Syntax of Forms

All of the recent thinking about literature and abstraction—Groys, Benjamin, Kitaj, Klee —has helped to clear up some lingering questions in the watercolors. Sometimes images appear, and sometimes that’s good, but I wasn’t sure how to distinguish when it is and when it isn’t. Sometimes it just doesn’t feel right, the image seems to be dragging the picture down to a banal ambiguity, such as I have mentioned here before. My watercolors are made of patches that touch or overlap or echo each other or otherwise dance in some implied relationship. It is a syntax—parts that string into “sentences” that tell their own story. The work is discursive, though I didn’t plan it that way; each picture is a progression of thought. Maybe it’s like the thoughts one has when listening to music—open but ordered. It’s been this way since the start, but I was never so clear about it, and now I know when to cancel the image—when it comes holistically, as an idea. The important thing is to stick to the syntactical method, then the suggestion of an image can add a lot.

Robert Linsley, Untitled watercolor 2009

I believe in working by instinct, but now have an objective confirmation of what I feel. What is surprising is that the “literariness” of the work is in its structure and its method, and that’s what keeps it abstract. The question then becomes when does a syntax of forms, or shapes, become a larger, closed form, and should it? Normally I think it’s an achievement to arrive at a “form,” and it’s not a problem for abstraction because it can be open, broken or unfinished. Images unified and whole inhibit the demons, to our mutual loss.

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