Saturday, November 5, 2016


Image result for rudis tractus vallance

Jeffrey Vallance’s most recent bodies of work at first appear to be diametrically opposed to one another. The Rudis Tractus drawings consist of a suite of mid-sized works on paper and a group of related preparatory studies — deploying an array of techniques ranging from ink washes to collage, but relying most heavily on drawing. The drawings themselves comprise a range of strategies — the bulk of imagery is rendered in Vallance’s signature folky cartoon pictography, but extend to meticulous realism in several instances, while emerging almost uniformly from a miasma of gestural calligraphic marks.

At the other end of the material and art historical spectrum, Vallance’s ongoing, absurdly hyperactive engagement with the social media website Facebook is among the most funny, sociologically avant-garde, and ephemeral projects of his career (and that’s saying a lot!) Vallance’s involvement with FB is very differ- ent from that of most other art world figures, who often see the internet as a delivery system for their familiar longtime modes of communication — usually discursive language and/or digital documentation of artwork. While Vallance has a toe in each of these stagnant ponds, they are sublimated into his main focus — to prod and probe the new social boundaries and mechanisms generated by the new technology. He accomplishes this by taking its premise to absurd logical extremes through the formation and constant reconfiguration of a dozen or so outlandish group pages — ranging from “Kittens in a Basket” to “Sheep Bung,” though the names of the groups are as subject to modification as their content.

Meanwhile, the Rudis Tractus drawings are some of the most physically auratic artifacts Vallance has produced — worked and handled and crumpled and layered to achieve a palimpsest-like patina; uniquely handcrafted papyrus codices in the age of digital reproduction. The largest factor in creating this impression of materiality is the aforementioned ground of gestural marks — a fairly radical technical and conceptual shift in Vallance’s practice that is curiously buried in the mix. The all-over compositional field, the emphasis on leaving a record of the artist’s hand, the rudimentary pictographic calligraphy, and the treatment of the picture plane as an arena of action for spontaneous automatism are all hallmarks of mid- century Abstract Expressionism, not exactly the lingua franca of California Postmodernism. 

read the rest in Rudis Tractus (Rough Drawing) or ATJ

The concept of automatic writing as a draw- ing and painting technique was the lynchpin between the praxis of AbEx practitioners like Jackson Pollock, Adolf Gottlieb, and Mark Tobey (and odd man out Cy Twombly) and the influential (though soon to be disowned) WWII generation of expat Surrealists — whose movement was launched with the appropriated Spiritualist concept of the artist-as-channel. Mediumship was actually the roundabout connection for Vallance — several of his recent projects have involved seance-like summonings of great artists and critics, and his adoption of Automatist scribbling was a direct outgrowth of his interest in that 19th-century paranormal technology. But it would be a mistake to side- step the intervening century.

Vallance’s appropriation of a quintessential AbEx technique, like comparable hybrids from contemporaries Jim Shaw and Mike Kelley, has to be considered in the light of late Modernist art history. Although their generation of artists witnessed the emergence of Pop and Conceptualism — and the 60s counterculture’s revitalization of surrealist other disdained pictorialist traditions (and invention of their own) — the dominant critical, curatorial, and educational milieus of their Art World remained firmly aligned with the monolithic Alfred Barr/ Clement Greenberg purification rundown that regarded imagery as a poisonous outmoded literary affectation.

While today’s young apings of de Kooning, et al. are only plausibly ironical for the sake of marketing, for Vallance’s artistic generation — that came up on the cusp of Postmodern- ism — the baggage is much bulkier and the stakes are much higher. But Vallance’s kung fu is powerful. While his drawing process — creating a field of gestural calligraphic marks, then allowing images to emerge — is procedurally identical to Pollock’s — before and after his “greatness” — the images that swim to the surface are not the expected rough-hewn primitive archetypal monsters of the Unconscious, but Blinky the Friendly Hen, the King of Tonga, and lapsed Quaker Richard Nixon. Well, I guess that last one’s an archetypal monsters of the Unconscious, but there’s bound to be some overlap.

The point is that Vallance’s sincere exploration of this pareidolic image-generation technique — an inversion of the clowns-in- the-shroud-of-Turin gimmick deployed in much of Vallance’s earlier work — results in the same personal, idiosyncratic, PoMo iconography that populates Vallance’s entire corpus. The same drawing forth that generated Pollock’s heroic Jungian She-Wolves and Moon-Women translates as easily and fruitfully from the undifferentiated Void into post-heroic post- ironic post-McLuhan clip art.

That’s your erased de Kooning right there. Or, as I previously noted “By making unexpected connections across social, political, physical, and philosophical borders, and then articulating the results as fully and as clearly as he is able, Vallance erases the barrier between art and life without making any statement about it, as if the split were another formal convention to which the artist merely chooses not to sub- scribe; a line that may be altered at will, for the sake of the overall picture.” (See Fig. 1, page 4.) In this case, the evaporated boundary renders the received wisdom of the discontinuity of art history as a divisive fiction.

What Vallance restores to art history is, paradoxically, the artist’s capacity to step out­ side history, and it is specifically encoded in his shift in graphic techniques. Up until now, Vallance’s approach to linearity has included the traditional decorative, diagrammatic, and descriptive modes — all of which carry an implicit temporal, durational, narrative arc in their trajectory from point A to point B — and the conceptual, cartographic reconfigurations that do not. But by adopting the technique of using an accumulation of non-figurative marks to create an undifferentiated ground, he has opened up a new dimension entirely, one whose movement is not linear and dis- cursive, but a cyclic push/pull in the virtual reality space of painting, where Brunelleschi’s orthogonals lie in a heap of ruins, shattered and queered by Picasso and Braque — and time is suspended.

I can’t help but seeing a deep similarity between Vallance’s engagement with this most ancient of simulator rides and his concurrent devotion to the infinitely rhizomatic interwebs. The end results couldn’t be more different in terms of archival permanence, in their thingness. I imagine the NSA has a record of every post ever made on FB, but for us regular folk, “Jeffrey Vallance changed the group photo” is a call to let go of our attachment to familiar constellations; to surrender to (and, if we choose, participate in) the practically inexhaustible informational ebb and flow at play as we bob in the timeless amniotic warmth of cyberspace.

Out from the dense net of relationships that make up the internet, Vallance (and his collaborators) coax images and stories to the foreground, in a collective improvisational variation on the same cognitive mechanism that uncovers tower ravens in a flurry of gestural pencil strokes. And surprise surprise! The same clowns, friendly hens, and former presidents make up the polymorphous cast of characters! By simultaneously anchoring his latest oeuvre in a return to the ancient tactility of drawing and the uncharted ephemerality of online social media, Vallance has erased the border between obsolescence and novelty, and asserts their equivalency as mapping systems for human consciousness. 

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