First Street Gallery

Dana Saulnier


Artist's Statement

Still Night Falling Night #2 Night #1 Headdress

Dana Saulnier

Statement on the Night Paintings

The ‘night paintings’ began with my attempts to structure within painting the personal loss experienced as one that I love slipped away into an illness that erases memory, thereby collapsing the relation that we had into darkness. Though my emotional orientation to this lost relationship is central to much of this work, this account is too simple. In art, explanations need not be inaccurate to be inadequate. Rationales rapidly become too small, too focused on some supposed cause and effect way of thinking painting that is wholly inadequate to thinking about painting. First of all, even as these works structure loss and decay they also largely contradict the idea that this loss should be presented as the slow retreat of memory. Rather, the work impels presence. This is because the paintings are so insistently carnal; flesh bears weight and pressure, flesh becomes muscular, growing, falling, tipping, spilling, collapsing, and decaying. Secondly, this painting mediates a complex nullified relationship to the history of painting, specifically to the image of the figure in landscape with its dynamic poles of encompassing nature and now lost relationships to spiritual traditions. The work structures diverse genealogies as the paintings are fragmented across multiple frames of reference.

Standing before the work, the claustrophobic environment in the paintings limit any supposed individual agency imagined for a particular form. Forces rule. All is constantly transforming. The forms exist only in tension with forces beyond themselves. I think it most accurate to say that the paintings make dimensional conditions and forces within the works themselves as a differential to our prior experience of such conditions and forces. To make this distinction is to recognize that making paintings is a practical matter and contrasts with the idea that paintings reduce to assertions about loss or carnal becoming. It is my goal that the work be a site for experience before being a statement about experience.

The subject of loss that set me into these works has become structured within the practice of my painting and I now think that I have been making ‘night’ paintings for some time without calling them such. I think this is because of something more fundamental to the work, to its specific carnal pulse aligned with its reticence. This becomes clearer if we think ‘night’ as a plenum wherein we find ourselves differently. We experience darkness distinctly from how we experience light. Our fundamental and cyclical becoming between the two perceptual environments differentiates and disperses our potentials and capacities. In this rhythm our senses become fluid and we open to difference. We live the night as beings permeated with its intimacy. We feel our way through the dark where touch is the active mode of sense, and where we inherently understand that the sense of touch is profoundly personal and therefore limited and provisional to any understanding of what is beyond ourselves. This intimacy becomes as a beginning. In light we situate ourselves over against some ‘otherness’, we are immediately relational, opening and closing upon distances. In light we are present to what is beyond ourselves as a different order of distance and relation than our presence to darkness. My painting has always structured tactile experience; cycling between tactile and optical modes as I seek a space where sense opens thinking. In my painting practice, figure and ground must be found, and the analogue with differentiated perception resonates with that process. I find myself embedded in the insistent, dense, materiality of painting, awaiting what painting will make visible, a witness to the night.

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