Fictions and Facture: Recent Work by Dennis Kuronen

September 8 - October 25, 2009

About the Exhibition

Arcadia University Art Gallery is pleased to present “Fictions + Facture: Recent Work by Dennis Kuronen” on view from Sept. 8 to Oct. 25, 2009. Each of the three series that comprise this exhibition—color photographs mounted on box-like panels, reproductions of paintings by Johannes Vermeer (manipulated digitally and by hand), and 50 oil-pastel drawings cut from sketchbooks—is ostensibly about the figure. The real subject of these works, however, is their facture (the manner in which each image is made) and how our understanding of the physical surface of each picture (as evidence of its making), affects what it might mean.

As both an artist and graphic designer, Kuronen is mindful of the ubiquity of digital processing in relation to all contemporary images regardless of whether or not such procedures are actually applied. In both his Curtain(2007) and Obscura (2009) series, Kuronen strives to manipulate the viewer’s assumptions about digital intervention and the role of handwork in relation to both camera and computer. It is not only the figure that is being depicted in each of these works but specific techniques employed to produce surfaces, or, rather, the appearance of textures and optical effects, which, in turn suggest what we expect to be their corresponding processes and materials.

Dennis Kuronen, from the Obscura series (detail), 2009, 44 1/2 x 39"

As a result of Kuronen’s fictions of technique and medium, we are invited to adopt a forensic mode of seeing to determine what we are actually looking at, which is not as easy as it might seem. The manner in which these pictures read from a distance—including their capacity to be regarded as figurative or abstract—changes radically in relation to our physical proximity to them. (In addition to generating beguiling and dynamic reversals of figure and ground, Kuronen’s use of the grid reveals new affinities between Vermeer and another Dutch master, Piet Mondrian.) Even the material identity of these works as paintings, photographs, or digitally processed prints seems to shift depending on the viewer’s distance from them.

The inclusion of fifty small oil pastels (beach studies on colored paper made primarily at the mid-Atlantic shore and Dominican Republic between 1998 and the present) provides an effective foil for the other work in the exhibition. Their abundance of direct observation, mark making, and textured surfaces—when considered in relation to the photographs and digital prints in the show—place these traditional attributes within a continuum of formal and expressive options now irrevocably expanded by evolving media.

By playing with the increasingly volatile and unforeseen interfaces between drawing, painting, camera, and computer, Kuronen has produced hybrid works that stubbornly, and perhaps paradoxically, resist any form of mediation and consequently need to be experienced in person to be completely apprehended and enjoyed. In the process, he asks us to readjust our focus to the question of how—as opposed to what—artworks mean in the 21st century.

Dennis Kuronen, a resident of Glenside, Pa., has for the last forty years combined dual careers in the fine arts and design. He began his studies as a painting and sculpture major at the University of South Dakota before getting his M.F.A. at the University of Nebraska. He moved to Philadelphia in 1979 to teach at Arcadia University (then Beaver College), eventually serving as Chair of the Art Department between 1988 and 1993. He then became founding Director of a new program in Graphic Design at Philadelphia University where he eventually served as the interim Dean of the institution’s newly formed School of Design and Media.

Kuronen has always made objects in a variety of media. He is a partner in the design firm of Kuronen + Michaels, with his wife, Rebecca Michaels, and has continued to practice in both domains on a consistent basis. His work is represented in numerous permanent public collections across the country, including the Sioux City Art Center (Sioux City, Iowa), the Joslyn Art Museum (Omaha, Neb.), and the Sheldon Museum of Art (University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Neb.). A permanent public outdoor sculpture sited near Philadelphia International airport and commissioned as a Percent for Art project by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, was installed in 1994. In 2007, Kuronen introduced his Curtain series in a group exhibition, “Parallel Visions” at the Sam Scorer Gallery in Lincoln, England.

Introduction to the Curtain Series

Text first prepared by Dennis Kuronen to introduce the Curtain Series in a group exhibition entitled “Parallel Visions” at the Sam Sorer Gallery, Lincoln, England, 2007.

“I've always been more interested in 'how' things mean, rather than 'what' things mean,” to paraphrase Roland Barthes.

In art, there is a place where matter ends, and the mind begins. In a 1927 publication of the avant-garde review magazine, i10, there is a discussion of photography, painting, and the effect of "facture”, the physical process responsible for the producing the surface of a picture. In looking at a painting, we might notice the texture or the facility of the brushwork. Proponents of painting as a superior art form made much of this "facture" in painting and of the ensuing tension between the painted surface (as a material) and the image it conveyed (as a mental concept). Some writers asserted that photography had none of this necessary tension, and hardly any facture at all.

In a search for meaning, a "gestalt of content", as it were, the mind cannot resist the impulse to recognize, assemble or even force possible meanings from an art object. Certain domains of content bring their own histories, sometimes as an enrichment, sometimes as baggage. The history of modern painting is unavoidably tethered to the tension between imagery and the picture plane. Abstract painting, in particular, makes much of the vocabulary of flatness, both as metaphor and as an organizational device. In contrast, photography, even abstract photography, struggles to establish a vigorous dialogue between the image and the physical object itself. Obviously, much of the photographic dialogue revolves around a photograph's visual confirmation of a moment of reality.

In most cases, the meaning is informed by our expectations: as a visual effect, as an archetype, or as a social concept. For instance, it is hard for an image of an undressed woman to not reference the social history of the "ideal" feminine. Sometimes this relationship exists in a denial of or its distance from classical forms of beauty. Degas' paintings of women in the bath or Sally Mann's photographs of family nakedness both have a place in the long line of female forms presented to our gaze. Are these images erotic? Or is our viewing primarily mediated by our assumption that a nude must have an erotic element or intent?

Artwork I respond to often involves a yearning for more information. This desire for closure of content seems similar to the yearning we have when we want to "possess" someone in a physical way. Much has been written about the naturally voyeuristic impulse of photography, and how taking someone's picture appropriates much more than their likeness alone. It has also been observed that, often, "less is more". That paradox of desire—that yearning and gratification have an uneasy, even adversarial relationship—has engaged image-makers for a long time. Explicitness may be sexual, but it is rarely sensual.

In my larger images, typically the closer one is to the work, the less one can see. To visually resolve (possess) the image (sometimes of a woman, sometimes not) you must get some distance from the work. In this way, there is a graphic ordering or an abstraction of desire, a commentary on yearning and fulfillment.

In the tension set up by the ambiguity of facture in my work, I hope to force our attention to a consideration of how we assemble a meaning when we look at art. What is photographically certified and what has been digitally altered? What is authentic evidence of the artist's handwork in his struggle to depict? Finally, I think it is in this attenuation of meaning that the true content gains its currency.