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Home DUCTS.ORG Issue 12 | Winter 2003 the webzine of personal stories
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Points of View: The Art of Jeremiah Johnson, Pablo
Ramella and Abby Goodman

Text by Cindy Moore

When discussing visual narrative, any clear-cut distinctions between art and literature become hopelessly muddled. People speak of ‘reading’ paintings, examining them like they examine texts. As viewers we can further follow this line of reasoning, taking into account ideas of point of view and perspective, discerning the voice of the narrator and that of the author/artist. This urge to examine art in the literary terms can be illustrated by the three artists featured this issue, Abby Goodman, Jeremiah Johnson, and Pablo Ramella. Each employ different points of view to deal with narrative in a distinct and personalized way, piecing together uniquely provocative and engrossing stories with and without words.

Falling primarily into the category of memoir, the work of Jeremiah Johnson is a clear example of a traditional first-person narrative. His distinctly decorative prints and drawings deal directly with his own experience; each piece illustrates his daily inner workings. Johnson’s written observations are a part of almost every piece. Scribbled in the margins or scrawled across the entirety of the work, his voice becomes a visual element as well as a narrative device. Drawing on and over advertisements, Johnson recast models and celebrities as characters in his grand narrative. He consumes popular culture and thoroughly makes it his own.

In these works, every obsession is magnified and every thought (no matter how mundane) is given equal importance. The drawings are overloaded with pattern and text, fully saturated in every area. The rambling narrative is generous to the point of over-saturation. The sheer volume of visual input makes it necessary to drift in and out of the narrative.

Where Johnson’s work is overly verbose, Pablo Ramella’s simply painted images present a pared-down narrative. In his intimate and awkward scenes of domesticity, only the essential information is provided, allowing for an uncluttered view into the daily acts of these nameless individuals; the images are literally dressed-down narratives frozen in time.

Earlier we spoke of the artist and narrator as one in the same, in Ramella’s work we are offered a different vantage. Often hovering above, the point of view implies a more omniscient perspective. As the viewer we are allowed access to these intimate yet ordinary moments of extreme familiarity. We are consciously watching instead of participating.

The paintings read as a type of self-surveillance; they are fixed moments of solitude to which we are somehow privy. Whether they represent remembered moments or chance encounters, the tender awkwardness of the acts depicted in this work mirrors our awkward position as a viewer. In these paintings, Ramella blurs the line between the devices of memory and the technologies of surveillance. We are simultaneously recalling and reviewing these filtered and familiar images. Like with memory itself, the details become the essence of the event; the color of her hair, the lamp on the table, that unshakable feeling of solitude.

The desire to freeze a moment, to capture an event with clarity is a common if not universal drive. Through personal photography, people chase these moments and make them tangible. With our third artist, Abby Goodman, these snapshots are the translated into ephemeral drawings with an unusual, and childlike medium, ‘Shrinky Dinks.’

‘Shrinky Dinks’ are a craft material for children involving small sheets of plastic that are decorated and later baked in the oven to become firm. In her Family, Friends, and Idols Portrait Series, Goodman uses the material to create miniature portraits of her personal cast of characters. Taken directly from the photographic reference, the drawings become intimate depictions of loved ones and women she admires. The implied fragility of the light and glasslike material calls to mind the transitive nature of memory; these are delicate trinkets of preserved moments, as seemingly fugitive as the memories they depict. Arranged in a web, the implied narrative is not linear. The viewer is left to link together the pieces seemingly at random; the layout is one of interconnectedness and intertwined lives. Furthering the idea of intimacy and discovery, the small scale of the drawings necessitates that the viewer come close to the work to become personally and physically involved.

With Goodman’s work the immediacy of the narrative is essential. In her most recent work she incorporates the form of a book, forcing the viewer to interact in a physical way. Working on top of existing books, she weaves a new narrative using the characters of her daily life recast in fantastical settings; in turn embellishing both the narrative and the tangible object of the book.

Regardless of the point of view employed, each of these artists offers us a unique perspective. In telling a story, they are simultaneously validating, reinvestigating, and sharing their experience. Somewhere in the common space of their experiences and ours, there are moments of connection, and it is in those moments that art transcends personal narrative and becomes a truly human experience.

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