At first glance through reading this, I questioned what it might have to do with the concept of nothing and illusions – a fine artist did not appear to have any trickery up his sleeves. Why this artist? Why this story? Why these specific sections of the book?
But it turns out he had a lot of nothing and illusion going for him:
There’s a danger in spelling these recollections out so lucidly that your reader gains the impression that at the time I knew what I was doing and where all this was leading some sort of intellectual way. You have to make it very clear […] that my whole process was really an intuitive activity in which all of the time I was only putting one foot in front of the other. (pg. 89)
I read the excerpts from the perspective of illusion and nothing.
With his dot paintings, Irwin create something from nothing, nothing being the lack of lines. Yet he also created nothing from something, the subtlety of the reds and greens that did not appear as red and green dots, but more of a visual illusion of vibration. As he transitioned into the disks, he wanted the art to “dissolve” and blend out into the surroundings, without edges to stand out or take focus. (pg. 103- 104) It becomes nothing on its own and a seamless blend to the environment. Both illusion and nothing. According to the description in the book, the disks appeared to float. They took advantage of both real space and negative (nothing) space thanks to precise lighting techniques. The discs were said to “cast a spell.” (pg. 107-108)
He even took nothing and illusion to the canvas. In one case he made his canvas so large, yet so small that its visibility was almost nothing – “…The seven-foot scale would read as neither large nor small, but rather, if anything, as nondescript. (pg. 93) He played with the dimensions of the square canvas, so that although it was not an exact square it gave the illusion of a square. He made a curved canvas that did not appear curved, so much work and time into something, to only be noticed subtly. Yet this barely noticeable difference was the very nothing that breathed energy into his work. He had thus stumbled into this idea where he could have more of nothing breed more of something, less is more:
…I could maximize the energy or the physicality of the situation and minimize the identity or idea or imagery of the situation. (pg. 94)
No longer are the viewers looking at art, they are part of an experience. The illusions of his art created an experience for the audience, and experiential interaction between the individual viewer and the art piece. Not being familiar with the experience of this artwork in person, I can gather a sense of it based on how Lieder’s 1996 Catalog paints the experience that one has when encountering Irwin’s work: “The art is what has happened to the viewer.” (pg. 95)
He made paintings that were never shown to any eyes other than his own. But he had this desire to finish his work and leave nothing incomplete. I have so much respect for this behavior. I feel like in life people tend to leave so many things unfinished, which creates this festering chaotic energy constantly unsettled. He finished his work into something but then he destroyed them reducing them back to nothing.
More NOTHING themes:
-When his paintings were destroyed in Sao Paulo, they were reduced to nothing, and he had no reaction. NOTHING. (96)
-The woman that was in and out of his life during the chaos period of the dot paintings, she was there but it was as if she hadn’t been. NOTHING. (99)
-Even the audience made something out of nothing when they experienced his artwork. When there was actually no meaning other than to create art without origins at the edges of the piece, yet viewers discovered their own meanings from the void of meaning originally intended by the pieces.
Examining this right from the start, from the perspective of “nothing,” this particular text makes me ponder the idea that “process” is just an illusion, that we (artists, creatives, inventors, writers, etc) show in our work, the illusion of process and well thought out planning to a specific end, when in reality process is nothing but naught. It is this grand metaphor for life. We think everyone has it planned out more than ones self, when in reality most people are learning as they go, no plan in mind.
I felt relatively relieved to know that it was okay to follow one step at a time to an unknown future. Although Irwin does put time and research into creating certain effects and feelings into his work, it is not necessarily by plan, but by virtue of experimenting, learning and moving forward with results. No plan, but a path and result that can emerge from a relative nothing. During his career he was a scientist of art.
His artwork over time and his “process” it seems, follows that idea of questions being at the center, being the important driving force. (pg. 90) The book talks about Irwin’s concept that things are born from questions but the things themselves get the accolades but for him, the questions are equally important. It was questions that led him to his experimentations, to more research and to next phases of his art career.
I always move on to the next question almost as soon as I;ve worked out the anser to the current one. (pg. 108)
I seem myself in this quality of his. I have this jack-of-all-trades background at this point because I follow question to question without a specific goal in mind. Once I answer one question, I move on to the next project or question, until that gets answered. His questions definitely deserve credit for his success.
My question is – how was Irwin making money when he wasn’t making too many works of art per year? Did he have income? Or was he just surviving on nothing?