Friday, September 28, 2007

Julian Dashper / Rounded square paintings

Re: rounded square paintings.

The rounded square paintings, as I like to informally call them, first began at the very beginning of 1999, directly after the end of the drumhead series (1995-98). The complete series of rounded square paintings was finally realised by the end of 2000.

As the series of paintings progressed through its orchestrated stages, they were first exhibited in Auckland, Wellington, Sydney, Amsterdam and back to Auckland in that order. It was always my intention with these works to exhibit them in different places and situations as they were made. Some of them are now housed in public and private collections in New Zealand, Australia and the Netherlands.

Each painted multiple was based on one of five different sized unique sliver gelatin photographic prints of exactly the same shape; that of the rounded square. The size of the rounded square shape in each unique photograph and multiple painting is as follows: 10”, 11”, 12”, 13” and 14” in diameter.

The principal idea behind these works was that the photo was unique in each of the five cases, and the paintings of each of the five individual shapes were multiples. That simple idea is paramount to the complete understanding of these works. This is why I am stressing it again now. The photograph of the rounded square image is unique and the painting of the image is a multiple.

Two paintings of each size rounded square on various size canvases were created. In only one case (2000), four paintings on the same size canvas were made of the 11” diameter rounded square shape. As a result all of these rounded square paintings from 2000 are the same size. In the previous year, the painted black image of the rounded square stayed the same size, but the stretched canvas on which it was painted increased in size. The end and most obvious result of this was that the white `frame’ around the black rounded square got larger, while the actual black painted rounded square stayed the same size as the photograph from which it was modelled.

But, it is useful now to go back to the beginning of this series and to consider where the actual idea for the rounded square image and multiple painting first sprang from. It was in the MCA in Sydney at their 1998 Yves Klein show that I first considered the notion. I noticed in that exhibition a small cartoon displayed in a vitrine that Klein had drawn lampooning the claim that Kazimir Malevich had made of `a painting to end all (representational) painting’... the first truly abstract work for the world... or the first true monochrome painting on the planet. Klein had correctly noted, as the central point in his cartoon sketch, that Malevich had in fact also gone on to paint a white frame around his supremacist black square therefore the painting was still `representational’ in some sense. It represented a picture of a frame. Klein went on to boast, in the cartoon’s text, that it was instead he who had made the first true monochrome painting (circa 1960, which is also my birth date). Somewhat surprisingly he also failed at the same time to mention that he had signed his work at the bottom right hand corner, therefore turning the work back, in my mind, into a representation of something again. Namely a painting (in the traditional sense) which could be signed on the front by the artist.

Whatever, as they say in Los Angeles, I thought more or less immediately that it would be a good idea to make a series of my own paintings based on the notion of the painted white frame. Make that the subject... the `thing’ that you never ever actually consider when you look at Malevich’s infamous works. You just don’t see the white frame, exactly like you never notice the chauffeur who drives the car which the Queen of England rides in. If anything ever was a void to jump into, that white frame on that particular Sydney afternoon certainly was for me.

Of course, to make a painted white frame of something one first needs a space inside to define the outside. So, I dreamt up more or less on the spot that very same day the shape of the rounded square. This was made by placing four circles of the same size side by side, two up and two down, and then simply joining them up by filling the insides in. A sort of minimal colouring in, I guess, at its most basic. Two circles sitting on top of two circles. It was at that same time that I coined the name `rounded square’. Neither a square or a circle it was a kind of geometrical oxymoron, half square half circle. The circle that couldn’t roll, the square that you couldn’t build with. The square with rounded corners. All rock and no roll. A shape whose sole purpose was, in my mind, simply to define a white frame around itself.

Geometrically it had a certain uselessness about it which intrigued me. I mean, what else could the rounded square be used for apart from in art? Hardly engineering or veterinary science for instance. Plus, it seems to me that many good ideas in art come from a notion of being in neither one place or another at the same time.

So, I’ll go over it again: I made five unique silver gelatin prints of differing sizes of the rounded square image and I also made a series of multiple paintings, on different sized canvases, of the exact same sized rounded square to accompany the unique framed photograph of that same sized image. Initially these painted works began by painting each size of the rounded square shape onto canvases of differing sizes (which were always squares). This meant that while the rounded square stayed the same size, the white frame became bigger as it was painted onto a larger stretched canvas. By the time the year 2000 had rolled around, the final rounded square paintings were all the same sized shape (11” diameter) on the same sized canvas. Exact multiples of each other, as far as they can be when they were painted by hand. Four in a series by now.

I’ve become fond of saying lately that a flat sheet of metal is stronger with a triangular or circular hole cut out of it that when it is left as just a sheet of plain metal. That’s how I like to currently think of the right angled triangular series of paintings (2000- 02) that immediately followed the rounded square works. Take something away to make it stronger. A simple metaphor to think of these two series of works by.

The rounded square paintings preceded the black right angled triangular shaped works so there are seeds of this thought (the removal of something to make it stronger) in them as well, just as the seeds of the drumheads are interwoven visually into the rounded square works.

I still like to think about the rounded square works in terms of Malevich and Klein. Remembering that slightly pointless argument about who made the first truly non objective paining (which has never ever been my interest). I liked Klein’s cartoon. It reminded me of one of Ad Reinhardt’s. It seemed funny, poignant, yet more than a little bit cranky at the same time. I mean, don’t look at the square as I sometimes tell people... it’s really a painting of a white frame.

You see, all the time I just needed a shape of some sort to define the white frame I actually wanted to paint in the first place. Or at least that is one way to look at it. A negative makes a positive and all that.

Just like the drumheads, the rounded square paintings were a finite series. It was a project with a definite beginning and an end. All multiple paintings of a photograph. A photograph which was a representation of a white frame. A picture of something that nobody ever really notices.

- Julian Dashper