Graham Hamilton

On vacation, my aunt asked, “why do you read all these things?” I was re-reading all of Maggie Nelson and Susan Howe’s My Emily Dickinson for the first time and also Flush by Virgina Woolf. I had found the thread again – the magical thread that seems to string itself through works guiding the reader from one thing to the next – inextricably connected. You pick it up and then you loose it, but for a while everything flows together like one lesson written to you. I had first had the sensation years ago, after college, when I had only really begun reading seriously, and then was amazed to hear Somerset Maugham describe it just as that – a thread. So this was a new thread and I hadn’t been reading this successfully in a while. But to my aunt’s question: I thought but did not answer, “Because it deepens my experience of life, because it is life, it complicates all of my experiences, adds a dimension. To struggle through some poetry or text opens the way you engage with all language – bits of stray or strange language in the street become playful and provocative – there is just more to look at this way.”

In school I became serious about art through art history, I think it was stimulating to see all that had been done, and in painting what had been litigated – the way the movements and styles emerged from each other – were successive. They were presented as proofs, or I perceived them as such, the evolution of modernism was appealing to me. I now think I was enticed by all of this trying – this doubting and proving, finding out how to do and what can be done in this strange material performance of philosophies. Raised in the church you knew what was and wasn’t permissible. In painting, in art, you had to play, to explore and redefine just that. Painting is in the world but not of it. I played in pastiche for a while and developed systems to allow me to move from one style to the next. I was confused by authorship, how to speak someone else, so I delved into fiction – reading. I wanted to see if I could understand the mechanics of literature and become educated as to how authorship could function similarly in painting. I wanted to paint not just as myself, just as this subjectivity, this person, and I knew that in literature this was accomplishable. I tried to mimic literary mechanics. I literally used literature in the works. I would mark the absence of direct communication by cutting large sections of text out of the paintings with a machine (The presence of the absence making the absence present). The first series of works ended up being a group of paintings describing their own becoming, like coming of age novels. They were chaotic and interruptive I think even for the viewer – they were generous and gentle too but they embodied a liminal space, not provided a suspended experience for the viewer.

Afterwards I thought that I would to try to express the other – another, by expressing myself explicitly. I turned towards the image and started working diaristicly, collaging images together like quilts. I was into flowers, buying and arranging them for the home and then photographing the arrangements and arranging the photos. I had a girlfriend, a wonderful influence, who wrote without hierarchy. Essays that didn’t progress towards conclusion but accumulated. Her works were like tabletops with an array of stones and objects arranged evenly across the flat plane. I wanted to work horizontally not vertically like the prior series and I didn’t want the front to back read that the cut up panels created. If the first series was about the novel – “here I am am I really here” then these works wanted to be about the essay and poetry “Never to be yourself and yet always – that is the problem.” I used checkerboard patterns and trompl’oi paper collage to formally demonstrate the way things could be different but sill share one plane. I saw Aruthr Jaffa’s “love is the message, the message is death” and i cried during and after. I thought about how affirmative that piece was- it gave a way of being and seeing instead of demonstrating the illness and problems in culture and people (its antithesis is Jordan Wolfsons “strawberry poser” because it does that – performs the negative register). The Jaffa piece gave me this phrase, this idea – an empathy based in difference. The film made black culture more separate from me but also more available, it emphasized difference not similarity, as a means to understanding. Again, later I read Jaffa describe in almost those words his goal for the piece. I was doubly amazed by Jaffa’s coup – to give the idea – the way of being and the words – through images. (“It’s a muscle that everybody needs to develop: the ability to see themselves in someone else’s circumstances without having to paint that person white, make that person straight, or a man. How can you see yourself in the other? That’s what it really come down to—empathy. I’m trying to make my shit as black as possible and still have you deal with my humanity.”)

So I am making paintings not moving images. My hope or them: I want them to formally embody difference. I want them to emotionally be possessed of sensitivity that is human, humane, which means giving, open, which is spacious – creates space. I want them to demonstrate a way of applying and receiving attention that is separate and special from the natural or social flow of time. Three of my favorite songs: “Sweet Baby James” James Taylor – a fiction and a lullaby – my mother sang it to me every night as a baby and into childhood. “Why should I love you” Kate Bush produced by Prince – the absurdity and valor of loving – choosing. And “Turning Time Around” Lou Reed “what is love? … I d have to call love time… love is time… turning time around.”  Painting is just the attentive application of time and that time stored in painting is a break in time. Maybe it’s the same turning: time / love / looking / attention all around, an object that acts like a subject that helps us to know us.