This portray, so like a weathered tombstone, is not difficult to see but is really hard to examine.
Glenn Ligon’s “White #15” was painted, but it was also penned. Starting up at the leading left and ending at the base correct, Ligon made use of a plastic letter stencil and an oily paint adhere to stencil terms, a single letter at a time, on to the canvas. He recurring the approach until the letters became so dark and dense that our want to study them is disappointed.
Even when I amplify a cellphone photo I took of this painting, which is at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Conn., I can make out only fragments of sentences: “invisibility of whiteness,” for instance, and “it appeared a fascinating paradox.” But I find I’m drawn in by the oily matte-and-shiny textures, by the pattern created by the rows of black-on-black typeface, and by the work’s strange passive-aggressive depth.
Born in New York in 1960, Ligon is a cerebral artist who nonetheless loves the materiality of paint. He is acknowledged for pitching properly-recognised and typically timeless-seeming texts — Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel, “Invisible Person,” for case in point, or James Baldwin’s 1953 essay “Stranger in the Village” — into an rapid, bodily current where by their meanings grow to be additional and much more elusive.
The text at the base of this perform, which is section of a collection, is from “Invisible Guy.” But the words higher than it are from “White: Essays on Race and Culture,” a 1997 e book by Richard Dyer. Dyer wrote his e-book in the belief that if White people are not found in racial conditions, they “function as a human norm. Other people today are raced, we [White people] are just individuals.”
Obviously, there is electric power in remaining regarded as a norm, which could be observed as the electric power of invisibility. As Ligon himself at the time reported (paraphrasing Dyer), “Things that seem typical are pretty tricky to see, but … issues that feel distinctive or distinctive appear to be glaringly visible.”
I really don’t know why Ligon provides us with texts that seem contradictory (Ellison’s “Invisible Man” is about a Black man’s invisibility, while Dyer writes about the invisibility of Whiteness). But I’m drawn in by the contradiction and by my want to take care of it. By generating me struggle to read the words he has so laboriously used, Ligon would make laboriousness and wrestle portion of the work’s meaning.
But he also impedes indicating alone — and in the process, maybe, gets rid of some of the luster from what Baldwin identified as “the jewel” of my “naivete.” Right after all, is it not naive to feel that artworks can be “solved,” as if they ended up equations or riddles?