Gumbism

Why do we name colors “Plum” or “Brick Red”? Because the name refers to the color of something known. An orange is orange, obviously. What is a blue?

What are the similarities between walking in a line and drawing a line? Hands and feet? Grass and paper?

What can a letter do on its own? What is an “A” when it’s stretched tall or pressed fat? Is an “A” that’s bumpy more welcoming than an “A” that’s shiny?

T is for tiger. Draw a t with a tail. K is for kangaroo. Draw k with a hidden pouch.

These concerns become more complicated when one takes medium into consideration.

Clay can become a man. This can be accomplished via divine intervention (which positions God as the artisan and man as the artifice) or via an evolutionary process. Regardless, Earth is the stuff of which man is composed. In Greek mythology, hard marble transforms into the soft flesh of a woman, the sculptor’s ideal woman in fact. (The story of Pygmalion idealizes a process that is actually potentially disturbing. Imagine if anime had existed at that time.) This carries the implication that image is made flesh (psychic made physical) which is an important concern, but for now it’s important to focus on that Earth is the medium through which this process occurs.

What does paint become as it evolves?

Children have an instinct to play with clay. When a child first begins to paint, s/he paints like playing in mud. Paint is a physical thing to be scraped and smeared and sometimes eaten.

Paint becomes complex when color is introduced. Red, Yellow, Blue. Never mind that in the eye the primaries are Red, Blue, Green. (Consider: your eye is an organ that can see RED, BLUE, GREEN. Your body grabs these three colors out of existence as the child’s hand grabs for mud.) We’ve become very personal with Red, Yellow, Blue. They’re friendly colors. Violet, on the other hand, is a little confusing. Red, Blue, Yellow have names that are taught since childhood. They have personalities. Pink might have the most personality. Boys are trained to be embarrassed by it. This embarrassment can last a lifetime.

Mix Red, Blue, Yellow paint and you get Brown or Grey. So many different shades of Brown and Grey. These colors might as well be call the unspecific or the unclear. When one mixes too many colors, it becomes harder to name the resulting color. Brown and Grey cannot be unmixed and it cannot be added to any other mixture without making that mixture Brown or Grey. Which five year old loves Grey? One tries to keep the colors separated. My favorite color is Blue. I’m going to use that the most. (Growing up, for a painter, means realizing the potential of Brown and Grey.)

Color also has a semiotic dimension. Blue means sad or boy. Yellow means happy or danger. Red means love or violent. Green means envious or healthy. (What is orange?) Some people are white and some people are black, and this purely semiotic difference (very few people have black or white skin but there are plenty of black and white people) has been a driving force in human history.

This is as far as color theory goes for most people. cyan and magenta only exist for designers, and perhaps that’s fine. I just wonder what kind of personality cyan and magenta could have if they were allowed to live with us. What nation has a flag with magenta on it?

Much of this can be attributed to nature. Where, in nature, can one find cyan? In some rare minerals. cyan, as it is typically used today, is created in a lab. It is created using chemistry, which is a type of language based on observing atoms and molecules. Pthalocyanine: one of the most saturated dyes ever created. There is no cyan fruit from which cyan juice might be squeezed (but there is cyan Kool-Aide, so we can create cyan flavor in a lab too).

Early discovered pigments are created using broken stones or plants. One can even burn plants to create charcoal, which is still used to create black pigment. Also used is burnt animal bone. Anything organic. This includes human bones. Human bones could make charcoal, which in turn could be used to draw a human. (It’s not too bizarre. A pigment once existed called mummy brown. It was actually made of crushed mummies (one artist, in discovering this, buried his tube in his backyard)).

Another interesting pigment: Indian yellow. Originally, it was created by feeding cows mangos and dehydrating them. When they urinated, their urine was an intense yellow. Urine has a color. The body produces yellow. Little boys pull out their penises to urinate in the snow, spelling their names in yellow. This is an introduction to mark making, which can be called painting or drawing (the difference is irrelevant when talking about little boys peeing in snow).

While few people continue to paint as they age, everyone draws. Writing is drawing. Drawing deals with the abstract element of line. Handwriting demonstrates style, probably one of the most pure examples. Handwriting typically develops separate from aesthetic concerns, style in the pure sense: the individual way one naturally does something. When it comes to the signature, however, aesthetics might enter into the equation. Signatures get collected. Signatures can have great value. My brother thought he was going to be a professional baseball player. I remember him sitting at the table, trying to create a great signature. Yellow sheets of paper, filled with his name.

I used the same yellow sheets to doodle. I’ve never met someone who does not doodle from time to time. The feeling of the pen on paper as it moves. The way the space gets filled by line. Free association. Growth.

Drawing was once taught to science students in school. Insofar as it is more simple to describe the growth pattern of a rose through drawing than through writing, drawing is a fundamental way of explaining the world. Drawing is rather natural. All an artist does is go even deeper into the practice of drawing, flushing out its potential. But most people know how to convey the spatial concept that something is in something else. Draw a couple dots. Dots in space. Draw a circle around the dots. Dots contained.

Still, there seems to be a cultural phobia against drawing. There seems to be an assumption that if one cannot draw reality like a camera takes a picture, then one cannot draw.

Photography has come to be the ultimate means of capturing reality, showing that we have come to think of reality as a series of possible images (if this keeps up, some day we will have sex without touching). The most important development today that distances contemporary photography from the views of preceding theorists is the screen. The photograph of mass culture, 2017 is disseminated and experienced via the screen. This is a pure image: an image divorced from a medium. There is not much gummy here. Of course, one can gumbify a photograph. I’d never suggest a limit to human ingenuity. But I’m pretty bored of it all. The “glitch” art. Paintings that are basically prints. Painters that don’t care about paint at all except in the most symbolic of ways.

An image can do plenty of things. What can paint do? Not just color field paintings or dripping. I want paint to evolve in its own world just like clay became man. Then it can devolve back into paint just as man became clay again when he became Gumby.

Gumby maintains the form of man (as an icon instead of as an organism), but is this his “true” form? Gumby is a Platonic nightmare because his essence has no relation to his form (meaning no true form). He is also disturbing from a Christian perspective. His form is self-determined, he makes himself in his own image (which must be no image(meaning no genesis)). Further, his form has no relation to his substance, proving that he has not evolved out of the world of nature. Yet he maintains that human form, indicating that his experience parallels the human experience.

When man 3D prints organs, he challenges his origins. When man replaces his appendages with prosthetics, he is challenging the distinction between organic and inorganic, self and not-self. His form no longer need be dictated by his substance. The body takes on form as dictated by the mind. I’d never propose that man will start to do so voluntarily (but who knows). I’m suggesting that the possibility presents new ways of seeing the body as variable and very plastic. Not integral. The contemporary concept of the body is very distanced from the Renaissance concept.

What is man separate from the things he makes? Marshal McLuhan proposed that all man’s inventions are extensions of his own body, not just literal prosthetics. Clothes, for example, are an extension of skin. His interest in technology encompassed not only the obvious printing press or telephone, but also language itself. McLuhan was fascinated by a fable in which teeth were planted in the ground and they grew into soldiers. He saw teeth as a metaphor for language. Language, here, becomes flesh, as clay did.

When I was learning the alphabet, I had a hard time seeing letters as being related to concepts. “A” did not denote a sound that, when combined with other letters, could become “cat” or “apple”. I saw letters purely in terms of their visual qualities. (This is not too unique. English speakers tend to appreciate Japanese calligraphy purely for its visual qualities.) I remember that my parents got me a poster to help me learn the alphabet. On the poster, all the letters were depicted as creatures. There were fuzzy letters and letters with scales. I wonder what would happen if I met one of these creatures. Would a big, serpentine “S” eat me? Would it digest me and use my energy to go on being a “S”? Would it reproduce little lowercase snakes? I always associated lowercase and uppercase with age.

(An “S” creature is not nearly as odd as a “Q” creature.)

I never saw a human “H”. Giving a letter human attributes would be disturbing. The ass would be at the top of one of the vertical lines and the face would be at the top of the other. One of the corners would have armpit hair and the other would have pubic hair. The exposed pink flesh would seem just a little too vulnerable without the proper anatomy to accompany it.

The main problem is that an alphabet creature is a tube-shaped creature. It’s nihilistic to think of the human body in terms of tubes.  Nobody wants to be a worm. What’s weird about a worm is that you can cut it in two and it will become two different worms (at least in popular mythology). They are just organic tubes that eat and poop. Worms have no identity.

People have been painting a lot of worms recently. Wiggly, Hockney-esque lines. Of course, I might be seeing so many wormy lines because I’m looking for them. There’s also a trend toward the geometric. A weird, neo-religious, we are all made of stardust fixation on geometry and the internet.

I once believed in the internet. But the internet turned people didactic. People don’t learn from discussion as much as they learn through individual research (or by creating an echo-chamber network of people who “share” research). They certainly don’t learn by DOING.

The internet will obviously leave its impression upon future generations. However, the era of the internet (also called the age of anxiety) could come to an end. This is because of the physical world (that thing the internet conditions us to disregard). To make a computer requires specific physical resources. These resources are actually pretty rare (think about how your computer is full of precious, beautiful minerals, taken out of the ground then organized with intent, like its own little museum). Many people have cellphones right now and it’s remarkably easy to throw away a phone and buy a new one. Unless they get so efficient that they run on a crystal memory systems or we mine other planets, they’ll eventually become too expensive to be practical on the mass market (imagine a world without cell phones. It has been most of human history, but to me it was only the time before middle school.)

Regardless of how long it lasts, the age of anxiety will leave a mark. Some of the accomplishments of the age of anxiety:

-Handwritten letters are a novelty.
-Diminished lag between wondering and discovering.
-I travel around with my head tilted down to look at Google maps instead of up at the physical environment.
-Decreased relevance of geography.
-Increase awareness of other people’s thoughts and opinions.
-Increased access to data.
-Hyper-empowered individual voices.
-Allows average people to turn themselves into an image, instead of going through some other party.

Ultimately it has altered our relationship to the physical world and increased the awareness of the psychic world. (McLuhan considered electric technologies as an extension of our nervous system. Imagine nerves growing out of our bodies and wrapping around other people’s nerves until everything is so tangled up you can’t tell the difference.) Of course, dividing the “world” up into two groups like this is deceptive. I’m only doing so to make a point.

When I sit on a plane, I’m aware how irrelevant my individual body is compared to the body of the plane itself. My body is not adapted to fly, whereas the plane is. If it falls, I die. I am in the stomach of the plane, along with dozens of equally impotent bodies. We are all implicated by the structure of the plane. Here, boundaries have become somewhat ambiguous. We all share the same wings, as well as the same skin. The internet is a less physical structure, but the principle is none-the less the same. This has made the world very flexible, plastic, worm-like.

However, boundaries are not completely eroded as the hyperbolic gospel of internet neo-religion suggests. Recently, I cut my finger with a knife. The cut was deep enough that I needed minor surgery to see if a nerve in my finger could be repaired. It turned out that the nerve was too damaged. I have no feeling on one side of the middle finger of my left hand (not the worst disability by far). When the cut occurred, I did not theorize about interconnectedness or the eroding of boundaries. The milky thick, red black blood poured out my hand and onto the white kitchen floor, turning a vibrant red of alert as it thinned upon impact. There was no confusion that it was my hand, not someone else’s, that had been cut. No psychic dimension. When the doctor finished sewing close the wound (I’ve recently learned to sew, so that was the only metaphor on my mind) I saw a little cup full of the dark blood sitting on a stainless steel tray next to scalpels and bloody rags. All that dark color came out of my body, and there was still plenty of it inside, usually invisible to me except on this occasion.

I’ve pressed hot things, cold things, and sharp things against the side of my finger. I get no return. It’s odd, because there is still life in it. I have seen bodies without life in them. I worked with cadavers for a drawing class once. It is weird how devoid of life the bodies were. You’d think it would be disturbing, but the sterile environment and the complete lifelessness of the bodies made everything feel so matter-of-fact.

One thing that impressed itself upon me was how heavy a body looks when there is no life in the muscles. It’s amazing that a body can stand erect on just two feet. The structure of human anatomy is designed for this purpose because, as just dead weight, the body is incredibly heavy.

I realized how few images I ever saw of a body convey this weight. Most convey only an icon. So many anime bodies and photoshop bodies are without substance. Even pretty girls have heavy bodies, believe it or not. They need the anatomy that is edited out or altered in order to physically function. The material existence of a body can be very different from its image.

I’m not trying to undervalue the psychic dimension in favor of the physical. The city testifies to the illusion that there’s a difference. Line, plane, and grid are all purely conceptual means of interpreting and organizing space, yet the psychic dimension is given form via concrete and glass. In the city, one lives in a grid. The grid manifests on multiple levels, from the city itself to the subway to one’s apartment. (It makes sense that architects developed the system of linear perspective.) Line is the street and its movement is the traffic.

Nor am I trying to associate advances with technology with the eroding of morality. It could easily be argued that the internet enhances to powers of disenfranchised people, people who could never own a news network but can maintain a blog. This, in turn, enhances social justice thus promoting a moral society.

What I am doing is questioning the emphasis has been placed on the psychic dimension in regards to human destiny. Technology has been the incentive for this emphasis, but only sexy technology (new, fast, clean, expensive technology). Concrete is technology. The printed book is technology. Paint (oil, acrylic, tempera,) is technology. The ways we interact with the most basic technologies, technologies that are so fundamental as to invite the play of children, but so infinitely plastic as to invite years of experimentation, reveal as much about human destiny. The psychic dimension of human existence has been manifest in clay well before the computer was invented. The image had to cope with paint well before the religious sound of an Apple computer turning on was ever heard.

Where are we in the evolution process of paint?

A new black has been invented that is the blackest black in history. The black is so dark not so much because of the structure of the pigment (carbon), but because of the way the pigment is applied to its substrate. It’s so dark that one could be put in a lighted room that had been covered with this black and one would only be able to see oneself. The walls, ceiling, and floor would provide no spatial reference.  If one were to paint a canvas with this black, the canvas would not appear to hang on the wall. It would appear as a hole in the wall. One paint stroke on top of this surface would appear to float in the void.

Considering the image of the little boy spelling his name in the white snow with his urine, one can conceive a genesis for paint. Considering the image of this lonely paint stroke in the void (like a cosmonaut missing the moon), one can see the parallel between the evolution of paint and the evolution of human consciousness. Here is the paint stroke, purely as itself instead of serving to create an illusion (perhaps anticipating, ready to join other paint strokes in the play of contrast which, for a paint stroke, is the play of identity). What does this paint stroke need to survive? How does this paint stroke evolve? Like clay? Like light? Like language? Or like a body, which might be some combination of everything else?

Perhaps I’m being too grandiloquent. I’m not trying to write a sermon on human destiny. However paint has been there through all the changes. It has changed as we have changed. The Umbers and Siennas still feel ancient. The Cobalts and Cadmiums feel less so, but nothing feels as artificial, exciting, and new as the Phthalocyanines and Quinacridones. They are closer to light than previous color has ever come. And in regards to light, we now have access to structural color, the type of stuff that makes the Morpho butterfly’s wings blue. These paints abide the rules of light instead of pigment.

Will we use the green green green of Phthalocyanine to create a more perfect grass? A plastic grass with an even, green glow. The danger is that in trying to make things the way we imagine them to be, as opposed to how they are, we will replace the world with its own image. The strength of a given technology is also its danger. This world would be like a child’s drawing, where the grass is green and the sky is blue. Plastic cannot sustain life, only imitate. Aliens would come here to find a deserted planet full of images of life, but ultimately barren. There is a reason why Socratic philosophy associated reality more with sculpture (forms), than painting (images). Images may be seen by the eye, but they exist in the mind. To associate images with reality is to subvert reality to illusion, which is a dangerous game.

Of course, the objective world is becoming rather gummy itself. I imagine this lonely paint stroke floating in the void the same way I imagine the digital object, fresh after being modeled, floating in blank space. A digital object has no scale until scale is intentionally determined or implied by relation to some other object. The size of an object sculpted out of clay is inherent: a certain amount of clay must be used to achieve certain dimensions, this is a physical constraint. A digital object is defined by the relationships between vectors, it is pure geometry, which is pure concept. There is no difference here between an ocean and a puddle.

We can make these phantom objects at the same time we can make paint so black it appears to create a hole in the wall. We can also make paint that glows and paint that appears different colors at different angles. These are effects that disrupt the concepts of stability and integrity.

Paint, itself, has an illusionistic quality before it is ever put at the service of image. One type of illusion comes from color, and this illusion has been the basis of painting for hundreds of years. We have taken the red out of the rocks of the Earth and transformed it into the red light of a setting sun. That’s alchemy, and when one really considers the transformation, it is terrifying and invigorating. Paint, however, is more than just color. Paint is mud. It wants to be pushed and pulled. Sometimes paint wants to be eaten. Paint might also want to be touched. Ultimately, paint wants to turn into things that are not paint, and then it wants to turn back. Paint is flexible. Paint is gummy.

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