The Stories We Tell

On January 7, Aaron Cowan wrapped up a respectable exhibition of new paintings at Aisle Gallery. The works on display –some exquisite, some ordinary- were predicated on an elaborate mapping mechanism developed by Cowan. Daily activity was collated, categorized, and compressed into a system of color codes deployed across the surface of his supports in amounts corresponding to said activity; or so I’m told.

Artists have a funny way of tricking themselves. They’re story tellers, and sometimes they need these stories to get to work. But occasionally, these yarns take on a life of their own. Twisting like serpents, they become strange tails that ultimately have nothing to do with the actual work. If we place our faith in these concepts, we put ourselves in danger of committing a grievous error. Devotion to stories over objects transforms art from being a self-defining physical presence in our world to little more than a bland illustration of an equally bland story.

If we believe Cowan’s story then F 3 .1200 / .2400- X is not a beautiful evocation of color and form, with its threads of green permeating a lush red ground, but a dull record of a daily activity. The surface, no longer a sensuous manifestation of the hand of the artist, is devolved into mere artifact, incidental to an elaborate system. E 8- X, streaming as it is with densely interwoven color is just pale testimony to some long completed act; that is, if you believe the story.

Artists might need these stories, but we do not. We need only trust in the object and its ability to articulate its own voice. In J 17 .500 / .700 X, the scorching red streak that cuts through the green surface projects an after image of imaginary green lines that play across the breadth of the picture plane. We don’t need concepts to appreciate the thrill of this perceptual event, we need eyes, and J17 .500 / .700 X can take care of the rest.

This is not to suggest that we approach art as a bunch of know-nothings, but we need to keep in mind that art is a physical manifestation, and should be approached on physical terms. And as physical entities, Aaron Cowan’s Paintings at Aisle delight the senses and establish their own independent existence, regardless of the stories.

– Alan D Pocaro

Aaron Cowan: Paintings. On view December 3 through January 7 at Aisle. Aisle Gallery 424 Findlay St. Third Floor. Cincinnati, Ohio 45214. Hours M-F 1-4pm, or by appointment.

Pictured Top: F 3 .1200 / .2400- X. 2010. House paint on panel. Courtesy of Aisle gallery.

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