ART PAPERS (2011)
PAINTER’S CHOICE: LAKE ROBERSON NEWTON at STAPLE GOODS
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA, DECEMBER 8th 2012 TO JANUARY 6th 2013
Lake Newton walks. Upright like the most of us, and often with his Leica camera in tow; Lake wanders and trudges and traipses, and has done so in a variety of places: South Korea, Italy, Las Vegas, Hungary, Mississippi, New Orleans, and Baltimore, not to mention a heavy dose of locales in between. Yet the photographs that result from his walks are not those of the travelogue, the documenter, or the voyeur. The photographs are more akin to what you might discover in these settings by lying flat on your belly, or suddenly bullied nose-first up against a wall by an unexpected and hostile crowd. The photographs are evidences, or inventories, of surface in these spaces, and the light that illumines, veils, or mystifies them.
The preoccupation with surface in Lake’s photographs led to their selection by Daniel Kelly and Aaron Collier, both painters by trade and Staple Goods members, for the duration of PhotoNOLA, an annual photography festival each December in New Orleans. A typical encounter with a photograph (both inside and outside of fine art, for the sake of argument) presents the viewer with a handful of conventions: subjects that assert themselves through various formal properties as focal points, an established and illusory sense of space or context, and a fairly discernible relationship between the subjects presented and the space inhabited. Heavens knows there are abundant exceptions to this type of encounter in a photograph (take a Steiglitz photograph of the night sky, sans moon and mountain, for a gorgeous instance of rule breaking); the aforementioned encounter is only a commonplace one. Lake knowingly usurps such conventions, particularly by distributing the attention of the viewer across the entirety of a photograph, without a hierarchy of emphasis, or by presenting such a myopic record of a surface that context becomes guesswork. These photographs, insistent on the material surfaces they isolate and record, seem to be “details” of textures divorced from the comfort of a larger, “zoomed out,” establishment shot. Also divorced from the photographs and the process that led to their creation are the luxuries of the studio, and the notion of the picturesque that is clung to so dearly (ironically, these photographs are often made in picturesque locales; Lake smushes the camera against the body, or the belly, of the picturesque and asks us to gander).
The re-presentation of a material surface in these photographs, and the questions surrounding their relationship to “reality,” is a problem that painters wrestle with on an ongoing basis. Painters thrive under the pain and pleasure of creating a surface that pins the viewer between trust and distrust of what is seen, though the process of making an illusory reference to the known world in a painting is frequently laid bare to the viewer. By approaching the surface of the painting, one can often surmise what (physically) went into the making of the thing. Lake’s photographs, and nearly all photographs, for that matter, bury the mechanics of the process under a clean and homogenous surface. The photograph of a caked, scraped, goopy, or illuminated surface in Lake’s work becomes a second surface, or non-surface, but one that we are shaped and willing to accept. His surfaces magically refer back to the surface of paintings, and yet avoid becoming them.