10 December, 2010

10 Dec - The Art of Perception

LAUNCHPROJECTS - I am reading Robert Irwin's biography as slowly as possible. There is so much to it - it is subtle and complex and inspiring, much like Irwin's work itself. Learning more about Irwin's work and approach to life and art is shifting the way I consider and describe the highly complex and outwardly minimal paintings of LAUNCHPROJECTS artist Phil Binaco.

Philip Leider wrote in an exhibition catalog for a 1966 Irwin exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of art, "what Irwin manifestly wishes to do is to slow the viewer down, to prepare him, in effect, for an encounter. A certain measurable duration of time is necessary before one can even see what there is to be seen, so that the viewer will either see it the way Irwin wants him to see it or he will - quite literally - not see the painting at all".

This catalog excerpt is quoted by Weschler in Irwin's biography, then he goes on to describe witnessing a couple literally "not see" one of Irwin's 7-foot dot paintings hanging in a museum. Standing next to it at the Philadelphia Museum of Art "a couple walked into the room. The young woman, gesturing with a sweep of her arm, sighed in mock exasperation 'See, this is what I mean.' Her friend smiled knowingly... and the two moved quickly on. They had literally not seen a thing - one does not, one cannot in that amount of time. She was just sick and tired of having museum walls cluttered with empty white canvases."

Engaging, slowing down, allowing the energy and the beauty of what appears upon first blush to be "nothing" to reveal itself to us is a luxury that many of us choose not to take. There are certain artists - Phil Binaco, Robert Irwin, James Turrell, Agnes Martin - whose work we will literally miss if we do not take the time to wait and truly look. With time and attention these paintings open, they vibrate and "blush" as art critic William Wilson described in a Los Angeles Times review. They give back to us. In Weschler's words "engaging the picture, we in turn engage the wonder of our own perceptual facilities. As in so much of Irwin's later work, for a few moments, we perceive ourselves perceiving."

Pictured: Robert Irwin, Phil Binaco, Agnes Martin


  1. I was taken by the strength and soulfulness of Phil Binaco's paintings in the Launch Projects show last spring. Obviously a very gifted and important painter, I marvel at the power and sensitivity his paintings radiate. And YES; If you have the patience to look: you are seeing into the deepest parts of yourself. It was like looking through a mirror into my soul.

    As an owner of a Binaco, I look forward to the day I own another.

  2. I've been enjoying reading this blog. Thanks for alerting me to the Irwin bio -- I see on Amazon that there is a new, expanded edition available now. I look forward to reading it!

    There is nothing quite like a Phil Binaco painting -- the exquisite delicacy and harmony, along with the rarefied air of mystery. Subtle work, like his, and Martin's and Irwin's, are poetic whispers of the sublime.


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