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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
Sectioned Landscape: Verso Recto oil on canvas on 1" mounts. 8' x 20' 1982
Monetized: Extruded acrylic paint on canvas with coloraid paper. 72"x 156" 1985
Place & People
After being priced out of his studio in NYC, He moved back to Washington and built a studio to continue working. While working began, there were two goals pursued. One was to continue making images of the stressed landscape with a human presence more highly present. The second goal was to work on a smaller scale to refine his color pallet and personal aesthetic. It involved the exploration of different types of paper and pigments. Casein was chosen for its properties, it ability to luminesce, drying properties, and its flexibility. All of the works were a product of personal experiences. "Populated" was the last work completed in the NYC studio and is a good example of what experimentation was used to incorporate people onto the picture plane.
Populated: Acrylic, shredded money cut and applied paper on paper. 90"x 168". 1985
The works below were typical of the small scale painting being explored. Being an outdoors person, he and his wife made frequent trips into the abundant natural environments Washington State offered. One outing involved going on class II whitewater canoeing trips deep in the mountains. Being an avid fly fisher in early years, he was saddened to find that the amazing brown trout had all but disappeared from the rivers of Washington. John also had wilderness property in the Washington Cascade mountains were many family hours were spent appreciating its pristine rawness. Eventually electricity and water came to his place becoming a subject for works . All productivity in this period was both personal as well as containing a narrative on the sources of stress upon the land. In many ways John felt this was a "landscape PTSD" issue.
Canoeing on a harvest moon Were the Brown Trout swam
Casein on Indian rag. 15"x 23" Casein on Indian rag. 15"x 23"
The line stopped here
Casein on Indian rag. 15"x 23"
Human intrusion became more integrated into the image as his explorations color sense continued. As the 90's environmental movement revealed more data on how industrialization was doing damage to the land, John's images took on a more directed focus as well.
Clearcut: Casein on Indian rag, 22"x 36"
Defiled: Casein on Indian rag, 22"x 36"
Polluted: 22"x 36", Casein on Indian rag
Having earned a place to exhibit with the Warwick Gallery in Seattle, John was given the space for a one person exhibit. By this time, the people part of the landscape was becoming more prominent on the canvas. As a result, he returned to a larger canvas format and more explorations using physical deconstruction in the image. Some of the central ideas that were being considered were related to the age of the earth and its relationship with the universe and all of the connectedness. Time was the arbiter of existence in these works. Physical layers of "place and people" were being built up on the canvas as a narrative on the earth as a recycling machine millions of years old.
In his "Stardust" body of works, feminist influences were reaching a more broad acceptance and questioning of a male dominated narrative was finding its way onto his "place/people" story. Reclaimed #3 shows a pair of working class jeans on its side with the drawing of a fallen tree trunk sketched on one leg suggesting a reordering of gender roles. John was looking at the universe as a massive time machine and within the ticking of its endless and unperceivable motion, humans were busy trying their futile best to look meaningfully important to something that they only recently were beginning to glimpse. The works were a result of both philosophical and physical deconstructions and reorganizations on the canvas.
The Stardust Series
Reclaimed Through Venetian Blinds #1: Acrylic/mixed media on canvas 50"x 96" 1991
Reclaimed Chainsaw Man #2: Acrylic/mixed media on canvas 50"x 96" 1991
Reclaimed Falling, Fell #3: Acrylic/mixed media on canvas. 48"x 96" 1992
Stardust series: Tolstoy Deconstructed #3: mixed media on canvas 32"x 56"x 2" 1992
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