Twenty-One Things
Material Loosely Related to My Art Practice

Tyler C. Reese

  1. I wear many hats but only one pair of shoes. I try to keep them tied when I slip ‘em off at the front door.
    • I practice tying knots but try not to tie myself down.
    • There’s a prank that involves a couple hundred yards of twine and a friend’s bedroom. The twine’s strung around and tied to many objects throughout the room creating a web of annoyance. At best one cuts through it and is left with tails on all their belongings, at worst everything comes tumbling down.
    • William Blake wrote of a golden string that could lead you to Heaven’s Gate.[1] The poet William Stafford described his process as following the strings that tie everyday objects and events into our lives. He believed, “every detail—the sound of the lawn mower, the memory of your father’s hands, a crack you once heard in lake ice, the jogger hurtling herself past your window—will lead you to amazing riches.”[2] To Stafford every string was a golden one.
    • If you pick up a loose end and follow with sensitivity and diligence you could find yourself in fertile poetic terrain.
    • I wind some pasta around my fork. Where might this noodle lead me?
  2. When asked why, one might answer: “I make these things because I am compelled to.”[3] Here is evidence of reconstruction, perpetuation, individuation. Building upon that which is already built. The line is blurred between process and presentation. There is a fluidity in the concrete. The foundation has yet to set.
    • What’s he building in there?[4] And what’s the difference between a drill and an impact driver? There’s no glamour in construction, simply pride in its completion.
      • I’m building a house to build a house in. If I’m a painter, then I guess I’m a house painter. Where did all this shit come from? That’s not just any banana, and that’s one big shoe!
      • Structurally, I like 2x4. It’s nice to say; crude and necessary lumber. Here is Honesty in the form of a bunch of drywall screws. I always forget they’re in my back pocket and I always tell the truth, even when I lie.[5] Behind Door #1 we have ease of mind.
      • I described my compositions as piecemeal to a friend. She said, “WORD CHOICE: piecemeal is a gross word and reminds me of mealworms or poverty or ugly clothes.” Love it.  
    • In college I enjoyed studying deconstruction but have since lost interest in the language of literary theory. However, I think there are ways to present such ideas in an approachable and accessible manner, especially analyzing the ways our cultural readings change as individuals and generations.
    • In terms of both form and content a central theme of my work is playing with how our individual experiences act as a lens through which we view culture. The more we ingest the more prismatic the lens becomes. The maximalist nature of my work is symptomatic of the myriad of meaningful and meaningless content we have at our fingertips.[6] Growing up a digital native, this has been a constant source of education, distraction, and consumption my entire life.
  3. Showing an indifference toward any notion of original unity, embracing the fractured state in which artists function.
    • The fractured state: negotiating between the individual and the cultural. Dealing with our individual pasts and projecting ourselves into our unique hopes for the collective future. An agent of new culture reacting to old culture. An individual entity treading water in the chaotic flow of history.
    • Documenting the plethora of stimuli. I am receptive and reactive to the world acting on me. I am actively engaging the present.
      • Receptive: I am lost and don’t pull out my phone.
      • Reactive: I hear my cat knock something off a shelf and get up to grab the spritz bottle. She dashes off.
    • Dynamic networks expanding out from each mind, populated with personal and cultural connections, memories, desires, everything that floats through each person’s brain, and each element having its own network of connections spiraling out from it.
      • Associative functions of the mind. Not dealing with mystery, dealing with what I know.
    • Like reading poetry rather than a novel. Suspension of disbelief. Following the fragments. Following threads.
  4. My interests vary and are at once both enthralling and fleeting. It has pushed me to make work that contains multitudes[7]—the individual parts at times mundane, coy, or contradictory. But as a whole they may snowball into something of consequence.
    • Blesséd to exist in a pluralistic art epoch, shed of disciplinary purity.
    • “With [the vernacular glance]’s voraciousness, its lack of discrimination, its wandering attention, and its equal horror of meaning and of emptiness, this leveling form of perception… not only accepts everything—every piece of urban detritus, every homey object, every outre image—into the perceptual situation, but its logic decrees that the magnet for all these elements will be the picture surface, itself now defined as the antimuseum.”[8]
    • Like a playground, there is something for everybody.
  5. When I say it’s been many years it has really only been a few. A few: more than a couple, less than or equal to several, and several being less than many. A few years then. The last time I had lunch with my grandma she told me that her grandparents owned a saloon. It was called the Philadelphia House and it was in Gold Country.
    • I dreamt of her last night. She was alive in the dream, but I knew she was dead so I gave her one last hug.
  6. I had milk to make me grow strong. Milk as white as gesso. Cow in field (across McFarlane, up Fircrest, down around that corner on which the Sanchez’s lived, and down Litchfield a bit). It was actually horses in that field, now that I think about it. Brown, big. We’d walk by and pet their noses as kids, standing on worn wood fence. Our elementary school was on the other side of the pasture. Across playground, up long stairs, across soccer fields was the sketchy shortcut through the trees to go back home.
    • My textbooks were noticeably lacking scribbles, doodles, notes. I longed for these deemable imperfections. Not only would they provide me with a history that I could really place myself in (a history separate from that set out in the tome), but it would permit me to scribble, doodle and notate as well. I know now that it was privilege rather than diligence that kept the pages clean.
    • When my mom was around, and my brother and I were still young we’d go on dog walks to a nearby cul-de-sac where all the houses were being constructed at the same time. We’d clamber in and explore the raw structures, find sheaths of nails we thought were cool, peer out over the neighborhood. She always let us do the shit dad wouldn’t.
  7. Why do I keep painting at arm’s length?
    • “The more you move towards paintings the darker the wood becomes through which Little Red Riding Hood goes and it’s not only the wolf, but also the wicked witch and the seven dwarfs and Judas and Jesus and the journalists, that she has to face.”[9]
      • Marlene Dumas is implying that the deeper one gets into the discipline of Painting, the more complex one’s relationship with it becomes. The more informed an artist is the more open to questioning their work becomes, from outside and in.
      • I’m a participant in a cold war. Resources are allocated to not look (too) dumb in the face of Painting but standing up to the force of the discipline is not of paramount concern. This allegorizes Painting (the tradition, discipline, historical force) as a sort of enemy, but I’d rather think of painting as an ally, there when I need it but otherwise doing its own thing.
    • “Painting, symbol as well as unbeatable medium of individual consciousness, thrives when people are interested in, and revere, the reality of their own and other people’s minds and hearts. Painting can’t make anyone interested and reverent. It can only reward interest and reverence that are brought to it, in a social milieu respectful of persons. When such a milieu is lacking—or, as now, is embittered by market cynicism and political rancor—painting ceases to be a locus of communion and is raked by a crossfire of anxieties.”[10]
      • There has been a fundamental shift in how our brains process interest and allocate attention since that was written in 1990. Our satisfaction is brief and our desire for content voracious. I react to witnessing this in myself by creating art objects that keep me interested through their multifariousness. After a certain point I begin finding threads tying together seemingly arbitrary or disparate elements.
        • An image of an old truck finds itself in a composition near a fake apple on a little shelf and I’m led to the fine dust of the orchards we used to park in to get high. Some threads don’t lead to Heaven’s Gate, but down a little road outside Sebastopol, CA.
      • Skepticism is contagious. Maybe I’m skeptical of Painting, or maybe I’m skeptical of myself as a painter.
      • “Painting (especially) is not a registration of facts or a documentation of information. It is an interpretation. It is forced to be so by its nature.”[11]
    • I view painting as a tool. I am not a purist. I use painting, and varying techniques within painting, as I see fit. While composition is an important consideration for me, material cohesion is not. My material interests vary, so I’ve allowed myself the freedom to use the visual languages of drawing, sculpture, and installation in conjunction with painting. This has telescoped into the vernacular realm of the everyday, not only employing imagery and phrases from day-to-day life, but now including objects and products themselves that we might encounter.
  8. The owls are not what they seem. Maybe cookie jars, or false idols. “Weaving spiders come not here.”[12] People have begun leaving objects here as if it’s a shrine. A child’s glove with a Dalmatian and the name Marshall; poker chips; a scaffolding cross brace; photographs. Does it smell? Maybe faintly of mesquite. What kinda shrine smells like that?!?
  9. “Anytime you’re afraid you’re going to mess something up you should leave the room and go get a job as a waitress.”[13]
  10. I like cooking, an artform all its own.
    • What would your last meal be if you could choose? Would you want to choose? Breakfast, lunch or dinner?
      • Biscuits and gravy, eggs, those breakfast sausages from the Ridgewood Pork Store,[14] coffee, and ice water.
      • Double-double animal style with animal style fries, and a half-pink-lemonade-half-Sprite.
      • That one perfectly cooked pork chop I made (the secret’s in the brining), baked sweet potatoes with sour cream, and a limey-basil sauce, with a large glass of Fernet to wash it down.
    • In Frank’s wild years[15] he mostly ate pasta; nobody to please. Ate a whole box once and fell asleep. Thought he might never wake up the way his belly felt. Other nights he’d wake up as the sun was going down and bookend sixteen beers and a pack of cigarettes with two bodega sandwiches and Kettle Chips. He never made breakfast, just drank milk in the mornings.
    • Bring your plates but finish your damn food first. There’s no “second chances,” only second helpings, especially if there’s a race tomorrow. Watch your mouth as much as you watch TV. Success is when preparation meets opportunity. Now, go get ready for bed.
  11. Dysfunctional organization comes from a dysfunctional life.
  12. Striving for generosity. Encouraging one’s mind to wander from one thing to the next (following threads). Observing current thoughts and thought currents. As for we who love to be astonished,[16] I’m here to tell you that treating things as more than they might be can make them more than they are. It’s okay to find comfort in stupid small things. Some of the most important objects in our lives would mean nothing to anybody else.
  13. Flatbed picture plane[17] allowed the artist an adaptive approach to making, using the picture plane as a presentation of methodology. Thought process becomes the subject of the work. Mapping, charting, working things out, notations of time passing.
    • “It seemed at times that Rauschenberg’s work surface stood for the mind itself—dump, reservoir, switching center, abundant with concrete references freely associated as in an internal monologue—the outward symbol of the mind as a running transformer of the external world, constantly ingesting incoming unprocessed data to be mapped in an overcharged field.”[18]
    • In 2012 I began a series of medium-sized drawings that would be my primary practice for about five years. They were amalgamations of drawings, writings, and some collage, mostly material taken from my sketchbooks and the internet. They are the work that’s been most dear to me. I would work on them horizontally stacked on my flat file where they’d act as placemats for my life.
  14. They turned the pond into a concrete bowl. Do you think they relocated the ducks, or do ducks just figure those things out? There were Weeping Willows for them to convene in. We shot basketball 100 ft. away for three years and then came back to skateboard. Nothing has mattered as much as those ducks and their wood castle til now. While we’re on the subject, those ducks built a pretty sick castle. I was secretly torn down when it was torn down, but no one has asked the first song I remember hearing.
    • It was only about a half mile from there to the park I used to run at, where we used to smoke weed, and where I tried to lose my virginity.
  15. What water gave us:
    • A small lake named after a woman catching sparks in uncelebrated evenings.
    • Fountain in Town Square that naked kids used to play in.
    • We could go into the lagoon but never wade out from the shore for fear of the undertow.
  16. Manouvre and mislead, but always deliver.[19]
  17. Erase a Rauschenberg.[20]
  18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea.[21]
  19. I am reevaluating hierarchies of method, form, and content. Ignoring “logical” categorization. Stepping over the pigeonholes.
    • “When seemingly disparate elements are imaginatively poised, put in opposition in new and unique ways, startling discoveries often result.”[22] I murmur to myself: this is not a new idea.
    • “Kippenberger instinctively grasped that ideologies and hierarchies were moribund, that formalism and technique are flexible, and that one can be idealistic without being utopian. These are keys for young artists looking for ways around pessimism and gamesmanship.”[23] These sentences articulate formative ideas that catalyzed a transitional period in my work.
20.  Shit, sorry, I drift.
        What about that sculpture thang? Kinda strange it turns up like that, yeeears later.
        It is in the brain but not in the mouth.
  • I’m into scribbles and smushes of the studio wall, or that canvas that’s on the floor turning the cold shoulder; the burrito foil hacky sack; you can borrow this book but only if you actually read it. Wall labels that read like poems: dirt from where? When I look, I’m looking from the ground up, pacing. When I breathe in you breathe in, we’ll breathe in together. A pause, a vacancy when I could say nourishment, but a fake tree is a barren tree. That’s the punchline. Pentimento on steroids—I’ll Sharpie the asterisks on. In June I will go on a boat and WILL NOT paint a seascape, I promise. But I’ll send a letter. Writing is the underwear and I’m the nuts and painting is the legs I’m stuck between.

Works Cited

Baldessari, John. More Than You Wanted to Know About John Baldessari, Vol. 1. JRP | Ringier, 2013.

Blake, William. William Blake: The Complete Illuminated Books. Thames & Hudson, 2000.

Dumas, Marlene. Sweet Nothings. Koenig Books, 2014.

Krauss, Rosalind. Perpetual Inventory. The MIT Press, 2013.

McLuhan, Marshall, and Quentin Fiore. The Medium is the Massage. Bantam Books, 1967.

Pollan, Michael. The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World. Random House, 2008.

Saltz, Jerry. “Martin Kippenberger: The Artist Who Did Everything.” New York Magazine, 26

Feb. 2009, http://nymag.com/arts/art/reviews/54940.

Stafford, William. The Darkness Around Us Is Deep. HarperCollins Publishers / Perennial, 1994.

Steinberg, Leo. Other Criteria. Oxford University Press, 1975.

[1] “I give you the end of a golden string, / Only wind it into a ball: / It will lead you in at Heavens gate, / Built in Jerusalems wall.” (Blake 471)

[2] Stafford vii

[3] Sarah Schmerler

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JaLjwSpZ6Cs

[5] Scarface. Directed by Brian De Palma, Universal Pictures, 1983.

[6] “The insight of mystics and artists flows from their special ability to switch off the mind’s reducing valve.” (Pollan 169)

[7]“Do I contradict myelf?
Very well then I contradict myself
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”
from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” in Leaves of Grass

[8] This is Rosalind Krauss’ articulation of Brian O’Doherty’s theory of the “vernacular glance.” O’Doherty attributed Rauschenberg’s expansive modality to this particular perceptual persuasion.

[9] Dumas 66

[10] Schjeldahl 18

[11] Dumas 57

[12] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bohemian_Grove

[13] Margaret Bowland

[14] 516 Seneca Ave, Ridgewood, NY 11385

[15] Waits, Tom. Frank’s Wild Years. Island Records, 1987.

[16] An oft used phrase in Lyn Hejinian’s book, My Life (1980).

[17] In his book, Other Criteria (1972) Leo Steinberg describes a shift of the picture plane from vertical (easel) to horizontal (work surface). He wrote, “I tend to regard the tilt of the picture plane from vertical to horizontal as expressive of the most radical shift in the subject matter of art, the shift from nature to culture.” Robert Rauschenberg exemplified this shift in Steinberg’s analysis.

[18] Steinberg 88

[19] Number 16 from Werner Herzog’s list of 24 pieces of advice for filmmakers, from the book Werner Herzog ­­­— A Guide for the Perplexed: Conversations with Paul Cronin.

[20] Number 33 in John Baldessari’s “Thirty-Nine Journal Entries.

[21] Number 18 on Jack Kerouac’s List of Essentials from Belief & Technique for Modern Prose. https://www.sfu.ca/~hayward/UnspeakableVisions/misc/kerouacessentials.html

[22] McLuhan 10

[23] From “The Artist That Did Everything,” by Jerry Saltz (New York Magazine, Feb. 2009)