T293 is pleased to present Writing, Henry Chapman’s debut solo exhibition. Featuring new paintings, a video installation, and a text written for the occasion of the exhibition, Writing posits a poetics of time experienced through observation and touch.
In Chapman’s paintings, description embodies time: notational, calligraphic, and extralinguistic, no matter what the subject matter. “Language being just outside the door,” as Chapman writes in his accompanying text to the exhibition. A runner, a writer, and a suicide bomber each appear as stains, stippled marks, small lyric gestures, and glimpses of bright color on painting grounds of off-white and gray.
The paintings’ commitment to realism is manifest in their paratactic relationship between subject matter. Images from the war on terror—a beheading, a suicide bombing, and the recently released CIA report on torture—exist side by side with less extreme moments of experience, such as the movement of a hand typing, the passing of lunar phases, and marathon runners mid-stride.
Drawing on his interest in Giacomo Balla’s diagrammatic studies of motion, Chapman’s paintings take velocity as connective tissue between disparate subjects. In his video collaboration with American artist Kyle Williams, Chapman projects this concern onto a figure in perpetually frenetic motion. Future builds on an anecdote of a small-time theft of a Brancusi sculptural head, expressing anxiety over impermanence, disfiguration, and art-making as an act of erasure.
Chapman’s textual accompaniment to the work unfolds as an incomplete alphabet between the two extremes his paintings bridge. “I will not exclude pain,” it begins. It ends: “I will not exclude pleasure.”
On the occasion of “Writing”
a. I will not exclude pain
b. I will not exalt pain
c. I painted moving hands; scissors; a runner; a suicide bomber; a glance. “Everything only connected by ‘and’ and ‘and’” as Elizabeth Bishop wrote
d. In 1909, The Futurists wrote a mean and flowery manifesto about the demolition of the past. Against them, I sing the love of calm, the habit of patience. But I looked at Balla when diagrammatic marks and the illustration of movement appeared in my studio last summer. In Dynamism of a Dog on its Leash, Balla painted the wagging dachshund tail in its full arc, and beside it its owner’s shoes fixed in a hallucination of speed
e. The Futurists believed in velocity as a corrective to the art of their time. Disaster their trajectory, as ours is
f. I remember the soot snow of an alien New York in 2001 and every improper response to disaster
g. In “Musee de Beaux Arts,” Auden wrote of suffering, “it takes place/ While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along…” and later in the poem, “In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away/ Quite leisurely from the disaster”
h. My painting happens on a ground. The painting ground expresses its ability to be excavated. Against it occur cuts, abrasions, stipples, sputters, wheezes and rasps
i. I followed the curve of a line cut into the painting ground. It led me to a body that was already a vapor. Those painted figures form as a stain, a beaded mark, a mist, or a print
j. The paintings appear in past tense
k. Painting is an imperfect séance
l. “Painting is an outrage to time,” TJ Clark wrote in The Sight of Death, his reading of the Poussin painting, Landscape with a Man Killed by a Snake. This because the witness running to share the tragic news is about to speak—and never will
m. I painted with an idea of language being just outside the door
n. In October 2001, a flyer for interfaith services titled “Our Grief is Not a Cry For War” distributed near Union Square. It read: “We are a city in mourning. We honor the lost lives and our own humanity with a call for peace. We mourn with the mission of preventing further horrors / War is not the answer. / In the aftermath of this horror, we reject the acts of violence directed against our Arab and Muslim neighbors. We reject all expressions of racial, religious, and ethnic bigotry and violence. / We come together in our commitment to a free and peaceful world, a peace built on social and economic justice”
o. I waited on the chair under the opulent light of my studio window, which cut a broad streak down the wall and across the still wet painting on the floor. I had mixed feelings about it. The painting showed a diagram of the movement of the eye and a solitary writer. Above that a lunar alphabet. I called the painting Writing
p. The word “ground” positions me between poles of under and above. It feeds my celestial superstitions. It poses its correlative groundlessness
q. In my painting of the runner, two legs x two legs swooped below the figure from left to right. Like TJ Clark’s description of Man Killed by a Snake, he was almost a sign but not quite. He appeared as a Vitruvian Man turned to show his profile. He had two faces. He showed no sweat or panic
r. In December, I made a dozen drawings from what I’d read of the released CIA report on torture, trying to write accurately the gesture of a body in pain. This I did delicately
s. In the year of Balla’s Dynamism, Hilma af Klint met with a group called The Five. Their positions at séance instructed the forms of her precise abstraction.When I started to pull the nervous body out of my abstraction, I looked for images of her paintings. In one, I saw what could have been a figure, mechanical and balletic like one of El Lissitzky’s geometric ascensions
t. The Five believed in pinching past and present together
u. The architecture of my studio: floor, palette, table, window, laptop, door, ceiling
v. My first few steps forward I breathed through my nose, avoiding trees, lampposts, people, and cars. Not long after I sweat and began to hear the wheeze and gasp of my breathing. I tried to push all thoughts away from my body except the logistics of succeeding foot after foot. But even that I tried to ignore, nervous that with too much attention I might forget how. Salt sweat in my eyes signaled my progression
w. At the last stretch, on the last block, I shut my eyes and aimed my body toward the stopping point singing hard breaths
x. I visited Margaret in China during a super moon. I made a first round of drawings on what felt like stringent deadline, recalling Elizabeth Bishop’s travel paintings: a graveyard; a friend sleeping in bed on her back; a chandelier and chandelier shadow. I sketched a driver whose body coincided with his odometer; a seated man snipping the head of a chicken; a man reading a see-through newspaper. On that trip, Margaret wrote of our time passing, “the ruffled edge/of a glacier as we speak is slowly rendered/ smoother under sun”
y. I will not exclude pleasure