"... but I would rather be free in a leafless tree than a bird in a gilded cage."


I paint. I also teach painting. A few years ago it occurred to me that the painting I did was not the same as the painting I taught. "Practice what you preach," I thought. Not that I consider it either necessary or desirable to teach students to paint as I paint, but I felt that a reasonable degree of congruity ought to exist between my personal approach to painting and what I say to students about it. The paintings in this exhibition, and others like them from about 1973, represent my efforts to resolve this contradiction and specifically to resolve it in favor of the painting taught.


The paintings in this show are also related to a long-held conviction that painting, MY painting, could be closely related to the arts of music and dance as well as to forms not commonly considered to be ART: game boards, flags, maps, rugs, quilts, and so forth.


Some of these paintings either tend to be or are about games, rules of the game and the strategies required to win without cheating. ALL of the paintings are about building, being in or getting out of cages, whether gilded or not. About being in and getting out of a cage while leaving the cage intact - Houdini stuff! The images include painting oneself into the middle of a room, papering over doors and windows, sitting on a limb while sawing it off next to the trunk.


The question of SYSTEMS arises, their visual accessibility and recoverability from the finished work. Also involved are considerations like events and intervals, greater or lesser degrees of discursiveness, patterns and predictability.


MANY years ago I had this thought: The blank canvas is in its most ordered state. In a state, metaphorically speaking, of CHAOS. The word is used in its original mythical and only necessary meaning, the time before TIME, the place before PLACE, the ABSOLUTE, the UNIMAGINABLE. Once one understands this, one also understands that with "White Square on White" Malevich brought painting to the edge oft he abyss. Away from the precipice, "order" is an entirely relative concept. ART viewed as making "order" out of "chaos" is nonsense.



HWS, January 1977




The above statement appeared in relation to an exhibition of my paintings at Gallery Paule Anglim in San Francisco. It was seized upon by certain art journalists as an unheard of admission of academic practice and prejudice. Thus was reflected their uninformed and weak-minded opinion that ART cannot be taught and any artist who teaches (as most do) is ipso facto that bad word, an "academic".


HWS 1980


"Quantity does not determine pattern" A statement frequently made by Gregory Bateson (Mind and Nature, Steps to an Ecology of Mind, etc.) about which the experience of making my recent paintings has caused me to have some doubt as to whether it applies in EVERY instance.




Pattern is or seems to be an arrangement of parts of any number not less (probably) than 8 whereby some DIFFERENCE (other than quantity?) can be perceived to occur between one part and at least one other part, this difference to REoccur with sufficient frequency and regularity to imply the probable continuation of this order of events and intervals beyond the immediate FRAME of TIME and/or EXTENT in which these are initially perceived. Thus pattern implies a PREDICTABLE PROBABILITY and must be subject to some RESTRAINT as to interfere with the UNrestrained operation of the laws of chance.


We cannot predict whether a tossed coin will come up heads or tails; we do know that it will be EITHER heads OR tails. Imagine a situation in which I have a number of sheets of white paper of variable size. If I regularly place over any sheet another larger than the preceding one I will have ordered them in relation to size, i.e. quantity (in the sense of area) but I will not have determined a perceivable pattern (except in my RECOLLECTION of the process) since each sheet will have obliterated the previous one from the standpoint of VISUAL perception. In other words I will not have COMMUNICATED the INFORMATION of pattern since only one sheet will remain visible. If however I now separate the sheets, placing them side by side either laterally or vertically with some INTERVAL between them but in an ascending/descending order of area will I not have created a pattern determined by quantity since the only perceivable difference between them (all being white) is area, a quantitive distinction? NO. Having separated the sheets a concept of a higher order of logical typing comes into operation, i.e. FRAME, this being a digital rather than an analogic/quantitative difference and the controlling factor in this pattern. But suppose I blow a single note on a horn, gradually increasing the intensity, i.e. quantity, of sound, then decreasing, then increasing and so on and do this sufficiently often (8 times or more). Is this not a discernible, i.e. audible, pattern determined by quantity? Or must we propose the situation of a NUMBER of instrumentalists all playing the same note on the same instrument, some playing softly alternating with those playing more loudly to approach a true definition of quantity in sound.* If this be so then of course the concept of frame (a number of different players) once again enters the situation as a (or THE) determining factor of pattern.


But a continuum of sound is a DISCURSIVE phenomenon. The pieces of paper laid out side by side could be seen in their relation to one another "at a glance" so were a PRESENTATIONAL experience. Therefore in relation to sound (music, noise) the question of RECOLLECTION or MEMORY comes into the case in a way not so evident or not at all evident in visual perception (disregarding for the moment "after image," "set" theory etc.) Thus any PATTERN of sound HOWEVER DETERMINED occurs in TIME and is perceivable only to those players, listeners or other means of awareness (recording equipment for example) present at the BEGINNING of the process and continuing to be so through a certain number (8?) of repetitions of the sequence. But the pattern will certainly be discernible to them or "it" HOWEVER DETERMINED.


I don't know enough about sound technology to make a judgment but perhaps we must appeal to SOME sophisticated technology in order to clarify the situation. Is sound, "waves" or "particles" or "waves of particles"? Color that is "colors," pigments are certainly particles but crucial to the argument is the MANNER and/or TIME CONTEXT of our perception of them as vehicles of pattern. Pigments have tactility but we "see" only the light reflected from them.


However these questions are resolved I distinctly recognize the primacy of QUANTITY (more or less blue, red, green and so on) as a (THE?) vehicle of rhythmic expression in my painting.


* When I recently put this question to Steve Reich his initial reaction (not extended in further discussion unfortunately) was to interpret quantity in sound in this way.


HWS 1980

The "scientific mind" has been closely bound up with the avant-garde for much of the Modern Era, perhaps more than has been healthy. Perhaps the end of this alliance and a return to "the personality" is what is meant by "post Modernism."


From a Bay Area Newspaper, August 30, 1979




The "scientific mind" (rational??) has been if anything LESS 'closely bound up with the avant-garde' than the "unscientific mind" (irrational??). Distinctions of this sort suggest a lack of comprehension of what Bateson would call "an ecology of mind." Those who continue to think in terms of dualisms and dichotomies will interpret my description of my paintings as a confirmation of their "views."


HWS 1980




My paintings present in 2 dimensional color and shape a stochastic system whereby a process of selection has been combined with a set of partially random events, both digital and analogic, toward a preferred outcome so that only certain outcomes of the random are allowed to endure. "Random" in this context implies a multiplicity of event so great as to defy rationalization by an ordinary or unaided mental process. "Context" implies that some restraint exists or has been applied to the area of possibility.


Stress develops with a lack of flexibility as the available uncommitted alternatives are used up and can be relieved by referring back to the original matrix of co-ordinates.


The process is tautological in the sense that the links between the preferred events are or seem to be indisputable though the truth (or necessity) of the events themselves is not claimed. A topology occurs where shape is unaffected by quantitative change.


HWS 1980


Reductionism: It is the task of every scientist to find the simplest, most economical and (usually) most elegant explanation that covers the known data. Beyond this, reductionism becomes a vice if it is accompanied by an overly strong insistence that the simplest explanation is the only explanation.


Gregory Bateson, Mind and Nature




REDUCTIONISM in art (Purism, Minimalism, etc.) tends to present itself as a moral imperative. "Less is more"; 1 mark is " better" than 2 marks. "PURE ART" is apparently impure art from which the "impurities" have been removed. To argue with this implies being "against" "purity," a difficult position to take just as, conversely, one can hardly avoid being "against" "sin." Accepting the purist and/or minimalist point of view seems to require one to conclude that the most pure or most virtuous state of the painting is the untouched canvas, square, round, triangular or whatever and the contemplation of these essential forms becomes the ultimate in aesthetic experience.


But this is a mystical proposition which excludes appreciative judgment and therefore all art.


Eliminating the moral imperative we immediately see that in art as in life variable degrees of eventfulness (1 mark to an infinity of marks) is a condition of BEING about which no prescriptive judgment needs to, cannot in fact, be made. Thus we expect to be "busy" (a higher degree of eventfulness) on occasion while under other circumstances a relative absence of "event" denotes a "quiet life." Both states are appreciated as necessary and desirable and do in fact complement one another.


In auditory terms SILENCE is discernible only in relation to NOISE, the reverse being equally true. The two states are functions of one another. The corners of a canvas are events with a necessary dimensional "interval" between them but that does not imply that the interval is without "eventfulness," is in other words, "nothing."


No necessary virtue attaches itself to 1 mark (or event) as against 2 or 500 unless these events are made in some way to refer to specifically "human" circumstances such as we might expect in History, Religious or Pre-Raphaelite painting. If the event depicted is murder, arson or rape, we are expected presumably to make some moral, that is emotive or prescriptive judgment ... bad in these cases, good if other sorts of events are alluded to: Bringing in the harvest; dog saving little girl from the surf; cardinal asleep with a fly on the end of his nose and so on. But about squares, triangles and circles it is simply meaningless to say that one is better than the other. One square cannot be "better" than another square if both are to remain squares. I may "prefer" circles to squares but that is an altogether different matter than affirming one "better" than the other.


Appreciative judgment can only be applied to the "context" of their relationship, composed as it must be, of variable degrees of eventfulness, functions of one another, by definition.


HWS 1980