Sandy Ballatore Interview

Sandy Ballatore: Most of your images portray water or rocks. What is your work actually about?

Mark Rendleman: All my paintings deal with how we see things--not just in a
perceptual sense, but a gestalt sense. I'm investigating the essence of reality, its realness. The paintings aren't about rocks and they're not about reality. I'm using these things to examine what happens perceptually. I see that as the greatest function of realism. I can test how successful I am with my perceptions by how the reality in the painting comes off.

SB: Couldn't you test your perceptual abilities just as well with abstract images?

MR: You can see the qualities that are happening, such as color, contrast, etc., but you can't see the effect in terms of cognition. Reality in a painting can be defined in many ways. In other words something can look real to you and have nothing to do with reality.

SB: Are you saying illusion can be read as reality? Aren't your paintings illusionistic rather than real?

MR: They are and they aren't. When you get to this degree, your association percentage, in other words, how much you are able to associate with the painting in terms of your experience with perception comes from your cognition When it becomes very minimal, you are into abstraction, which isn't anything other than what you don't experience. Just stopping water with a photograph. for example, results in an abstraction. You see enough photographs of water so that they no longer are abstractions.

SB: Do you mean when you look at it you think "water" rather than "colors, pattern, illusion, abstraction"?

MR: Yes. The important thing is that you "think water--you don't "see" water. You associate a photograph of water with the reality of water.

SB: What if the image of 'water' becomes totally nonobjective? I have many slides of water that I see only as color, pattern, composition. I don't "think" water. It's just not important. Must your paintings read as "water" to be successful? Is that more valid than paint on canvas?

MR: You are separating something I think is important in determining what I call opposites. There are extremes in perception, Seeing is made up of a whole range of interaction between your perceptual experience and your cognition of that experience, which enters into experience as association. or reality. For example. By turning a photograph of my painting around until it reads as reality, you are adjusting the image to what you know, by association, about reality

SB: You're saying that seeing and knowing are not the same.

MR: Yes, and I use realism as a tool for examining that perceptual phenomenon, (the combined perception of "seeing" and "knowing"). I'm not just trying to paint realistically.

SB: In teaching and trying to develop an awareness of the elements that are combined to produce a painting, I always use abstract images. I don't want the students to be thinking "rocks," "water" when I'm talking about contrast, composition, etc.

MR: But would they able to see those things on their own?

SB: No, because many people see paintings only in terms of subject matter, which is a big block to seeing the painting . Perhaps I am interested in the perceiving of the painting , and you are talking about perceiving the reality -- the subject - and transferring that reality in its most "real" sense to the canvas.

MR: That is the unique quality of painting. Everything you do in painting is based on choice, so when you're dealing with reality in a painting, you're breaking down what reality is made of. It operates on many levels. When viewing my painting, first you have the experience of reality. You see rocks, forms modeled by light, etc. As you move into the canvas, you realize you are seeing paint. I don't have to explain how the painting functions. The reality is the test

SB: Do you use photographs?

MR: Yes, but the paintings probably bear almost no relationship to my photographs.

SB: So you're really not dealing with reality. You're presenting a personal view of
reality as you see and know it.

MR: No, I am dealing with reality. I'm not dealing with photographs. Photographs
Don't match reality. The paintings match reality in terms of what I'm seeing.

SB: Are you saying that you see those colors in the rocks that other people wouldn't see, so you put them in?

MR: I see the function of color in the rocks. Of course, it's interpretive It's always interpretive.

SB: Then you're not using reality as is. You're using it as a point of departure and moving away from it into your own head. You're making it pretty, more cosmetic than it actually is. The viewer feels he/she is looking at something real, but is being fooled.

MR: It's always my own perception of reality. As a source, I'm not using a photograph any more than I'm using the knowledge I have gained by looking at things. The photograph condenses in a very different way than the eye does.

SB: Why do you choose rocks for subject matter?
MR: Because they are just forms. I can get away from the many associations other still life objects would have and I'm free to examine them on a real basis. I can work just with contrast, color, relative distance, scale, etc.

SB: I can read your paintings in about half a dozen different ways. If I want realism, it's there. If I want textural paint surface, or an abstract painting, that's there. I guess I don't see a single, strong sense of purpose.

MR: Most people read them in different ways.

SB: How do you read them?

MR: Do you mean after the fact? I don't usually associate with them after I've painted them because all I'm interested in are those particular problems that I've solved. There is very little correlation between a successful painting from other people's point of view and my point of view.

SB: Do you feel an affinity with other artists examining perception who work with reality directly--light, space, existing form--without translating perceptual experiences through
another medium, like paint. It seems that the paint would get in the way if you're really examining perception. Perhaps the act of painting is as much what you're about as perception.

MR: I can't avoid it. I think I have a very keen sense of perception, but naturally my choice of material, paint, means I will be interfering with absolutes because I'm not dealing physically with reality. I want the relationships that exist in reality to be parallel to the relationships that exist in the paintings.

SB: And that can be accomplished even though the images do not match reality

MR: It's impossible to match reality exactly.

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Post-lecture interview with MER* June 4, 1974

Edited by Mark Rendleman

Q: For what reasons do you paint realistically?

MER: When someone wishes to communicate with himself or another, to achieve an understanding, he uses that concept or symbolic presentation which contains the greatest clarity, and is truest to the nature of the concept being considered. The form varies depending on the purpose or level of intent. As in writing, there is poetry and prose, and within each type or form there are many degrees of intent from the extremely suggestive to the concise. I find myself involved with an intricate complex of intentions and conceptual inquiries, and therefore find the "expository style" the most viable. It enables a more direct application of the inherent principles of perception, on both a cerebral and peripheral level, which automatically necessitates a selectivity and focus to identify an order in the visually chaotic. Also, a direct analysis or intention towards the identifiable reality of what I perceive affords a kind of test; a means by which I can measure the degrees of success in developing specific problems or inquiries I pursue. If, for instance, I am studying the effects of multiple light sources of various intensities and colors on an object, as in my series of figure studies in space, the light becomes the subject and requires an exacting or realistic presentation in order to analyze its effects. The effect describes the light as the light describes the form of the object. I could not see this problem resolved in any better way, although I could have used a flying lizard or a rock instead of the figure.

Q: Why did you use the figure?

MER: Possibly because I think it is an interesting form from which may be derived interesting shapes. It also has an excellent surface for describing light planes; smooth and easily identifiable. The figure has many advantages through descriptive associations like gestures, attitude, and direction. For instance, one can build an entire composition on the directional glance of an eye, or the thrust of a hip. Of course there are always problems of interpretation; the loaded implications of a nude female have often interfered with the understanding of my intentions. My recent change in subject matter tends to avoid these complications. In the last year I have restricted myself to the earth, the rocks, the water, the minimal vegetation around Santa Barbara, and have found an infinite number of possibilities in the simplest of these natural forms. I have found consistent relationships to define my intentions, without getting involved in superfluous interpretations of subject matter or external implications. These natural forms need follow no preconceptions of identity, therefore enabling a greater freedom to expand the elements of perceptual identity itself.

Q: You sound as if your subject matter is fairly arbitrary. Is it?

MER: If you mean subject matter as objects, I would say it is of secondary importance. Before I begin a painting it has to appeal to me an many levels, the highest of which is its potential for inquiry or expanding my own ability to understand and interpret various perceptions or concepts. My primary subject, then, is a particular visual problem which is presently one of studying the natural conditions of light on an implied plane of changing identity. I see the subject matter as a tool for examining the more formal concerns, as perhaps my degree of realism has been in the past. The physical subject is then only important to the degree that it serves the intended condition, and should be mutable to accommodate that condition. I think that the still life is an historical example of this kind of subject. I feel my earlier work was intrigued with the implications or conceptual potentials of a particular subject. Often I was just visually fascinated with particular objects, as I am now with light conditions in nature. But more important to me are the total visual environments from which a painting is only a selection. For example, I build my compositions around the idea that a painting is only a single point of view, whether perceptual or cognitive, of a greater continuum of both time and space. To me this use of composition as an attitude is a more important subject than the objects, and as a result seems consistent in nearly every painting I have done, although it is achieved in different ways.

Q: What other formal problems besides composition are you concerned with?

MER: I find myself involved with considering all formal elements; like color, line, form, and shape. But like composition, they are essentially intuitive aspects of the process, and are usually means or tools for examining a greater concern. They adjust to my particular vision and to the process of defining a total visual condition. There are a few formal considerations that I am especially involved with at the present. Although primarily functions of color, they are; focus, or atmosphere (as to degree of focus, point of focus, alteration of "normal" focus, or distortion of focus as emphasis); scale (as object to viewer, work to viewer, an object to environment): and perspective (as a function of scale and focus to identify or create a new set of possible perspectives). These concerns are all involved with various degrees of distorting what one would really see, but are essential to making the reality within the painting and creating a significant emphasis.

Q: Some of your paintings look like photographs. Do you consider yourself a photo-realist?

MER: No.

Q: Do you use photographs?

MER: I am a photographer. I use my vision, and freeze a piece of it as an image. My photographs are the result of my perceptions, as are my paintings. My painting has never desired to follow a photograph. Thus a photograph is never the subject of my painting, as it is for the photo-realist, but it is sometimes the best available tool for studying my concerns. To varying degrees I use my photographs as references, usually because the actual model or subject matter is so illusive or even unavailable, as in the case where I need composite views over a period of time for comparison. Recently the photograph has only been useful for the drawing of a work, but in the past, I have been able to use it for securing relative scales of value and color. I do not usually think that a photograph in itself is the most desirable of sources, but it can offer an alternate point of view.

Q: Doesn't the photograph, as a reference, effect the whole quality of a painting?

MER: I do not worry about the effects of my photographs on my painting, since both are results of cognitive decisions based on a controlled selection process. They are two different art forms with unique qualities, and each has its own particular potentials for examining visual problems. I feel capable of determining the difference, and taking advantage of what each form has to offer. Whether I am painting, drawing, sculpting, writing, grunting, or taking pictures, I feel it is all the extension of one vision as a function of time.

Q: You mention "problems" or "inquiries" as being the subject, and reflect a scientific attitude. Why are you not in science instead of art?

MER: I find discovery and growth the essence of meaning in life, not as a result, but as a process, a search. I do have a history of involvement with various sciences, not for the want of answers, but for the need to grow and change. I lost interest in the world of questions with absolute answers that leave no room for personal evolution or identity. Painting is, for me, the unending search that is cumulative but never final. As a continuous process, it allows me to set up problems to find new problems.

Q: Does this explain why you do groups of paintings in series?

MER: No single canvas can deal with all the attitudes of a particular approach. Working in series of course enables a linear process of developing an attitude, but I feel more in my recent paintings that the elements of a series are dependent on each other to establish the total concern; that each work is a particular case or perspective, but only carries meaning in the context of other points of view. All my paintings make one painting. The consistent relationships between each work define my intentions.

Q: Do you think paintings should be beautiful?

MER: Beautiful, mysterious, and enlightening; but what these adjectives mean when applied to any specific work will vary for each person that uses them. To me, the art object, the work of art, becomes important to the degree that it enables me to expand and change my perception of things. At best, it gives me, or those who view it, new eyes through which to see the world.

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