The Koobeaux Kode
My decision to create a lexicon came out of my interest in devised notation and the work of improvisational musicians. It became important to develop these images based on an analysis of nearly a decade’s worth of my own work. I discovered that there were certain symbols and patterns that repeated themselves consistently, and that they all held personal significance along with an element of historical context. Taking these symbols and applying meaning to them, sets up a conceptual proposition that is meant to reveal a deeper understanding of the work. It is a way to grant the viewer deeper access. This visual language is a transparent revelation of the process inherent in developing my painting. The following fourteen symbols are the foundation of a visual language that will undoubtedly grow with time. These symbols are employed as organizational motifs, the clarifying stamp, over the chaos of the first few intuitive gestures to generate a final image.
The lexicon is divided into three sections. The first is patterning, the second geometry, and the third stands alone as found objects. The patterns are utilized as a way to depict a duration of time. Through the repetition of marks they show a patient focus by the artist on the painting. The geometry operates as a singular motif. It is often applied, like a stamp, onto the picture as a way to obscure or refocus the eye. The found object operates in much the same way as a geometric stamp. The patterns operate as delicate gestures juxtaposed with the bolder geometric elements.
1. The Patterns
The Dot: The dot became important to me on a family trip to Amsterdam, in which I first encountered Roy Lichtenstein’s As I Opened Fire. I liked how Lichtenstein, and other artists associated with Pop Art, used tropes of commercial advertisements, comic books, and everyday packaging to question the consumerist mentality of post-war America. But at the time, Lichtenstein’s painting was little more than a picture of a war plane in battle. The syncopated rhythm of the the repeated dot captivated me, and at a very early age I began trying to utilize it as often as I could.
The Tweed: This herringbone pattern is most associated with the jackets worn by my father in my childhood. It became a familiar and comforting to me. There was a musty smell associated with those jackets. More recently I saw an exhibition of the Mexican artist Martin Ramirez and was struck by how the patient line work, often in a herringbone fashion, added a level of depth to his work that resonated with me.
The Jim Nutt: The Jim Nutt is a pattern that I have used based on overlapping cubes. It references my time in Chicago, my reactions to the Hairy Who, and a fascination with the counterculture of the sixties. The Hairy Who were artists who truly followed their own vision making them iconoclastic at the time. Nutt employs this pattern most frequently in his portraits of women. It is also known among quilters as Tumbling Blocks.
The Zig Zag: Musically, the zig zag is fascinating as a sound wave and a connection to synthesizers and their sawtooth oscillators. I am captivated by the simple decorative nature of a line ascending and descending with equal distances.. But there is a cartoon reference to this as well, as it also is found in Charlie Brown’s shirt and on the chest of Shazam, as a logo of power.
The Wall: The wall is based on brick masonry and overlapping forms to gain stability. I think it operates as a way to instantly conjure up architecture when employed in a picture plane. It also functions as a grid. In the painting the wall for often operates as a barrier or intervention obscuring the information behind it.
The Wave: The monthly check of the emergency tsunami warning system in Cannon Beach, Oregon, utilizes a recording of cows mooing in order to differentiate the practice from an actual warning. The first time I heard it I was six years old and it terrified me. It was the year of the First Gulf War. Here is the origin of my fear of the power of the sea; here begins my fascination with ebb and flow. My grandmother told me that the seventh wave in a series was always the largest and most dangerous. I think of crescendos and decrescendos. Hokusai and his violent waves become important later.
The Deleuze and Guattari: A retrospective of Brice Marden at the Museum of Modern Art in 2006 led me consider overlapping lines. They are continuous and undulating; connected with no beginning and no end; undefinable and murky. Unlike the circle’s clean completion, these lines are confused, at times random, and playful with their irreverence. This is Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome personified in line, the interconnectedness of all things. It is never clean, never simple, but alway present.
The Journey Cosmic: I would walk on days of clear skies to the Museum Campus in Chicago. There was a public art piece that was an understated granite spiral near the edge of Lake Michigan. It was a “broken” labyrinth intended for meditation. I learned the significance of this symbol, the spiral, from my late professor, Sir Robert Loescher. According to his vision, the piece acts as an anchor and entrance to one’s history and inward search.
2. The Geometric Forms
The Masonic Relic: Over a twelve pack of Old Style beer a colleague at School of the Art Institute of Chicago, tried in vain to convince me of the Freemason’s control over everything. I was not swayed. That is, until I examined the Lorish family sword and the iconography engraved into it. Maybe there is something to it. These are images of my past, still unclear, still unknown. These are images of a universal past that are still unclear, still unknown. I use them ignorantly with the hope some truth will be revealed.
The Rectangle: The rigidity of this geometric shape brings me comfort. It is a stamp of order, a structure of containment, a piece of paper, a panel. My favorite incarnation is the egalitarian square, equal on all sides. It is ubiquitous: record and CD covers, a chess board, the application tab on smart phones. As a child, I couldn't color in between the lines for some time until I began drawing checker board patterns.
The Circle: Circles are continuous and represent opportunity. I think of the floating glass balls my grandmother found on her walks on the beach. They travelled across oceans as though on their own journey to land in her inquisitive hands. Though rarely depicted as spherical in my paintings, the shape signifies that continuous journey, the whole of something reaching its conclusion... or perhaps never doing so.
The Triangle: A triangle pointing upwards signifies a phallus. A triangle with its point facing downward is the chalice. The symbolism of the triangle was revealed to me through the lectures of Sir Robert J. Loescher. It came to be a simple way to reference gender and sexuality through basic gestures. It is through his lectures at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago that I began thinking of shapes and marks as having the weight of history behind them, making them effective tools of communication.
The Framing: To frame something, in terms of my work, is not literally building a frame, but rather using a geometric outline to focus the viewer into what, in the composition, is of importance. Sometimes, if utilized correctly it allows an optical depth in the work to exist, either pushing a section of the painting forward into the space or recessing it into the depths. It has its roots in graphic arts but one can also reference the paintings of Frank Stella.
3. The Found Image
I rely on appropriated imagery to anchor the work in a contemporary setting. This is done by adhering to the parameter of using magazines and images that have been produced within the last ten years, so that the imagery is current. It does not have the same reliance on history as the other thirteen symbols I have chosen to utilize for my lexicon. The process of changing the context of a mass produced image, makes this the hardest part of the lexicon to to interpret. Its meaning shifts every time it is used and I find that ambiguity very inspirational. Sometimes it is as simple as a reference to previous symbols while other times I use it to bring in some new idea. I often use people or places. They must hold some cultural significance. Another deciding factor is humor. If they are funny to me they have the opportunity to make it into a work. However, often the found image just operates as another formal device in the construction of the picture.