'Depicting Limits: Syntax, Abstraction and Space in Contemporary Painting' (2013)
The central claim of the thesis is that contemporary painting can be productively considered and made through a renewed investigation of syntax. Beginning with a detailed examination of Jonathan Lasker's work, I argue that a recomposed concept of syntax as a critical method distinguishes what I term 'syntactical painting' from modernist formalism and postmodern quotation. Looking to Rosalind Krauss' writing on Pablo Picasso, I discuss the mutability of the sign; and through Tomma Abts' use of shadow I rework Clement Greenberg's pejorative term 'homeless representation' into a positive avenue of enquiry. I then consider an alternative idea of syntax, identifiable in Daniel Buren, Robert Ryman and Wade Guyton, that works from outside of the frame.
Here, I contend that using real space to critique painting fails to replace internalised invention, and that a continued resistance towards illusion has run its course. In the text, I rethink modernist assertions of objectness over imagery, along with Michael Fried's absorption/theatricality concepts, to propose Duccio's diagrammatic space and Frank Stella's reconciliation of flatness with the frame as models for painting whereby the viewer can clearly experience syntax. Such discussions reveal how certain meta-reflexive operations, which are otherwise largely neglected by critical discourse, can be reappraised via syntactical painting. The thesis accompanies my painting practice, in which I use soft films of transparent oil to pictorialise the materiality of the prepared field.
The paintings are meticulously rendered, and appear as though drawn or printed. I use bands of colour to bring a particular delicacy to the figuring of the frame, which is achieved through transparency and trompe l'oeil illusion. I often conceive of painting as a two-dimensional stage space that curtails fictive distance as it represents it, and as an abstract diagram for the re-presentation of photography's installation shot of painting and the gallery.