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Artemis Feldman on 'bottled post-structure'

2016.11 bottled post-structure

Bottled Post Structuralism: Where Evan Locke questions the Painter’s hand
by Artemis Feldman

Evan Locke is an MFA student at UVic working with wood, canvas, and paint. His most recent work, Bottled Post Structuralism, on display at the Ministry of Casual Living, is another iteration of those material themes. There is a mystery to the work in its display. Behind glass, what appears to be a nonsensical structure plays as a monument to a loosely draped canvas which sports abstract gestures in paint. The language of the work is at first unintelligible, but becomes clear in the greater body of Locke’s work.

The monument here is not an ornament, nor language, nor a method of presentation, but an apparatus. Locke has often chosen to decline the body as an apparatus of art and reject the artist as a designer or aesthetic. Locke therefore must construct a figure to mirror himself as the artist and make the actual painting. In the construction of the apparatus, Locke has built a reflection of an artist that in his work there are now two creators. Locke has denied aesthetic choice and taken on the role of the engineer and his apparatus forms a reflection of the artist that applies the paint, but this is a poor copy made of metal and wood. Here, Locke’s apparatus becomes the artist without the mind where every action leads to art as an immediate event.

The focus of Locke’s work, though, is not to envision a mechanical world full of mindless art machines, but to remove the painter’s hand and leave the art-making as a process the viewer can understand and, in their minds’ eyes, replicate. Because Bottled Post Structuralism is an art object, one cannot help but aestheticize it. This is why Locke carefully directs people to think of the construction by leaving the apparatus as the double function of painting and display. The unfinished quality of Locke’s wood refers to its own construction, and simplicity of form as well as an obvious functionality allow the viewer to understand every step that leads to the finished painting. Locke here has taken great influence from prototypes and instructions for building furniture. He asks himself what kind of construction allows that a painting be made as simple as possible: fundamental and functional. In this focus, Locke retreats from the role as author and artist, hopeful that the viewer can picture him or herself in his place.

When there is an artist involved in a process that makes marks, there is a mystery to the artist’s mind: the element of time and the understanding of aesthetic values do their work on the mind and choices are made. This leads to an eventuality that is the completed work. In the Casual Living Display, Locke rejects both aesthetic values and the mind in the process of applying paint. Therefore, when it comes to making marks, there is no eventuality. The focus, then, is causality. Locke works with actions and their results, where the mystery lies in the conception of the mark-making apparatus.

It might be important to specify that this work involves an action rather than gesture, as a gesture is a moment in time captured or not captured by the attention of a viewer; all documents of the gesture are not the gesture itself. No matter how effective the documentation of the gesture is, the gesture itself is, by definition, lost. In the case of Evan Locke, all time and motion is on a direct path to the recorded mark. Locke, in fact, refers to his completed works as artifacts of a moment in time, implying that the physical piece is just as valuable as the moment to which it refers. Therefore, all movements that could be defined as gestures made are made in preparation for documentation, and can be thus encapsulated by the completed work.

Locke’s art is at its core direct and directional. That his work is direct is evident in the focus on immediacy. All that could be veiled is revealed and all that is revealed is focused around the single action of one mark made. The quality of directionality, which is inseparable from Locke’s work, is the focus of causality where every action leads to one single effect (the making of a mark) and after that, the work is complete.

To Locke, having one motion be clear and direct is important so that one may reverse-engineer the action as one views the piece. This unwinding of time speaks again to the raw materials and mark making display. Locke believes in keeping his work rigorously honest. He displays a desire to dispel all mystery in his work by these actions, but it is unclear that this ideal will ever be attained.

It is impossible to avoid awe in Locke’s monumental and structural paintings. Even when one knows exactly how they are made, still more questions are raised. How could Locke possibly conceive of such a poetically simple way to paint? How did he engineer these machines? How did he acquire such knowledge of structure, form, and materials to make these elegant and stark sculptures? Despite knowing that the only thing that could lead to these specific masteries could only be extensive study and practise, it is still challenging to avoid the temptation to put some stock in artistic genius. This is where layers of mystery and opacity fall back into the work. All his efforts cannot be revealed in such a considered process, and I believe that in the end, one would never be able to create their own Evan Locke; though maybe his hand is not in the painting, his mind still overshadows the design.

The question is raised, then, as to whether the work is still successful. Despite the opacity of Locke’s conception for his pieces and the failure to completely purge his work of the romance of painting, at every step, a new question is raised. The tradition of art making is questioned when Locke inverts the element of time in the art making process. To make a frame that makes the mark is to force the value of presentation to be questioned as well as to question the value of a laboured and considered painting. The marks of Locke’s painting further are not reliant on the frame, as these forceful and improvised actions do not require the frame to have a visual impact. The frame is necessary for the action to become an artifact, which unlocks the viewers capacity to reverse engineer the work, but the painting may still have impact without these sculptural elements. The apparatus is then an object to be looked upon as that which constructs the painting while destabilizing the tradition of first conceiving of a piece,then creating it, then considering its presentation. The apparatus destabilizes the artist’s vantage, the value of presentation, and the temporal expectations of an artist at work. Locke’s pieces question and criticize the tradition of art making, the value of art education, and the separation of the viewer and artist.