Existing at the intersection between painting and print-making, intention and chance, Wade Guyton’s Untitled (2008) exemplifies the artist’s thought-provoking practice. The work belongs to Guyton’s pioneering body of monochrome paintings, and was exhibited in the artist’s seminal show Wade Guyton: Black Paintings at Portikus, Frankfurt, in 2008. Working with pre-primed linen intended for oil-painting, Guyton produced this extensive series of ostensibly black paintings using not a paintbrush, but rather a large-format Epson inkjet printer. After digitally designing rectangular motifs on a computer, Guyton created his paintings by folding the linen ground in half and passing it multiple times through an industrial sized printer, first on one side then the other, leaving a thin white strip running down the centre of each work. Akin to Barnett Newman’s ‘Zip’ paintings, these white bands define the spatial structure of Guyton’s series, simultaneously dividing and unifying his otherwise black and inky compositions. Through a combination of naturally occurring mechanical glitches – such as the linen jamming or running through the printer at an angle – and deliberate manipulations by the artist himself – including pulling and tugging the material to encourage discrepancies across the surface – the ensuing paintings are laden with anomalies, stutters, streaks and smears. In the present work, this is manifest in the distinctive jolt to the top of the white seam, and the erroneous inky blackness which scatters and dissipates in endless layered patterns across the porous linen ground. As the curator Scott Rothkopf attests, Guyton’s paintings “exude a kind of haphazard grandeur, the result of a constant negotiation between technical failure and mastery, physical accident and control” (Scott Rothkopf, ‘Modern Pictures’ in: Exh. Cat., Hamburg, Kunstverein, Colour, Power & Style, 2006, p. 81). Indeed, like a visual evocation of an experimental John Cage composition, Untitled presents the viewer with an intricate, nuanced and mottled surface of dispersed black ink, at once predetermined yet spontaneous, beautiful and flawed.
Contending with notions of reality and reproduction, originality and facsimile, Guyton’s artistic practice explores the ways in which contemporary society is becoming increasingly defined, dictated and dominated by digital technologies. In works such as the present, Guyton playfully and provocatively removes any sense of artistic gesture or touch from his works in order to test the limitations – and possibilities – of everyday technologies such as the desktop computer, scanner, and inkjet printer. Flitting enticingly between programmed precision and arbitrary chance, his works take the concept of pure abstraction to ground-breaking new heights that celebrate, as the art critic John Kelsey notes, the “weightless, groundless, dimensionless and genderless qualities of information, in the cybernetic sense” (John Kelsey, ‘100%’, in: Exh. Cat., New York, Friedrich Petzel Gallery (and travelling), Wade Guyton, 2008, n.p.). Through his large-scale, almost screen-like black paintings, Guyton toys with the changing structures of language, creativity and human impetus in a world increasingly ordered and controlled by digital media. Engaging with this concept further still in his 2008 Black Paintings exhibition, Guyton covered the gallery floors with sheets of hand-painted black plywood, creating an immersive environment that evoked a visceral overspill of technology into the tangible world. Blurring the boundary between cyber space and real space, man and machine, the infinitely inky black surface of Untitled majestically conjures the shifting, slippery instability between art and technology in the digital age.
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