Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Prequel Images

I finally have professional images of the drawings that will be part of my upcoming show. I've posted the whole series on my web site. The largest drawing, a triptych, is 84" tall and each panel is 42" wide. When framed and hanging, it spans about 12' of wall. As with my other large drawings, it is overwhelming in person, but the detail gets lost in a JPG. Here's a detail:

The first ten drawings in this series, portraits of Ivy League rowers, were part of my 2011 show at Schroeder Romero. I followed those portraits by making seven modestly-sized landscapes, the triptych, and then two more portraits. All of the drawings use rowing as subject matter. Like my previous drawings, these pieces use micrographic text to compose the images. The series uses the entirety of Adam Smith's *The Wealth of Nations.* All told, I copied by hand 507 pages of text. The largest, the triptych, used 265 pages of text:

I think of this large work as the anchor of the series. It shows the image of a steamship getting subsumed by a storm at sea. A single passenger, a woman, stands on deck, hands clasped, looking out for rescue. A single sculler rows towards the doomed ship.

Adam Smith's book is something of a Bible for economic conservatives. Smith famously refers to the economy as being guided by an "invisible hand." However, like the Bible, the text is vast -- so vast that it seems, at times, to contradict itself. In addition to arguing for the virtues of self-interest, Smith also notes that governments should probably not allow businessmen to guide legislation. Although he hails the division of labor as the cause of wealth, he also notes that it has dehumanized workers and led to moral degradation. His book is speculative, not necessarily prescriptive.

I have engaged with rowing imagery for a number of reasons. One of the most basic is that crew, in addition to being a favorite art historical subject, also brings with it an undeniable mark of class privilege. In 1776, when Smith published the book, notions of class were unformed. And crew isn't the only sport that announces the privilege of its participants; all sport takes skills developed for the purpose of survival and transforms those skills into autonomous activity. The first marathoner, Pheidippides, ran 26 miles to announce to Athens that the Persians had been defeated -- not to achieve a personal best.

The transition of boating from a necessary skill for fishing and transportation into a sport is neither simple nor is it clearly an evolutionary improvement. Sport in itself calls into question the idea of progress. The Wealth of Nations continually makes the case for modern economic systems being more evolved than what came before, even though Smith cites problems with that narrative.

It struck me while reading The Wealth of Nations that so much of what is foundational for modern economic theory is also foundational for scientific theory and for art theory -- and are recurring questions in our own lives. Finding meaning is never as straightforward as it first appears. How can one summarize the visceral experience of making these drawings, of copying a 507 page book, of standing in front of the record of that much labour.