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Observation & Invention

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Larry Groff posts an essay by painter Scott Noel, written for the exhibition Observation and Invention: The Space of Desire at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, on view through April 6, 2014. The show features paintings by Michael Ananian, Lennart Anderson, Victoria Barnes, David Campbell, Tim Conte, Edwin Dickinson, Frank Galuszka, Elizabeth Geiger, Philip Geiger, Mark Green, David Jewell, Ben Kamihira, Tim Kennedy, Matt Klos, John Lee, Aaron Lubrick, Eve Mansdorf, George Nick, Scott Noel, Andrew Patterson-Tutschaka, Carolyn Pyfrom, Erin Raedeke, Brian Rego, Neil Riley, Thomas Walton, and Peter Van Dyck.

Noel writes: "The artists in this exhibition are connected by their commitment to direct observation as a threshold to making paintings. The act of observation generates challenges and scruples in the making of pictures which connect the artists to the earliest practitioners engaged in the contest of mimesis. Appearances can be assessed and measured and the rightness of an assertion of color or proportion judged because the phenomena are infinite in their variety but not arbitrary. Somehow we recognize rightness and one of the attractions of observational painting is the way visual truth is experienced as surprise. But what are the particular truths or beauties observation releases into art? A painter’s insights awakened through observation and making are never general, but highly specific. A good picture specifies something about the conditions of relationship that prevail in an appearance and embodies these discoveries in the physical terms of the painting itself. A felt beauty in the world has to discover an equivalent beauty in terms of the medium. From the outset, mimesis couldn’t be copying, but a reconfiguring of experience in terms of sculpture, painting, or drama. In this sense, observation–a close attention to the phenomena–has been necessarily imaginative.

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