistakes. From early childhood, one is taught to maintain the image of “self” or “ego” as essentially perfect. Each mistake seems to reveal that one is an inferior sort of being, who will therefore, in some way, not be fully accepted by others…Such a fear of making a mistake is added to one’s habit of mechanical perception in terms of preconceived ideas and learning only for specific utilitarians purposes. All of these combine to make a person who cannon perceive what is new and who is therefore mediocre rather than original.”

~David Bohm, On Creativity

Go buy this book and read it if you’re at all interested in the creative process. His observations apply to the entire spectrum of creative activity, from scientists to artists.

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Thursday Thoughts: T.S. Eliot Quote

T. S. Eliot had a theory about poetry, which he explained in an essay called Tradition and the Individual Talent. “Most of us,” Eliot wrote, “think of poets as people who express their feelings in verse.” He thought poetry was stranger than that. As Eliot saw it, poets were less like people and more like laboratories. “The poet has, not a ‘personality’ to express,” he wrote, “but a particular medium . . . in which impressions and experiences combine in peculiar and unexpected ways.” Within this medium, ordinary emotions are compressed together until they produce an “art emotion”—an emotion that doesn’t exist in ordinary life, and is available only through the poem. That’s the whole point of poetry: while we’re under its spell, we’re not ourselves, or anyone; we feel things no ordinary person feels. “Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality,” he concluded.

The above is quoted from a New Yorker article.

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Thursday Thoughts: Fame vs. Obscurity

With great success often come a loss of creative freedom. The famous artist suddenly finds himself in a place where he must keep being successful and must not deviate too far from the path that brought him to fame. The fear of failure, which is always present, becomes magnified by the size of the audience. His financial status becomes even more closely tied to the attention and respect he garners. There are many who have found both fame and satisfaction, but there are also many who have found fame a narrow one-way path with high walls.

Those of us who find ourselves working in relative obscurity, who have the privilege of walking an average path, should use our freedom to explore. It doesn’t take much to meet basic financial needs and the walls along our path are small and no one will mind if we foray into the untamed woods occasionally.

It often seems that even in the face of low monetary success that artists can find great creative satisfaction. Explore what you will and let the world decide who they want to notice and ignore. It matters little.

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