John Affolter: Visual Artist
Creative processes are a synthesis between personal life experiences and responses to the immediacy of time and place and circumstance. The years of formal training in the visual arts in a time of minimal/conceptual aesthetics, fostered internal dialogues in early his works. For John, there are three existential properties one uses in the creative process: play- people, places, things. Having a childhood connection with the land, place was the most powerful and meaningful for his early works. After that came people followed by things as an order of importance. While developing skills at Cornish College of the Arts, the interpretation of place dominated his explorations into visual story telling.
Informal training also led to the study of English Romantic Landscape Painters. The summer of 1979 was spent earning room and board by working in a family owned London based African Art Gallery as an assistant. Traveling from East Putney to the Arcade Gallery on Old Bond St. weekdays on the "tube", he would get off at the Tate Museum, spend two hours going through the galleries and taking notes. Then walk to his job by noon. The Tate featured works from the 16th century through to the minimalists. One gallery was dedicated to the Romantic Landscape painters. He connected with a landscapes commanding the picture plane as narrative on the frailty of humanity. Most weekends were spent using the Japanese woodblock printing techniques to record urban landscapes pulling prints directly off streets like the print taken from the sidewalk in front of the National Gallery.
In July he travelled to Paris for a week at the Louvre. It was a summer of extraordinary learning. For John it was a totally different education from books, magazines, and lectures to stand in front of internationally acclaimed works to investigating materials, processes, techniques, and artistic intents. Returning from England in the fall, He began to explore the landscape and interpret it in real-time questioning how a landscape can say something from the now and avoid repeating a landscape form of a completely different time and mindset? As John saw it in the 70's through the 90's, "place" was an environmental issue, with the "land" being under siege from every imaginable form of human exploitation. At the completion of undergraduate work , he had reduced the environment/landscape into grids and repetition as a visual phenomenon. At the subconscious level his narrative was about place as sliced and diced into neat packages identified as "real-estate" packaged as a commodity to be bought, sold, owned, exploited, and manipulated.
During his graduate program in City University, NYC, he attempted to portray the landscape as a kind of complex life form that was in extreme stress surrounded by the grid of mankind's hubris. These landscapes were about environmental awareness in the tradition of a Romantic artist.
The main influence behind the look of his wavy contour lined landscapes came from early cave drawings were humans would place their hands on the cave wall and then blow a mouth full of pigment and water over the hand leaving a imprint of the hand on the cave wall. Additional influences were images depicting extreme human stress with hands raised high facing forward with fingers splayed apart and pointing up (as in the top right corner of Picasso's "Guernica" painting) . He exploited wavy contour lines point up into the air as a kind of poetic statement that the land was stressed and pleading for help. Feeling comfortable with this image form, he began to incorporate sources of the stress. The second major attempt was the "Bookmark" exhibit. mounted as a community of humans in individual rectangular bunkers looking across the land through narrow viewing slots. He wanted a detached indifference between the stressed land and human failure to integrate with the land. His choice to contrast the size of the human rectangle with the land through a viewing slot to symbolize how individualism had subjugated the land as insignificant and outside the power of personal needs.
London Cityscape :
India ink on Torinoko paper. 22"x 28" 1980