“Modernism pigeon holed itself, I think, Greenberg pigeon holed it as he had all of those ideas about painting as a flat surface, ideas about painting super-imposed upon the work that maybe did not involve the work itself. Artists like Rothko or Newman were having conversations about deep space, metaphysics… not what Greenberg was talking about. My paintings come out of my love hate relationship with Modernism,” says artist Steven Stradley who goes on to exclaim about his own flatness but a directive so unlike anything Greenburgian slavishness, “I’m really a painter, I’m really and truly a painter and I recognize my core of that.”
Stradly, as much as his work exists and feeds in a post-Modern paradigm and works as post-Modern, is due to the “silent author” subjective application. He himself is very much of the mindset of the classically Modern in his objective approach to form and literality of meaning as opposed to the current free flow of today’s utopian responsiveness. “Normally,” he says “in talking about Modernism, you have a more structured idea of Modernism being about the universal, about the total image. And this actually becomes a really heroic thing when you see Pollock or a Newman or a Rothko, even an early Rauschenberg, and it’s all about the heroic nature of painting.” This would be significant to the artist who paints around corners and edges and baseboards of a given space.
But do not be fooled. As a painter, Stradley is indeed himself the heroic type that aims for the total image albeit the totality for Pollock, Newman or Rothko is a structure that looks in relationship hardly anything like a Steven Stradley. Stradley is truly an innovator and inventor making the most utility of the site-specific space he is working on. What he does is nothing like a beginning towards an end, but a Modernist-like consideration of the space given, and an application of structure to comply with that space with the greatest utility. In the process, Stradley creates a frame like flow of line comprised of color, pattern, texture and abstract form that pays much attention to the periphery, that skeletal space that exists between joints and also, beyond the painted structure and into the wall space, set off by a painted peripheral border, itself becoming a work of art. The room thusly becomes a fully embodied painting in the literal sense. A holistic experience Post-Modern in context but of mind of a Modernist with a purist’s articulation.
“… there is structure in meaning, not just formal structure, but taking formal structure and also things that have meaning or context particularly that which relates to the periphery,” says the artist. His primary structures formatted within the periphery generates meaning and gives equal measure of meaning to the space of interior periphery, which, in the context given, becomes a framed work of art, seen and understood as such on such and such a surface space in the given site-specific location. Ultimately, it is the dual usage and dedication of the concept of periphery thought through in a way that can be described as “purist” that is Modern and the application of Stradley’s qualification of periphery being essential to the very foundation of the formalism of the piece. To the Modernity of Pollock, Newman or Rothko, of Stradly, and this very Modern methodology, like the great three, it can be said with absoluteness that Stradley has achieved a total and complete image as much as any of these.
The line of the periphery that is the skeletal housing for the painting is the first usage of periphery. The second is the very peripheral of this painted periphery line as recognized as extending beyond the painterly into the wall space allowing it prominence of place as much as any other element in the room. The cast off, castaway nature is familiar to Stradley who used to incorporate found small objects in his work for interest and texture. The peripheries of the sites for his installations capture his attention as this is his subjective vantage point, the essential qualifiers of this Modernism that becomes post-Modern when infused with Stradley own subjectivity and for this reason alone.
That with the most conservation and greatest utility defines the room and is an insight into Stradley’s subjective directive. What better utility than the manifestation of a canvas realized in its being by the actualization of the linear painting surrounding it without an iota of rendering to it?
“The literal structure of the painting is realized in the periphery because here is the optimal space, this painting wraps the space; it gives the idea of conforming to the architecture and gauging the architectural space as a site specific piece, and at this point, it comes from the idea of installation,” he says.
“The process is very organic. It has to be an exploration. It is a surface exploration. I paint right on the wall. I get more information in the painting process than I do the painting itself,” says the artist. “For this work, if I can just think of the periphery of the space and pay attention to this space we don’t normally focus on, and there is a painting there, than all of a sudden the architecture is heightened, sense of being in that space and a sense of what that painting is doing and a sense of being of that painting,” continues the artist.
With a sure grounding in structuralist theory, Stradley has a solid focus on form, but every element or compound of elements are thus via semiotics of meaning… these might be conditions of societal freedoms, art related phenomena, self-perpetuating form, the idea of narrative and temporality, or the absolute or arbitrariness of structure itself These meanings that, as Stradley furthers his project, meanings important to him are translated into his work, assuming multi layers of compositional form compounded with universal meanings implied by the form thus the narrative is never definite but one that can build and rebuild moment to moment, fragment to fragment- the self-perpetuating narrative.
The viewer may fully engage with this work on many literal levels of meaning and context to the same degree as the artist if the viewer is made aware of the comprehensive meanings and uses the liberality of play with great license. Much of Stradley’s fragments look and function like a Tetrus game and one recognizes change as a piece has shoot out or one recognizes voids from within as pieces are conspicuously left out, these referring to anything from the progression of painting in post-Modernity and the idea of freedom within our culture. There is play in form and meaning but the literality should be within the artist’s sphere of reference, limited to a few choice impassioned subjects.
The levels of meaning work with the physicality of form, for example, a turn in a corner and a transfer of large rectangular structure to a more delicate and fragile network of line might indicate a paradigm shift of objective abstraction to the reality of subjective abstraction this made more articulate as the first has a color composition distinctive to it giving way to the next with a composition distinctive to it- the possibilities for play and exploration become exciting and limitless.
The only absolute is the allowance of the existential qualifiers of being in general, the meanings allowable to the painting, even to the periphery space, which may signify the space of “an artistic rupture,” according to Stradley, that occurs in art when one great movement collides with another without harmony that like a bubble has burst. The beauty of such a phenomenon, according to the artist is a space created and in this void, just as quickly as it emptied, it will be filled by another artistic influence, new and exciting. Such semiotic structures of meaning and significance on their own might be called arbitrary and subject to deconstruction. But, these signifiers are as more organically linked and brought to fruition by the formal elements than born as idea alone, which, being formal elements, always stand their own and are literal as they are unmalleable, unmovable, and permanent fixtures, deconstruction having no power over them nor the meanings that are essential to them, as only when used in conjunction with various semiotics of meaning is the total being of the work, albeit a two inch space between a doorframe and a wall, manifest.
Stradley is a dedicated artist and teacher whose passion for painting is the ruling force to his passion for his experimentation with it, just as this experimentation is the ruling force to structuralist theory and semiotics in general and the understanding of art from various contexts of literal meaning. Stradley is resolved in the complexity of form that he has created, that is such that can be the only kind of painting executed by a mind such as his that is as penetrative, that thinks as deeply and broadly, that is as existential in asking so many questions and using his work to find answers somewhere in there midst the network of the periphery, subject to a universality of meaning and a universe of meanings, are the answers but as long as Stradley keeps asking, the work will always stay fresh.