• Walking the Line

    Date posted: December 29, 2008 Author: jolanta
    Over the past few decades, philosophy has become manifested in art. The project Personal Structures: Time—Space—Existence takes this development as its point of departure, and aims to present contemporary artists’ perspectives on the concepts of time, space, and existence. For Personal Structures, Max Cole gave an interview about her work. The paintings of Max Cole (Kansas, 1937) consist of parallel horizontal and small vertical lines and give an impression of purity and focus. Stripped from compository elements and color, Cole’s work is a search for content, content which she describes with the word “infinity.” The content of the work is that what exceeds the physicality of the painting. Cole finds this in a process of being lived: her art is an internal endeavor toward the ultimate mystery. Image

    Max Cole, interviewed by Karlijn De Jongh

    Image
    Max Cole, Turpin, 2007. Acrylic on linen, 16 x 19 inches. Photo credit: Monique Dechaines Treading Unpredictable Ground. Courtesy of the artist.

    Over the past few decades, philosophy has become manifested in art. The project Personal Structures: Time—Space—Existence takes this development as its point of departure, and aims to present contemporary artists’ perspectives on the concepts of time, space, and existence. For Personal Structures, Max Cole gave an interview about her work.

    The paintings of Max Cole (Kansas, 1937) consist of parallel horizontal and small vertical lines and give an impression of purity and focus. Stripped from compository elements and color, Cole’s work is a search for content, content which she describes with the word “infinity.” The content of the work is that what exceeds the physicality of the painting. Cole finds this in a process of being lived: her art is an internal endeavor toward the ultimate mystery.

    Karlijn De Jongh: At several moments throughout your career you mentioned that integrity is very important to you. What do you mean by integrity, and why is it important to you?

    Max Cole: By integrity, I mean an uncompromising stance in my work in relation to outside factors such as art world trends, movements, or politics. My work is an internal endeavor, and as such it must remain free of such external influences. On a recent panel discussion at a museum exhibition, the question was raised as to whether an artist should take into consideration the viewer while creating the work, and I was amazed at the number of artists who agreed they should. For me this becomes art by consensus and flies in the face of my belief that art is a solitary pursuit.

    KDJ: In 2000 you stated that a work has no reason to exist when content is absent. How do you understand content? Is there a presence of time, space, or existence in your work?

    MC: Well, without content one is left with decoration, craft, or entertainment. Content is that elusive quality of transcendence, which is the essence of art, and is apprehended intuitively. Simply stated it is the quality by which a work lives or doesn’t live. I have no interest in art that doesn’t live. As to the question of time and existence, my work exists through a process of being lived, it being comprised of innumerable individual handmade marks, which require total emersion and concentration, time, existence, and the work becoming fused. There is no other way to produce the work except for a depth of engagement requiring the abandonment of self, and this process opens the door to infinity enabling a reach outside the physical. For me art must transcend the material.

    KDJ: The titles of your work seem to refer to places in nature and to natural phenomena. However, in an interview with Kim Wauson, you mentioned that you do not paint landscapes. How does your work relate to the titles you give them? What do the titles of your work stand for?

    MC: The titles of my work are not a key to understanding the work, but are rather a means of identification of a specific painting. My works are abstract. I have chosen words with personal meaning to me, or sometimes places with personal meaning, but they have no direct relation to the painting, and are not a factor in the creation of the work. Over the years, I have used several different approaches to titles, the first of which were apparent nonsensical mathematical equations containing codes for physical qualities of the work which made no mathematical sense whatsoever, and I abandoned it because I got tired of explaining it. Another system was based on horse racing, and whichever horse won the feature race on the day I finished a painting became the title of the painting. I of course could choose from
    winning horses from several different racetracks. Racehorses have wonderful names.

    KDJ: You have claimed to eliminate form and color in your paintings. Line seems to be a primary element for you. How do you see your use of formal language? How is the relation between your formal language and the content of your work?

    MC: In order to find my direction, I set out to clarify my thinking about the formal structures of painting, which all artists are taught in the course of art studies. Soon after school, I made a decision to virtually eliminate color as a prominent factor in my exploration because for me it holds an intrinsic load of psychological cues tied to emotion. Ego with its emotional components and need for control must be set aside because it is a barrier to the abandonment of self, which is necessary to the working process. Further, emotion clouds all efforts toward transcendence.

    I made a decision to work with line because it is the most abstract of elements existing as it does as a record of motion. I stripped my work of traditional compositional factors abandoning design principals because I have no interest in ordering the picture plane in the usual sense. However, another kind of composition exists in my paintings involving interplay between lines and the tension of depth. I adopted a horizontally elongated rectangular format as structure on which to work. I chose this format because it is not static as is a square, and tension emerges between the horizontal movement and the vertical mark that comprise my work. Again, there exists tension between the vertical and the horizontal because one cannot exist without the other. These focused elements allow me the clarity to pursue my continuing quest for content, and are not a limitation of any kind. 

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