Eli Bornowsky is an outstanding fellow, he can always be found at his studio delicately painting perfect circles. Once I walked in on him wearing this goggle/light contraption and a cape… yes a cape. Let’s just say Eli is a really interesting guy and I’m happy to share with you our brief conversation about art.
I’ve been reading a book about the work of Kenneth Noland and cant help but make a few connections to you and your art practice. I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but I find that Noland’s preoccupation with “the relationship of the image to the containing edge of the picture” reminds me of what you’ve been focusing on with your circle paintings this past year. I also draw similarities between your vibrant circle palettes to Noland’s highly sophisticated and controlled color vibrations that harbor such emotive responses. Eli when did you start the circle paintings, what lead you to use these shapes and how long do you intend to stay with them? How involved is your connection to color, and could you speak a little about the process of laying down the paint?
It’s True, within Noland’s Work I relate to his use of geometry as a generic underlying structure upon which one can apply color. The basic geometric forms solve a lot of structural and compositional problems and one is able to concentrate on the relationships between colors. This is a very musical concept. Artists are free to do whatever they want with their work, but freedom isn’t very useful if you have to start from scratch every time. The geometric structures are meant to support my intuitive and improvisational work with color, but I’ve realized that the immanence of the mind has it’s own structural integrity (not to mention spirit). In the end, the choices we make come from this place. If this is true, then geometry, however useful, is a device that I may abandon in the future
As you can see from my recent work, the framing edge of the canvas is less interesting as a dynamic compositional device and instead meant to emphasize the discrete nature of the picture object. I started making these dot pictures because I had seen Islamic geometric design on my travels and I was impressed by the affinity my work had with its optical operations. Of course I couldn’t just copy, I needed to invent my own structure. These 4 x 4 dot squares really worked.
When I started using color it was because I needed shapes that touched one another but that were also delineated and separate from one another. Color was the obvious solution to this problem. Of course it didn’t take long for color to become a major concern of mine. One day I realized that I could see yellow. I actually saw it, with my body and my mind. It was astounding to think I had perceived yellow all this time and only then did I actually recognize its specific quality. I consciously acknowledged the sensibility of yellow. It was not lemons, or traffic signs; it was yellow. Now I know that all variations of color can be received in this way. I try to apply color to the canvas in a way that is sensitive to the specific qualities of a color and that will make it available. Of course color is also relative, but it becomes very easy to see when you nurture this sensitivity. It is factual and intuitive.
Naturally it is difficult to talk about emotions caused by art. Cinema and music can really knock your socks off with emotion, but they have all kinds of manipulative techniques that wash over you. My paintings don’t tell you how to look at them and they don’t really care what kind of emotional response you have to them. But they are concerned that you are able to facilitate your own looking experience and any emotions that arise should come from your own subjective activity of considering the picture.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the panel discussion you participated in for the ENACTING ABSTRACTION show this past spring; I’ve been meaning to ask you to clarify a response you made. Someone asked, “how you contend with your work now opposed to being compared and categorized to work made in the past” (NY Abstraction, Op art, Minimalism). I recall you response something along the lines of “Not relating to the motivations of art made then, and how could I”. Do you recall the conversation? Can you elaborate on what was said?
I think the problem here is between motivation and categorization. I probably do have a similar motivation as certain 20th century abstract painters, but we have to remember that many of those artists were not interested in the categories that history and language laid out for them. My motivation for making art has to do with the rich experience of being a human. If the human experience is rich and nuanced, which I believe it is, then no artist wants to be compartmentalized. Some peers of mine spoke about the first paintings I exhibited in Vancouver as critical gestures toward modernist abstraction; however there was no person who said what that criticism actually was. Sometimes artists try to avoid categorization by pretending to be postmodern authorities on the categories themselves. A lot of artists believe that art is supposed to critically address historically and socially constructed codes. In Vancouver I know a few painters who have suggested that abstraction is a codified language and that today an artists’ work is to pick and choose from the various languages (a little expressive mark here, a little geometry there with an architectural reference on top) in order to formulate some kind of critique. I imagine this type of art will be given its own category as well. However, this way of thinking art tends to disregard the agency of the individuals who look at it. I am interested in using forms that facilitate the free agency of the subjectivities that encounter it and abstraction is where I’ve been able to have results. I got into abstraction because of music, and only later did I look at abstract pictures. Before I considered myself an artist I was inspired to make drawings by listening to the air vents on large apartment buildings.
I find myself in a stalemate, I’m constantly comparing the art I see now to the art of the past and I’m left with this stale, empty feeling.
For a long time I only knew about art from books. Now we see most images on the screen. Unfortunately, in terms of art, these images aren’t really anything at all. They are placeholders or signifiers at best. What is most disturbing to me is that the printed image and the screen image are so prevalent and that we can’t help but view actual physical artworks through the lens of screens and pages. It dominates our perceptual position as viewers. I don’t think it’s wrong to find artworks stale but it would be worth considering if this insipidness has anything to do with the homogenizing perceptual regime that we get from pop culture and its screens and adverts. This regime doesn’t want you to see anything; it wants to tell you what to do. It wants to homogenize images so that adverts are just as interesting as artworks. And we see again and again that artists are seduced away from the deeply unique and important possibilities of art. Art can do a few things that nothing else can do, things that are connected to our lives and to reality, but that are also very far away, difficult and terrifying.
I digress, this last response could carry our conversation on and on. I want to stop here and thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions, as well I wanted to congratulate you on the show “SLEEP” at Malaspina right now, can you give us a brief synopsis of the show?
I was invited to make prints at the Malaspina Printmakers Society on Granville Island. The results of my efforts will be on display until October 17th, 2009. I worked with printmaker Andrea Pinheiro to create 4 etchings, images that I had dreamt and that work together as a set. As I described earlier, I took the opportunity to focus on intuition and immanence, this time using the operation of intuition itself as a guide. It was a big risk because intuition is loosey-goosey and is so often associated with expressionism. However, if there is a true rigor that my art can maintain I think it has to do with intuition and its relation to reality.