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By Eric Jabouille

 


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"Art, like nature, occupies the vital space at the border between premeditated structure and indeterminacy, between order and chaos, between the apollonian and the dionysian. art’s rightful place is at the boundary of and drawing power from the tension between a multiplicity of opposing forces" 

 

- Daniel Adel


Ebony Rise, 2024

Acrylic on Canvas, 39” x 31"


Resonance, Blue, 2024

Acrylic on Canvas, 40” x 40"


Triple Fugue, Rose, 2024

Acrylic on Canvas, 47” x 47"


Daniel Adel says: 

 

When I began painting seriously in the 1980’s I was already focused on the question of velocity. The speed of life had clearly been accelerating dramatically for at least a century. I was drawn, however, to the genre of still life, perhaps as it offered such a refuge from the boisterous rhythms of the streets of New York City. But I knew that for the genre of still life to be relevant in an age of Bullet Trains and an already supercharged swirl of information, the subject of a painting had to be far more dynamic than in times past. I began the search for objects which, rather than sit still, dashed and sped through the pictorial space. I wanted to paint still lifes that didn’t sit still. 

 

Learn more about Adel's work and hyperabstraction in the following interview with Eric Jabouille.

 

 

EJ: How did the Hyperabstraction series begin?

 

DA: I’ve always been attracted to fusions, syntheses, the bringing together of things, ideas, approaches, which are generally considered either incompatible or even diametrically opposed. I began in the early 80’s trying to merge an architectural sensibility with still life. I painted vertical triptychs where one level was entirely abstract, one was representational - often of sculptural objects - and the third suggestive of landscape. I didn’t know it at the time but I was attempting a grand synthesis of architecture, multiple subcategories of painting, and sculpture, all in small, elaborately framed panels no more than six inches wide. The titles were as grandiose as the aesthetic ambitions (The Rhopographical Apotheosis of the Commonplace, or, The Nightmare of the Iconophobe) I was unaware of how drenched this series was in the Postmodern sensibility, particularly its penchant for irony, despite my attempted rejection of its influence.

 

EJ: There’s also more than a hint of religious iconography, was there a spiritual component to this series?

 

AD: Definitely. Some of these were highly detailed paintings of components of engines presented on gold-leaf backgrounds and elaborately framed as a way of transforming Stromberg carburetors, for instance, or distributor caps into sacred objects. I was painting Industrial icons, so the synthesis I was striving for was of the ancient and the modern, and especially the secular and the sacred 

 

EJ: How did the transition from those classically oriented early paintings evolve into abstraction?

 

AD: I remember learning that the early Modernists were seen as having taken a huge step towards freeing painters from their traditional role as illustrators. At the time I was doing a lot of illustration for newspapers and magazines, so that purity was very attractive to me. The evolution towards Impressionism, Expressionism and eventually pure abstraction meant that the meaning of a piece no longer had its basis in narratives or texts external to the work, but in the structure of the work itself. I did notice, though, that despite the supposed liberation of painting from its dependence upon text at the inception of Modernism somehow, not very long after that depedancy had returned in full force. It turned out not to be a liberation at all, but merely a change in types of text, from mythological, Biblical or historical texts to Theory. Painting was once again subordinating itself to the written word. I left graduate school when I fully understood that the liberation of painting from text had ended in its submission to very specific politico-philosophical texts which were transforming artists back into, at best, illustrators, at worst, propagandists. This was the polar opposite of why I had put my illustration career on hold to study art, so I enacted that familiar trope and, to become an artist, I quit art school.

 

EJ: When we met in Lourmarin I heard you play a few of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Can you speak about the role music has played in the evolution of the Hyperabstraction Series?

 

AD: At a certain point in the 1980s I began to be fascinated by the notion that the purest of the arts was music. There’s that famous quote, "All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music", which I really love. Since it makes no literal reference to anything outside itself, music, simply through it’s structure directly conveys emotion and needs no interpretation. I was wooed away from the piano at sixteen to become a fencer and it’s been clear ever since that I could never hope to play music at anything resembling a professional level- but that didn’t mean I couldn’t at least try to paint it. I began a series of paintings inspired by what I’d been reading about the rules and complexities of Counterpoint. I immersed myself in Glenn Gould’s interpretations of The Goldberg Variations, one by Gould as a young genius, the second as a wizened one at the end of his life, and I was increasingly impressed by the durability of contrapuntal music. Since they were constructed using multiple musical motifs all presented, miraculously, at one and the same time, it was impossible to listen to them in exactly the same way twice. It was always a new experience, there was always a new path to follow through the piece, a different itinerary, a new voyage. They’re a bit like musical mandalas, you can enter into them and explore them. There’s a real connection with meditation, which I discovered around the same time. It struck me that few paintings offered the same degree of richness, perhaps because living in a perpetual tsunami of digital imagery we have a tendency to read an image, perceive what it represents, and quickly move on to identify the next image. I wanted to find a way of retaining the interest of the eye the way counterpoint retains the interest of the ear.

 

EJ: How did you approach that challenge, of holding the eye?

 

DA: One way was by cultivating what you could think of as semantic ambiguity. Rather than portraying a subject with a maximum of fidelity, to the point where the image and the subject become nearly indistinguishable, I was working against clear semantic readings. The spirit is a bit like that of the Zen koan in which as you struggle to resolve a paradox you eventually realize that the duality is itself the subject, and this points you to another level of understanding. Once the viewer stops trying to identify an image as representing this or that subject, they are free to move to the far richer level comprised 13 abstract painting stopped that same year and went into hibernation somewhere in my cerebral cortex until 23 years later.

 

EJ: Until when?

 

DA: For some reason on a drive back to Lourmarin from delivering a portrait in Monaco in 2015 I couldn’t stop thinking about something I had seen a few days before in a print lab in Pertuis. At the time I had been working on a series of highly rendered paintings of whitewater frozen by the camera, then methodically translated into oils. I had found myself making repeated trips to Fontaine de Vaucluse, the biggest natural spring in France, searching for the perfect moment of the day to capture the turbulence of the standing waves. These developed into a series of paintings of whitewater which I showed at Arcadia Gallery in New York. Subsequent trips back there, however, had been far less fruitful and I felt the energy dissipating from what had been a tremendously inspiring series.

 

EJ: What did you see at the lab?

 

DA: Well, that was the arrival point of a much-needed element of chaos, of Random Precision. There’s a great electronic musician named Stefan Betke, or “Pole,” whose career was built on an accident. He dropped an electronic component, a sound filter, onto the floor, and when he plugged it in he discovered the pops and clicks it started randomly generating were an entirely unexplored, unexploited sonic realm. Those sounds, which are usually removed from recordings and discarded, became the basis for the style of his first recordings. So at the print studio I had a Stefan Betke moment. I had been as-ked to come to the shop when one of the print heads had jammed and we needed to digitally rework the image to avoid it happening again. We were making a print of an iris on a black aluminum sup-port and the malfunctioning print head was being used to cover parts of the black panel in a pure white opaque silhouette. I’d never thought of constructing an image that way, but it opened a door to a huge field of possibilities.

 

EJ: Interesting that a moment of insight should involve an iris - not just a flower, but the center of the eye as well.

 

DA: Exactly. What I discovered at the studio upon my arrival was an image remarkably similar to the paintings I was working on at the time of thousands of flying drops of white water on a black background. But here, there was no massive spring, there was no lengthy process of taking thousands of photographs, editing, selecting out details, constantly referring back to the source. This was just white pigment randomly sprayed onto a black sur-face and it already had many of the qualities I’d been hunting for at Fontaine de Vaucluse. It was totally unplanned chaos, literally the result of a mechanical malfunction, but it was also beautiful. I realized I could achieve the same and better results using white paint on black panels, constructing images with the same series of steps used in this printing process, beginning with flat silhouetted shapes and developing them afterwards into defined forms in light, shade, color and form. 

 

EJ: So that moment ended up sparking a major shift in direction

 

DA: Yes. It liberated me from hunting for just the right confluence of light, water, shutter speed, depth of field in that dark chasm of the spring at Fontaine de Vaucluse. By extension that was a liberation from the dependency I had lived with for decades upon the need to find in nature, or somewhere in the real world, the motifs I would eventually paint. I no longer needed to find anything beyond the edges of the canvas. The source of my art was no longer out there somewhere waiting to be found, but was in my own hands and my own head. Rather than merely paint a source, I became the source.

 

EJ: What role did Lourmarin play in this rebirth of your work?

 

DA: The whitewater series in Fontaine de Vaucluse started while I was living in Lacoste. Initially it was a period of major inspiration and productivity. But by the end of a decade in a gorgeous but increasingly empty village I was suffering from an intense case of artist’s block - by the end I could no longer set foot in my studio. All I seemed to find in the artistic process were the same closed doors, shuttered windows and dead ends that were all around me. I was fortunate enough to have the people of Savannah College as neighbors, few though they were. But it gradually became clear that I had to have more energy and more humanity around me in order to function, and eventually I realized Lourmarin was clearly the best choice for that. It’s pretty remarkable that this rebirth started in a place where Petrarch wrote epic poems. Petrarch is credited with giving birth to the Renaissance by discovering Cicero’s letters, so rebirth is already very much in the air at Fontaine de Vaucluse. The second rebirth of the series when it shifted to abstraction was clearly a consequence of my arrival in Lourmarin. A Renaissance village turns out to be a great place to be reborn.
 

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