The Rest of Our Lives: David MacWilliam
May 12 - June 3, 1995
Stride Gallery, Calgary
Catalogue Essay, Ron Terada
Abstraction and Abandonment
Today, to be a painter, one must confront the question: is it possible to make a painting? Born out of this question is another: is abstract painting still possible? Now these questions may sound tiresome and melodramatic given that painting, in all it's myriad forms, is still around, but nowhere else has abstraction manifested itself so severely than in painting.
Since the first abstractions, painting proceeded from a need to be recognized more for it's pictorial thoughts, than for it's manual craft. But the result of pictorial thought is the play of the end of painting, or more succinctly, the reduced finality of the monochrome. And yet, the first monochromes did not prove to be the last, nor did a project of radical abstraction come to pass. Rather abstraction found refuge in the guise of popular (consumer) imagery and design, the projection and seriality of obdurate materials, and further, the elimination of objecthood itself. And yet the blind spot behind these reactions only helps to re-connect and re-confirm abstract painting's initial impulse towards and absolute formal conclusion. But it is within each instance of abandonment that the utopian ideal of abstraction finds and redefines itself anew, again and again.
Thus, the possibility for painting lies through a re-evaluation and a re-thinking of abstraction, or by an abandonment of what we have learned and confirmed abstraction to be. At present painting can no longer promise a universality through formal conventions alone when the very same promise has succumbed into the boundless aping of the motions. Today, the act of abandonment must be deployed as a conceptual model and not lust a formal one. Out of this, the artist is left with two choices: you can be a painter and paint, and it doesn't matter; or you can pursue the radical possibilities of abstraction to make painting matter again.