Renwick Gallery, 2012
Renwick Gallery, New York, US
In Andy Boot’s earlier work, like his Wax Series, the outcome of the artistic process was left mostly to chance. Pouring wax over colorful dancer’s ribbons, which have been randomly dropped, letting the liquid find its own way over, under, and around the ribbon, the results couldn’t be controlled. This highlighting of the hidden and unseen features of a canvas or artwork via an accidental surface is also at work in Andy’s new works. But unlike his older pieces, the new ones are the consequence of a more measured process. Through the addition and subtraction of different elements, the new works emphasize an image’s or a sculpture’s lost, often humorous or humane, elements: those parts of the work that get lost in our sea of imagery. But they also show how each of these components is autonomous and how they contribute to harmonizing the artistic equation known as the artwork.
In algebra, an equation may be balanced by adding a variable to it; usually a letter, like n. N + 3 = 5, for example: here N represents 2, and balances the equation. Artworks can also be balanced, or unbalanced for that matter, by variables, like wax or the type of a piece of wire. Of course there are no rules that art is bound by when it comes to the application or use of artistic variables, but that doesn’t make them any the less real, or important. Indeed, it is as part of an artwork that such elements come to life.
“To be is to be the value of a variable,” or at least that’s what philosopher W.V.O. Quine argued; this pithy slogan is about what exists, or at least about what we can claim to exist. It is supposed to give us a criterion by which we can determine what entities we are committed to. When I saw Andy’s recent paintings this phrase came to mind, as did the life of variables. Each painting or sculpture is composed of diverse variables, through which the final work is delivered. The direction and type of brushstroke is one variable; it may look like Herbert Brandl or Clyfford Still, but adding another variable to the composition, like a sticker, changes the piece completely. We often skip over the juxtaposition of elements in an artwork, concentrating on the thing as a whole: sure we may say that line is fine, or those colors work together, but seldom do we really appreciate the singular character of each variable in a piece.
When I asked Andy where he came up with the idea of adding scratch and sniff stickers, he couldn’t remember. But in the end it doesn’t matter; the stickers are just one piece of the works, one variable that is combined with others. They take an abstract painting and add a touch of humor to it; or maybe they tempt the viewer to look closer, to examine more than just the surface of image. “Take a look below the surface,” they seem to say, as does his round, minimalist concrete sculpture, with the soft, fleshy-looking recess atop it; have you walked by it without noticing how the surface almost demands to be touched, or did you think it was an ashtray? What is hidden, what is seen, adding and subtracting, these are the themes that run through Andy’s work, and they can best be discerned when paying attention to the variables.