The Intimist’s Garden
Stella Rosa McDonald
Sally Anderson paints like a writer: treating every picture as if it were a phrase, butting one arrangement up against another to form a single painted line. Sometimes the painting forms the sentence, as when LJ’s Mum’s Hydrangeas completes Bendalong With Luc Tuyman's Black Heath. At other times language leads: Two Places attempts to align distinct elevations—improbably conflating two landscapes into one. Anderson’s paintings, made in counterpoint, approximate her world via a formal language that allows her to move between exposure and circumspection within one frame.
Other paintings are made intaglio, with landscapes, idols and lovers sunk below their surface. Your Landscape Of Robertson On My Landscape Of You holds within it another painting, as does Guy's Painting Of Lord Howe On Dillings Bromeliads (Worlds In Worlds). These paintings are like wombs or libraries—where gestation and digestion are tacitly implied.
Anderson arranges intimate personal and psychological experience in brief, coded histories. But, if an Intimist is necessarily intimate, then Anderson blows hot and cold. She paints in shorthand, without the need to explain the minutiae of people, places or things. She shares a lexicon of names and places, reciting a rosary that begins with Bromeliad, blue lagoon, Blue Mountains, blue fucker and Bendalong and ends with Celia, Guy, Luc, Nat, Paterson’s Curse, and Salvation Jane. We’re on a first name basis, until she swiftly draws the blinds—most explicitly in The Cover Up (I Wish I Could Say The Same). This is painting that, like writing, is made sub rosa: painting that places the burden on private process rather than public proof.
The artist Helen Marten writes of painting as a self-reflexive game of logic and obsession. Riffing on a line from Infinite Jest, (“Nets and fences can be mirrors. And between nets and fences, opponents are also mirrors”), Marten—positioned at the net, where it’s easy to see that the players only ever play themselves—rails against pure interpretation to champion the multitudes contained in painting as an action, as an idea and as a dialogue:
There is so much meta-meaning, all those surface distractions, distortions, projections, nonsense and dead ends. What about the conjuring of light, or the deliberate swallowing of it? Or painting for pleasure’s sake, for mood, intuition, respite, delay or arousal. Or for the routine bounce-hit logic of striking a conversational rally. In process, the anxiety of an imposed blockade or reflection might be a strange catalyst for inventiveness - for the productive thinking in meshwork (in nets that extend to other nets) that happens tangled in an upside-down tennis swerve.
“Needleshine”, an essay by the poet Eileen Myles, might be the perfect piece of criticism: coming as it did after Sontag questioned what a type of useful criticism might be—one that serves rather than tames the work of art—in her essay Against Interpretation.
“Needleshine” reflects on artist Zoe Leonard’s practice of using camera obscura: an optical phenomenon where light through a pinhole projects a reversed and inverted moving image of what is outside, inside. In “Needleshine”, Myles writes of lying down with friends and strangers in the dim light of Leonard’s capsized landscapes:
We want to be tiny, we want to be small. And at night, well, there’s the rub. Zoe invited us all to come one night to Murray Guy in Chelsea, where her camera obscura was installed and we could lie down together on the floor and...what. Commune? To hold something. To be a part. I think so...When we settled in, which was instantaneous and then long (because no one could watch my growing comfortable or not. Like meditation or writing or prayer, my entire process was my own), I don’t know how long I lay in the darkness that grew lighter.
In counterpoint, Myles writes of the Jewish poet Abraham Sutzkever, who survives the murder of his son and the remainder of WW2 by hiding in a roof cavity where he pierced the thin tin vaulting of the roof with a nail, making a pinpoint of light that lit his entire world. He writes of being captured by the particles of light:
Liberated, when I returned
To my hiding place—
In the same needleshine I saw,
Quivering in the ray of dust,
A familiar figure. I could swear:
I it was. And am. And shall remain,
Strung on a string of dust
With the same needle.
The sounding together of these two experiences elicits a sensation—rather than an understanding—of Leonard’s work against an arrangement of Sutzkever’s horror and Myles’ experience of blind intimacies. Giving congruence to the incongruous is the tendency of art, as if it were always aware of an oblivious yet parallel world—which I believe it is.
Helen Marten, “My Influences”, Frieze.com, December 6, 2016
Eileen Myles, “Needleshine”, in Zoe Leonard: Available Light (Dancing Foxes/Ridinghouse, 2014).
Abraham Sutzkever, “Needleshine”, in A. Sutzkever: Selected Poetry and Prose, Abraham Sutzkever, Barbara Harshav, (University of California Press, 1991).