A conversation between the studio manager (Victoria Chapman) and Shane Guffogg
I am sending gratitude from the Los Angeles studio, wishing everyone a peaceful and bright holiday season. Here we are sending our last conversation during 2022. This one is about transcending – an on-going topic I have been milling over with Shane.
In Part 3 we talked about time and space, we also discussed the complexity of Shane’s 2016, “At the Still Point of the Turning World” oil on canvas. I mentioned Spinoza’s ‘inherent nature of all things’ and Shane shared his thoughts on the creator and observer. In Part 4, the focus is on change and transcendence. As we reach the closing of 2022, I think this discussion is necessary to prepare for what is to come in 2023. Parts of this conversation are taken from our podcast “Blue” also the title of the current exhibition on display at The Blue Room on Western Avenue, consisting of three large works and what I refer to as Shane’s transcendental paintings. – VC
The Life of the Artist and the Creative Process – Part 4
VC: I recently found an excerpt in The World Interiors magazine (January 2021), by JG Ballard. There was a section on the “Word” of interiors celebrating four decades of the magazine’s success with special content using text to describe an interior. Ballard’s contribution, an excerpt from “The Future of the Future” (1977) predicts life in 2000. Ballard’s text brings to light who we are today, and the disconnect endured by living in the information age. I am charmed by his foresight – he was not alone with his vision, as many others predicted similar outcomes. But I would like to begin this conversation with Shane by sharing this current mood of the now /then and the need to transcend into the safe arrival of 2023.“
“In the dream house of the year 2000, Mrs. Tomorrow will find herself living happily inside her own head. Walls, floors and ceilings will be huge, unbroken screens on which will be projected a continuous sound-and-visual display of her pulse and respiration, her brain waves and blood pressure. The delicate quicksilver loom of her nervous system as she sits at her dressing-table, the sudden flush of adrenaline as the telephone rings, the warm arterial tides of emotion as she arranges lunch with her lover, all these will surround her with a continuous lightshow. Every aspect of her home will literally reflect her character and personality, a visible image of her inner self to be overlaid and enhanced by those of her husband and children, relatives and friends. A marital tiff will resemble the percussive climax of The Rite of Spring, while a dinner party (with each of the guests wired into the circuitry) will be embellished by a series of frescoes as richly filled with character and incident as a gallery of Veroneses. By contrast, an off day will box her into a labyrinth of Francis Bacons, a premonition of spring surround her with the landscapes of Constable, an amorous daydream transform the walls of her bathroom into a seraglio worthy of Ingres”
VC: It’s interesting, as we read deeper into Ballard’s text, Mrs. Tomorrow’s life is revealed by artist paintings. As I lay awake during these cold months, tossing and turning, listening to the echoing sounds of police cars and helicopters chasing into the Hollywood night, I continue to contemplate my existence, questioning the decisions I have made and where my life will end up. And during this time, I will be prompted by great artworks that have shaped my life. I will make a plea to the world, that creative beings will continue to observe what’s around them and define what it means to be human. And if in the far future, if art has no physical presence, there will be some chamber within our mind that will remind us of great artists and how our experience has been described through the centuries, because, I believe, art was made for just that.
Shane, your current exhibition, “Blue” located at The Blue Room in Los Angeles, is curated and centered around what I refer to as transcendental paintings. No doubt I came to this by researching Franz Liszt and his Transcendental Etudes and Symphonic Poems. I credit this research to pianist Anthony Cardella, who did a private concert performing some seminal compositions by Liszt outside of The Blue Roomexhibition space. I was prompted to say to you, that you were no stranger to metaphysical realms, and together, (rather quickly) chose works for an exhibition that would support Tony’s concert.
Seeing your work combined with listening to a few of Liszt compositions in my head got me thinking about the transcendental not only in music, or through meditation, but also in art. Back to JG Ballard’s quote and Mrs. Tomorrow, “And if we must live in our heads, how will we be better prepared?” From my point of view, these three large early paintings, are metaphysical. Let’s talk about how they were manifested.
Our dialogue continues through a podcast, I am sharing parts of the transcription:
Shane: I think most of my work heads in that direction. The painting titled, “Patience in the Blue”, was started in 1994 in the room here in Hollywood that is now my living room. Back in 1992 through 1996, it was my studio. There’s a 14-foot-long wall that was my main painting wall and the ceilings are 11 feet tall.
The size of the room allowed me to step back 12 plus-feet and look at it. I had a ladder in there, climbing up and down took work on the top area of the 7- foot tall painting. I was still a studio assistant for Ed Ruscha and I would go to work in Venice Beach at a studio three days a week. Then I would come back to Western Ave and paint. The Western Avenue building was also Ed’s studio for 25 years prior to my arrival. That first studio of mine was actually Ed’s bedroom/ living room.
Shortly after I moved in, Ed came to visit, and he was surprised that I had made it into a studio. He said, “No, this is where you should be putting your bed, and you’re living area in here, you should be painting in the other room.” I said, “No, no, no. This is where I want to paint. This is where I need to paint.” And he kinda shrugged his shoulders and said, “Okay, you know, it’s your deal”. I needed to be able to step back to look at that painting. The other room that he referred to was half the distance to look at what I was doing.
And I remember very distinctly that the patterns in that painting, it’s a split image, and there’s these little marks on the painting surface. And they came from an image that I saw in a Smithsonian magazine, and I think it was probably back in 1990. The image was a dark page with these little green dots. And I thought the oblong markings were interesting in their own strange way.
So, I tore it out of the magazine, and pinned it to the wall. I didn’t want to know what it was; I was only interested in the image itself. I stared at it for months and months. And then I finally started doing drawings of it, which brought me to the realization about these little oblong marks. Some of them were parallel to each other. Then there were groupings of them, and some of them seemed to be doing their own thing. But I realized that the placement of each mark seemed to be dictated by everything else around it.
These shapes became figurative because I was trying to learn how to unlearn figurative painting, but still wanting to make a figurative painting that didn’t have the human form. And I wanted to make an abstract painting that wasn’t about abstraction as we knew it in the 1930s, 40s, 50s, and 60s, or the abstract painter, Kandinsky or anybody like that. I thought, how can I combine these two ideas of abstraction and figuration into a new language?
At that time, I was reading a lot about the Sumerians, Egyptians, Babylonians and Mesopotamians, and I was looking at the cuneiforms. I was looking at the hieroglyphs. And to get back to your topic, transcendental. I began thinking about language as in, what is language and what are thoughts and how do thoughts become language? Language is a way of communicating. Okay.
But originally it starts with a thought. What does that thought look like? So that was the essence of these paintings; what do these thoughts look like without language? The pure essence of a thought, where the pure feeling of, in this case, it’s very physical, but it’s also very ethereal simultaneously. So, it’s about the thought of something and the thing itself. Does that make sense?
VC: I’m trying to visualize it. What they say in transcendental meditation is, when you finally let go and you forget your mantra, – you’re actually-being. My question was at the time to my teacher: “There’s no thought in being?” My teacher said, “No, there’s no thought in me. It’s a blissful moment.”
Shane: Right. Yes. I think that what these paintings are– that moment that transcends our physical body, that transcends our mind, that transcends thought, that transcends language. And it’s just a moment of being, right? And so you get to see — stand in front of these paintings. It’s like, how did this thing happen? What is it? It is itself.
I can tell you all the things that fed into it, and I can tell you what was happening in my life at that time, but that’s secondary because it’s a painting that exists on its own outside of me, at this point. As for the title, “Patience in Blue”, I was reading a book at the time that Mark Rothko wrote, it was a chapter about Plasticity.
And there was a phrase or saying were he, it’s about having patience in the blue, which is, I think what you’re talking about. The blue being the transcendental moment. So, you have to have patience at that moment, patience within yourself to understand, and let go, right? If you think about Rothko’s paintings and the purity of color and taking out the shapes and the forms and the figuration, and just having these oblong moments suspended, that’s what it is.
That idea of having Patience in the Blue really struck me. And that painting is also figurative and there’s probably well over a hundred layers of glazes built up on the surface– it’s very thick. I would load up a brush with the glaze medium mixed with with paint, and just push it across and swoosh it across horizontally until the glaze would start drooping and dripping down.
What gravity was doing with the paint medium, which was outside of my control, interested me. Now I had something to respond to. So, the images that I was using of the radar screen was outside of my control. And I think life is very similar in that way. There are so many things outside of our control, but we usually find ourselves responding to it. I was literally recreating that in these paintings.
VC: Yeah, for sure. I don’t know how you knew how to do that, but that’s why you’re Shane Guffogg!
Shane: I don’t know. There are so many things that I, I know that I don’t know, and I don’t want to know, and I don’t dare ask myself to delve into it because it’ll probably shut me down, so I just keep moving.
VC: Well, apparently, you can’t get there with an analytical mind. There’s no getting there.
Shane: No, no, no. That’s an interesting thing that you’re saying. Years ago, I read the Tao of Physics. It is a comparison and contrasting of ancient Taoism and contemporary physics. And the similarities were so parallel. And I thought, well, is this because there was an ancient culture that was highly advanced and lost everything?
And, and what we have are little mythological stories that have the same numbers embedded in these stories that physicists are now finding, like how many years ago did the universe begin, and the Toast had it at four billion years. That’s an abstract thing, this idea of a big bang that kicked this whole thing off. How was that possible for them to come up with the idea, let alone the number? So, then I started thinking, well, maybe that information is within all of us, but we’ve blocked it out.
Maybe everything that we need to know is the fact that we are who we are. But we’re not, we don’t know how to ask the question. So, we’re stuck in this moment of trying to understand, we’re asking constantly, what’s the answer? What’s the answer? What was the answer? Life is the answer. It’s the question that we need to learn to ask. And that’s, I think back to what you’re talking about. By asking about ancient Taoism, well, did they come upon that knowledge because they were an advanced civilization and then they got wiped out, or did they process information in a different way than we do now?
Were they highly advanced and spiritual in nature? What we would consider as spiritual nature. Because we read about all these ancient cultures that had all of this knowledge, this wisdom, and they built these great monuments, but there’s no trace of how they did it. Well, maybe they knew things we don’t know. And maybe it’s not based on our idea of technology. Maybe it is a deeper understanding of reality and the mechanics of the universe and how things actually work.
I don’t know. These are thoughts that I have all the time. And these thoughts permeate into these paintings as I’m asking questions. These paintings are really the questions that I’m proposing. I don’t intend for them ever to be an answer.
VC: I understand. There’s so many things that are coming up for me, what you’re saying, but I want to stay on track with this conversation because what I am studying right now is very relative to this. But I want to stay within this context of these paintings and, and what you’re doing. Also, let’s talk about the patterns and the other paintings in the exhibition.
Shane: Let’s begin with “A Sainted Hunger.”
VC: If we’re talking about non-analytical and following your intuitive self, yes, I do believe we’ve, got amnesia and it’s in there, and we have-to unlock it. Also, we can all find enlightenment within ourselves. We don’t have to go to a guru. We don’t have to pay a bunch of money, and we don’t have to do all this … uh. It’s in there! We just need to get out of our own way.
VC: … and go through some of these things, like transcendental meditation, or maybe there’s other ways of getting there. But with that, in the painting, “A Sainted Hunger”, you’ve got those patterns. And you know, I’m always reminded by when you were speaking to that doctor, and the doctor was saying, you know, “Can you draw that sound?” And you drew it.
VC: I believe you said it was Sanskrit, and…
VC: These patterns are language. And yes, they are before thought. We don’t know what they are. We look at them, we don’t know if they are familiar. I had a visitor come in here. And they said,
“Wow, this painting was done in … 1998.” And look at the ribbons. It’s the beginning of the ribbons! And then there is this sort of sacred experience, when you look on top of the surface, there is something …
And then you’ve got this dance underneath. And then you’ve got these points, these meridians, and then you’ve got the light and, you know, the sun and the moon. And you know obviously, none of it’s there, but there’s something deep within it.”
Shane: It’s all there. I mean, you those Naples yellow lines that are going from left to right, right to left horizontally. And there’s, there’s five rows of three. Five is for our five senses. Three is for myself, my mother, and my father, because my mother and my father created me. So, it’s a trilogy. And if you look in the center, there’s a purple, sort of a magenta, another little dot or sort of a diamond shape that’s painted over the Naples yellow.
Shane: It’s directly centered. But as you go to the right, then they become off-centered almost as if when the moon is moving in front of the sun, and when it goes to the left, does the same thing, it’s, its center is a total eclipse. But as it moves the opposite directions, then they become out of alignment. Those marks do.
And then, on top of that, you have five totems of these red dots. The ribbon movement in there was a very subconscious moment that I painted. And it’s just me, you know, moving my arm, moving my body as I do now. And then, [clears throat] so it’s a subconscious moment that I can consciously respond to. And, and then once that part of it was done, I took a piece of paper, and I folded it up.
I don’t know how many times I don’t remember. And then I took a hole punch, and I punched out the basic shape of what I had painted. And then I unfolded it, like when a kid does that it becomes a snow snowflake or whatever we did in school.
Shane: Suddenly I have this other pattern that’s being created by something else that I’ve done. So, it’s multiplying, like a chain reaction. I do one thing and then it creates something else, and something else, and something else. And I think that’s true in life. We have a thought that manifests and takes us in this direction or that direction. We have a thought that causes us to make a left-hand turn out of a right-hand lane, and we end up in a car accident. You know?
These things, these thoughts manifest into our reality, into our physical space. That’s what I was exploring in those red totems. And again, there’s five of them, for our five senses. And as I recall, I think that the totems are repeated five times as they go up, they mirror themselves. Again, it’s about our five senses, but it’s the happenstance of a subconscious moment of creating that ribbon that then creates patterns.
I was thinking a lot about the subconscious and how the subconscious creates consciousness, and then what happens when we’re consciously aware of our subconscious? What does that look like?
VC: I realize I better return to my research on Hegel and “Phenomenology of Spirit” (1807) which has been the text I have been following through these past three conversations with Shane. I grabbed and opened it like I might the “I Ching” and “Spirit in relation to morality and duty” page opened. But that is not where we left off and it doesn’t help me right now. I return to my last page of where I left off, “Self-Consciousness” and “Freedom of Self-Consciousness” and am reminded by Hegel’s words that life is a place of eternal change and without consciousness we may miss out on all the wonders it has in store. Feeling, seeing, exploring, and finding one’s truth – all relates to the conscious effort of acceptance.
“But to both of these moments, the feeling of its wretchedness and the poverty of its actions, is linked the consciousness of its unity with the Unchangeable. For the attempted direct destruction of what is actually is is mediated by the thought of the Unchangeable, and takes place in this relation to it. The mediated relation constitutes the essence of the negative movement in which consciousness turns against its particular individuality, but which, qua relation, is in itself positive, and will bring consciousness itself to an awareness of its unity with the Unchangeable.” – Hegel
VC: As I watch Shane work in the studio or hear about his developing thoughts becoming his visual language. I conclude Shane is in complete understanding about the world around him. And I am confident one cannot explore these moments of creativity without accepting the conscious efforts of universal change. I will continue my practice of transcendental meditation, repeating my mantra, witnessing the thoughts that come, and go and hopefully transcend into that split second. As I trust the rest happens on its own. For me this works.
Stay tuned for Part 5 in 2023!
In this episode, Shane and I meet on Zoom to explore the current exhibition titled, Shane Guffogg: “Blue” located at Western Avenue in Hollywood, with me in the gallery space and Shane at his ranch in Central Valley we meticulously do a “deep dive” into the paintings and the topic of transcendence. Shane further describes “being.” This is an enlightening talk about the essence of life and the artist’s process painting.
Shane Guffogg is an American artist who looks through the lens of humanity at civilizations, both past, and present, and views time as threads that connect all people. His work is a visual language that is informed by the spiritualism of abstraction and the realism of the old masters. These two ideas are usually seen as separate but Guffogg fuses them seamlessly into works that transcend and become testaments to thoughts that inform us of who we are in the 21st century.