James Wilson Investigations of Chris Page
The Investigations of Chris Page
New Work from the Stream Series
September 22-October 23, 2005
Haddad Lascano Gallery
Great Barrington Massachusetts
The work of artist Chris Page is a testament to a long-term investigation into the dynamism and significance of streams in terms of our capacity to know. His devotion to this subject is evidence of his tenacity and faith that this subject contains the mysteries of our cognition worth uncovering.
Page faces a number of artistic challenges in trying to capture such a dynamic process as the rushing stream. One technical irony of Page’s project is that he is working with a less fluid medium (paint) on a static plane to capture the dynamism of the stream. His imagery is initially perplexing in that the speed and sharpness of stream movements do not appear in his work. Rather his images are soft, cloudlike, and slow. This representation appears inappropriate, however the works are not realist pieces, they are about the “nature” of the stream and this is where Page makes his artistic contribution. To accomplish this Page employs three distinct techniques.
The first is a consciously mimetic process, as Page renders his work like a palimpsest. He works a surface, and then scrapes it away to render another interpretation, not unlike how water, in its inexorable flow, can express itself in an infinite number of ways as it covers the same surface in a streambed. This literal imitation of the repetition of sedimentation pays dividends for Page as the surfaces are richly textured and appear aged.
A second process Page employs, at times, to represent this dynamism is to break the boundaries of a single canvas to create triptychs. Page uses the triptychs in two ways. He represents the flow of the “same” water at three different points in time---future, present and past as the water approaches, arrives, and passes a point of observation of the stream. He also generates triptychs for the same area of a stream to show the endless flux of the circumscribed patch. Each method employed by these triptychs shows the changes in the shape and speed of his subject as it contacts different contours of the streambed at different moments in time. These pieces successfully demonstrate the time-and-space-bound limitations of our cognition; the identify of the stream remains elusive.
Finally, the third and most significant process is a kind of automatism. Page, like shamans, Zen painters and Chinese nature poets, seeks to identify with the spirit of the water and in so doing, to then allow his body to channel that feeling to express itself on canvas. It is similar to the automatism of some abstract expressionists, but the difference is Page is not seeking to summon his own subjectivity; rather he attempts to become the object of his contemplation. In this way he is, if your will, an abstract impressionist articulating the “subjectivity” of a phenomenon, not himself. He aims to be possessed by the spirit of the stream so as to authentically render its movement and energy when creating its representation.
The work is compelling as Page’s subject is an ancient source of absorption. Most famously, the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus used the stream as the exemplar for the endless flux among all phenomena. Page is fascinated with what the stream “is” in kind of Kantian way and admits that the frustration of grasping and representing the stream as an “essence” reveals to him the compulsion of the mind to try to freeze phenomena, to capture it conceptually and perceptually.
Page ignores the inherent resistance to representation by his subject. This frustration of cognition is a wound that Page repeatedly tries to heal in his work. His stubborn process is a simulacrum of a trauma of loss, of our inability to truly connect to and know the world---yet our endless compulsion to try. This hearkens to the Buddhist notion of dukkha, or the fundamental “unsatisfactoriness” with our relation to the world: our deeper needs long for something that phenomena cannot offer. Page speaks to that otherness; his work is a ritual that heroically attempts to redeem the world and himself. From a romantic perspective, Page renders his work in the voice of an unrequited lover. His work is not futile as it has the power to bring us to the depth of his investigations as he puts into relief our longing for union with the world. This is the paradox and impossibility with which he grapples: representing in his painting something inherently ungraspable and by so doing pointing to our need for profound resolution. The soft dynamism of the Page’s composite paint strokes presents the viewer with his struggle and successfully invites us to explore and contemplate this conundrum and mystery of experience and knowing.
In his most recent work, Page pushes further to attempt to apprehend the stream. These canvases by Page depart from his effort to map the stream in its mercurial form. New work has us descending into the stream. The viewer feels small, within the stream, witnessing its energy as if approaching the molecular or atomic level. The shape of light in the stream is almost DNA-like in form. The colors in these works still have an uncanny fidelity to what we sense as natural or earthy and organic. These new paintings approach epiphany and portend future investigations of note by this artist.
J.M.M. Wilson, III, Ph.D.
Abstract painter finds mind-shifting inspiration in clouds
To feed their art, artists often like to travel. Close to home, like Claude Monet and his backyard gardens at Giverny. A little farther, like Georgia O’Keeffe, who left New York for a fresh perspective in New Mexico. Or halfway around the world, like Paul Gauguin, who traded Paris for lush and exotic Tahiti.
In modern-day Amherst, Massachusetts, Chris Page simply looks up.
An essentially self-taught artist who doesn’t just love making art, but does it because “it feels more like a necessity,” he’s lately been finding inspiration in clouds. Watching their never-ending, always surprising transformations opens him up, artistically and personally – and he believes anyone can benefit from doing the same.
Getting out in nature is often recommended as an antidote to the stress of struggling with problems or breaking through mental obstacles. Taking a walk in the woods or, for Page, looking at the sky is a way to step away from “a frontal attack on a problem,” he says. “The sky counters my tendency to want to box everything in, or be ‘the answer,’ or be perfect.” By observing – or witnessing, as he likes to say – the chaotic movement of clouds and tuning in to his emotional response, his perspective shifts. His mind loosens.
“If you can become comfortable with uncertainty at an intuitive level, it can allow for a more fluid and open relationship with yourself and your work,” Page says.
Following a series of paintings with images blending land and sky, and another of streams, Page is now striving to capture the subtleties of ephemeral clouds in acrylic paint. “I’m often trying to find ways to arrive at patterns that don’t feel predictable, that feel elusive,” he says. “Almost verging on invisible.”
He’s not quite the gestural Action painter Jackson Pollock was, but Page employs similar techniques. “I’ll often set up some sort of rhythm and let the rhythm play out,” he says. “A particular quality starts to emerge,” and then he’ll make adjustments as needed to create a coherent finished piece.
But besides making art out of communing with clouds, Page wants to encourage other people to look up. The sky is dynamic, it’s chaotic, it can be mesmerizing – it’s “the miracle above us that’s always being miraculous, often taken for granted.”
He believes the process could benefit anyone, whether they’re facing difficult business decisions or enhancing their spiritual practice. Taking in the sky’s qualities of constant motion, ambiguity, and perceived infinity, Page believes, helps shift the mind’s typical patterns. Watching clouds is a way “to help get to a place where having an Aha! moment would be likely to occur.”
To that end, he intends to set up a consulting practice offering approaches to cloud-watching for anyone wishing to loosen their mind and discover new ways of looking at things. In the meantime, when he’s not enjoying the overhead view outside at Amherst Coffee, he’s translating what he sees – and feels – on canvas at his home studio.
New Paintings from the Stream Works Series
Using landscape as his subject, Page delves into his fascination with creating a perceptual tension between abstraction and representation through the use of color and energy.
Using Scarborough Brook, a small stream located near his home in Belchertown as reference, Page interprets this meandering stream by mapping the waterflows and energy patterns. The paintings emphasize both the rhythmic order as well as the chaos inherent in fast moving water.
The exhibition features three large-scale acrylic paintings on canvas, a suite of nine oil stick paintings on paper based on the artist's memory of a stream pattern, and Stream Flow in Ten Parts, a ten-panel piece that is architectural and environmental in shape and scale. Perhaps the closest to being representational is a two-panel painting Stream Rhythms—One Then Two depicting a particular place in a stream, its swirling waters articulated by Page's energetic white line patterns. Page's focus in this work is in creating both the deep space beneath the water's surface as well as the water's spray that by force of the artist's gestural line enters the viewer's space. The lush browns, ochres, and yellows of Stream Orb are overlaid with translucent white creating the sensation of spray. Its colors, composition and markings make this a cosmic painting - are we seeing the turbulence of water or of star nebulae or is it the microcosmic activity of cells?
Page's mapping of waterflows is akin to seeing the water directly from above and because the paintings are as close to real scale as possible he is able to create the sensation of being in the landscape. Stream Flow in Ten Parts is comprised of ten panels descending in size while a diagonal thrust of black paint covered with roiling white oil stick markings moves through the long space. This is as close to an installation as a painter can achieve in two dimensions - like Monet's Waterlilies, the viewer has the sensation of being enveloped by and entering into the painting. While the other paintings in the exhibition are based on a particular place in a stream, this piece is also about movement through time and space. What interests Page is answering the question what happens when you walk through a landscape - beyond just seeing it, how do you feel it, what truly captures your attention?
The present series is a culmination of thirty years of exploring landscape and the tension between abstraction and representation. It took Page two years to figure out how to make these paintings work - doing drawing after drawing until content and form finally coalesced. Page eventually worked his perception of the stream into a painter's field - thinking of landscape as patterns of energy that could be mapped. The artist has come full circle, his present work fuses landscape with his love of minimal and conceptual art, which is where he began.
Chris Page moved to Western Massachusetts in 1974 and he studied painting at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He lives and works in Belchertown, Massachusetts.
He has shown in Boston, Amherst, Springfield, Brooklyn and Virginia. His most recent one-person exhibition was held at the A.P.E. Gallery in Northampton in 1998, and was based on the Arctic landscape.