Roxy Paine's multimedia works articulate the coexistence of multiple meanings

American painter Roxy Paine creates a conflicting world, driven by ecology and technology, in his installations to open a contemplative space that the audience can share.

by Dilpreet BhullarPublished on : Nov 18, 2022

The apparent calm-balm effect lurking through the surface of the installations by the New York-based painter and sculptor Roxy Paine entices the viewer to probe the manufactured serenity. The tranquillity otherwise not to be experienced at an ease opens the world of "tension" between nature and technology. The familiar and distant worlds found in the works encapsulate the existential crisis facing the human tribe in the current dynamic of the global world. The affiliation that draws man to nature at once falters when technology unassumingly consumes human attention. Be it the Diorama series or the recent work Green Cave, the silence bequeathed upon them by Paine, creates a web of parallel worlds - natural and artificial.

Green Cave, 2021, wood, epoxy, stainless steel, lacquer, oil paint, Roxy Paine | Roxy Paine | STIRworld
Green Cave, 2021, wood, epoxy, stainless steel, lacquer, oil paint Image: Courtesy of Roxy Paine and Kasmin Gall

The searing green pastures of the installation Green Cave evoke a paradisiac scene at once with small square pieces of lime-green-coloured epoxy. The apparent visual appeal of the artificial grass, as if tucked as the building blocks, makes a commentary on the sweeping passage of time from the prelapsarian Eden world of purity to the postlapsarian landscape ridden with algorithm designs. The assemblage of blocked pieces becomes synonymous with a network connecting the humans of the post-truth era.

If the colour green addresses the theological beauty of perfection, then the term cave inevitably hints at Plato’s theory of shadow play. In an interview with STIR,  the American painter walks us through the making of the Green Cave, "One of the ideas I am most concerned with is the concept of lenses that alter and influence how we perceive the world: those that filter and alter our perceptions. Green Cave began with thinking about a particular type of lens - the night vision lens or infrared lens, used in the military, which renders the world in arrays of green. At the same time, I was working on material experiments for a different piece, which involved using epoxy to create physical pixels. This became a proxy for exploring how the digital lens flavours most of the information that we ingest, and how it influences our thoughts and dreams. The view is from the inside of the cave, so the opening becomes another type of lens - the aperture. And the references to Plato’s cave and the limitations of our senses also resonate for me; that the world we perceive with our senses are only shadows of their true nature."

Desolation Row, 2016, fiberglass, polyester clear resin, ash, earth, rubber, wax, epoxy, light emitting diodes, oil paint, stainless steel, aluminum and wood, Roxy Paine | Roxy Paine | STIRworld
Desolation Row, 2016, fiberglass, polyester clear resin, ash, earth, rubber, wax, epoxy, light emitting diodes, oil paint, stainless steel, aluminium and wood Image: Courtesy of Roxy Paine and Kasmin Gall

The Desolation Row with the charred logs and burning embers becomes a metaphor for the social angst borne by the human mind. The destructive nature of the installation makes it distinct from the rest of his works. The environment put into irreversible decay under the forceful attempts by humans to achieve materialistic gains had been counterproductive. The myopic vision of man to conquer nature has proven to be detrimental to nature. The burnt woods turn into a visual simulation of the exhausted body and tired mind. In recent times, the rise in wildfires, especially in the United States, indicates the declining health of the environment.

Roxy Paine’s Portrait | Roxy Paine | STIRworld
Roxy Paine’s portrait Image: Courtesy of Paul Kasmin

For Paine, the idea exists first and then propels the exploration of materials. Paine explains, "One of the primary ideas of the piece Desolation Row is the articulation of a time in-between states. It is neither the time of the fire in full force nor the time of its blackened aftermath. It is the time when the embers are alive but fading - breathing and pulsing but descending in intensity. So this led me into the investigation of light (LEDs) and computer programming that would capture both this sense of breathing in the embers as well as being ever-changing and non-repeating. A twilight state, a state of purgatory."

Checkpoint, 2014, birch, maple, glass, fluorescent lights, aluminium, acrylic prismatic light diffusers, Roxy Paine | Roxy Paine | STIRworld
Checkpoint, 2014, birch, maple, glass, fluorescent lights, aluminium, acrylic prismatic light diffusers Image: Courtesy of Roxy Paine and Kasmin Gall

Since multiple materials define the works, one is curious to know about its selection process. To answer this, the contemporary artist mentions, "I try to let the idea determine the material. Then I see it as my responsibility to fully embrace that material and understand it to its fullest. I view each material as a language. I try to become fluent in the language, which requires immersion, time and energy. But mostly communing with the material itself for hours, days, weeks, and years. Each material reveals itself slowly, and at first one can communicate only rudimentarily, haltingly. After a while, one can start to put together meaningful sentences and perhaps paragraphs - eventually poetry if one is lucky."

Carcass, 2013, birch, maple, glass, fluorescent lights, aluminium, Roxy Paine | Roxy Paine | STIRworld
Carcass, 2013, birch, maple, glass, fluorescent lights, aluminium Image: Courtesy of Roxy Paine and Kasmin Gall

The tensions prevalent in the installation refrain to offer a finite answer to dual worlds. Paine embraces the grey area or the in-between state. Many times the sense of complete certainty could be dubbed as the didacticism owned by the artist, thereby leaving no room for external intervention. Paine hopes that the works would be "a respite from arrogance, complacency, and produce fissures in any surety. A space to contemplate and articulate ambivalence - one that allows opposing thoughts to coexist within our skull cribs, without needing resolution."

Diorama, 2021 Video: Courtesy of Roxy Paine and Kasmin Gall

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