Repetition and Novelty

Whenever I scratch the ever-present compulsive itch to organize things into a row (or a bunch of rows), it doesn’t take long before I also want to find a way to mess it up.

This especially applies to mark making in my painting practice, and the fun of disrupting my own well laid plans never gets old.

Accretion interrupted by novelty defines my work in a number of ways. The iterative nature of time, life and process gives me great refuge and comfort. Yet even while I consistently revisit the motifs, patterns and body movements that organize my brain chemistry towards a synthesis of stability and predictability, it is never long before I am looking for a way to subvert it. It’s a dance between safety and chance, order and chaos, good girl/bad girl, or any number of provocative dichotomies.

Novelty (the quality of being new, original, or unusual, according to dictionary.com) also calls my name in other ways: I seek to constantly reuse tropes and materials unexpectedly, to invert, revert and flip over symbols and ideas, go down different roads from where the google lady tells me to go, and never ever following a recipe verbatim.

And meanwhile, I am equally compelled to follow protocol, line things up, organize space and make it all fit, both in paintings and in life.

My work foregrounds the tension between layers, chaos below and the web of containment on top, or structure below and random lines, marks, drips and pours defining the top surface. Whether it is readily visible or subsumed in more paint, my main job is to undertake the steps and procedures that work to harmonize and mediate inherent opposition.

This can also happen with the integration of mixed media, which operates more subliminally than imagery alone. Using media conventionally considered “incompatible” side by side (oil and water, for example) imbues a painting with risk and danger, while marks or geometric patterns march across the fractures and stitch it together with repetition.

In other paintings, it’s the reverse: an orderly arrangement of shapes needs to slide sideways and off grid, underneath a more precise web of lines that reflect the weaving, the knitting, the stitching, visible and invisible, that holds things together.

The end result, however it gets there, is a physical object rather than an illusion. It’s a record of a process, reflecting an ongoing journey towards wholeness, reconciliation and perseverance.

Blair Vaughn-Gruler

March 2021

Confessions of a Compulsive Organizer

If I am talking with you, and you are standing in front of a pane glass window, I will shift my stance slightly to line up the stripes on your shirt, or the edge of your glasses, with the panes in the window. If there is a tree beyond the window, I can adjust my body to line it up with the tree and the panes and the stripes and the glasses. I am doing this constantly. It’s not a visual experience as much as a physical one.

Proportion, distance, proximity, spatial intelligence and projective geometry all play a role in this secret thing I do.

When I first visited the Agnes Martin room at the Harwood Museum in Taos, New Mexico, in 2009, I had major epiphany when I realized that her paintings were actually entering my awareness through my body, more than my mind. Since that awakening, and my subsequent shift towards understanding painting in a more postmodern lexicon (thanks in large part to earning my MFA at Vermont College of Fine Art in 2010), I have plunged into a studio practice where I easily spend 8 or 10 hour days organizing, aligning, repeating, counting, building, inventing, and editing in paint.

The process of visual alignment and organization (both the conceptual and the physical) is such a visceral thing that at times I feel it altering my brain chemistry.

As I organize paint into shapes and marks on flat or dimensional surfaces, which I also sometimes build (organize) out of wood or cardboard, it’s not the end result I am after, but rather the process of translating my physical experience of space into objects. They are not pictures, but neither are they sculptures.

Lest this sounds too postmodern, let me suggest that in addition to preforming secret, compulsive acts of organization, I create each painting to be a talisman. They are objects made of paint that are imbued with the act of making, subliminally aligning, and realigning, both the maker and the viewer.

They go out into the world as acts and actions of hope, of healing, of optimism for the future and testaments to the magic and power of hand motions and the objects they make.

Sometimes this feels futile, and sometimes so redeeming. But either way, the compulsion continues and I can’t stop. The paintings are my love letters to the world, past, present and future.

Blair Vaughn-Gruler