2014

let me read your palm
so i can lick your life line
linger on my tongue as i stutter your name
nervous nights with wide eyes
nothing lasts for the dancing ghosts
washed out by foggy dreams and heavy strobes
-press release for “nothing lasts” & “don’t wake up”

2013

Defiantly Painting
by
Charissa N. Terranova

It is interesting that young Arthur Peña is defiantly painting. It is perhaps more interesting that he is defiant and painting. To be defiant is to claim resistance to power, to go against the machine, to be a man decadently à rebours: it is, in short, to be a negative dialectic producing possibility. Take for example Peña’s sense of self as it is represented in the artist’s biography. Peña has two. The first is defiant only insomuch as to be an artist is fundamentally a political statement – an opting out of the cubicle-life of the corporate drudge. It otherwise tells with politesse and simplicity of his illustrious training at the University of North Texas, School of the Art Institute in Chicago, and Rhode Island School of Design. The second is angry and forthright, a prise de parole, the capturing of language in the name of place. “Peña was born in Oak Cliff,” it tells us, “before it meant a strip of stylish restaurants, shops and a trend for artists […] when it meant the highest murder rate in the city and rampant gang violence.” There is at work between and within these two biographical statements a politics of class, political economy, and defiance. If the first is Peña’s bourgeois self, carefully cultivated in his years at the world’s finest art schools, the other relates to his childhood personage. His is a spirit that is, while not new to us, fresh in its recalcitrant push. Though within Peña’s practice there is a multiverse and age-old force of avant-gardism, I would like here to focus on one resonance in particular: his suggestion of a politics of radical space. Between the bourgeois and working-class biographies we hear the yearnings for an uncompromising manifesto: the echoes of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ iconic Communist Manifesto, their call for collective action in the cri de coeur “Working men of all countries, unite!” To be collective is to do so materially, in three-dimensional space. That is to say, the incarnation of being together – of collectivity – unfolds in urban space, in neighborhoods like Oak Cliff, where Peña grew up amid bullets flying, and the Cedars, the old south-side enclave where sits RE Gallery + Studio, the host to Peña’s current exhibition paintings are objects… and possibly people. Peña’s practice of painting is thus bound up with what French sociologist and philosopher Henri Lefebvre called le droit à la ville, the right to the city. In this phrase, Lefebvre gave body to a right to the just production of space: an access and stewardship to an ecological and fair materiality arriving by way of the public – public transportation, public hospitals, public schools, public universities. Marxist Geographer David Harvey recently explains this right in terms of an egalitarianism of knowledge and matter, linking the economy to intellectual and physical bondage and agency:

for the most part [current] concepts circulating do not fundamentally challenge hegemonic liberal and neoliberal market logics, or the dominant modes of legality and state action. We live, after all, in a world in which the rights of private property and the profit rate trump all other notions of rights…The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city.*

Peña paints defiantly in Dallas, a city that loves big-tag architecture and art and a world where the classical gestures of painting and making by hand are evermore marginalized by the fetishizing of the digital. Defiance for Peña is a matter of hands on work, the making of painting in a place amid local and global class politics. Just as defiance creates openings – as though a righteously indignant maw screaming out at the world or, more philosophically, an elastic expansion of the mind that releases multiplicity – so too is painting but an originator of beginnings and prospects. In Peña’s practice, painting can be many things. They are what he calls attempts, so many feints at the hoary practice loaded with baggage. He metaphorically tears it asunder in order to rebuild it up, to find something within it that is infinitely other. Attempt 48 is a small square that references the body roving in space. It bears an almost scruffy flatness with uneven edges. On top one sees repeated vertical patterns of reversed imprints of industrial staples. These imprints reference the anatomical universe of his mother who recently had a large heeling post-operative wound around her knee. Similarly small and shaped like a square, attempt 45 is layered and biomorphic, with a honeycomb form and small child’s anatomy kit ensconced at its center. Here, in the crafting of his things, these paintings that could be other, we find another embodiment of his defiance. To put your hand to work crafting in the cyborg-now is to go against the grain of so-called Internet progress. Homo faber = homo ludens = homo poetica. Man the maker is man in pleasure is man who makes meaning. As he defiantly paints against the world, Peña unleashes the otherness of the medium, showing it to be so many Robert Ryman-esque squares repeated ad infinitum as reinvented by a Millennial with the spirit of the revolutionary ages. He cops an attitude, captures language, and declares his right to the city.

*Harvey, David, “The Right to the City,” New Left Review, no. 53 (Sept-Oct 2008) http://newleftreview.org/II/53/david-harvey-the-right-to-the-city. Accessed 02/01/2013.


paintings are objects…and possibly people

“we don’t tell a story we tell a situation. most of the movies that you see nowadays, and i’m not a hollywood basher because enough good movies come out of the hollywood system every year to justify its existence, you know, without any apologies; however, a good majority of movies that come out, alright, you pretty much know everything you’re gonna see in the movie by the first ten or twenty minutes. now that’s not a story. a story is something that constantly unfolds. now, i’m not talking about, like this quick left turn or a quick right turn or a big surprise. i’m talking about it unfolds, alright.” charlie quickly responds,” yeah but you don’t believe in a linear storytelling.” “yeah, it’s not so much that I don’t believe in it. it’s not like i’m this big crusade against linear storytelling, alright. the thing is it’s not the only game in town.”
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painting (a possible definition)
occupied space within a stretcher that occupies space on a wall.
example: there is no way that anyone would confuse a painting for a sculpture.
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my friend hilary tells me:
i didn’t have any money but i had a lot of paint and painted things lying around me. so i figured i could paint money and paint it into existence. it worked for a little bit. once i finished painting the money i looked around me and thought, “wow, look at all of this money.”
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object something nothing zero hole dig grave worms dirt filthy clean room bed pillow sheet bleach burn blister pop warhol wig wittgenstein frankenstein stitches staples flesh touch hard wood forest crisp sharp wit expected fail fall rise rising rison andre champagne twist candy wrapper weezy teeth zombie hungry throat hand hold knot tie rope jump cliff fiscal fischel eric roberts kickboxing cardboard ship amazon amazing magician mirror window square
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history is not “was” but “is” says this guy in a segment of ken burns’ documentary about the dust bowl that i heard on the radio.
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“you remind me of someone whose passion it was to be a film maker and you have studied the lives of all the film makers. you know their lives as well as anyone, as their biographer does.” quentin agrees, “that’s not too far from wrong…i would guess.” “looking for what? starting off with the fact they do what you do, therefore….” “yeah, starting off just as interest. i mean literally. if a guy is uh, a baseball fanatic and everything you know, if his hero is willie mays, he’s gonna follow him.” “he’s gonna know everything there is about baseball and willie mays. he turns first to the sports page.” quentin’s eyes flash down to his hands, “yeah exactly and part of that is all like, just the function of having heroes.”
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there is no sound from the engine. just wind. it is quiet otherwise. this is strange considering that the top is down. his right arm is causally stretched over the top of the passenger seat. hairy arm. a detail that i never saw in pictures. they were covered by his denim jacket in the movie. his right hand rested. didn’t seem that big. but, if this is at all possible, his hand looked tired. the seats were red leather but that could have just been the glare of the sun in my face. i can’t see his. just the back of his big head looking straight, steady on the road. it jostles a bit from the uneven pavement. we’re not speeding but we are not going slow either. his hair, i should say what’s left of it, has no color. i don’t mean that it is white; it just doesn’t have any color. but it is moving. there is no sound except the wind. no voice. no sound of the car. we were just driving. surrounded by grass, no identifying markers. it was more like those old movies that put actors in cars that stage handlers pushed back and forth while a screen in the background showed non-descript locations. i waited to see him move but he never did. i wanted to see his face but i felt like a child who was sent to the back seat because i had gotten in trouble for asking too many questions. i just sat there, feeling the wind that had blown over his static body before it got to mine. there was one movement; his right hand gripped the seat tighter, as if he had remembered something and had to turn around.
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a text message received from a friend on january 5, 2013

i’m getting a bunch of unfinished paintings from my dead mentor. i’m going to work on them. i’m not sure why but i felt like I needed to notify you of that. hope all is well down there.
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painting (a possible definition)
occupied space within a stretcher that reflects the presence of another.
possible example: only this person could have made this painting.
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a story told by bruce nauman as i remember

so i was invited over to jasper’s house for lunch. i got there and we sat at this table, you know just a small table with a few chairs. anyway, i sat and we ate some sandwiches and jasper asked if i wanted some whiskey. he really had a thing for makers. so there we are kicking back these whiskey shots in the middle of the afternoon and i hear a knock at the door. jasper says, “come in.” i turn around and i see merce walk in the door. so, he walks over to the table and i get up to greet him. i guess jasper and i had drunk a little too much because as i stood up i felt my legs just give out and i fell to my knees in front of merce. he looks down at me and says, “well, that’s a start.” so, uh yeah, that’s how i met merce cunningham.
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rules to follow that could possibly make a painting, continued part II

you take a stretcher
you do something to it
you do something else to it
then you sit down and look
then you do something else to it
then you get a text message from your friend who’s wanted to hang out
you look at what you did and keep looking
leave studio, go to bar with your friend
play skeeball and drink alcohol while laughing and having the best time ever
think that you should get back soon so you can do else something to your object
leave bar, go dancing, keep drinking
hear erasure come on and yell, “i fucking love erasure!”
keep dancing, get hungry
don’t think about anything else except for the moment you are in
eat tacos
notice that it is past 2am and that you cannot get anymore alcohol
leave taqueira
walk friend to car with the hopes of being invited to their place
remember that you have to go back and do something else to your object
weigh options
go back to studio
take your object and do something to it.
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leaning back in his chair, with his right hand touching his mouth and a sure look in his eyes, quentin jumps forward and begins “now that’s what i’m always trying to do with my genre films. i’m trying to re-invent them. that’s what im trying to do. i don’t know if i’m successful or not but that’s the attempt. to take something you’ve seen before. i love it, i respect it and i’m gonna deliver the goods. i’m not just gonna be some arty guy going off, you know,” he mumbles slightly, “but i’m delivering the goods but i’m also trying to, you know, re-invent it in a way, alright. do something… something, do it in a much different way that you’ve ever seen before. like in the case of reservoir dogs. again, it’s not the case of just trying to be a clever boy, just like clever ideas. it’s gotta, like, work dramatically,” the tone shifts into a certain seriousness. “alright, but like ya’ know, do a heist film. deliver the goods of a heist film but it’s a heist film where you never see the heist.” he exhales into a slight laugh as he leans forward, punctuating his thought.

2012

ever/always/elsewhere

INHERITED RESPONSIBILITY
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Hello, little man. Boy, I sure heard a bunch about you. See, I was a good friend of your dad’s. We were in that Hanoi pit of hell together over five years. Hopefully, you’ll never have to experience this yourself, but when two men are in a situation like me and your Dad were, for as long as we were, you take on certain responsibilities of the other. If it had been me who had not made it, Major Coolidge would be talking right now to my son Jim. But the way it turned out is I’m talking to you, Butch. I got something for you.
This watch I got here was first purchased by your great-grandfather during the First World War. It was bought in a little general store in Knoxville, Tennessee. Made by the first company to ever make wrist watches. Up till then people just carried pocket watches. It was bought by private Doughboy Ernie Coolidge on the day he set sail for Paris. It was your great-grandfather’s war watch and he wore it every day he was in that war. When he had done his duty, he went home to your great-grandmother, took the watch off, put it an old coffee can, and in that can it stayed until your granddad Dane Coolidge was called upon by his country to go overseas and fight the Germans once again. This time they called it World War II. Your great-grandfather gave this watch to your granddad for good luck. Unfortunately, Dane’s luck wasn’t as good as his old man’s. Dane was a Marine and he was killed, along with the other Marines at the battle of Wake Island. Your granddad was facing death, he knew it. None of those boys had any illusions about ever leaving that island alive. So three days before the Japanese took the island, your granddad asked a gunner on an Air Force transport name of Winocki, a man he had never met before in his life, to deliver to his infant son, who he’d never seen in the flesh, his gold watch. Three days later, your granddad was dead. But Winocki kept his word. After the war was over, he paid a visit to your grandmother, delivering to your infant father, his dad’s gold watch.
This watch. This watch was on your daddy’s wrist when he was shot down over Hanoi. He was captured, put in a Vietnamese prison camp. He knew if the gooks ever saw the watch it’d be confiscated, taken away. The way your dad looked at it, that watch was your birthright. He’d be damned if any slopes were gonna put their greasy yellow hands on his boy’s birthright. So he hid it in the one place he knew he could hide something. His ass. Five long years, he wore this watch up his ass. Then he died of dysentery, he gave me the watch. I hid this uncomfortable hunk of metal up my ass two years. Then, after seven years, I was sent home to my family. And now, little man, I give the watch to you.

RULES TO FOLLOW THAT COULD POSSIBLY MAKE A PAINTING
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Meet someone that you find interesting and talk to them about whatever.
Buy bed sheets and throw them on your bed.
Wake up in bed sheets, after a number of days sleeping in them, and gather sheets.
Talk to interesting person that you met about anything.
Fold sheets on your front room floor by yourself into a square, folding it on itself.
Tie with yarn.
Put on your fur coat and submerge the bundle into the bleach that is in a bucket on your porch.
Attempt to make some food. Stay hungry.
Sit down, watch Pulp Fiction.
Go to the bodega across the street and have a 9 minute conversation with the owner, Manny.
Buy a ginger ale.
Sit down on couch and call that interesting person you met.
Leave your house.
Walk in the cool night and try not to think that it will all be over.
Wake up at 4:16 am and worry about the future.
Get sheets from bleach and wash them in your basement.
Eat oatmeal.
Sit on couch and wait.
Get sheets and dry them.
Sit in chair and wait.
Think about the death of your parents and when it will happen.
Get dry sheets and hang them in your room.
Attempt to extract imagery from the patterns that were revealed.
Forget imagery that you saw.
Cut or do not cut sheets.
Attempt to fix what you have ruined.
Find stretcher and wrap sheets on the object as fast as possible.
Remember that there is no failure when you’ve already given up hope.
Witness the results and cope with your apathy.

YOUTH IN RUINS
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When I was a child, maybe 11 years old, my father and I built a tree house in our backyard. Dad was a blue collar guy who built and still builds signs for a living: huge signs that made their way to Vegas, the first large Sony TV screen in Times Square- he even hung off the top of the tallest building in downtown Dallas to lay green neon on its exterior. Everyone calls it “The Green Building.” My dad’s name is Robert. He and I built this tree house. A place of safety, a place of my own, a symbol for youth that was at once new and old at the same time. In this structure I found that I had a vantage point from upon high. This was important due to the fact that it felt so far away from where I actually was. In the neighborhood where I grew up, the streets were filled with gangs and the nights filled with gun fire. Death was ever present. I remember walking to elementary school one day only to be stopped by my teachers and police officers and told to go back home. The grouping of portable buildings that acted as make shift classrooms for the over populated school was now a crime scene. Apparently a pizza delivery guy was hanging from an iron awning that sheltered us from rain. They had found him that morning; his throat had been slit. My tree house was one block from there, but when I was inside of that structure, it felt like my own world. As I grew older my tree house became less and less relevant. Over the years the wood began to rot, accelerated by the strong Texas storms. My youth was becoming a dilapidated structure that I at once felt responsible for and yet did nothing to fix. By the time I became a young adult the tree house was more of a danger than a shelter. I hadn’t entered it in years and asked my dad what we were going to do with it. He looked at me and said not to worry and that he would pull it down soon. As I prepared to leave my home for the first time as a 22 year old, the tree house had mostly collapsed with only the tall handmade ladder and palette base remaining.
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fix : ruin
void : ______

touch : faint
gesture : ______

history : failure
attempt : ______
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Painting is my house that keeps the same furniture in the same living room that is constantly being rearranged on an anxious level by my mother.
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PROVISIONAL: THE BEGINNINGS OF THE CONTEMPORARY BASTARD

Painting as an object, as a symbol, has to be dismantled from within its own structure. That is if painting is to be truly questioned it has to be done on paintings terms. The ‘arena’ that is the painting itself, now, once again, holds the most risk in its impossibility. This concept has its contemporary beginnings in Yve- Alain Bois’ landmark ‘Painting as Model’ text and is a primary issue in the recent ‘Provisional Painting’ essays by Raphael Rubinstein. Provisional Painting is the result of a reaction and a resistance. Its core is the truth to materials found in minimalism and the sensibility of Bad Painting. Provisional Painting is to abstraction as the figure is to Bad Painting. It is an orphan to a bastard, twice removed. Abstraction does not carry the responsibility to reality that figuration maintains. Provisional Paintings voice in abstraction feels no need to refer to anything outside of its own discourse: the history of abstraction itself. However, Abstraction is open enough to carry the weight of art historical discourse as well as personal signification. Intent replaces narration within abstraction and serves as an entry point into the work. Within the process of ‘Provisional’ this intent is unambiguous, transparent and reconsiders/reframes the notion of “gesture” within painting. This same intent is recognizable and defined in ways Painting can never be. I do not align myself with this term; however, it is this position of Provisional Painting that interests me.
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Unsuccessful failure.
Intentional accident.
The result being doubt.
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A painting itself can open conversations and spark discourse but I believe it is in the act of painting, the gesture of making, the struggle to extract something out of what I do that can hold resonance. An ongoing project. The never ending ‘attempt.’ An attempt is simply an effort put forth to no availing end. The idea of success or failure is non-existent. It is more than trying but less than doing. The attempt exists in an in between space. It is a constant state of suspension. A monotone hum that lurks in the atmosphere of a horror movie. A phone forever ringing. A drawn out monologue that is spoken only to avoid an ending. Painting. An attempt is neither transcendence nor self-destruction yet it is both at the same time. It is the instant, everlasting.
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RULES TO FOLLOW THAT COULD POSSIBLY MAKE A PAINTING, CONTINUED

Take bleached sheet(s) to a paint store.
Sit on a stool and wait your turn.
Tell Christine that you want to have some paint made.
Notice that Christine is wearing a studded black belt and is unmarried.
Choose a color on the fabric that could only be described with the prefix “non-.”
Watch the computer compute.
Understand that none of this matters.
Pick the “most wrong”, that is the least accurate, from the color options.
This color is the found error.
Repeat as you see fit.
Buy paint.
Make x ft. size square stretcher.
Choose x amount of f. error(s).
X amount of f. errors should be equal to x amount for square stretcher.
Know that x= amount of f. error(s)/ ft.
Find a space and stretch canvas to wall using staples.
Look out window and ask out loud, “where is everybody?”
Gesso canvas until it is almost perfectly smooth.
Brush on f.error(s).
Each f.error(s) is painted on its own square and the number of layers painted is also equal to x.
Now know that x= amount of f. error(s)/ft./layers of paint.
Convince yourself that everything is fine.
Once you have painted the squares cut the canvas into 8.7cm strips.
Put strips into a large plastic bag and pick one at a time at random.
Attempt to fix what you have ruined.
Stretch the canvas as tight as possible on square stretcher.
Remember that there is no failure when you’ve already given up hope.
Witness the results and be sure in its uncertainty.

My life is falling apart around me and all I can think about is this fucking painting.
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This is what happened to Amy Winehouse. There were always problems with her relationships with men. That’s unfair to say, I suppose. It should be said that she always had problems with loving men. Well, that is still unfair to say. To be completely honest, Amy always had problems with love. Yes, that’s really it. She had been loved by dead-end suitors who loved the idea of her but never really loved who she was as a person. Who she was as a person was something that could never be understood- not by anyone and sometimes not even by herself. Who would help her be a better person? Somebody needed to. The drugs she relied on were taking a toll on her broken heart. Literally and figuratively. You see Amy loved coke. And coke does horrible things to one’s heart. But since Amy figured that her heart was and had always been broken what would be the harm in one more line? If only the numbing sensation in the back of her throat after a sniff could flow through her entire body. But it never did. Amy did have something to help her through her horrible times. A beautiful voice that reverberated her heartache and her love of the drugs that were slowly killing her. There was no hope. Or so she thought. The one thing that she needed to feel would soon rescue her and, in the end, be the death of her. That one thing was love. Now I can type that word and Amy could sing about it but anyone who has ever experienced the complete abyss that is love knows that there is no word that encapsulates the experience. This thing, love, had finally found Amy and it would kill her slowly as it passed through her lips, down her throat, calmed her nerves and drowned her broken heart.