Drawings 2005 – 2011
A Belgian Radio program of Lee-related audio HERE.
A series of new drawings based on newspaper imagery began to take shape in 2006, and is ongoing. Medium-scale drawings in ink based on photos torn from the newspaper. This work has also dove-tailed nicely with an installation of mine (Oct 06-Jan 07) that CNEAI (centre national de l’estampe et de l’art imprimé (National Museum of Print and the art of the printed image)), a museum outside Paris. The show “Old News”, a project of the Danish curator Jacob Fabricius, relating to artists whose work involves newspaper imagery, featuring both historical examples (Yves Klein, Fluxus, etc) and current artists. For that installation I mounted a grid of torn newspaper images which accumulated week by week—an every changing series of pictures. For this work I’m not interested in the story or in reading the text, but the text surrounding the photos is part of the ‘image’ that I’m working with. My interest in these photographs concerns the fact that these images are not self generated but rather self-selected. Images in the newsmedia are transitory, those of one days paper are discarded the next, to be replaced by new ones. In general photos found in newspapers are not selected for their artistic merit, but rather to illustrate news stories. I am creating a self-selected archive of these images, from which I will create further drawings and from which I hope to publish a book of these torn & appropriated images, seen outside the context of news media. For the CNEAI show I was also fortunate to be traveling a lot which allowed lots of different printing qualities to enter the equation, from saturated reds in Finnish papers to blurry black and white in the cheap British dailies to serious NY Times images.
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“The world is moving so fast and all our lives are so fast because of the internet and modern culture in general. Nobody has time to linger on any one thing. That’s the value of doing something like handmade time consuming artworks. It seems significant somehow, trying to slow things down. This is something everybody is grappling with these days, the lack of time to focus on anything in a deep way. That’s why I go bike riding and play tennis. Those are activities that I do lately that I find greatly rewarding.” (Lee Ranaldo interviewed by Niels Van Tomme and Jan Van Woensel for Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art, April 2007, NYC, USA)
Widely known as one of the original, founding members of New York City’s groundbreaking, experimental rock band Sonic Youth, and currently touring to scattered parts of the world with his new band, Lee Ranaldo is a musician, artist, writer, performer, publisher and a restless, observant traveler. “Constellations”, a selection of paintings on paper produced in the past couple of years, is his first, major solo exhibition in a Belgian contemporary art gallery, and offers us a glimpse of Ranaldo’s inexhaustibly growing oeuvre.
Painted pictures of private airplanes, ballet dancers and foreign landscape sceneries, a blindfolded performer, palm trees, an armed soldier, handwritten poems, a pair of hands, street signs, the Beatles and a portrait of composer Glen Gould, each based on newspaper photos — this collection of (at first sight) randomly selected images show how Ranaldo observes the world around him. The absence of any clear hierarchy or favoritism in his paintings’ subject matter proves an equal interest in a seemingly endless multitude of objects, places and people. Ranaldo is a worldwide drifter, a fascinated, destined wanderer into the unpredictability of infinite space and time. On his path he collects images from the never-static world and persistent media flow, and turns them into personalized, sober black and white paintings. Irrevocably divorced from their original context, Ranaldo’s media-inspired images evidently turn into ghosts or shadows: their image is still readable to the viewer but their message has gone astray. Being faithful to the initial context in which these images first appeared is not, however, significant to Ranaldo’s work process. He explains: “… newspaper photos are the most ephemeral; they’re on our table today and in the trash tomorrow. I’m trying to ‘liberate’ certain images that appeal to me from their original contexts and give them a new and different life…” (Lee Ranaldo interviewed by Scott Indrisek for Art Info, Sep 2010, NYC, USA)
In “Constellations” the artist creates unique meanings by confronting diverse, random images in clusters on the gallery walls. The combinatory possibilities are endless and inexhaustible, and none of the created constellations are absolute or permanent. By creating these temporary groupings, Ranaldo seems to simulate the transient experience that the public has with his live music performances on guitar, feedback and distortion effect pedals and a variety of percussion instruments: dissonant, monotone sounds appear; they grow louder and more intense and are able to move the audience to distant places, even if only for a couple of seconds, before they crumble down, fade out and eventually disappear. Such momentary, yet impactful grasps of attention are custom to Lee Ranaldo’s artistic work method and life in general. Ranaldo is on the road, he is a passenger. Everything passes by and through him, before him, beside and behind him as he moves forward or in any other direction. He collects, recreates and re-presents. In his practice, Ranaldo determinedly confronts the restless, fast paced character of his life as a traveling musician and artist with the time, concentration and consuming character of making paintings, with ink and acrylic paint on paper, by hand in his studio.
“Constellations” is one of the few, large-scale exhibitions in which only the artist’s painted artworks take up the gallery space. The rather unobvious absence of his video, installation, live performance and collaborative artworks (with experimental filmmaker, artist, designer, and partner Leah Singer) is sort of unique. “Constellations” is probably one of Ranaldo’s most quiet exhibitions, in which old and new painted memories from home and far away meet. The exhibition is a temporary gathering and momentary confrontation of thoughts, destined to disperse in indefinite directions: from here to infinity.
Jan Van Woensel, Brussels 2012