Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The life of objects

When I saw this painting, "Influence Machine" and others by Michael Grimaldi, I could tell I was witnessing the results of the hands of a master draughtsman. But the image was clearly beyond the realm of reality, existing in a dream-like world, that was a bit scary, yet welcoming.

Here was a surreal realism I had not quite seen before. I have never really appreciated surrealist art, like that of Dali, because it seems contrived even though I admire the technique. I have always relished realism and enjoy abstraction inherent in creating the illusion of a three-dimensional object on a two-dimensional picture plane. But Grimaldi's paintings mystified me. What is he doing? What is this "Influence Machine" that he titled this picture?

So I had to ask him? This is what he said:

"I will start by saying that all of my work is really triggered by a desire to capture elements that are not inherently visual or simply seen. By constructing works from life over many months, the process brings me to a point where I feel I can perceive elements that are not apparent from a fleeting glance. In short, the passage and wear of time, an object's history, and the associations I make between an object, my memories and its importance (real or imagined) is what I consider to be the driving force behind my composing a drawing or painting.

From an early age, I was fascinated by the appearance of things and how something (whether a person, a place or an object) could elicit an emotional response. This urge to observe, interpret and capture brought me to pursue a more classical form of artistic training than the more common contemporary arts education that tended to be less structured and less aware of the history, science and practice of art. In the classical training I went through, there was a great emphasis on the thorough examination of many elements that could go into a painting. Perspective, anatomy, chemistry of the materials in addition to becoming hyper-aware of one's perceptions. As a result of this training that has a great respect for the works of the past, most classically trained artists end up adopting a more victorian, neo-classical aesthetic language that pursues more conventional ideals of beauty and ignores anything that challenge these notions.

Personally, I was more interested in things that were often in contradiction to standard ideas of beauty and aesthetic and drawn to subjects that edged towards the uncanny, simultaneously familiar and foreign. Does a defunct, useless object still maintain, in some form, a projection of it's original use or it's memory of experience? Can an inanimate object convey, as the surrealists maintained, a sense of humanity? I think that if subjected to acute, almost forensic scrutiny, a subject will yield a spectrum of information and as a result, an empathetic connection to something that wouldn't normally be given a passing glance.

"Influence Machine" is a byproduct of the search into objects as explained above. "Influence Machine" portrays a World War II field telephone found in a veteran's attic. Knowing the history of the object, its use in passing battlefield information and role in influencing what must have been life and death decisions became my first draw to it as a subject. When I first opened its bakelite case I was struck that this inanimate object had what seemed to be a very human expression of surprise. While centered and stable in it placement within the picture, I wanted to capture that almost explosive, shocked look.

The title of the painting refers to two things: 1. the Fieldphone has an electromagnetic generator as a back up power source (aka, influence machine) and 2. In psychology, schizophrenic patients often refer to inanimate objects as having the ability to exert influence on them (often believing that a common object retrieves, transmits or influencing their thoughts)."

I felt from "Influence Machine" what Grimaldi expressed in words but did not know that it was what I was feeling from looking at it. His explanation clearly helped me understand what he was conveying. But I feel now by posting his words that I have given away the mystery of his art, like saying to someone who has never seen Citizen Kane that "Rosebud was his sled." Why? That sense of unease in unknowing and suspense and the capacity to wonder are also worth experiencing, too.

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