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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Studio Visit

A few weeks ago I made the drive up to Chatham, NY to visit my old friend Peter Acheson. He's a painter who has steadfastly pursued the unravelling of a complex legacy of abstract language, that lies at the feet of all painters. Unravelling, as in untying, so that he might be freed from it, also un-tidying, since modern abstract painting has become an overly tidied room, void of essence.

I remember Peter in drawing class, freshman year. His works were gentle, and persuasive. He didn't seem to be interested in big graphic statements.

In fact most of Peter's works are small, some are canvases, but most are wooden panels or boards that measure less than twenty four inches on a side. Many are indeed tiny, four inches by six for example.

             P. Acheson, oil on canvas 11" x 9"
Peter's language has been remarkably consistent in a way that it seeks refinement, or detachment from ego, throughout his life. He has never intruded on another artist's space with a version of his own.

So I was axious to see his new paintings. I'd seen some on Facebook, they were painted in swirls of color, blending one into the other, like weather on the Solarian Sea. The Solarian Sea? Let me explain.

Peter and I are both fans of Tarkovsky's great film 'Solaris', which features a sea, a bizarre swirling, ever changing weather system, on the surface of an alien planet, that seems to be alive, and intelligent.

Astronauts who visit the space station hovering over the planet's turbulent surface, find their dreams become real, their fantasies come to live with them, the dead return to haunt their lives with no memory, and their most bizarre fantasies take material form, as if the 'sea' were reading them, and delivering material conformity after their thoughts.

'Solaris' takes notions of scale, and intelligence, and definitions of 'living' and 'alive' and turns them upside down, literally, as all humans who visit the eirie ghost-ship locked in post-Soviet suspended orbit, experience their innermost thoughts made physical, and real with bizarre 'visitations'.

The small canvas pictured here, entitled 'Burchfield/Birchfield', suggests a visitation by dead figurative artist Charles Burchfield, and implies that the deceased project posthumously into the living, in this case Charles Burchfield through Peter, as a field of birches. Need we dwell on the image of River Styx?

The idea of an alien super-intelligence able to re-animate past lives, is an wonderful concept, one I've always embraced. It would be 'molecular tracking', and re-assemblage, on a monumental scale . . . and yet the one thing our universe doesn't seem to lack, is scale. We cannot rule out such possibilities.

What it does lack, are spots where a piece of it, reflects the same laws that make the whole thing. Split a kitchen into bits and you may end up with a piece of a bowl rather than the chef's notes. Modern physics insists that the laws are the same everywhere, though some are calling this notion into doubt.

To say otherwise would be to claim that the universe is 'uniform', and that every 'piece', by reflecting the laws that made the whole, are in some way all you need to get back to the whole.

Such 're-constituteable bits', something holographic and so of its essence that it allows an 'unpacking', a little like decompressing a large file after downloading it from the net, must by necessity, be rare.  I couldn't help but notice the similarity between Peter's work, and Tarkovsky's, in Solaris.

So, ideally, to experience the Solarian Sea, one has to dip one's children into it, staying way the hell away as an artist . . to see, what is there. What one pulls out are egoless records, slices of what goes on, when mind disperses into the vastness of something greater.

No mind.

                                                                fr. 'Solaris', Andrei Tarkovsky

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