LV: By elongating the shapes as you move across the surface of the canvas, you build the narrative of the painting module by module.
AF: Yes, distorting the size, direction, and shape of each module creates spatial illusions. So then I had to paint everything myself, because those paintings are improvisational, about me creating space with the curves in the moment of painting. These new moiré paintings continue the improvisational aspect through gestural pulls.
LV: We’ve hit upon two themes in your paintings. The first is chance, aleatory processes such as those used by John Cage, and the second is the conceptual decision making of Duchamp and everyone since who follows in a conceptual vein.
AF: What you are talking about is a questioning of subjectivity by using a system, a grid, chance, or accident as “anticompositional” structures. Sol LeWitt wanted to get away from the caprice and arbitrariness of subjectivity, but the systems he used were equally capricious, arbitrary, and subjective.
LV: Still, in painting, there’s an almost mythological connection between the gesture of the hand and authorship.
AF: Peter Halley makes a distinction between painters who build paintings and painters who paint paintings. He put himself in the category of builder and likened himself to a sculptor in that way. I think of painters who build as architects, they do all the design work—and then the execution follows faithfully. Painters who paint make decisions during and through the process of painting. This distinction is related to the contradictions we talked about between the optical and the physical in my work. In all of the moiré paintings, there is some optical plan that is going to be built, yet this plan gets interrupted and augmented as it gets painted.
LV: So are you a builder or a painter?
AF: I was a builder, now I’m a painter. My first major body of work, the diptychs and triptychs, were built. I was critiquing the impossible romanticism of expressionist painting, as was Halley. With the freehand fade paintings, I became a painter. With these moiré paintings, I’ve added a visceral physicality to the process. I’ve accepted the centrality of gesture in painting, because the hand and the body are making conceptual decisions in the moment of the movement of the paint. I am resisting the idea of a fundamental division or distinction between mind and body, idea and movement.
LV: A preconceived optical plan is the modus operandi in both the moiré paintings and the freehand fade paintings, yet you are not simply fulfilling a plan to the letter, since choices inflect the outcome along the way in all your work.
AF: No mark is solely an expressive Pollock mark or a conceptual LeWitt mark. When I heard Sol LeWitt talk, he said that he started out his work to be a critique of mark making as a representation of the artist’s “essence.” He wanted anyone to make his works by following his instructions. But he soon realized that skill, or at least craft, was important, and he had to train and authorize people to make his marks, and many of them became more skilled at making his marks than he was.
LV: I first heard you speak about your mark making in relationship to Buddhist meditation at the Feminist Art Project panel [Artist, Woman, Human, 2012]. In meditation, repetition and seriality are vehicles to cultivate awareness of the present moment.
AF: Recently, I’ve been relating the ideas of Buddhist presence to Roland Barthes’s theories of authorship. In “Death of the Author” , Barthes talks about a rare form, the performative verb, where speech in the first person, present tense, itself fulfills its own action, such as saying, “I apologize.” Speech and action become one and the same thing. In Barthes’s new site of non-authorship, each text comes alive in its making and its reading. Describing this new writing as enunciation, he says: “Every text is eternally rewritten here and now.”
LV: How do you apply this concept to painting? Are your paintings indexes, traces, residues of the performative tense? One of the clear references for me in your earlier fade paintings is breathing, as in paying attention to each breath in meditation. Each module is a breath, and the painting repeats the module over and over, building a world over time. Paying attention to the breath and embodying each one unites mind and body. Each gesture calls your attention in its execution. I also see it in the relation of the part to the whole—each breath or moment metonymically becomes the entire whole: all of the universe, all of time. But in the recent moiré work, the Buddhist influence exists not in the repetition of a module, but in the necessity to be very present in doing the all-atonce trowel pull.