STEVE HAMPTON & RAYMIE IADEVAIA: SACCHARINE SALAD
Over the course of the last decade Hampton's paintings have cycled through a series of motifs that are both identifiable and obscure, process-based and patterned, aggressive and demure. In fact, his oeuvre has a mixed constitution throughout, referencing themes as diverse as still life, landscape and even textiles. But what is central to his art practice is how all of these themes are implicated in the bifurcations engendered by action painting, or the asymptomatic relation between process-based abstraction and the empire of signs that make up 'cultural' discourse.
In fact, one might say that his works highlight a dialectic dissonance between radical re-appropriation and endemic dis-identification that relies on a vocabulary of undecidability, indiscernability and indetermination. Series like "Power Ballads" and "Greatest Hits" point to the hyper-reified condition of the painterly object while other bodies of work, like "Painting Lite" and "Acting Out", hint at the larger problematic of consumability as a self-constituting condition. Each of these positions is engaged in a dissembling play of sign and signifier that makes hyper-reflexivity appear to be the common condition of contemporaneity.
More recently however, Hampton's work seems to inhabit a post-dialectic stance that embraces mourning as an implicit strategy of the modernist enterprise, where the perpetual overturning of previous models of production points toward an endemic loss of meaning incurred by the cult of 'progress' and endless forms of 'innovation'. But how is this type of historical melancholy addressed in his works? What hidden presuppositions subsist beneath such a program and what is at stake in Hampton's challenge to the hyperbolic revolutions of received wisdom and its critical purchase?
First, we can say that Hampton treats painting as a 'live' medium inasmuch as he engages with the painterly sign as a symbol of flux. This is evidenced in what he refers to as a language of "swaths, spills and slides" that permeate all of his various projects. Of course, the conflict that adheres to these time-based processes often opens onto a series of doublebinds. Not only do such gestures produce the index of an absence that is also a type of presence — or the working of a type of work that has already past, and shows itself in this passing as a gesture — but they also give us a form of denatured authorship which hides prescriptive measures. Put another way, Hampton's painterly denotations play off the function of the oblique with regard to indication and/or intervention by never revealing the biases of a system, style, or a given language. Instead, his process-based gestures are insistent, emphatic and enigmatic — acting more like disruptions than determined distributions of a given material.
Next, it is important to underscore how the temporal quality of Hampton's marks are deployed over and against the stability of other signs, be they from the history of art, the world of industrial production, or even different forms of 'craft'. In this regard, we can say that his adoption of varied themes and ideograms beyond his regular vocabulary of 'sliding' signifiers is directed at upending genre distinctions, affective distinctions, and even the partisan distinctions attributed to 'fine art' and the greater world of art commerce. His is a project that abuts painterly marks of a rather transitional status against a mish-mash of the iconic and the derivative — where new derivations emerge from the interaction between these incommensurable paradigms.
Last but not least, it is Hampton's engagement with the greater world of image production, (as well as how it is given over to us by 'type and kind'), that points to how our regular ciphers of interpretation can be challenged vis-à-vis the active conflation of different modes of 'abstracting'. By mixing traditional materials with craft elements like glitter, decals, fake gemstones, etc., Hampton's work problematizes both the production of value and the process of valorization as epistemological and ontological coordinates.
This is achieved through a myriad of strategies such as how (1) Hampton uses different painterly strategies to mimic commercial signs like home decor; (2) or in how he deploys paint as a blunt thing — unpainted, laid on, slide down, pushed by gravity — where 'process' is used to hold expressivity at a bare minimum; (3) or even in the dynamic way that Hampton's painterly expositions elide every effort at reduction, (be it essentialist, expressive, or programmatic), by always giving us a theater of fragmented and partial processes.
And yet, among these kaleidoscopic techniques, one may presume that there is a hidden nostalgia for the sign to carry its full meaning, for it to be absolutely self-supporting, or that the play between surface and support in Hampton's work is there to provide us a brief respite from the endless flow of images that dominate contemporary life. But even if this were to be the case, there is no sense of rest or security in Hampton's active compositions, polyvalent themes or transitional forms. His is a kind of virtuosity, both mannered and simulationist, that combines the most irreconcilable of trajectories — be they modern, postmodern, or otherwise. The shear duplicity of his compositions questions the ease and naturalness with which we receive the (re)mediated image as a source of valuation, re-valuation, and even auto-valorization.
In fact, one might even say that every effort aimed at reaching the 'zero degree' of meaning in painting is overturned by Hampton's recent work inasmuch as it marries the iconographic function of wallpaper with the emotive touch of impressionism in an effort to enact a radical emptying out of critical nomenclature. Or, to be a bit more concise about its operative effects, one would underscore the ways in which his images start with painted patterns, and then re-appropriate these marks through industrial models of reproduction, while everywhere juxtaposing the two as a model traumatic equitability. Whether by equating art with commodity production; or textiles with historical motifs from high art; or readily identifiable gestures with the cult of personality; or even memory and mourning with marketability; his art practice is one that aims to allegorize the effects of a circumspect loss of meaning that attended the birth of modernism, and which shows no signs of slowing even today!
If we could point to three moments that help us place the trajectory of abstraction as an asymptomatic process with regard to (modern) reification, (postmodern) auto-valorization, and contemporary modes of critical (in)validation, it would have to be the following: (1) Baudelaire’s defense of 'Art for Art Sake', (2) Ad Reinhardt's declaration of 'Art as Art', and (3) Hampton's evidence of a painterly, patterned and otherwise kitsch strewn surface that declares the possibility of "Art forsaken for Art's sake." In other words, his practice as an artist is premised on the radical de-reification of the idiom of painting — both hopeful and, at times, pessimistic — but always committed.
Bio: Steven Hampton is a painter, educator, and art historian who lives and works in Los Angeles. He was awarded the Karl and Beverly Benjamin Fellowship while at Claremont Graduate University, where he received his M.F.A. in 2006. In 2011, Steven earned his Master's degree in art history from the University of California, Riverside, where he wrote his thesis on kitsch and "Bad Painting." Recently, Steven has participated inShangrila (Joshua Tree), Painting on Edge II (DEN Contemporary), The New Cool School (White Box Contemporary), Summer of Abstraction (Orange Coast College), and The Subterraneans (Torrance Art Museum).
The works of Iadevaia have carved out a special niche in the artworld for their gaudiness and theatricality. Neither kitsch nor high abstraction, neither installation works nor flat works, neither painting nor sculpture —Iadevaia's works are a hyperbolic mix of divergent aesthetic registers. Simultaneously attractive and repulsive, and everywhere inviting to the touch, his objects would be ever more intimate if they didn't court a precarious sense of fragility — or perhaps, they are that much more intimate for it. And yet, for all their disparate qualities, we wouldn't be mistaken to say that Iadevaia has been cultivating an oeuvre of hybridity based on exalting the 'misbehaving object', the 'partial object' and a full panoply of paradoxes that adhere to the conditions of objecthood.
While his earlier work was more immersive, often consisting of an aesthetic experience that reconstructed the exhibition space, Iadevaia's recent work has taken a turn away from creating the 'total' work of art by examining the totality of investments associated with materiality. His recent pallet has hints of Matisse, Bonnard and even Howard Hodgkin, while his sculptural sensibility is somewhere between the scatter-art of the 90s and the intuitive agency of Jessica Stockholder — and yet, what emerges in the end is not reducible to these influences, nor is it caught up in the same kinds of aesthetic questions. Against high modernist essentialism and postmodern reappropriation, Iadevaia's work sets in motion a radical dialectic that side steps all attempts at reduction, integration or de-codeability.
Be it a kind of slippage between the high and the low, the notion of interior and exterior space, or the difference between refined and raw materials, Iadevaia's work everywhere resists setting meaning to rest. Instead, it proposes an active, and even aggressive engagement with the terms and conditions of its own proposals. Where his art proposes to be an object in a gallery it nevertheless continues to look more domestic and even commercial; where his work proposes an exterior experience of optical and tactile pleasures, it still points back toward interior states and subtler motivations; where the kind of objects he produces present themselves as caught up in a form of hyper-reflexive gaming, Iadevaia's work still manages to be accessible and even relies on a certain sense of charm and humor. In other words, the dialectic tension in his work is based on emphasizing polarities of interest rather than simple dichotomies.
As far as interpretive models of production go, Iadevaia's work fits well within what has become known as the 'cinematic mode of production', not only for the faux set-design aesthetic that he engages with from time to time, and not only for the techniques he uses in constructing the work, but for how his works are situated within, beside or outside the cultural imaginary of 'good' design. In other words, his works often disrupt the feeling of belonging to this or that locale by presenting us with second level simulacrum that denaturalize our relation to the given, i.e., the 'scripted spaces' and aesthetic dispositions of culture at large.
In contrast to Frank Stella's late work, which is not an unimportant precedent in thinking about Iadevaia's own efforts, we might say that the problem here is one of letting work make its own place, rather than "its own space". And this might prove harder than one thinks if 'place' is taken to mean that which is circumscribed by cultural values and tropes of every type and kind, and most especially, with regard to 'every type and kind' of art practice. This is the territory in which Iadevaia's works might be 'placed', and it is also how his art practice finds its purchase in the contemporary moment — by negotiating the hyper-reified conditioning of sensibility through various forms of purposeful divestment, disjuncture and indeterminacy. It is also through such practices that we find the cinematic mode of production transformed from something rather mundane and automatic into something rather autocratic and even dare we say, sublime.
Bio: Raymie Iadevaia was born in Newport Beach, California. Recent exhibitions include, Boom 2012 at d.e.n. contemporary in the Pacific Design Center, West Hollywood, Protostellar at Studio Serrano, Los Angeles. In 2006, Raymie was a selected artist in a group exhibition in Sierre, Switzerland, after a three-week residency at Ecole Cantonale d'Art du Valais. Currently Raymie is a candidate in the MFA Program at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.