There is a well-worn narrative of twentieth century painting that goes like this: From Cezanne to Picasso to Pollock, the illusionistic space of painting flattened more and more until the picture plane and the surface created by the paint itself became the primary subject matter, eliminating images altogether in favor of abstraction. While this teleology has some merit, the purity of the story is incomplete. When Linda Benglis began pouring polyurethane on her studio floor, creating a sculptural object, paint itself began to function as a readymade. Linda Besemer then recognized abstraction as a metaphor, working with it in terms of its figure/ground relationships. The figure of paint, once removed from the ground of the canvas used the world – including the architecture and institution of the museum as well as the social relations of its public –as its ground.
Margie Livingston’s work participates directly in this narrative, creating hybrid objects that shift back and forth between sculpture and painting as well as abstraction and representation. After making paintings on canvas for many years, Livingston began pouring paint, layering it, then cutting it and breaking it apart in order to construct objects that are images of their own making. But while these works are abstract, they begin to resemble other objects like wooden blocks, stone, or waferboard. In this sense she breaks two cardinal rules of modernist painting by making works that are images of other things while at the same time telling a story. But the images depict raw materials that have the potential for making other artworks and the story that she tells is modern art history itself. So these works become objects that at once enact pious devotion and heretical rebellion – rooted in both process and conceptual reference.
Her logs of paint begin with about a dozen sheets, each one made with two gallons of paint. They are laminated together then milled and cut into 2 x 4 pieces of lumber, much in the same way that wooden beams are made. This gesture marks an apparent turn away from a sublime notion of nature, replacing it with artifice. By making a plank of wood out of plastic paint, Livingston also points to the role of mechanized production in the timber industry. In this sense, she participates in a contemporary sublime of plastic beauty, leaving behind the Romantic attachment to nature’s mythic truths. Our conception of the natural and a truth of origin is just as much of a cultural construction as a milled log made of plastic paint. Maybe these faux natural objects remind us of the environmental threats of our time. But that does not preclude them from being objects of wonder and beauty.
Seattle-based artist Margie Livingston is represented by Greg Kucera Gallery. She has exhibited her work at Luis De Jesus Gallery in Los Angeles, Richard Levy Gallery in Santa Fe and will be included in an upcoming exhibition at LACE (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions).