Kris Scheifele: Cast, Janet Kurnatowski Gallery, Brooklyn, NY

Kris Scheifele, Window Contortion, 2010
Acrylic paint and acetate
41 x 18 x 3 inches

February 18 – March 20, 2011

My most recent project is a series entitled The Contortions. Each piece is made entirely of layer upon layer of acrylic paint. The paint is applied methodically to a wooden panel support until it reaches a thickness of up to a half-inch. Then, it is pulled up from the support and cut with a box cutter. After being attached directly to the wall with nails, gravity pulls on the paint attenuating connections and continuing to change each piece. Not only is a temporal record created by the build-up of layers, but also by the paint sagging, stretching, and bending over time. In this way, The Contortions resonate with Eva Hesse’s latex and rubber pieces, which relate to the body, have evolved, and are now in a state of deterioration. Through its own elasticity and impermanence, my project can point to the cycles in life as well as cycles in art.

The Contortions, however, are more than memento-mori. I also think of them as comic and sexy performers. When I initially began working on The Contortions, I was thinking about the kind of spastic showing-off kids do—twisting their bodies in strange ways attempting to perform elaborate dances or gymnastic maneuvers. I related this to strategic, artistic maneuvering and, as a result, my very first Contortion ended up in knots like a circus contortionist. Perhaps because The Contortions share a proportional relationship to the body and are flexible, many people relate the work to clothing, particularly theatrical costumes. Because some of the cut pieces of paint look like straps, many make a sexual connection, which has included stripper or show-girl outfits, corsets, S & M gear, and equestrian paraphernalia—bridles, reigns, and stirrups. It is not surprising that all of these interpretations relate to the body and its control or lack thereof.

David Batchelor’s book Chromophobia (2000), an illuminating account of the significance of color in culture and society, has also informed The Contortions. Batchelor argues that in Western culture an abundance of color is deemed superfluous, decorative, or non-intellectual much like the Other—“the feminine, the oriental, the primitive, the infantile, the vulgar, the queer or the pathological”—who is associated with it. Simply put, an abundance of color gets associated with the Other, whereas ‘serious’ color, such as black, white, and grey, gets associated with the ‘smart arts’ like Minimalism and Conceptual art. I am struck that within Minimalism and Conceptualism both color and painting faded into the background just as non-white and non-male participants began to enter the professional artistic arena. Consequently, the abundance of color in many of the Contortions is meant to signify the dismissed and the marginalized. I wanted to pack my paintings with multi-layered multiplicity and diversity as an affirmation of the feminine and in empathy for otherness.

Because the lens through which I often read work includes an analysis of formal elements in order to make correlations to art historical precedents, I tried to make this access point available in my own work. For instance, I was inspired to make Super Girlie Contortion, an over the top embrace of the extremely feminine, while reading Jerry Saltz’s review of Pipilotti Rist’s recent installation. Saltz wrote that Rist had made MoMA—“a bastion of masculinity”—ovulate. Prior to the essentialist feminism of the seventies, pretty princess pinks could not have been taken seriously, whereas today, such a deliberately ‘feminine’ tactic, despite its detractors, can be used as a tool. Super Girlie Contortion is an exceptional piece since it is the only Contortion that deliberately tries to look like particular objects—a vagina and a purse—both of which underscore a feminine strategy (with a giant pink highlighter!).

Rainbow Contortion not only epitomizes an abundance of color but, for me, also points to the ubiquity of the rainbow in the recent work of artists such as Jules de Balincourt. Color in Primary Contortion references Piet Mondrian’s utopic signification. In this piece, the cuts also mimic the horizontals and verticals Mondrian strictly adhered to in his signature work. In The Last Contortion, I simply slashed the rectangle of paint diagonally in a gesture of negation. This all black Contortion came to mind while reading Painting as Model (1993) by Yve-Alain Bois. Bois writes about the strategy of returning to a zero degree in abstract painting, which could mean starting over or ending things once and for all. The latter is epitomized by Ad Reinhardt’s attempt to make the last paintings—to ‘win’ by having the final word. The Last Contortion refers not only to this but also to other instances of all black painting from Kazimir Malevich to Robert Rauschenberg.