I’d Rather Be Here and Now: The Performative Verb of Painting
Liena Vayzman: Your new series of paintings based on moiré patterns is insistently optical, yet making the paintings requires a sustained and physical process, one prone to unpredictability. What does physicality look like for you as a painter?
Anoka Faruqee: Physicality exists in the work, but at a remove. I rake thick wet paint with custom-made notched trowels, like raking sand in a Zen garden. Then I sand down the dry surface. Slips of the hand, drips, uneven pressure on the tools, the paint itself being too thick or too thin in places, these are all key elements. Sanding it down, these slips are reduced to a flattened and graphic image that is the trace of a physical process.
LV: Historians of Op art often regard opticality and physicality as opposites, as if the emphasis on optical illusion needed to mute the physicality of paint as a material.
AF: I want to be an optical painter who affirms the physical in a way that Bridget Riley or Victor Vasarely did not. This physicality comes not just from the materiality of the paint, but also from my intersection with it, from the physical actions of my body in making the gestural pull with the trowel. These physicalities differentiate my paintings from Op art, from magic eye, screensavers, codegenerated fractal patterns. I am seduced by these things—but once I see the trick or the algorithm perform once or twice, I get bored, like eating too much candy. So my work needs to unravel in the moment to stay alive.
LV: The human touch, the tactile qualities of paint application and removal—and the mistakes that happen in that process—inflect your paintings away from something that a machine can make.
AF: A machine, or an overly diligent human, maybe? I don’t want to associate perfection with machines and failure with humans. In my work, the body is trying to be machinelike, but not succeeding. I aim for perfection in order to fail.
LV: The moiré effect, a visual interference resulting from the overlay of two or more patterns in printing or imaging, marks a failure of the machine.
AF: Moiré patterns are a common and unwanted effect of digital and print imagery: when the pixelation or banding in printing misregisters, moirés result. I find them to be beautiful and unpredictable, which is why I’ve been spending much of this year figuring out how to paint them. I create moirés by layering patterns; this superimposition produces an image that is more complex and quite unlike any of the underlying patterns.
LV: The question becomes: What is the relation of the part to the whole, and the process to the product? In the first glance at least, I did not realize that they are not simply made all at once. Because the finished surfaces of these new paintings end up ultra smooth, there is a real sense of mystery about how they were made.
AF: Some clues about the process can be found in the finished works, but yes, I realize now that most viewers have no idea how these objects are made. At a certain point, I stopped taping the sides of the painting, in order to reveal the intense ooze of paint dripping from the gestural pulls, in contradiction to the glass smooth surfaces, as a way to let people into the messiness of the process. The peripheries are becoming more and more significant, because I want my paintings to be read, at least partially, as a residue of the performance of painting it.
LV: You bring up performativity as applied to painting, which has to do with being in a body, in a moment in time. This relates to performance art, but I’m thinking more of finished paintings that tell the story of their own making.
AF: A performative painting invites the viewer to mentally reenact the physical, material, and bodily processes of its making. In my early diptychs and triptychs (2000–2006), where I painted copies of my own paintings, the hand-painted asterisks were marked on predetermined grids. Decisions about color and composition were made ahead of time, so assistants could paint the asterisks by following the grid. When the work became more freehand in the fade paintings (from 2006–11), I began making decisions in the process of painting.