Art does not reproduce the visible,
but makes visible
Paul Klee (Swiss, 1879-1940)
That we live in a time that is not Klee’s time, and we look at paintings that are not paintings Klee ever saw, yet we trust that some part of what Klee observed remains true in this epoch of the post-modern simulacra. That a painting is not only a painting but also the representation of an idea about painting is the fundamental shift in the paradigm of art since Klee made his famous observation. The form of painting and the act of painting have been joined through minimalist practice and conceptual framework, redefining and collapsing the historic contradiction between abstraction and representation. Painting is now there to represent the image, and the image exists in order to represent the painting—that is, painting’s idea of painting. For the artist Drake Deknatel, the present situation provides the ultimate freedom to invent and reinvent, as he ranges across all manner of reference and methods of making, and thus uniting intention, content, and style.
For much of the past decade, Deknatel has divided his year between Berlin and Seattle. He has found the differences between the communities to be a fertile zone in which to pursue his investigations. The highly intellectualized and theoretical nature of the German art scene provides an apt foil for the more intuitive and isolating laissez faire nature of the Seattle scene. By becoming something of an outsider in both situations, owing to this alternating of cultural traditions, language, and attitude, he has been free to absorb and discard ideas and attitudes at will from both painting traditions.
A passionate abstract painter, with each canvas Deknatel literally circles back to the beginnings of painting in order to move forward. He chooses to make all of his paints from raw pigment and minerals, mixing them with an aliphatic urethane developed by the aerospace industry as the binder. This process of returning to the roots of the painter’s art serves to ground his practice and also opens his palette to a much broader, highly individualized range of hues and tints. His color palette of the past decade, and certainly that of the current body of work, is driven by association and emotional mood. The dominance of green and flesh tones, in all their myriad nuances from warm to cool in this most recent work suggests associations from the verdant to the erotic and reinforces the loose structuring of his canvases around a fragmented, figurative vocabulary of shapes.
Deknatel has chosen to pursue a process-driven, gestural abstraction as the form of his painting investigations. The activity of moving the paint around the surface ultimately defines the composition’s internal structure. The artist’s practice is one of laying down pigment on a painted ground, scrapping away, editing, and painting out until sufficient layers accumulate to create a richly varied surface of incident and nuance. The resulting aggravated brushwork and emergent formal structure create a dynamic surface of shifting planes of translucent and opaque layers of pigment, against which and on top of which are arrayed fragmentary forms. Within the shallow, abstract spaces—all measured and marked by a series of loosely brushed planes and grids—a highly personal vocabulary of organic and biomorphic shapes animates the canvas with a presence both engaging and troublesome.
Brushing, dragging, scraping the paint across the fluid surface of his canvases to deconstructed figures and fractured places, Deknatel builds complex, emotionally affecting abstractions from simple shapes and a strong linear structure. Matter and spirit, materials and process, form and content—all engage the viewer with painterly brio and a sometimes, lyrical restraint. This distinguished body of work, plays with viewers’ unconscious associative memory of architectural spaces and fleetingly familiar forms of their own bodies. Deknatel speaks of his current works in terms of a private response to the fluid nature of the troubling world around us—of the way the “fixed” nature of the world has disappeared, and the all-encompassing shadow of change has overtaken life’s certainties.
Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art
Portland Art Museum, Oregon