Here are some thoughts on Remains and Artifacts, two series of graphite drawings I’ve been working on. I’ve adapted these comments from a short presentation I gave in early December at the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington.
In the production of a work of art, an artist faces, at least, these three central issues: (1) the conceptual outlook on works of art – how we interpret art in general, how we interpret the art-making process, the purpose of making art – (2) the choice of subject and (3) the choice of medium or aesthetic. For me, these three facets of creating a work of art are equally important and distinguishable but organically and basically linked. Certainly they need to be addressed individually, yet each one informs the others.
I approach drawing, and my work overall, quite conceptually. I think about what it means to create an image, in this sense: leaving a mark on a page means leaving a mark about or of a certain moment in time, so creating an image works for me as leaving a mark in time, like an intentional, carefully crafted footprint.
Obviously time is a very important part of my work, perhaps its main (conceptual) subject. The idea of passing, of time as both suspended memory and as something ephemeral, manifests itself throughout my whole work and process. So the subject matter—the particular objects I portray—points to a time past that I try to revive, a personal and/or collective memory that I wish to re-live, re-create and memorialize. My subjects, such as old photographs of my ancestors, pebbles that I come across in different places, lace that is reminiscent of the one my grandmother used to make, or actual artifacts such as a piece of the Berlin Wall, are what I call artifacts. An artifact is essentially an essence of collective memory. And all these artifacts are significant to me. They are either tied to a specific place, a specific history that I identify with or a quest for keeping my identity and ancestry alive while I am far from ‘home’. In time, memory is what is left of us, and it becomes our only mark upon the earth. Without memory, existences and identities are lost. My drawings are my attempt to preserve identities and memories and take my place as part of a collective history. The process of drawing allows me to mark these memories and histories in time, make them permanent and known. The slow, tedious process of graphite drawing works for me as both a process and a ritual of remembrance and rediscovery, an homage to histories and memories that are doomed to be lost.
My aesthetic, particularly in these series, borders on the minimal. I like to work in simple, classic mediums such as pen and ink, graphite or watercolor, because they allow me to build up the image over a long period of time, but they also challenge me since, like time itself, they are so very unforgiving, especially when trying to be as accurate and precise as possible. I strive to preserve simplicity and purity in my images, to present objects as in a glass display case, so that they exude the reverence, the mystery and the profundity of old artifacts viewed in a museum.
My drawing process and my interpretation of art and art-making are directly linked to my interest in time, memory and personal history. So to create these drawings I use the mediums and the aesthetic that are most appropriate for the artistic language that I use to translate these concepts.