Dona Nelson

Artist’s Statement

Two Sided Paintings

ever since Frank Stella’s black paintings,
the objecthood of abstract paintings has been highlighted.
his stripes and wide stretchers got rid of painterly illusion.
my two sided paintings emphasize objecthood even more.
However, the illusion intrinsic to painting is also emphasized.
The steel stands on which the paintings sit are obviously heavy,
more objects than the painting can ever be.
painting space circulates in contradiction to the stands.

You can never really see two sided paintings. You can view photographs of both sides of a particular painting, and then say you saw the painting, but in the actual space of the exhibition, you can never completely see it. You leave the exhibition with an impression of the painting. An impression is different than a finalized image. It’s hard to pin down. Impression is a word that is more related to mood and the space around your body. Two sided paintings cannot be photographed as you would experience them in an exhibition, walking around them. One usually stands closer to the paintings than you would to a painting on the wall, and you often look at them on an angle. My big two sided paintings are seen in “areas.” If I said to an art photographer, “please take a photograph of the lower area of this painting,” it would be heard as an imprecise request. The all over, fixed image tendencies that have governed the development of 20th century abstract painting are inseparable from the role of photography relative to painting. A photograph “totalizes” the look of a painting, like a paragraph description. People don’t look at the backs of two sided paintings in the same way that they look at the fronts. They look at the backs close up and often take a few steps back when looking at the fronts. When my two sided paintings appear in group shows with a catalog or a brochure, the front of the painting is usually pictured, rather than the back. Stand Alone Paintings is the first exhibition that has prominently featured the backs of my two sided paintings. My recent “boxes,” which are not a part of the Tang Museum exhibition, have partial images of figures that are an extension of the idea of looking at paintings in areas rather than as all over images. The Tang Museum show is activated by the material, almost monochromatic backs of several paintings, the rough green back of A Perfect Spring Day, the gridded white back of Apollo’s Cockroach, the veiny blue back of The Old Apple Tree and the mottled back of Night Studio. These material backs seeped paint to the other side, to the image side. The backs of my paintings, which are inseparable, but often very different from the fronts of the paintings, determine that my two sided paintings will keep producing themselves in time and space and resist both photographic reproduction and the production of meaning, which often assumes that paintings are harnessed to a point and an end point, a very different kind of space than an area.

Dona Nelson,
August 8, 2018