Abstract Labor, or: The Happy Butcher
At a time when artists may work without obligation to medium, why choose the materials of painting? What does it mean for an artist to assume the role of painter today? And just what is at stake for a new generation committed to painting?
This exhibition, Joe Scanlan’s third at the gallery, presents new developments in abstract painting and studio practice as they relate to abstract labor, that is, the comparatively unencumbered task of preparing the materials for a work of art before authorship and anxiety set in.
Scanlan’s new works consider the illustrious role of the stretcher builder as butcher to contemporary painting. To paraphrase Samuel Beckett by way of The Brady Bunch, the person building the stretcher never worries about what to paint. This worry free attitude accounts for the undeniable freshness of Scanlan’s exhibition, and the slow smile it will likely bring on your face.
For Scanlan, painting is a means, not an end—a generative process rooted in the studio yet open and receptive to the world. With a fascination for the medium's many histories—especially the traditions of textile manufacturer and stretcher builder as anonymous craftsman—Scanlan’s new works freely pursue new vocabularies of abstraction and methods of making.
Questions of form and process find a more distributed context than ever before as Scanlan embraces an ever-expanding network of references and influences, including fine woodworking, laundry day, and alcoholism. Drawing into the studio aspects of bluegrass, furniture, literature, performance, meteorology, philosophy, and class, Scanlan filters his wide-ranging interests through the aesthetics of a job well done.
By engaging painting's history, conventions, and critical debates on their own terms, he insists that the role of the painter is open to interpretation and reinvention. Indeed, the simple repetition in the show's objects is meant to signal the term's fluidity, as Scanlan pulls apart, examines and reposes painting’s various meanings in our present moment.
press release gallery, 2013