A Poetic, Elusive Diary Elaine A. King, Ph.D. Director Carnegie Mellon Art Gallery
Printed in: Alfred DeCredico:
© 1990 Levinson/Kane Gallery
Recurring, invented creature themes are an important part of my images. These creatures seem familiar, as are connotations of place in the work. Yet, the viewer soon realizes that if they are familiar, they are familiar through dreams..
.. The viewer is drawn into the surface as though to investigate a sub-atomic particle structure. My paintings are about anachronistic relationships – parts are brought together, manipulated, expanded upon, and ordered. Once this is accomplished, there are conversions, which occur – canvas seems to become stone, wood becomes water or vapor, and rubber seems to become slate (1).
As we move through the last decade of the twentieth century, many questions about the relevance of art and which issues will be paramount surface. The post-modern mania of the eighties appears passé, as artists and audiences become disenchanted with media-generated and blatantly appropriated imagery, and the 1980s money boom. A quest for something more –"substance over style"–is voiced. The current situation recalls an environment of the early 1970s, characterized by a tolerance and desire for pluralistic art, and a rekindling of interest in historical reference and spiritual fulfillment.
Today many artists evince a heightened interest in making spiritual and political statements: Andy Grundberg’s recent article in New York Times reaffirms this observation: "…Nor does post-modernism any longer pose a challenge to the dominion of painting, as it appeared to do in the mid-1980’s…As has happened before in the 20th century, art that aspires to represent the higher ground of human existence will most likely be abstract, since abstraction is the obvious ally of the spiritual. It seems fair to say that most of the new abstract art will take the form of painting, although sculptors are once again showing interest in pared-down forms…"(2). Although this writer concurs with Grundberg, she remains skeptical about the "new spiritual": despite the best stated intentions, limelight focus often generates charlatans and corruption leading to boring trends, more rhetoric, and vacuous art.
Serious artists do not need legitimated stages. Time has proven this over and over again. The explorations of Cézanne, Malevich, Mondrian, and Kandinsky dispensed with subject matter in order to release introspective and spiritual pictorial expression. Pollack, Newman, and Stella advanced abstraction in the second half of this century. Collectively their nonobjective lessons continue to impact on artists and remain viable despite art fashion. Although, in the eighties, abstraction took a back seat position to Neo-Expressionism and Neo-Geo, such American artists as Mel Bochner, Terry Winters, Carroll Dunham, Pat Steir, Michael Kessler, Elizabeth Murray, Sam Gilliam, and others listed in Abstraction; Abstraction (3) continued to re-examine the definitions of abstract art and to produce inventive solutions. Let us not misperceive the 1990s revival of abstraction as being a "new" style or attempt to slot artists who have continued working within this tradition as ‘band-wagon" jumpers. Many genuine abstract artists have held their ground over the past twenty-five years despite shifting styles and the expense of neglect.
Mainstream trends mean nothing to Alfred DeCredico. Here is an artist concerned with neither modernist nor postmodernist theories but one who possesses an acute understanding of both Western and non-Western art and continues a love affair with Italian culture, especially the music of Verdi. Opting to employ elements from various traditions in order to release his expression, this artist creates a fantasy that touches on psychic drama within large and complex formal settings ethereal of space.
DeCredico has expressed his observations of the human drama using the vocabulary of abstraction that has served him over the past twenty years. Here is a self-confident character who knows what he wants and does not require popular validation. He has dedicated his life to being an abstract artist while probing philosophical questions about life’s drama and her mysteries. Engaged in challenging the structure of painting and sculpture, his elusive diary of imagery is a testimony to the personal nature of his art. When asked about his approach to working, he stated:
"Living in Providence, Rhode Island, I have striven to establish a sound work base, rooted in a continuum of the highest traditions. From this base, devoid of fad or fashion, I have been able to focus on the development of my work. I have explored the use of my symbols through diverse forms, both two and three-dimensional. They have been presented as paintings, wax box constructions, found object constructions, bronze sculpture, prints, charcoal drawings, and mixed media drawings, The symbolism in my imagery remains constant"(4).
My first encounter with Alfred DeCredico’s work alerted me to an art which affords no easy answers and which demands the viewer’s full attention. Its overridingly dark character called to mind the strength found in many great Spanish artists who comprehended the power and value of harnessing the non-color of black. DeCredico’s work sparks a sensation felt in the presence of looming conglomerate rocks and ancient weathered walls; his enigmatic puzzles invite examination and speculation.
A spectrum of master works is apparent as providing points of reference; the art of Kandinsky, Arp, Matta, Gorky, Dubuffet, Cornell, and Pollock, as well as cave paintings come to mind. Alfred DeCredico confirmed that all of these have played an influential role in shaping his aesthetic; "Early Byzantine and Islamic symbolism have also been important sources in the development of my imagery…I was able to see more clearly the link between these elements in my work and the other major themes I use, those of tribal and Far Eastern iconography"(5). The latter is especially apparent in his totemic bronze sculptures, which reveal a definite connection to primitive fertility gods and icons, as well as art brut.
What is this work about? In the images produced between 1987 and 1990, a formal rectitude, evoking Cubist structure, becomes the backdrop for a spatial theatre of abstract and calligraphic shapes. Here is an art that evinces a unified idiosyncratic poetry, pervaded by melodrama and a sense of grotesque, yet offers visual pleasure through the magnificence of its execution. The composite of imagery results in a tapestry of wide-ranging references from myth, magic, music, fantasy, and even graffiti. The spontaneous linearity found in Surrealist poetry is evident, stripped of the gaiety of color and bravado of statement. Instead, an aura of silence contains the information housed within the diaphanous planes of subdued hues and texture.
How does one begin to decipher this pastiche of styles, influences, and poetic symbolism? References to French and German painting come to mind, with each contradicting the other. Formal concerns clash with emotive and quirky symbolism.
Here is an artist who is concerned with life’s mysteries and perpetual contradictions. The series titled Requiem is a testimony to this. DeCredico believes that requiems are some of the most complex and moving works of music ever commissioned. However, he sees them "as celebrations of an extended life fulfilled, and not as a tragedy and end by death"(6). When pushed to expand on this, DeCredico referred to late Joseph Campbell and his definition of "Death being like breaking the surface of water"(7).
The Requiem series, part of which is shown in this publication, consists of 11 paintings and 25 drawings. The title for each piece is generated either during the actual creation of the work or soon afterwards. Titles such as If Wishes Were Horses (Beggars Would Ride), Deaf in One Ear/Blind in One Eye, and The Absence of Gravity, are a testimony to Alfred DeCredico’s fascination with contradiction and to his sense of humor. At times laughter is evoked, however, upon closer examination a haunting sensibility pervades. These new works reveal both an advancing complexity of statement and an increasing sophistication of technique. One needs only to compare the piece Falling Into A Lake in Africa (1989) with the drawing Deaf in One Ear/Blind in One Eye (1990) to observe a definite evolution in this artist’s execution of the paint, and his subtle presentation of symbolism. What appears now more simple and reduced is really more complex and enlarged. The artist’s use of multiple panels releases both a tension and prompts dialectic between each unique surface area.
The content of this work reflects DeCredico’s innate response to contemporary experiences, his fascination with life-and-death, and the pull of Eros and Thanatos. Dark and austere areas butt up against lighter ones, resulting in the activation of sweeping planes of pigment and gestural overlapping edges. Through DeCredico’s use of contrasting hues, varying tones, and textural edging, what might be perceived as separate, joined units actually read as a unified, expansive field. This is enforced by what appears as a connecting ethereal veil floating over the surface plane and by the rhythmic movements of his dancing, private symbols.
In these new works, classical pictorial structure provides the scaffolding for romantic painterly invention. Each set of panels reveals a separate drama. Their forms retain their autonomy and invite us to explore a visual world inspired by the monumentality and power of music, and by the mysteries of life. These complicated image-metaphors are elaborations of this artist’s continued visual experimentation inspired by an inner personal quest.
"These marks are the truest expression of the darkest part of the subconscious– the things which must be probed for, with the skill of a surgeon and with the clumsiness of a child picking a splinter out of his / her finger with a needle…The making of images is essentially a question of ethics. There is a thin line, which is walked– the question of ethics cannot be camouflaged nor should it be. The creature in us all is revealed in the image– the willingness to allow the best to roam freely is the source of the power of the image. I always look for my beast– I love my beast and I fear him. Each image is about living and dying– union and separation-God and the devil-celibacy and extreme sexual activity…When committed to the journey, there is no turning back"(8).
Elaine A. King, Ph.D. Director Carnegie Mellon Art Gallery
NOTES 1, 4, 5, 6, 7. All quotes from Alfred DeCredico are taken from conversations between the author and the artist that took place throughout August and September 1990 and from a correspondence written to the author by the artist on 24 August 1990.
2. Andy Grundberg, "As It Must to All, Death Comes to Post-Modernism," New York Times, Sunday (September 16, 1990), Section 2, p. 47.
3. Elaine A. King, Abstraction: Abstraction, (Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon Press, 1986). This catalogue accompanied an exhibition of the same title. It featured the work of veteran abstract artist, Sam Gilliam and seven somewhat younger artists (Emily Cheng, Sharon Gold, Jonathan Lasker, Kathleen Montgomery, Michael Mulhern, David Reed, and Stephen Westfall). King and David Carrier aspired to clarify nonobjective art in the mid-eighties during the height of figurative expressionism.
8. Alfred V. DeCredico, The Book of Tortures, (Providence, 1989). This statement is taken from a book of 75 drawings made by the artist, which includes an essay written to further illuminate his personal imagery.
The Inner Voice Visualized:
Abstractions Donald Kuspit
Printed in: Alfred DeCredico: Voices
essay ©1991 Donald Kuspit
The highest task…is to seize the mastery of one’s transcendental Self – to be at the same time the Self of one’s Self. NOVALIS
Alfred DeCredico has titled his new body of abstractions – they are paintings, but their material means tend to be varied: drawing and fur as well as paint give them their rich surface – "Voices." I suggest that the voice involved is the inner voice – not that of conscience, nor of intellectual intuition, such as prompted Socrates, nor the proverbial voice madmen blindly obey – although it uses all three as its masks. Rather, it is the voice of Novalis’s "transcendental Self" – the innermost Self of the self, the authentic Self within the inauthentic self. In D.W. Winnicott’s distinction, it is the voice of the True Self within the False Self. "Only the True Self can be creative and only the True Self can feel real," whereas "a False Self results in a feeling unreal or a sense of futility." Where the True Self involves "the spontaneous gesture and the personal idea" – the core of the individual’s "experience of aliveness." – the False Self is socially compliant, involving" the whole organization of the polite and mannered social attitude (1)." The task of the artist in modern times has been to voice the authenticity of the transcendental Self, becoming authentic in himself - to uphold the reality of the profoundly interior transcendental Self in a world in which it has come to seem unreal. It has been over objectified – a subtle way of repressing it, indeed, reading it away – by a world obsessively objective. In defiance of this objectivity – in the last analysis it is an illusion, or at best a half – truth – the authenticity – obsessed artist bespeaks, in George Steiner’s words, the "mystery" and "metaphysical experience," of the transcendental Self through "the enigma of [artistic] creation." He creates works of art, which are "real preferences," that is, art in which "a wager on transcendence" – on authenticity – has been won (2). Such works are not simply emblems of the transcendental Self, but seem to embody it. If one wishes, they are metaphors for it, but, as Morse Peckham says, a metaphor is "the presentation…of a phenomenon for which there is no category and therefore are no attributes, or for which…the conventional category and attributes for that phenomenon are inadequate or …unusable." There is, in effect, "no language…for talking about the phenomenon," or the languages that exist are constantly breaking down – end up demonstrating, in use, their inadequacy more than their adequacy (3). The truly authentic artist experiences the inadequacy of all artistic language to convey the mysterious phenomenon of the transcendental Self and its eschatological sense of existence – a phenomenon which by definition is mysteriously out of reach, always manifesting itself in tentative, protean form making passing sense, having transient intelligibility – but creates, no doubt in Sisyphean frustration, a new artistic metaphor for it. DeCredico is an authentic artist – I think that has to be said, because there seem to be more artists around on the side of inauthenticity, socially compliant for all their witty manipulation of media modes of social compliance, than on the side of authenticity. There are more artists around who have given up on the transcendental Self – one wonders if they ever had a sense of the interiority and trueness to self it implies – than who take up the challenge it poses. And there is a greater need than ever for the alternative of authenticity – for some sense of authentic subjectivity – in view of the "repressive desublimation" of interiority by mass mediation (to use Herbert Marcuse’s term). Such media desublimation goes two ways: it involves the repression of introspection, closing off the avenue to self-awareness and self-change and thus creating self-alienation on the deepest, subtlest level of the self; and it involves the repression of empathic attunement to the other, the sense of the other as a "Thou" rather than an "It," in Martin Buber’s distinction. Know DeCredico makes "Thou abstractions," returning abstract art to the defiant purpose repressed by its objectification into a standard means of artistic practice: the purpose of introspecting and maintaining intimate contact with the transcendental Self in a detranscendentalizing world – indeed, maintaining the sense of sacredness of the self in a secular world. His abstractions are real transcendental presences in an irreal media-objectified world of consciousness. They articulate, in Mircea Eliade’s words, "the primary experience of sacred space"(4) – sacred inner space – in a profane world of media-made secondary experience, which amounts to the profaning of the process of experience as such. Elaine King "remains skeptical about the ‘new spiritual’," as it has been called, and she is reluctant to call DeCredico’s abstractions "spiritual," but she does acknowledge the "strength" of his art, which "affords no easy answers." She describes it as a "spatial theater of abstract and calligraphic shapes," an "idiosyncratic poetry, pervaded by melodrama and a sense of the grotesque"(5) – all of which bespeaks its spirituality, that is, the uncanny sense of transcendence it affords. Rather than use the overworked word "spiritual," perhaps it is better to say that DeCredico’s abstractions convey a sense of mystery, as authentic as that of pioneering abstraction. I have elsewhere argued that the generation of the sense of enigmatic unintelligibility is the major task of modern art, putting it in heroic opposition to world of pseudo-intelligibility (6). DeCredico’s abstraction has the same high level of heroic intention as the originary modern enigmaticists. His works are not simply "difficult," but have that "density of being" – they are a "display of enigmatic being" (7) – that is the sign of authenticity. One might say that awareness of the enigma of being is possible only from the perspective of the transcendental Self, and bespeaks its sense of its own mysteriousness. Thus, DeCredico’s abstractions are new metaphors for mysteriousness and transcendence: they give the elusive transcendental Self-real presence.
The transcendental Self conveys a peculiar sense of plenitude by reason of its immersion in the Styx of primary process. Being fraught with irreducible tension, it cannot help but be self-dramatizing. DeCredico’s abstractions are compounds of dramatic contrasts, and of contrasts within contrasts – a full–bodied dialectic with no resolution. Thus, the two panels of Rheingold (all works mentioned are from 1991) are not simply dark and light, but gray dark and soft brown light. The primitive figures and primordial shapes also subtly differ; those of the gray side seem more aggressive and firm than those of the brown side. Above all, both sides convey a sense of erasure – of palimpsest – like layering, implying inner atmosphere as well as making for overt obscurity, unreadability. The allusion to Wagner’s opera – it recurs in Lohengrin: Spiral, Jump, and Glide, in which there is a similar sense of foreboding gloom and dramatic incoherence, involving more or less clear (sometimes geometrically clear) fragments of form, unanchored in space – is no accident. What King calls DeCredico’s "pastiche of styles, influences, and poetic symbolism" is in fact not so much a pastiche as a loose "structure" of visual light motifs. (DeCredico in fact often "pulls" his work together through the use of wire enframements.) The spatial ambiguities and expressive ambivalences generated by their interplay imply what Anton Ehrenzwieg has called "hidden order." It is "global, syncretistic, and abstract" – pre-analytic, that is, prior to the sense of object-gestalts. It implies the instability of "reality constancy"(8), and implies unverbalizable perception and pre-verbal articulation – the use of body language to convey the holistic sensation. Each of DeCredico’s visual leitmotifs, like the musical leitmotifs of Wagner, seems like a whole unto itself, but also functions to trigger an abstract sense of wholeness. Thus, what one always experiences in a DeCredico work, for all the apparent incommensurateness of the panels – and the more subtle incommensurateness of the parts within each panel – is an instantaneous sense of unfathomable, unnamable wholeness, the special integrity which is the sign of the transcendental Self. Other works by DeCredico allude to particular operas, sometimes in playful irony, more often in a kind of psychomimetic interpretation of their over-all expressive tenor. For example, Norma: Expedition, Pelléas and Mélisande, As Turiddu: Dark Rider, Butterfly: Ice and Skins, Aida: Soldiers, Elephants, and Giraffes, As Rigoletto: Parts, Faust: Rising Pink Air. Abstraction has been profoundly connected to music since its inception – from Kandinsky on, it has been standard to conceive of abstraction as visual music, subtly logical and profoundly expressive simultaneously – but DeCredico seems alone and unusual in thinking of the music as specifically operatic. (Bach and jazz have been among the more conventional connections artists have made.) This implies that his works are subliminally narrative, with the narrative ordered, as it were, in terms of personalities. Indeed, we can think of DeCredico’s panels as distinct operatic personages – or rather the arias of such personages. Each uncannily harmonizes through its juxtaposition. The same holds for the surfaces themselves, which usually have one factor – often tonal – which suggests their underlying unity, despite their very obvious differences. Thus, the pervasive grayness of As Turiddu: Dark Rider brings the three parts, with their conspicuous "design" differences, together. Similarly, Mimi, which even involves a geomorphic format in the center panel, holds together not only by reason of the muted tones common to each panel, but by reason of the disguised echoes of the central cruciform in the side panels. Indeed, so subtle are the tonal and formal relationships that I would argue the bravado of the grand operatic format is a cover for the delicacy of a chamber music sensibility. These abstractions sing more softly and shrewdly than with stentorian pomp and circumstance. We begin to recognize a consistent vocabulary of calligraphic forms and color tonalities – from muted gray or brown to grimly, even gruesomely dark brown (in As Rigoletto: Parts, the brown part is an actual animal pelt: DeCredico frequently and blatantly uses collage elements.) – orchestrated into different "movements," each with its own expressive intimacy and symbolic import, in concrete counterpoint with the others by unifying on a "transcendental" level. For example, As Rigoletto: Parts is a brilliantly dialectical interaction between equally axiomatic instinct and eternity (grossly projecting animal pelt and gently receding geometrical forms). The extremes meet in a turbulent center whose strange instinctive gestures bespeak the dense drivenness of the former and the magisterial staidness of the latter. The over-all effect is of some higher and deeper unity of purpose in each section. DeCredico’s abstractions often convey their religious sense of purpose by taking triptych form. Indeed, I think they are very much part of that revival of religiosity without doctrinaire religion that is basic to the new spiritualism. It involves, as Daniel Bell says, a psychoexistential conflict between the awareness of death and "the fantasy of omnipotence" that is "the fundamental defense" against it. "They cannot occupy the same psychic space at the same time. And so there is a duel – to the death of submission"(9). I submit that DeCredico’s abstractions articulate the conflict between the "two omnipotences," as Bell calls them – the reality of death and the magical belief in immortality, which reflects wishful, illusory transcendence of it as a process of convergence. Omnipotence is conveyed in the operatic grandeur of the work, and its operatic division in visual arias. (Indeed, each abstract form – even the obviously figural ones – can be read as a kind of musical note.) Many of the gestures and calligraphic swirls have a kind of driven potency, as though furiously articulating the will to omnipotence. At the same time, there is an aura of decay about them – of fading out or, more violently, self-flagellation. They seem as much disintegrative as integrative. The ambiguity of the reading creates an atmosphere of mournfulness, a generalized pathos in which both the reality of death and the possibility of immortality are implicated, as though the reality and the possibility were secretly one. DeCredico’s new abstractions follow upon his 1990 Requiem works, and utilize many of the same visual leitmotifs. In Requiem: The Absence of Gravity and Requiem: The Diamond Cutter, the triptych shows its religious character explicitly, by reason of the larger size of the central panel, making it stand out in comparison to the side panels. In the new works, the central emphasis – in which, traditionally, a major religious event or figure would appear, leading one to introspective conversion, as it were – is more a matter of perceptual than quantitative differentiation of the central from the side panels. Thus, in Pelléas and Mélisande the spiral and hyperactivity of the central panel clearly differentiate it from the side panels, which seem minor, less dramatic "scenes" in comparison. In As Turiddu: Dark Rider – one has the sense that this work verges on an abstract self-portrait; that is, a portrait of DeCredico’s sense of the transcendental Self – the heroically dark central panel sets it off from the lighter, gray side panels. (It also doubles their size.) In As Rigoletto: Parts the center and left panels compete in vigor, but the central panel is finally more dynamic and complicated, indeed, seems self-complicating. In Mimi the abstract cruciform center clearly separates it from the more calligraphic-gestural shapes of the side panels, even though echoes of these shapes are inscribed in the atmosphere of the central panel. In As Lohengrin: Spiral, Jump, and Glide – DeCredico and Lohengrin (or Rigoletto or Aida, etc.)? – the peculiarly boney, grim geomorphic forms of the gray central panel set it apart from the "lovelier" shapes, and coloration, of the side panels. The atmosphere in all these works is that of a requiem, but the solemnity is broken by the intense, impacted, peculiarly hermetic abstract iconography of calligraphy / gestures / shapes. A requiem involves not only mourning for a death but also the promise of a resurrection. I suggest DeCredico’s strange forms bespeak both. They are somewhere between both – bespeak both old death and new life. But the agitated, anxiously animated and involuted character of the forms and their congested togetherness imply uncertainty as to whether the new life is eternal: does grotesque death have to be experienced yet again, en masse? Are we immortal because we go through the cycle of death and rebirth – both physical and psychic – endlessly? DeCredico’s abstractions problematize absolutes, and in general raise more questions than they answer, which may be what the new spirituality is about, the old spirituality having had all the answers before the questions were asked. Similarly, on an aesthetic level, DeCredico has transmuted the old "decorative abstraction," as Gauguin called it, into a new one, in which the decorative is problematized, making it a vehicle for a new sense of the significance of abstraction. Donald Kuspit Notes: (1) D.W. Winnicott, "Ego Distortion in Terms of True and False Self," The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment (New York, International Universities Press, 1965), pp. 149, 143. (2) George Steiner, Real Presences (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1991), pp.6, 4. (3) Morse Peckham, "Metaphor: A Little Plain Speaking on a Weary Subject," The Triumph of Romanticism (Columbia, S.C., University of South Carolina Press, 1970), p. 416. (4) Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane (New York, Harper & Row, Harper Torchbooks, 1961), p. 58. (5) Elaine King, "A Poetic, Elusive Diary," Alfred DeCredico (Boston, Levinson Kane Gallery, exhibition catalogue, 1990), n.p. (6) Donald Kuspit, "The Will to Unintelligibility in Modern Art," New Art Examiner, 16 (May 1989): 26-29. (7) Leo Bersani, The Freudian Body, Psychoanalysis and Art (New York, Columbia University Press, 1986), p. 26. (8) John E. Gedo, Portraits of the Artist (New York, Guildford Press, 1983), pp. 30-31. (9) Daniel Bell, "The Return of the Sacred?," The Winding Path (New York, Basic Books, 1980), p.337.
of the Hunter Gregory Stiensieck, 1993
Written on The End of the Hunter exhibition at Scott Alan Fine Art, New York, 1993. essay©1993 Gregory Stiensieck
Does the smell of his death linger in this room? Is this pulsing warmth inside, an ember from that growling pier? It is long enough now. Only grunts and shouts of that voice remain. Only phantoms of the hunt are left. Transparent skins on our drums resound in memory — skin that rippled with the swift life he found and took and gave to all of us. Who remembers the light of his eyes that had seen so much? The darkness there both chilled and quickened our hearts.
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
The body of work in the current exhibition by Alfred DeCredico, THE END OF THE HUNTER, heralds an elusive quarry. Beautiful, sensuous, disturbing, complex, these impressions confront and challenge us in a thicket of meaning, purpose, and value. Yet, in these artworks, there are many clues to follow. Among them are their substance as crafted objects, their visual and spatial dimensions, and how they enter and change our feeling for the gravitational field of our bodies. Objects Fused and Found. The materials, substances and objects that DeCredico uses have value for their sensuous qualities, their history, and for the new meanings they attain when fused into a whole by the workmanship of the artist. Stretching, fitting, smearing, scraping, cutting, grinding, brushing, marking, and binding are but a few of these layered actions. Clearly, for DeCredico, selecting materials and objects to excite and inform the creative process has particular importance. The weight of canvas and the smooth finish of wooden door panels provide the absorbent and responsive requirements for different images, surfaces, and construction possibilities. Each wall piece comprises contrasting grounds whose virtues are structural and tactile. In past works, frames stretched with neoprene roofing membrane provided a taut, vibrating, vulcanized ground for labyrinthine maps. In this series, weathered drop cloth echoes with sounds of worksites: unfolding, draping, and spattering. The contrasting plush and patterns of carpet and animal hide become partners and foils in the developing imagery. Anyone familiar with DeCredico’s series of assemblage boxes appreciates the discernment underlying these carefully tuned realms of fact and meaning. Each utilizes the sense of place and time associated with images and objects to evoke an experience akin to vivid dreaming: enticing, illusive, or poignant. The legacy of these works imbues the current series with similar associative powers. A bone or animal horn resonates with the vital forces that produced them. In counterpoint, the forces of design and technology inhere cables, mechanical hardware, and electronic fixtures. These objects feel and interact in ways particular to each large construction. For example, a cable bound bone suggests the tug and ache of effort to support and build something that "works." At the same time, the role of the mechanical binds and shapes our lives. Antlers are primal dueling equipment. What is DeCredico positing by entangling or banding electrically fed light to this branching extension of the buck’s scalp? The sensuousness of these objects, surfaces and materials draw us into each artwork. Many choices intrigue and bemuse by their incisive fit. For example, the dark, stained hardwood blocks set so carefully in corners afford crisp punctuation amidst dynamic brushstrokes of viscous paint. Other choices are disquieting or bristling with an underlying brutality. In Mozart, carefully balanced forms and spaces support and embrace an infant coffin, culminating with an encrusted club form resounding with shock of the tragic. It is a feeling intensified by the blistered, torso sized crucible. The recognition stuns even as the whole is muted and transformed by the brimming translucent wax. These are orchestrated signs that excite and reward a searching rapport with these works. Strong dimensions of feeling are part of the full discourse of each work, part of the treatise that is this series. Interwoven Spaces and Realms of Being. It is a tribute to Alfred DeCredico’s expertise that these works are so present as objects. Yet, as much as the wall pieces expand into the focused light, becoming sculptural, they have undeniable presence as paintings. DeCredico commands our attention by pulling us into spaces that boil with shadows and glowing forms. His extensive investigation of drawing gives subtle power and lyricism to these atmospheric realms of being. The intuitive domain has a reality embodied in the improvisational process. In his statement, DeCredico is forthright about the intuitive because his work emerges from and embodies it. Attention is alert when refined actions become a flexibly applied repertoire that welcome and build with unrehearsed impulses. The value of these impulses within the keen but fluid process is their abeyant meaning. In his autobiography, Jung (1965) speaks of these processes and their role in deepening his theoretical insights, calling them a "rite d’entrée" (175). Careful study of DeCredico’s drawings and paintings, noting dates and extensive explorations of particular themes, reveals his prolificity. Such generous production would be unlikely, given the complex and subtle character of the work, without the fluency and energy generated by improvisation. In other words, he is invigorated by the revelations of content, of visual intensity, and by the momentum his work process affords. The paintings here build on the vision and discoveries attained in previous series: Requiems (1990), Voices (1991)…. In THE END OF THE HUNTER, an epic scale is achieved by integrating disparate information through composition. Following the visual connections in horizontal and vertical directions alone affords evidence of consummate skill. DeCredico explores and tests the boundaries of inclusiveness and economy in the relatively limited domain of drawing. Then, these insights infuse the paintings. Throughout these bodies of work, Alfred DeCredico tests the capacity of marks and fluids to manifest visual fields that can entice involvement. Worlds that appear microscopic or anatomical also attain the limitlessness of subjective experience. Yet, in all of these works, from the brooding weight of the darkest to those modulating subtlest light, it is their physicality that keeps the dialogue honest. In the drawings and beyond, we are moved by evidence of action; the scraping, the fusing and eroding force of sanding deeply layered pigments brings emerging and dissolving imagery about past works teased the viewer into an archaeological search. Building further, these works press more boldly into our space and time. Expanding the Grounds of Discourse. This body of work, by its sensuousness, its improvisation, and by its eloquent orchestration of disparate elements incites intensified reflections on how we weigh and respond to the cacophony of information pressing upon us. Gathering momentum from his work and from our cultural past, DeCredico raises the level of our artistic discourse by the pointed challenge of this work. Will it chill our hearts, turning us away or will the pulse quicken and awaken our being? Previously, DeCredico offered generous access to rich domains of content and he remains grounded in respect for the legacy of art, respectful of a perceptive audience. Yet, this work bristles more fully into our physical and psychic spaces. As we are drawn into the fabric of his imagery, loosening our sense of gravity, specific guiding signals pull our attention into the objective, three-dimensional presence of these works. The visual game, the spatial escape is closed. The sensory tour de force shifts our expanding awareness of the whole. This expansion opens dimensions of meaning and time. For example, the small watercolor drawings invite intimate investigation of fluid marks, atmospheric spaces, and enigmatic images, tauntingly weighted by a word. All interactions boil and resonate with the power of this word to fix meaning. Yet, no fixing or closure occurs. Patterns of meaning expand and very abundantly from an 11 inch by 15-inch piece of paper. But the conversation is not over. Sealed in its steel angle iron frame, framed again in the electric edged light reflected from the glass, the work tells us where we are, as we move before it. The objective fact of this lyrically marked piece of paper is punctuated by the force and shrill sound of grinding each welded corner. Word and sound wrestle with images and light. The sculptural pieces exist in the domain of our breath and actions. What do they say about THE END OF THE HUNTER? Is it a trembling balance or a deep-seated momentum that animate Fiji? We will not stand naked before our obsession with brutality, so the question of this monument to the hunter becomes an elegant whisper. It strikes and sings at the necessity for wise destruction in life. Likewise, The Baptist with a similar latent momentum poses the question of complicity. Where will we stand, on whose vision and value will we enter the hunt? This work argues eloquently against sleep and retreat in comfort. Thereby, it puts us before the crucible of our desires and decisions, alert to how and where we pour our admiration and curiosity. Gregory Stiensieck, Ed. D.
"Nature is a Lie."
The Drawings of Alfred
David Carrier Professor of Philosophy Carnegie Mellon University
Printed in: Alfred DeCredico:
© 1994 Scott Alan Fine Arts
Drawing is at the absolute center of DeCredico’s art; drawing is what has, over the past decade, motivated his stylistic development. In showing his drawings from the past eight years, this exhibition thus provides the best possible introduction to his art. More than most painters, he is concerned, first and foremost, with the process of art making. "The process," he has said, "becomes more important than painting." The process, he adds, "is for me a vehicle for revelation because it is a way of simplifying, and thus of arriving at the pictorial issue, at the content of the image which is what truly matters." The content of his drawings and paintings, for all of their independent importance, can only be understood as an outgrowth of these processes which are revealed most transparently in his drawing. DeCredico, a man with very passionate, highly catholic loves, admires a great variety of artists and art forms. When we talked about his passion for deKooning and Brancusi’s abstractions and Bosch’s fantasies; for Seurat’s drawings, early Twombly and Polke’s paintings; for the early black Stella’s, Duchamp and Mickey Mouse, for Rodin and Hokusai drawings: then it was apparent that his own art would be surprisingly hard to pin down. When seeking inspiration, he doesn’t make any real distinction between high art and popular culture. Teaching drawing at Harvard for three years gave him an enviable opportunity to study close up a rich collection of old master drawings. And certainly he looks often and passionately at the most famous contemporary artists (Beuys, Bourgeois, Cucchi); but he learns, also, from the student work of his drawing pupils. He is for an art containing everything; for painting capable of bringing in "the political, the social.” The broad movement in this show is from the earlier depictions of nature-like scenes to the recent close-ups of organic forms, held before backgrounds, which also come from nature. (When he was in school, DeCredico painted photorealist images; and so the starting point of the body of work shown here involves turning, or returning toward nature.) The earlier drawings tend to be very linear. The first drawing in this show, a surreal landscape, showed him "what was possible." It was possible, DeCredico found, "to make something coherent" if you go "where the investigation takes you." It is from the initial "investigation," he has found, "that the organic forms that populate the surface of these worlds" arise. His grid-like structures, looking like a cave wall, have an affinity to the Turkoman rugs he loves to collect; and they have some connection with the inner structures of a building "before it is covered with a decorative skin." But of course these are only suggestive analogies. In the recent drawings, line now can play enormously varied roles, appearing as the shape of a cocoon, a vessel or an antelope; or as freely wandering so that it can show a variety of organic forms. Perhaps this movement in his art recapitulates his childhood, in which early life in the city was followed by a move to the country; and maybe his drawing techniques were prophesied by his schoolboy interest in writing about insects, and making drawings to study their bodies. That is hard to tell, for ultimately the sources of his art are mysterious. For all of his highly infectious enthusiasm, his very winning willingness to talk about his art, these images are full of mysteries. For all the help he gives us, these ultimately are questions we must understand for ourselves. DeCredico’s art is not governed by any theory. His drawing evolves in accordance with rules, which can only be empirically formulated. "Facility," he has observed, "is a hindrance to a real artist, it traps you." Like Philip Guston, who he admires, he is willing to take chances. Traditionally a great deal of abstract painting has been grounded in nature. "We are surrounded with things which we have not made and which have a life and structure different from our own…." Kenneth Clark in Landscape into Art (1949) then speculates that if the future of landscape painting involved using the landscape, "as focus for our own emotions," the danger was that now nature seemed too hostile to be such a subject, at least for traditional landscape painters. DeCredico is very much in tune with the terrors of nature. No doubt, this is an aspect of his modernism. He doesn’t show the whole body, and, as he says, it’s natural to read his body fragments – the "kidney forms, liver forms, and sexual organ forms" inventoried in these drawings – in relation to fears about the malevolence of nature. "Nature is a lie," he says; and part of what he means by that, I suspect, is that any attempt to pin down nature, to show it ‘truthfully’ in an image, is so selective a view as to constitute a lie. But there’s more to this idea. Nineteenth century commentators wanted to see nature as beautiful; or, at least, as awesome in its sublimity. John Ruskin, whose Modern painters is one essential source for Clark’s book, thought nature was so complex that any attempt to simplify was certainly itself a lie. These concerns seem pretty distant from DeCredico’s way of thinking. Nowadays mere beauty – and mere ugliness – are limiting in art. Only an art transcending the limits of traditional landscape can permit us to see the darker side of nature. What characterizes DeCredico’s drawings – and also, art world audiences will come to see, his paintings, photographs and sculpture – is the resolute refusal to accept the limitations of any one recognizable style. Of course, some recent abstract painters have been concerned to avoid a signature style but DeCredico’s more radical insight is that the very multiplicity of nature can, as source for his drawings, function as an ultimate principle of unity. Are his drawings highly complex? So too is nature. Does he use a bewildering array of techniques? Look at textures in the clouds, rocks, and the night sky. Is he willing to accept calmly the existence of evil, and speak of his interest in presenting anger and even violence? Look at nature! This complexity inherent in DeCredico’s relation to nature perhaps is why it is wrong to call him an abstract painter. "I don’t know if I am really an abstract painter," he says; but "I am totally devoted to it." Abstraction, he adds, "serves my need pictorially." Caspar David Friedrich, who DeCredico cites, also was interested in nature as a vehicle for the projection of fantasy. Surrealism offers one model of such an art based upon process; abstract expressionism, another. In different ways, many artists were concerned with nature as a vehicle for artistic fantasy. But whatever DeCredico’s fascination with certain individual artists from these movements, in the end a shared emphasis upon process doesn’t explain the particular qualities of his art. "I feel no responsibility," he says, "to maintain a set imagery." What he does maintain are his characteristic ways of working, which are as various as nature’s. One way of generating complexity is DeCredico’s frequent use of diptychs and triptychs. Different moods, and different times are brought together. He’s always been interested in juxtapositions, in ‘what happens when this and that collide." The layerings in his recent drawings achieve, even within a single picture, a similar effect. But however much he loves chance; in the end he is in control of his results. "In free drawing," he says, "I start to derive information from the process." But of course that is possible only for someone prepared, as DeCredico is, to critically evaluate that process, and so to make choices. The work, it seems, generates itself; like nature, DeCredico employs processes which attempt to break down any such oppositions between left and right, joy and sorrow, or close and far. The classical abstractions of Mondrian, and many of the recent revivals of abstraction by artists such as Peter Halley, treat abstraction as a form of city art. And one major impetus for the anti-abstraction of pop art was, also, the desire to come to terms with the modern urban environment. The city is such a great source for both abstract and figure art because it offers a multiplicity of visual allusions. The danger, then, is that too much art is dependent upon the outside world; it reflects rather than being an observer of the world. "Resistance is," for DeCredico, "the greatest way to test the voice." In resisting the dominant trends in recent American painting, DeCredico’s works provide an essential critical perspective on that culture. It is no accident that he has a very reasonable confidence in himself, for in his art making there are genuine epiphanies, "moments when those direct references to thing outside come in. It’s initially a fascination that all of a sudden transforms itself into drawing again. Serious drawing is, by necessity, about the abandonment of will and ego as much as it is about embracing them. It is about contending with the precarious balance that must exist between these aspects of the persona and the inventiveness of the conscious mind." These experiences of resolution are, I think, why he thus sometimes speaks of his drawing as a passive activity, something that happens to him; but at other times, more naturally perhaps, as a positive process, as what he does. "I am an observer," he has written; and the products of his observation, communicating the passionate intensity of his desiring looking, teach us, the viewers of his drawings, also how to look. At the start of this essay I called drawing the center of DeCredico’s art. Perhaps now it would be more accurate to add: ‘the absent center’. For rather than providing a traditional principle of stylistic unity, what his reliance upon drawing and abstracting from nature offers is the possibility of a radically open art. "I think of these" drawing devices, DeCredico says, "as catalogues, catalogues of experience and sensation, forms that relate to very specific kinds of meaning." He doesn’t want to spell out the meaning of his work, not because he would avoid doing that, but because that task "is up to the viewer." In "externalizing a way of viewing the world, expressing the interior of a cultural period art becomes," Arthur C. Danto has argued, "a mirror in which we the spectator find ourselves reflected." Danto’s essay suggests the essential, the right questions for the viewer of this exhibition. What do you see in DeCredico’s drawings? What does his art tell you about yourself?
David Carrier Professor of Philosophy Carnegie Mellon University
Drawings of Alfred
A Timeless Arena Elaine A. King, Ph.D. Director and Chief Curator The Contemporary Arts Center Cincinnati, Ohio
Printed in: Alfred DeCredico:
© 1994 Scott Alan Fine Arts
"The Present, and by that is meant not the point that indicates from time to time in our thought merely the conclusion of "finished" time, the mere appearance of a termination which is fixed and held, by the real, filled present, exists only in so far as actual presentness, meeting, and relation exist. The present arises only in virtue of the fact that the Thou becomes present. The I on the primary word I – It, that is, the I faced by no THOU, but surrounded by a multitude of "contents," has no present, only the past. Put in another way, insofar as man rests satisfied with the things he experiences and uses, he lives in the past, and his moment has no present content. He has nothing but objects. But objects subsist in time that has been." I and Thou – Martin Buber, p.12
Since the end of the nineteenth century the visual arts have been moving toward a concept of painting and drawings as entities in themselves and away from being imitations of real things. The term abstraction has always been an ambiguous one referring to images inspired by nature or reality, that have been pushed beyond recognition. The investigations of Mondrian provide examples. The problem with this term, since the onset of the twentieth century, is that "abstraction" has been used indiscriminately to explain all art in which the subject is subordinated or distorted in order to place emphasis on its formal properties or expressive means. The implications of a term once used during an era of a prescribed society, confined to simple categories and concrete definitions of art, no longer rightfully apply in an era wherein much aesthetic ground has been traveled and endless definitions of non-realistic art currently abound. At the close of the twentieth century a new notion of abstraction has evolved – Post-Modern abstraction differs greatly from Modern abstraction. Post-Modernism, at its core, is neither exclusionary nor totally reductive, it is synthetic, freely enlisting a spectrum of conditions and knowledge beyond the object, as well as embracing many strategies of ideological representation in abstraction. DeCredico’s art exists somewhere in between each pole, striving for a discernible connection with its present culture and the world external to art. In examining Alfred DeCredico’s "abstractions" it is crucial to transcend Post-Modernist problematic absolutes – the viewer is asked to approach this art with an open mind in attempting to decipher it layers of meaning. Alfred DeCredico has been making art for some twenty-eight years and over this period his work has taken several turns. He has amassed a major body of paintings, drawings, and sculpture. A connective thread appears to link his process oriented works together despite many physical and conceptual shifts. Each of his medium specific explorations evinces particular themes and physical characteristics, yet each series functions as an autonomous unit. Evident throughout this art exists a type of cyclical evolution – a back and forth movement is sensed from the figurative to the abstract and at times a combination of both. No matter how changed a body of his work may appear on the surface, a careful examination will demonstrate that certain forms, symbols, gestures, and shapes continue to pop up in his complex compositions. Nothing gets discarded – it merely gets reinvented, refined, and redefined! A tenacious quality binds each period of work - a subtle evolution is demonstrated through the nuance of line, shape, gesture, and negative space. When this writer first wrote about DeCredico in 1990, he stated:
"Living in Providence, Rhode Island, I have strived to establish a sound work base,…From this base, devoid of fad or fashion, I have been able to focus on the development of my work. I have explored the use of my symbols through diverse forms, both two and three-dimensional. They have been presented as paintings, wax box constructions, found object constructions, bronze sculptures, prints, charcoal drawings, and mixed media drawings. The symbolism in my imagery remains constant."
The art of Alfred DeCredico is demanding and it affords no easy answers. An overriding delicacy and silence characterizes this work that reads as a spatial arena filled with abstract and often haunting calligraphic shapes. Soundbite, media attention spans should avoid it – an encounter with this work requires one to slow down in order to reflect and unravel the presented information. Drawing comprises the heart of Alfred DeCredico’s art. Unlike many artists who consider drawing an important study-exercise, it is an essential act for DeCredico. The drawings are intended as independent explorations. Standing in front of a group of them can produce complex reactions: a series of events occur; emotions, contradictory questioning, and a plurality of discourse arise in an atmosphere of deliberate silence. The intimacy of details within the frame echoes a dialogue in much the same way as an actor on a stage in a theatre. In this sense theatre acts as a means of collective communication – those present in the audience remain apart and undergo the experience alone but together. Unlike much of the pervading "politically correct" art of the 1990s that functions as a type of social illustration inspired by current events televised on CNN news, DeCredico refuses to overtly imitate subjects from daily life or to pretend his art is readily accessible to all viewers. No obvious messages are immediately evident in this artwork – its viewer must persist in deciphering an image housed within an enigmatic puzzle, which acts as a symbol for the complexity of our age. Although the art is inspired by this artist’s comprehension of social change and trauma and his thoughts about continuity, destruction, and regeneration, DeCredico elects to release his vision without hitting the viewer with a two-by-four. Alfred DeCredico is concerned with life’s perpetual contradictions and mysteries. Mainstream art, with its ongoing litany of styles and movements means nothing to him even though he is very aware of the ongoing critical discourse and the endless volumes of Post-Modernist theory. Diverse masters from art history have sparked his passion, from the phantasmagorical compositions of Bosch and the ironical works of Duchamp, to the psychological terrains of Matta and Cornell, as well as the inventions of Pollock, Twombly, Stella, and Polka. Being an artist who was educated during the closing years of Modernism, DeCredico doesn’t neatly fit into either a Modernist or late Post-Modernist mold. As Anselm Kiefer’s work is a contemporary embodiment of a Germanic, expansive spirit, in DeCredico’s work what pervades is the American spirit of infinite embrace and the pathos of human idealism that inspires his heavily symbolic expression. However, unlike many of his contemporaries who incorporate familiar objects into their work and refute the notion of originality, DeCredico neither appropriates from past styles nor dismisses artistic authorship a thing of the past. The popular trend of thematic exhibitions in which the sum of the parts becomes the artistic statement is not of his concern – he continues to value individual aesthetic expression and takes pride in the formal presentation of his work, which is derived from a relationship to the world. One might be inclined to falsely categorize his work as another form of elitist Modernism begging only the primacy of the visual experience. Such a conclusion for Alfred DeCredico’s art is far too simplistic – answers in black and white do not allow sufficient room for the spectrum of gray. What does get translated in these multi-layered works on paper is a sophisticated and articulate knowledge inspired by a spectrum of art history, magic, music, myth, poetry, folklore, and the human condition. The sensuous surfaces of DeCredico’s drawings are read like archaeological strata. Within his compositions formal concerns meet and clash with a multitude of references, associations, and spontaneous, as well as reoccurring, symbolism. Drawing functions for this artist as a type of repository of collective information. He never intends the work to convey moralistic connotations: it is not about "good" or "bad"; it does not approve, criticize, or condemn; it just is! It invites the viewer to enter and to gaze and reflect upon a field of uncharted territory. In an age of rapid media information, these silent, seemingly philosophical drawings can be frustrating for an audience that has grown to expect immediate conclusions. DeCredico demands that his viewer participate in a timeless arena where specific information is denied. Part of the intrigue and pleasure derived from looking at Alfred DeCredico’s apocalyptical work is arrived at because information always remains relative and elusive; one does not know quite what one is looking at. Each series functions like a type of visual, musical score, moving one’s sight at a meticulously engineered pace through time. The desperate elements existing in ambiguous space invite the viewer to think and become absorbed in the concentrated visual events, in this work, that are difficult to fully determine. Subtle shifts and double meanings are used to achieve heightened attention: DeCredico’s picture-less images can confuse and confound because his work insists that an infinitesimal yet essential gap separates what is physically there before one’s eyes from what actually occurs during the observation. The sense of incomprehension generated in this work is another part of its gratification – the experience presented provides a forum for endless interpretation and an escape from the ‘white noise’ of everyday reality. The works produced from 1985 through 1986 are all untitled and are his most referential and literal drawings. They are perhaps the most vulnerable works the viewer can easily visually enter. Recognizable, fantastic landscapes characterize this art in which one gazes upon an "other world," possibly inspired by science fiction or even reflections about death and its many ramifications. The synthesis of figurative references with spontaneous gesture results in drawings that are constructed by a process of subtraction and the multi-layering of forms and illusory space. A type of reductive editing of material concreteness is evident in this work – this process of abstracting and erasing, in order to explore unknown territory, will re-occur, it becomes the essence of DeCredico’s system methodology. The years 1987 through 1988 represent a pivotal period in his production. It was during this time that DeCredico moved away from three-dimensional allusion and the specificity of form. In attempting to develop his own artistic language he turned his investigation towards the re-exploration of the negative space between object and form, (a concern in his work since the late 60s), utilizing line as a vehicle to describe the translucency of the overall field. Key symbols and shapes began to surface during this time –androgynous figures, conical vessels, tornadoes, and egg and sperm shapes. A type of silent pageant appears to be enacted in mysterious fluid–like compositions charged with energy and sexual connotations. The drawing Wings, with its large, gray-blue field, delicate linearity, and layering characterizes the work from this time. An assertive definiteness is evident in the drawings produced between 1988 and 1989. It seems as if new understandings have been reached by the artist from his experiments and explorations of the previous period. Negative space and form begin to function in what appears to be a deliberate harmony. Order and chaos co-exist within somber gray fields, giving way to blackness with line functioning as a type of fissure cutting into the prevailing rock-like forms. The artist’s hand is sure – DeCredico creates works rapidly, conveying a spontaneous, almost primitive type of drawing, enhanced by a quality of surfaces that resembles that of Italian paintings from the pre-Giotto period. The scale for the drawings is enlarged; it was necessary to increase their size and alter the format of the presentation because the artist wanted to include more complicated information in the work. His use of the triptych format becomes much more common. Between 1990 and 1991 DeCredico appears to return to reducing form and space to minimal elements. Color that disappeared for several years is reintroduced in the drawings of 1990: instead of functioning as an emotive element, it now acts as the dramatic structural scaffolding of these drawings. Organic shapes and structured space share a single "stage" within the frame. Collectively these compositions tend to resemble aged Roman walls, weathered by time. During this time DeCredico addresses the relativeness of all matter and demonstrates a contextualness of relationships and forms. Only the very essence of existing symbols remains in these secret compositions. All that is evident are traces of things that once existed in physical time and space. DeCredico hints at a presentation of simultaneous information. In these arresting drawings, our most refined sensory and intellectual capacities come face-to-face with an experience we cannot completely make sense of or process. In 1991, the artworks become almost minimal and reminiscent of color field painting. As DeCredico reduces surface gesture and information, the lines in his compositions appear crisper and cleaner, becoming the dominant force in these elusive images that hearken back to earlier work. A nervous energy prevails throughout as if signaling yet another shift in direction. Towards the end of 1991, somber contemplative tones replace vibrant colors and again onset of another cycle of exploration has begun. DeCredico’s years of investigating figure and ground, color, line, and surface quality become crystallized in the body of drawings produced throughout 1992. (Curious references to Frank Stella’s Black Paintings and his early 1960s’ paintings are noted. One needs to recall that 1958 was a pivotal year not only for Stella but for the evolution of Modernism – its last chapter was about to be written.) Deliberate polarities of constraining planes of information are now depicted. The painterly and the structural, the emotive and the rational come into focus. An imposed unification is presented by DeCredico’s juxtaposition of two very different drawings within a single frame. From looking at the drawings in this series, one could conclude that the artist is stepping back and re-evaluating variable approaches to art making. Perhaps DeCredico was reflecting on the content of art; engaging in a critique of cultural history, with its signs and images; or questioning his personal reasons for making art. A dialogue of contradictions is evident in these multiple diptych and triptych drawings in which are depicted contrasting planes of information. It appears that a melt down of field and form is ongoing. In #8, from The Seurat Drawings, line becomes background: line, form, and color are reduced to a transparent veil. The composition reads like a tightly woven tapestry or a Persian rug. The absence of literal references or identifiable forms prompts frustration in the viewer. DeCredico merely depicts fragments of forms, which hint at abbreviated symbols for something more complex. These pieces are sensuously alluring yet repelling because of their ambiguous poetic qualities. A curious condensed energy characterizes this series of drawings; each demonstrates a deliberateness of hand and a heightened spontaneity of gesture. In The Plague Drawings, figurative references reappear through phallic forms, caricature, and the technique of old master cartoon underlays. A kinship to the line and tone found in the sixteenth century Italian drawings is observed. During this period the artist uses highly evocative combinations of transparent materials – watercolor, tar, blood, coffee, and graphite. Strong underlying references found in earlier drawings appear in the successive drawings in this series. The drawings made in 1993 demonstrate more vibrant and agitated compositions. Color once again is opaque; however, there is a transparency of layering, which is accentuated by gestural, white, and linear shapes floating at the forefront of the picture plane. The strength of patterning, in conjunction with the rich ruby red and black tones, evinces the possibility of an ensuing crisis. The cerebral quality found in earlier periods of work has shifted to a turbulence set into play between the multiple elements housed within the rectangular arena. The importance of an overall field now returns with the illusory space becoming flattened by vibrating gestural shapes. An exemplary linear freedom is sensed in these drawings comprised of rich contrasting colors and tones. The play of pattern is critical in these works. A type of ordered chaos abounds; whimsical shapes and sexual symbols co-exist. The multi-layering of the symbolic biomorphic forms calls to mind the hidden, enchanting world one finds under the lens of a high-powered microscope. The drawing Inside the Kremlin portrays a powerful combination of light, geometry, history, and architecture. The use of such a literal title provides the viewer freedom for variable interpretations. Using varied archetypes of abstraction, Alfred DeCredico has produced a vast body of drawings that are many things – representational, heroic, illusory, and symbolic. He demonstrates the realization that abstraction is anything that is placed on a two–dimensional surface. Consequently this theory can be applied beyond the two-dimensional; as observed in this artist’s ordering of abstract pictorial systems in the three-dimensional. What continues to fascinate this writer about Alfred DeCredico’s art is that he continues to provide opportunities to see visually unique work possessing aesthetic power beyond rational thought. In order to make his point, this artist is not afraid to address beauty or ugliness in his complicated conglomerates of strategies and material processes. DeCredico’s art expands the operations of consciousness without pretending to provide truths or answers to sophomoric questions. Through his complex configurations of contradictions and multi-layered afterimages, he has produced an incredible and puzzling body of drawings that defy absolutes, classification, or categorization. Elaine A. King, Ph.D. Director and Chief Curator The Contemporary Arts Center Cincinnati, Ohio
Drawings and Paintings Rogers Dell Director
Julian Scott Memorial Gallery Johnson State College, Johnson, Vermont essay © 1996 Roger Dell
There is little question that the
recycling movement spells better days for the besieged natural environment.
When, however, an analogous movement is located squarely in the middle of
contemporary American culture, some might pause to inquire about the condition
of our aesthetic well-being. Recycling images (or vandalizing the past) has
been a mainstay of the postmodern idiom for over thirty years. Often the images
"appropriated" have had a relatively short history of their own,
being lifted typically from the media, the entertainment world, or popular
consumer society. Clearly, this movement celebrates style over content, with
the adherent artists consciously repudiating originality (death of the
author/artist). The question raised by the present exhibition is whether, awash
as we are in secondhand images, today’s viewers still resonate with original
forms and their accompanying spaces. Since his student days, Alfred DeCredico
has constantly explored the endless possibilities of form and space in a
variety of media, including sculpture, photography, drawing, painting, and
works in glass. A driving concern of the artist has been to depict
"multi-reality space." Or, another way of saying this would be, how
does one use the gross materials at one’s disposal to create a schema of the
complementary and interpenetrating spaces that exist in the universe? The works
in this exhibition, selected primarily from two series created in 1991-2,
present evocative suggestions to this question. In the large painting ll Largo: Vanishing Before Your Eyes, DeCredico
presents a kaleidoscope of geometric and seemingly biomorphic shapes that swim
in both a Newtonian and non-Newtonian space. The artist poses the query,
"How far can you go in complicating that issue of geometry and simple
reality?" The five drawings in the exhibition from The Lago Suite (a
series of fifteen drawings) extend the possibilities of
"complicating" the issue and create a synergistic interplay with the
larger work. Although DeCredico is grappling with Newtonian space, he does not
use nor is he interested in exploring traditional Western perspective, which
was codified by Alberti and Brunelleschi in the early Renaissance. In
counterdistinction the artist embraces the more conceptual perspective found in
Far Eastern brush painting, which often displays a stacking organization for
its elements: for example, rocks at the bottom of the composition with a body
of water, distant mountains, and the sky stacked one above the other. Another
tenet of Far Eastern painting is the use of different perspectives in the same
picture: bird’s eye, worm’s eye, distant space, and so on. Although DeCredico
does not depict recognizable objects, such as mountains and trees as does the
Far Eastern artist, he does employ stacked and multiple perspectives in his
works and recognizes his affinity with artists in East Asia. In a DeCredico
piece the viewer is encouraged to wander in strange and contradictory spaces,
all the while making discoveries about the construction of the plane he
inhabits and its relationship to possible parallel planes. While the viewer
resides in the world created by DeCredico, a world of flux and stasis at the
same time, he never loses sight of the remarkable surfaces built up with
painstaking care. Archaeological in complexity, the surfaces often contain
materials such as bee’s wax, tar, blood, coffee, which work in perfect unison
with the traditional media. Holes appear in some of The Lago Suite drawings
that seem to have been caused by over energetic burnishing of the surface. The
lush surface of The Red Studio Suite, 11/20/91 (one of a series of fifteen
drawings) is accentuated by sinuous calligraphic brushwork. Each piece in this
exhibition possesses both visual and actual tactility to such a degree that the
viewer is hard pressed not to give in to the temptation to satisfy the haptic
urge. Each piece is palimpsest layered with fascinating forms, whether
precisely delineated or amorphous, that entreats the viewer to tease apart the
space – layer by layer. Complementing their seductive visual tactility, the two
large paintings display three-dimensional objects. Recycled metal cable and fur
complicate the surface of ll Largo: Vanishing Before Your Eyes. The Cocoon
Gatherer (For R.C.) has a rattlesnake attached to the upper left. How
different this recycling is, however, from that which was mentioned at the
outset of this essay. When using an animal or part of an animal in his work,
DeCredico declares that he is "paying honor to the power of that
creature" and feels "a sense of responsibility to what these things
mean when they are put next to one another." How different from the use of
an already existing object or image by an artist who wishes to drain it of
meaning, thus creating a barren topos with no referent. In The Cocoon
Gatherer (For R.C.), DeCredico is once again exploring the multiple
manifestations of space. Moreover, he is revisiting in this work a painful
personal experience: the death of a grandmother who enjoyed raising silkworms. Thus,
the coiled rattlesnake, ominously looming above, takes on additional resonance,
being more than a visually interesting object or an exotic texture. Without
question, viewers till resonate with original forms wrestled out of what at
first glance may seem like a limitless void. For three decades sensitive
viewers have, in fact, appreciated and admired Alfred DeCredico’s journeys into
inner and outer space. These journeys are arduous. They require going deep and
then deeper, still. They eschew style in favor of content. And entertainment in
favor of reflection. The reward from this plumbing the depths is a fuller
understanding of how we are enfolded in the unfolding universe.