RAYGUN: Talking about Duchamp’s idea of painting without hands, and his approach to thinking about painting, could you explain further how these ideas resonate with conceptual intentions your explore within your own painting practice?
STEPHEN LITTLE: Modernism sought a purer designation for painting’s essential or irreducible being. This led to Greenberg’s ideological push to locate an essentialist imperative for late modernist painting marked by a specific set of criteria for its classification. Duchamp on the other hand preferred to deal with the conventions of language itself that he felt located painting. He had wanted to resist the overriding retinal reading of painting and instead sought an approach that depended on other things, and this in turn formed a passage to the conceptual. The last 100 years has evidenced nothing short of a paradigm shift for painting and art in general, and has led to markedly changed terms of reference for painting.
With this recent history in mind, I set out to explore alternatives to traditional models used in the classification of painting. As one whose studio methodology evidenced a refusal of traditional means, choosing to retain the name ‘Painting’ led to questions about painting’s changed terms of reference. Aside from its role of designating the area of my practice, my use of the nomenclature ‘Painting’ is underscored by a tone of provocation. The provocation lies in the terms continuing resistance to conventional, material and ideologically driven classifications that continue, often inadequately, to establish what may constitute painting today.
The legacy of the readymade, the everyday and conceptualism has led me into the discourse of painting from the outside and has proved pivotal in providing critical distance, and providing methods and strategies that otherwise may not be readily available, or agreeable for some. Strategically, this provided leverage to engage with painting on my own terms and positioned me between painting and what it was deemed ‘not’ to be, i.e. objects such as tents, floor brushes, mirrors etc. The task I gave myself entailed identifying alternative pathways as a means to create new and functional modes of address for the studio work. I acknowledged some of the work at the time as being work about painting i.e. that it references a particular aspect or approach to painting, while others appeared to be more specific in their designation as painting. This in turn, led to questions such as, what values, factors, contingencies or traits determine what painting can be?
Painting continues by being constantly corrupted, by questioning its boundaries, and not limiting itself to its own conventions and ‘traditional’ set of competencies. It has the ability to slide between different physical & perceptual modalities, and is continued and extended by embracing that which might extinguish it. In this, painting is a practice that now incorporates a diverse range of competencies that exist beyond painting’s historic tradition and beyond any prescribed notion of material structure. I view the question ‘how is your work painting?’ as a loaded one as it assumes that we know what painting is or should be, and that I must somehow justify how my work fits into this category. I prefer to return the question as ‘how is it not painting?’ to reveal and challenge an assumed or prescriptive criteria for classification.
RAYGUN: You have incorporated data from NASA and utilizing the accessibility of sending work to Mars in previous projects. Could you please elaborate on why you look beyond your own earthly horizons to integrate into your art practice?
STEPHEN LITTLE: I look beyond my earthly horizons like just about any other artist. Contexts can change from artist to artist and from work to work. Some draw on politics, on humour, on music etc. Art comes from life and reflects life. I feel that sometimes it is important to step outside of ourselves, outside of the here and now. Sometimes this offers the freedom to extend a dialogue, methodologies or processes in ways that may be limited within a particular studio structure or an art for arts sake approach. New bridges can be created, and new narratives and unexpected outcomes realised. New directions can be forged, new problems discovered, and conventions and recourse to the familiar can be overcome. When we take a dialogue into a new context we can view it with fresh eyes, and from many new perspectives.