Artist Statement

I was asked to talk about my work, and the reason to leave painting and move to digital photography. The work of the two past years has revolved around the need to take time off from painting and break into a new medium. The inspiration came from many sources, the major one being Picasso. His ability to go from medium to medium I believe inspired his ability to create for many years until his death.

The tradition of painters using photography is long. Painters have used photography as a recorder of ideas or note taking. I don’t think of myself as a photographer, but as one who takes images as a source of ideas.

As I learned a new medium the issues confronting a blank space were true in both forms. I have never viewed painting as a means to capture a representational interpretation of what was in front of me. My early painting was figurative and had been for years. As time went by the figures became more “involved’. People began to take on the appearance of the objects around them and the space that they lived turned flat. I began to see the world through what I felt and less on what I saw. That process was both liberating and confusing. It was in that state of mind that I began to use repetitive marks and gestures in my work. My family became three circles, and life became a series of motions and questions.

The questions revolved between choices - left or right, up or down, buy or sell, yes or no, and life and death. Trying to see the relationship between our answers to questions and how those answers shape our life was when the analogy of a fence came to mind. Sitting on the fence is the best of both worlds, but not in either one, an observer.

It was at this time that the use of the stripe made inroads into my painting. The scratching of the paint to form the stripes was a form of struggle on making the harder decisions in life. They became memories, things in the background as you move forward. The scratching would uncover the past, the same way that the openings between fence boards offer a peek at what lies on the other side. The painted stripes represent that view and the decisions we make. The charcoal drawn flowers, charcoal showing death to life and the flower showing life to death, also represent looking to both the past and the future.

As I moved towards photography I was looking for the freedom I had in painting. The ability to walk down a street anywhere in the world and capture what I saw was amazing. The first issue for me was the ability to translate that representational image into what I was saying in my paintings. The second issue was the perceived absence of a human touch in digital imagery.

Translating the representational digital image into what my paintings say was a series of trials. Taking a shared view of a door, a wall or a landscape and making that talk. The capacity to take that small part of reality and transferring it into my sensibilities remains the most challenging aspect to me. The introductions of figurative elements into the work along with elements of my painting give the viewer a window in which to enter something new. The first series of these works included faces. But viewers were focusing on the face and not the question or story that was taking place in the image. The second series works on the human form as an object of desire, both sensual and personal in terms of attainment.

The second issue was of surface or lack thereof in a photograph, overcoming the absence of the human touch. Through the use of cracked paint, worn down metal and wood surfaces I try to transform the physicality of the walk down the street to giving a sense of handmade to the image, much like brush strokes in a painting. Most recently I have started to incorporate painting and photography together. The mixture of textures with the ability of figures to tell the story is liberating and inspiring for me and for my future ability to keep working.


James Arzente's Signature