In Conversation with Sam King

The Provincial
Aug 3, 2017 8:08PM

On the occasion of the small group show (UN)TACIT, The Provincial asks Sam King about the painterly bonds formed with fellow artists Matthew Choberka and Ian Hagarty, how painters find each other and stay in touch far away from major city centers.

Sam King, You'll know, oil on linen, 16" x 12"  2017

Matthew Choberka, Ian Hagarty and I met at Indiana University more than a decade ago, as graduate students. Matt and I entered the program the same year (2003). He had lived in NYC for years, worked for Graham Nickson and at the Met, among other things. I had just finished my BFA at University of Tulsa. Ian came the following year, having attended Maryland Institute College of Art.

All three of us came in as representational painters. Matt was making invented figurative compositions. His paintings had an otherworldly, metaphorical quality. I was making landscape and cityscape paintings from direct observation, and Ian was working from arrangements of studio furniture in a muted palette. While there, we all shifted away from those initial bodies of work into more abstract territory, and since that time the work has evolved further for each of us.

At the particular time we were at IU, the conversation seemed to be evolving in an interesting way. The faculty then included Barry Gealt, Bonnie Sklarski, Bill Itter, Eve Mansdorf, Tim Kennedy, Martha MacLeish, Andrew Winship, and Caleb Weintraub. Also Robert Barnes, who had retired relatively recently, made a visit as an emeritus critic. There was a good group dynamic among the grads. We hashed out our critiques over meals and drinks, set up a reading group, attended seminars and other classes. The school is well known for representational—and more specifically, figurative—painting, but there was a sense of openness about agendas within the realm of painting. Much of the direction from senior faculty aimed to foster invention and strong pictorial design, of which neither necessarily demands representational imagery, and which ultimately steered us toward more autonomy and awareness in our studios.

We are now scattered across the United States: Matt is in Utah, Ian is in West Virginia, and I’m in Arkansas. I like the idea of a region offering a particular point of view, or different systems of expression, provided it remains outward looking. I think about how place might inform space in the work. Studio space is not exactly abundant where I live, but space in general is. A square foot doesn't come at the same premium as it would in Manhattan or wherever else. Inevitably, you realize you treat space (and, for that matter, time) differently as a result.

I know that there are things you get in certain places for which there's no real substitute, so I make a point of traveling to see people and shows as much as I can. Travel, incidentally, is how (Un)tacit came to be: Matt and I bumped into each other at a student- teacher exhibition at the New York Studio School in 2015. We talked about our work. Ian came up pretty quickly, as we’ve all stayed connected via social media, and the idea of a small group show emerged.

The title of the show speaks to a kind of paradox that I perceive in the language used to describe abstract painting. In day-to-day use, “abstraction” can mean a reduction, or other selected sampling or alteration of reality. A scientific paper offers an abstract at its outset. Reduction isn’t my goal when I’m in the studio, though. I feel like working “abstractly” offers more direct, less filtered access to the reality of paint, both in the material sense and in the sense of it being a conveyer of color and shape.

We constantly filter the information presented to us, in order to make it sensible and useful. I reflect on this, often—not so much the scientific “how” of it, but that this filtering is the home of our sense of the poetic, particularly when we are not clogging it with busywork in the name of expedience—and I remember, no good work of art ever told me to hurry up.

In the show’s accompanying statement, I identify a few binaries, or sliding scales, of action for a painter (internal/external, intuitive/rational, etc.). Another that I have found useful for many years is one that Andrew Forge offered: “the essential paradox of painting is that it is both wall and window.” There is a space between seeing and knowing, between sensing and recognizing. I crave it both in looking and in making.

(Un)tacit brings together recent paintings by Matthew Choberka, Ian Hagarty, and Sam King. Each of these artists acknowledges the near-inevitable associative capacities of abstraction. Interwoven in their paintings are a host of intentions, impulses, and strategies, each like a point on a spectrum: internal/external, intuitive/rational, accidental/deliberate, brash/restrained, experienced/imagined, revealed/concealed, to name a few. As vectors of action overlap, the notion that painting could ever be reducible to “A vs. B” or “on a scale of one to five...” becomes patently untenable. For these artists, such an entanglement is in fact desirable, for it can yield rich, exuberant paradox.
Tacit typically refers to the unspoken: what is understood need not be expressed. In music, tacit means not played. Surely these paintings can’t be tacit in the latter sense of the word, and they offer no promise of implicit agreement. Yet they do not narrate. They embrace what is not understood, and what they convey is multivalent. Maybe they reflect the world; maybe they’re more of it.

(Un)tacit is on view at The Provincial August 10- 31, with an opening reception Thursday, August 10 at 5 pm.

The Provincial