Combining the now generic languages of abstract painting, Argentinean painter, Fabian Marcaccio who currently lives in New York, constructs a bricolage of diverse cultural and historical approaches. It is through these channels that he explores the often conflicting and contradictory results of the modernist heritage, and by addressing these enigmatic issues that he finds the means to continue to “paint.”
Shirley Kaneda You grew up in Argentina, and now live in New York. How did this transcultural experience influence your painting?
Fabian Marcaccio It’s a complex process, you never know what makes you change. When I was in Argentina, I felt that I was somehow foreign already. So when I came to New York in 1986, I had the feeling of being foreign twice. That to me is parallel to one of the subjects I’m interested in painting, the transcultural.
SK Your content is formalist but the terms with which you address it are not modernist. Is this a result of viewing European painting from the periphery?
FM I care more about the plot of painting as dynamic archaeology, rather than thinking about formalism, modernism or post whatever. Formalism, to me, is just an obsession. I’m interested in informalism but not as negation of form like the Europeans, instead, I see forms as pleated, being there as mental cartography, you know, pleated as speed of thoughts. I see my work as “painting in spite of itself,” instead of “painting itself” which is what the dogmatic formalists saw.
SK In spite of itself?
FM Yes, basically, it means the painting is going against its own principles. A modern painter like Mondrian talks about the neutralization of every center, and all the hierarchies of the pictorial space to create mutual equivalences. What I am trying to do is to engage all the generic elements of painting, the brushstrokes, lines, ground… to create mutual betrayals.
SK Historically, modernism ended up negating its own goals. For example, we saw that the goal of reductionism, getting to the essence, eventually wiped out everything. When you say mutual equivalence, is there a rationality involved, and in mutual betrayal is there no logic?
FM My work actually is rational in a post self-conscious way. If there is a logic, maybe it’s Wittgenstein’s logic. I’m working in a dictionary of painting’s post categorization that redefines its own rules constantly.
SK What is post-categorization going to lead to?
FM Who knows. For me, it engages in discursive destruction or deconceptualization, and at the same time material contamination that echoes an epistemological model. That is, the state of the relation between the symbolic, the real, and the imaginary. I’m trying to show that the code itself is in metastasis. It’s as if the painting is mechanizing itself, nothing like process art though. Instead of using abstraction to represent an impossible, I try to force abstraction to do impossible things.
SK Your work takes the form of a painting, is that arbitrary? Couldn’t you just as easily have been a sculptor or a conceptual artist? I have the feeling that you are interested in a category that is not containable within those terms. And yet your work functions as painting.
FM Painting is more flexible than other mediums because it can absorb, it is more parasitic, it can spread in conceptual activity, and its objecthood is more complex than sculpture. Conceptual art or the failure of its theories, is limited by the domain of its interpreters. Painting was always more flexible, it can deal with anachronism, between Schnabel and Kosuth, with soft histories, with soft categories.
SK What do you mean by “soft,” “soft history,” or “soft categories?”
FM I mean something in between soap opera and the miserable state of painting today. The late ‘80s idea of simulation, celebrated in a perverse way was an interpretation of the world from a single viewpoint, a total standardization, but after the L.A. riots …. forget it!… It’s like the sinking of the Titanic, a crash between total comfort and security against total fear. To make a painting in this state of mind is like a traffic accident, I can no longer use strong categories, but handicapped ones.
SK What is the role of the viewer, in terms of your paintings?
FM The role of the viewer is important, not because I want that, but because there is no other way. The viewer makes the connection, not just as an interpreter, but as an activator, because painting is a tool. We don’t see at the painting, we see with the painting. Sometimes I literally make it like a tool because you have to hang the painting and rub it against the wall.
SK Your paintings look as if they’ve been painted by themselves, that there isn’t a maker behind them.
FM From my point of view, the language of painting is ready-made. I make an involution of it, each painting brackets its own functions in a pragmatic way. I’m a painting organizer, and frankly I don’t care how the painting looks.
SK How do you see that differently from formalism?
FM I’ll put it metaphorically, formalism is like a safari: you hunt the lion. (laughter) We don’t have that lion anymore. We’ve started understanding things that in no other time in history were as clear. For us, living with chemicals that make us sick is a reality. For the modernist, it was not like that, they thought technology was only helping. Painting can spread, it’s always between ideas and materials. But now the materials do things for their own sake, and that, to me, is amazing. I want the paintings to have a material life of their own.
SK Illusion plays a big part in your paintings, but not in the traditional sense. It seems you want to transgress the idea of illusion itself. You have two kinds of illusion, one is printed on the ground, in a classic illusionistic style and the other is super-imposed on top of that, creating a dialogue.
FM I want to suspend the painting between idea and realization. There is always a double relation in the painting. Because they are prefabricated from ideas that get territorialized within the painting space. It’s not what a brushstroke does or who did it, it’s a genetic disillusion of it, not an illusion. If there are illusionistic elements, they are no more illusionistic than let’s say, Lichtenstein. It’s like a timeless movie, you see shifting grounds. That is why the paintings never have a totality, because there is a migration from ground to groundlessness.
SK Is there hierarchy in your work?
FM Not categorical hierarchies, instead of using the modernist grid that avoids spatial hierarchy, I use a network or chain of shifting hierarchies which are interchangeable.
SK What do you think of the recent discussions around the question of the relevance of abstract painting?
FM I do not consider my work abstract. When I hear about the concepts like “all over painting,” I think of McDonalds the world over. “Serial painting” makes me think of serial killers, these are symptomatically synonymous. I like to see my paintings as something other than abstract, but finding a name is a waste of time. The best way to see a painting today is perhaps not in a painting show, with few exceptions. The difference between abstract revivalism and artists who are trying to do something with the language of art is a great one. This research is also done in sculpture and installations.
SK I agree, but people seem to take for granted that it’s more possible in other media than in painting, partly because they have pre-conceived expectations about painting that they don’t have with other media.
FM Right. But what is interesting is that in this moment you can manipulate photography like painting. Painting and photography are close again because they are not as real as we thought. We are in a hybrid state, from painting-photography, to photography-sculpture, to sculpture-video, etc. To me, the most interesting thing is the interdisciplinary relation, how things could be re-connected. Most things we see are part of a larger context but are not challenging in their own terms. With most of these things, you just don’t know what they are trying to do. (laughter) Maybe a countdown to extinction, but this is just cheap scatology.