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
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.