You present a series of powerful, watching faces in this show that confront the viewer as soon as they walk into the gallery. What is your thinking about this work?
The Watchers has emerged through feelings of personal connection with the paintings of Francisco Goya, the writings of Nicole Krauss, and the palpable qualities of paint. This series of paintings initially developed as a reaction to reading Man Walks Into a Room by Nicole Krauss. A novel set in 1957 and the present day, it’s a meditation on memory and personal history, solitude and intimacy telling the story of a young and popular professor at Columbia University, Samson, who is found wandering in the Nevada desert with no memory of his previous life. The moment that sticks with me is when Samson’s wife, holding out hope he will remember her, is with Samson in Los Angeles while he is being tested and prodded by a doctor and his team to evaluate if they can extract one of his memories. After another patient’s memory is extracted, Samson agrees to be the ﬁrst subject to have a memory transferred into his brain.
You met author Nicole Krauss in graduate school—and the two of you had an instant feeling of understanding. Can you explain why?
This narrative caused me to wonder how much I have forgotten of my own life and what could be if I remembered. As I began to figure out my creative process of transferring these thoughts to canvas, I created my own team of doctors, the watchers.
The watchers are prodding and extracting memories of moments I’ve forgotten, bringing them to the forefront of my mind allowing the memories to be discovered and rediscovered.
You apply paint in a very sculptural way. Can you tell me more about how you paint?
The very materiality of paint obsesses me. I love the sound of pigment and wax being slapped onto the canvas. I apply the paint with anything I can get my hands on brushes, palette knives, syringes, and Q-tips. All serve as tools for a diverse mark making. Through scraping and adding, scraping and adding, I continuously work and rework the surface. The ﬁgures emerge and at times spill over the edge of the canvas, allowing them to merge with or rub roughly against the world beyond the painting. This spill creates unrestricted forms. This is what I love about painting. With each work brought from conception to completion I am compelled to experience love’s conclusion and it’s after effects. The process allows me to fall in love over and over again. This part of the process is what drives my handling of the paint. As in love itself, there are instances a sensitive and delicate touch is required. Yet, also true in love, there are times when things need to become abrasive. So one must come to know when to allow what is murky, what is mysterious or difficult to discern, to be vivid in its own right. At other times, the paint must work like frosting on a cake, sweet and concealing that which is substantial. In that near concealment becoming substantial in itself. Still yet, there are times when the work must delve into grotesque distortions and excesses.
So can you sum up all of these complicated influences?
I took these very human very complex, emotional ideas and memories I’ve forgotten over time, all while never losing my grip on current moments and emotions, forcefully squeezed onto a surface that allows them to live forever. My paintings are an ephemeral experience of being human and the realization that we create a lifetime of memories that fade and are replaced with newer ones.
Lavaughan Jenkins will give the Nicholson Lecture on his exhibit “The Watchers” on April 12th at 7pm in the Presidents Dining Room (Campus Center). The public is invited, and the lecture is free of charge.
About the Hess Gallery
Inspired by art faculty members, the gallery originally was situated in the old single-carriage house on campus. Through the generosity of Class of 1964 alumna Constance Hess Williams and her father, Leon, it moved in 1971 to its present home on the first floor of the Annenberg Library Building. Over the years, many faculty members have directed the gallery, which is currently directed by Professor of Visual Arts Carolyn Wirth, with alum Katie White serving as Gallery Assistant.
The gallery enriches the lives of the entire Pine Manor community and is an art resource for neighboring communities in the greater Boston area. The gallery has three to four invitational exhibitions each year. Professional artists who have exhibited in recent years include: Niho Kozuru, Magdalena Maria Campos Pons, Ellen Schön, Judith Motzkin, David Barnes, Elizabeth Awalt, Fern Cunningham, Jane Goldman, L’Merchie Frazier, Iso Papo (Associate Professor Emeritus), and other art art faculty.