Sunday, March 29, 2009

books are not themselves symbols

Ken Krug has painted a series of book-and-thing still lives. A simple and yet--to me, anyway--endlessly pleasurable juxtaposition. Ken takes a favorite book and then quasi-intuitively reaches for the object that "catches my eye," as he puts it. Ken is a brainy guy--always reading and always intellectualizing--but for his paintings, at least these, he suspends the way he thinks about the book and sets the object with/against it in the spirit of an alternative (opposite) mode. For Durrell's Alexandra Quartet it's a pair of sunglasses. For Whitman's Leaves of Grass a single Adidas sneaker. Borges with a Mets cap. Spiegelman's Maus gets accompanied by a salt shaker and a pepper shaker (this is the painting I myself own). Kafka's Complete Stories and a can of Campbell's tomato soup (not a nod to Warhol). Krazy Kat gets painted with an iPod. And Samuel Delany's Dhalgren poses with a cell phone. Krug does these in one sitting, working oil paint on board only with a palette knife.

Book with object does not mean book as object. The object tends to defer to the book, challenging any easy categorical assignment. Ken Krug, it seems, is not opposed to the hegemony of reading, even when its representation is objective, even though, rendered in these works, it bears depictive qualities--color, shape. The book is desymbolized in order, paradoxically, so that its value as a repository of ideas and aesthetics can be reclaimed from the world of things.

The painting of Van Gogh's Complete Letters and a wristwatch is not meant as a temptation to interpret (O, Time!), but it is that. Resist the symbol-making impulse!