What Does It MEAN?

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I  frequently am pressed by viewers of my work to provide insight regarding the “meaning” of a particular work, or set of works: “What does this one mean?”  It’s a fair question, because I claim to be painting “ideas,” and to be concerned with “layers of Meaning.”  Fairness aside, though, it’s a difficult question to answer.  If the work is successful, the meaning is imbedded in the work itself, and to attempt to separate the one from the other would seem to diminish the whole.  I suppose a fair and reasonably accurate answer would be “I can’t tell you what this picture means, but IT can.”  Divining the meaning of anything requires a willingness to look for it, and the willingness to be open to whatever meanings it conveys.  “Meaning” occurs not only in what is intended, but in what is received; ideas, however clearly stated, are interpreted variously, according to the varying sensibilities of the recipients.

By this I do not mean to say, “It means whatever you want it to.”  An individual work may have, for me, an immediate and coherent meaning from its very inception.  Or it may, instead, begin nebulously, only gradually  impressing meanings upon my awareness as the image emerges.  Either way, by the time a work is finished, it has become for me an articulation of a very specific set of meanings.  The title is always the last thing to occur, and is both a response to the image and a “way in” to the intended meanings of the work.  I intend specific meanings, but my language  is visual, not verbal.  Titles can provide verbal clues, and at their best they are integral to the implied meaning of the work.  I want you to see and understand the image as I intend it, but must rely upon your sensibility, which is of necessity different than mine.  Try as we might to be objective, subjectivity is biologically wired into us.

“Poised For Flight”

Even spoken and written language is nebulous, and subject to subtle shadings of meaning requiring effort by the hearer/reader to understand.  What is implied is not always reliably what is inferred.  With visual language, specific meaning is even more difficult to convey.  And, when one intends to create metaphor, one expects an even greater involvement from the reader or viewer.  Poetic language embraces ambiguity, in the service of deeper meaning.  Implicit in metaphor are two equally likely possibilities:  deeper understanding, or no understanding at all.

All of my work is, in a sense, autobiographical.  I aspire to create accessible representations of universal ideas, but we as subjective beings tend to process ideas in terms of our own experience.  My images, while aspiring to universality, tend to couch broadly universal ideas in idiosyncratically personal terms, arising from my own life and experiences.  Often the process is one of gradual recognition of an image as it develops.  I begin working abstractly, sometimes with little or no awareness of a preconceived idea.  As the image emerges, its identity emerges as well, eventually proving to be some recognized image from my own subconscious self, informed by imperfectly remembered images from folktales, mythologies, movies and stories, together with their own imbedded implications for the ins and outs of Human Experience.

Any work can be read on a number of levels: image, design or structure, narrative, and metaphor.  To appreciate a painting for its colors, or for the story it tells, is not less valid than appreciating its underlying meanings, but it certainly is a less complete appreciation..  When an image works, it works because all of its parts are integrated, and by that integration are equally invested with meaning.  The materials and methods of a work and the structural rhythms of its design, all are as essential to the meaning of a work as are the images represented and the story they tell. My images tend to be narrative, and personal in nature, but they hope to strike resonant ripples of common experience in the viewer.  I present a narrative from my own experience, with the hope of provoking a reaction from you, which in turn will elicit a response from me, and so on… this is how conversation begins.

“The Permutations of Desire”

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