James Siena by Shirley Kaneda

BOMB 67 Spring 1999
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Discover MFA Programs in Art and Writing

James Siena 01

James Siena, Base Three, 1997, enamel on aluminum, 19 x 15 inches. Courtesy of Christinerose Gallery.

“It is not through a higher perfection that artworks separate from the fallibility existent but rather by becoming actual, like fireworks, incandescently in an expressive appearance.”

—Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory

What use do we have for the “spiritual” in this technological world, where we now know the Utopian ideals represented by Malevich or Mondrian’s exclusive use of geometric forms are unattainable? This is a relief to my mind, for it allows us to go about our business of living, of being, of experiencing, knowing that reaching perfection is not important. James Siena’s paintings seem to embody this particular circumstance sans nostalgia. His paintings are small, averaging 29” in height. This scale adds to the concentrated effect of his obsessive, painstaking technique of repeating a given mark until it fills the painting’s surface, resulting in a pattern. The initial impact seems to consist of nothing more than decorative motifs, the type of patterns found on textiles. Such patterns are never specifically referenced—instead they are generalized—styles that could have been made anytime in the last few hundred years in various places around the world. Other paintings are reminiscent of LSD induced psychedelic hallucination, dazzling the eye. Yet Siena’s paintings are not reducible to such patterns. These sensually painted motifs merely have the look of those images. The marks meander, making these images have their own life—rather than one borrowed from their source. He gives them purpose without making them purposeful, allowing the unseen to become apparent. Siena successfully turns his images into what they are not, coaxing their “other” from them. Seemingly without conscious intention, he transfixes the viewer like a magician, making the nonexistent become existent, in the most indirect way.

Jamies Siena 2

James Siena, Base Three, 1997, enamel on aluminum, 19 x 15 inches. Courtesy of Christinerose Gallery.

Chris Martin by James Siena
Chris Martin 01
Barbara Kasten by Leslie Hewitt
Barbara Kasten 01

Kasten’s photographs capture the fleeting interplay of color, form, and light in the geometric objects she assembles. She spoke to Leslie Hewitt about the expansion of their shared medium.

Stephen Mueller by Joe Fyfe
Mueller 01 Body

I have been following Stephen Mueller’s work for 20 years. I didn’t understand it right away but some work plants itself in your mind and its logic begins to grow there. These earthly sensual paintings display a rare pictorial intelligence and an emerging cosmic ferocity.

Mel Kendrick by Kiki Smith
Woodblock Carving Studio Image

Kendrick owns five chainsaws and calls his radical sculptural interventions a form of “anti-carpentry,” but he’s ultimately invested in revealing and repairing forms, thereby discovering new dimensions of wholeness.

Originally published in

BOMB 67, Spring 1999

Featuring interviews with James Hyde, Mary Heilmann, Alan Warner, Scott Spencer, Catherine Gund-Saalfield, Cassandra Wilson, Revenge Effect, Elevator Repair Service, Zoe Wanamaker, and A Day in Brasilia. 

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