August 7, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Painter Maggie Mailer pulls on her artistic heritage to expand her interest in narrative. Paint and text unite on the gallery walls to further her end of the world art epic.
Mailer’s new show, “COVET – The Starry Outpost” opens Saturday, August 4, at 6 p.m., at the Ferrin Gallery, 437 North St.
Previously, Mailer has created a body of work with a loose narrative regarding intense destruction — perhaps even the end of the world — and the reaction that gets from the people enduring it. In “The Volcano Sitters,” Mailer crafted her own response to the attack of 9/11 — which she viewed live from the Brooklyn home of her father, Norman Mailer — as a series of paintings pulling from classic landscape painting styles of the 18th Century and depicting scenes of catastrophe and the genteel society dealing with it.
Her follow-up, “The Balloonists,” took the narrative further. The upper crust had taken to hot air balloons, narrowly floating above the destruction, gadabouts on the cusp of potential extinction.
Now, Mailer has partially formalized the story, or at least offered that option to viewers. The paintings in COVET will be accompanied by snatches from an imaginary novel that will give some hard background to the images presented, a narrative that is available to anyone who wants to grab onto it.
“It’s not the only way to read the paintings,” Mailer said. “It’s one way into the paintings.
I hesitated to do this for several years because I never wanted to do something that set up a definite interpretation. But then I decided, why not do it and it can always be optional.”
The story follows the travels of an architect and his secret love. They are part of a crew of aristocratic end-time enthusiasts in the 18th Century who are waiting for deliverance to a distant star called “The Starry Outpost” and the race of Tantric Beings that live there.
The architect suffers from amnesia and builds a palace designed to hold any memories he retrieves. Meanwhile, the secret lover is a painter, recording the events unfolding at the end of the world as part of a field study.
“She develops this method of allowing the paintings to complete themselves by way of her magical brushstrokes,” said Mailer. “For me, the story relates back to painting, the painting process and the idea of finishing something, or even not being able to finish, and wanting it to continue forever.”
“I was alluding to these ideas before and thinking of the paintings back then as machines that generated their own momentum and continued to generate energy and continue to complete themselves after I stopped working on them, and that’s something that I continued in this storyline.”
Mailer says she has been thinking about these ideas for a long time, endings in context of painting, as she says, “the end of the brushstroke and what it means for the next brushstroke.” The narrative she created for this new series is as informed by her thoughts on the nature of time in the process of her artwork as it is by any historical research she did.
Mailer’s plan is to install each text chapter above and possibly below the paintings, in order to create a loop that will require viewers to walk from one end of the display to the other and then back again in order to read the writing. The paintings will not be placed together in a narrative order, but rather a thematic one, pulling on aesthetics and theme. It will be as if time registers differently in the visual aspect of the show than it does in the written, and the truth will be somewhere in between, or even in, both at the same time.
“If you decide to enter it via the narrative, then it takes a bit of work to figure out how everything is related,” Mailer said. “I like to make things as complicated as possible.”
By placing the narrative in a loop, Mailer creates a circular story that constantly hints at an ending without forcing one onto the viewer. An end might be viewed as something imposed on a story, and by reducing time to its purest form and removing sequence as a human understands it, Mailer can be seen as playing with temporal perception in a way that mirrors her own painterly practice.
“I’m talking about traveling through time, and the way that I paint relates to that,” she said, “because I’m always scratching back into previous layers and going under the surface, or sanding things down or going back to something I worked on three years ago. So because of that process and that attitude, the paintings and the narrative shift around.”
And despite the circular nature of the presentation, this all does point to a future for the work. Mailer’s plan is to relate whatever work comes out of her to this current body.
“I can structure the narrative so that it would form a framework for any future work that I do,” Mailer said. “I do have this habit of wanting to work on lots of genres, like landscape and portraiture and abstraction and diagrams, and they don’t always fit together in any obvious way, so the narrative is informed by structure for the paintings to relate to each other.”
The previous series of paintings were focused on things coming to an end, but Mailer believes her focus has changed into a more horizontal approach that allows her to flit between the moments she captures to build the narrative. Part of this was accomplished in the process of paintings first and writing second.
Mailer says that the writing was integral in that it helped her see things in the paintings that weren’t previously jumping out at her. It created a dialogue bet ween her and her own work and another dimension that began to exist somewhere between her visual and literary halves.
“I feel happiest because I’m able to explore and flesh out these two needs that I have, but it makes me a little uncomfortable,” she said. “I’ve been presenting paintings only and I haven’t presented writing in any serious way, so for now, it’s fun. But we’ll see. I might switch into writing.”
Mailer says books are at the center of her inspiration. Her current reading material, Sal mon “Satanic Verses,” has pro vid ed her with structural guidance she didn’t expect when she first picked it up, and her father’s legacy is also a part of that for her.
“He’s always there,” Mailer said. “He was probably one of the main inspirations for me to work every day. I think writing is in the blood. I think it’s something I’ve been trying to avoid for a long time, but it also feels a little bit like coming home. It’s kind of a relief.”
“I still find that when I’m stuck, I turn to books. I don’t go enter the fields and draw trees. If I lose interest in working, I’ll probably pick up a novel, and that’s what keeps me going. The writing is be coming more and more important. That’s where this is headed. I guess the idea of a book is my savior. It’s what I turn to when all else fails, so it make sense, the next destination.”
Though it would be an obvious move, Mailer doubts she will retroactively go back to the previous bodies and add text to them. There’s always the fu ture, though, and Mailer’s particular work method is one that leaves her with possibilities, and she’s surrounded by these as she goes through her daily creative process.
“I have 30 paintings going at any given time,” she said. “Some of them lie around for years in the studio and I wonder if they’ll ever have a life, and then when the time comes, I’ll pick one up and it does turn into a new painting. The layers of time and the layers of paint, and ideas and thinking and experience, that go into each canvas, it’s hard to replicate them. But there’s a lot of them lying around, so there’s a lot of material to work with.”