Chauncey Secrist: Greatness in Suffering


There is something in all of Chauncey’s (Secrist) new work, from his very exacting portrait-like representations to a new direction to what I had termed in an article “micro- installations” that in both cases I am excited about as both bodies of work are exciting and fundamentally full of vitality, for very similar reasons. The portraits are something uncommonly portrait-like, they follow no formula of a head, the upper-body, a three quarter, or a full, they, in their contorted positions, have something of the abstract to their extreme literalness. His newest is strained in a position that looks painful, and like the earlier, agony, or intense suffering, a purging of the greatest intensity, is the subject, again, creating something of an abstract to a face rendered to such an extreme of emotional convulsion that the form is rendered ultimately as greatly stylized but in actuality is very precise, it is simply something so foreign to quotidian living that one has to adjust the this extremism of form that allows the extremism of emotion make sense.

But the key element to both that I am feeling, and seeing, they being painted with such exactitude, is a state of pure structural nakedness. Not in the sense of the phisical, which in fact they are naked, but in the use of the word that they are stripped of every layer to the very core. To a state of being that might be called primordial but is better termed “raw.” Without any kind of expression from the artist that is an everyday commonplace any signifier of identity: clothing, jewelry, any contexts of place, any contexts of personality, any kind of contexts whatsoever that might remove these men from a primordial state of pure, raw, emotion expressed at the level of the primordial, pure and raw, allowing the very subject to be a realist on, one that transcends physicality but goes to the core of the subject and draws all focus not on the luscious and extravagant rendering but the beast within, not the beast within these two men, the beast within the everyman.

I know Chauncey as an artist too well to stop short at thinking that he would think only of the particular when the universal is so prevalent and relevant. So often, so very often, painters rely on emotion as an end all of their subjects, subjectively responded to on myriad levels of responsiveness that is the engagement of the sensibilities instigated by particulars in the work that trigger that responsiveness. The subject range in infinite, the sensibilities are infinite, and the range of responsiveness is infinite. Not so with Secrist.

Secrist is facing the subject of human emotion i.e. suffering, the expression of the very ultimate of the pain of mortality in the raw, unhindered and unadulterated and unafraid. This, of course, transcends all barriers of temporality or spatiality as suffering is commonly understood, the one guarantee in life, but since Modernism and the post-Modern subjective approach, artists universally do not, or shy away, from the objective representation of suffering as was common in the art historical canon. The subjective referencing to one’s own personal agonies is commonplace, but an objective, universalized expression of the extremes of human pain is not something artists commonly think to touch. Chauncey is a brave artist, but this is what sets him apart.

Stepping it down a few notches but working, not with the same subject but the same structural principles of meaning, is Secrist’s latest micro-installation which is something different and twice removed than the two-dimensional micro-installations that typify his work, although he does work in the round. But this micro-installation triggers sensibilities that for many give it a being that registers as in the round in sensible quality. How is this so?

Beginning with the same elements of structure that give this micro-installation such context/s of meaning and utility are firstly the same primordial, raw, even naked quality to this than any of his wall-pieces I have seen, this being decidedly different. But we cannot leave this there- that would be meaningless. What does this primordial, raw, and nakedness amount to in this micro-installation? Much, very much.

Although Secrist’s wall pieces are generally highly universal and tackle themes such as existential blindness of separatist religious expressions vs. a more reasonable universal thinking and believing or the amount to which society depends and weighs upon a religious structure that not only it cannot define, but is constantly bickering amongst itself over dynamics of the particulars. Thus, the universal ultimately becomes focused on the more specific themes of problematically societal that while still of the utmost relevancy, in the abundance of iconography that to the acute eye present the argument as undeniable present, loses some of that very literal in Secrist’s case, universality.

Thus, in this new micro-installation, that has minimized on the iconographic and focused on the elemental rendering, it being a state of primordial, raw, nakedness, Secrist’s expressiveness is, like his portraits, transcends limitations and speaks on a level much truer to the universal, one authentically so, the realization of it to one degree or another, one not better or worse, is an absolute elemental contextual signifier of meaning in all of Secrist’s work.

In this piece that is so reduced, the minimized state allows the universality to become abundantly clearer. What is being heard?

Because of its reductive state and limited signifiers that leave it open to meaning, the viewer has far more play with the structure to put the pieces together and see how the workings assemble with a context of meaning that is in perfect synthesis with the elements. Then you can be quite sure you and Secrist are in the same realm, although art such as this, abstract, reduced, is free to the viewer’s own input and this is perfectly acceptable and thus the viewers experience is highly valuable and is absolute evidence of the universality of the piece.

What the micro-installation reads in the sensibilities of this art critic is something very akin to the portraits discussed. Moving from symbolic expression to symbolic expression, I see the lace cloth as the ground of mortality upon which humanity rests. There has to be a centralizing power to this existential state of being and Secrist will often use the circle to reference the eternal or the divine so I see the round piece of metal at the top being a significance to a centrifugal force to this phase of human existence, and although the circle is not broken, it could very well reference a Buddhist Zen Circle. 

I see the rod at the top an apex of reality, some state that in Buddhist terms can be considered a pure reality where all exist in a perfect unity at one with God. From this rod the strings are the paths of life, again, in Buddhist terms, an ideology of Taoism, this Taoism is the belief that life has no beginning and no ending but is one journey and this journey is but one state amongst others.

Structured behind these strings is a repetition of rods. I see this as temporality, the defining condition, the possibility and limitation of mortality upon which all structure rests… as indeed this structure literally indicates. Finally, the one guarantee in this life that none can escape, suffering, great amounts of suffering, the definitive unifier of humanity, which makes the greatness of humanity as the historical consistency is not to be suppressed by this suffering, represented in these rusted spikes, but to transcend it, and grow, and become stronger, learn from it, and develop, and this is the truest source of the greatest art, the kind we are viewing here. Excellent direction Chauncey. Universals suit you.


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