Burton Silverman: Life Examined, Part 2


October Light (oil, 32×50).

“Some artists, are interested just in light,” Silverman says. “There?s nothing to do with subject matter, but serving merely as a pretext for playing with light and shade. That?s also been a classic device, ever since Carravagio. Others are interested only in more formal qualities?how to make interesting patterns and shapes out of a particular image. These are the subtexts for overriding kinds of impulses. And broadly based, they all have at least, in part, a very strong emotional substructure. That is the urge to possess, to own the experience in paint.?

“I?m often struck in any of those themes by the anomaly, by something which doesn?t connect with our usual assumptions, easy assumptions about experience,” Silverman says. “And I don?t make it up. I kind of come across it”

“When I see something and it grabs me. I don?t say ?I want to paint IT,?” Silverman says. “I go to the next step and ask ?Why is that interesting to me?? ?How does it work in relation to other kinds of thematic and or visual experience that I?ve had?? ?Is it different, or is it the same thing repeating itself??”

“I can?t get out of my own skin, but I?m always trying to push something to make it either more effective, to make it more clear,” Silverman says. “And that will suddenly alter something we all love to look at, like a brushstrokes. I?m not enamored of brushstrokes for their own sake or paint for its own sake. I think that?s a tool. But I always want to preserve the authenticity of the paint experience. So I don?t paint things that are featureless. From probably an egocentric point, I want my hand to be visible. That?s a part of what looks like a style. But there?s a whole group of people for whom that is not interesting. It?s not only not interesting, it?s not to be considered. It?s part of the paint has to be so transformed as to be almost identical with what we call visual reality. And you can see a lot of painters out there who are doing just that. They work very hard too. It?s really the pluralism of the 20th and 21st century. And in a way, it?s not totally bad. It does provide everybody with a niche. A way of eliciting their own voice, and not to be constrained by some overall kind of authority of stylistic demands, which really was much more prevalent in early centuries. ”

“We live in an environment that?s so incredibly dense with potential stimuli,” Silverman says. “And it?s gotten worse. Forty years ago, I thought I was just competing with neon signs. Well, forget it. There?s probably hundred times that many places people can go?not just physical places. But the kind of preoccupations you have aside from your work?your interests. Everyone?s fighting for that person?s attention–the book people, the magazine people, the online people. You can go on and on. The movies. The tyranny of choice becomes overwhelming. Look at the cable industry. You can now have 500 or 900 channels you can scan. Of course, everyone is selective in their interests, but the availability of choice. The supermarket?just go shopping. The stores. That?s a burden beyond measure. So when some of us get finished with these fundamental kinds of operations, there you are as a painter saying, ?Hi, I want you to look at this.?”

“As I young artist, I wanted to do big paintings,” Silverman says. “That was the arrogance of youth. That changed. I know people don?t have space for it. It?s not economically viable in many ways. But I?m back to doing larger scale works, just because I want that sense of presence. And it?s exciting. It?s exciting to re-create images on an almost-life-size scale.”

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