To Want to See, but Not Being Able To

“There is always a paradox inherent in vision, an impossible desire to see yourself seeing. A lot of my work probes this tension; to want to see, but not being able to."

~ Spencer Finch


“Sunlight in an Empty Room (Passing Cloud for Emily Dickinson, Amherst, MA, August 28, 2004).” Photo: Art Evans/Mass MoCA

Excerpt from by Blake Gopnik’s exhibit review of “My Business with the Cloud,” at the Corcoran, Washington Post, September 9, 2010: 

"Passing Cloud," the single, giant piece that he's installed in the Corcoran's grand rotunda, gives a picture of the cloud in its title and of the light that passes through it. It does that by giving us the light itself along with the cloud. High under the room's dome Finch has suspended a huge "cloud" assembled from 110 crumpled theatrical gels in an assortment of pale blues and grays. Light piercing the rotunda's skylight passes through the tangle of filters on its way to us below, so that it winds up matching the blueness and brightness of the light we'd see on a bright day under a passing cloud.

Finch could have given us that cloud by painting or photographing it, like his great cloud-art predecessors John Constable and Alfred Stieglitz. But he prefers to make cloud art that actually works on us the way a cloud-filled reality would. Cross from one side of the rotunda to the other, while keeping your eyes focused on your hands or clothes, and you see the light on them pass from blue to a sunny yellow-white.

One way to understand Finch's piece, then, is to keep your eyes turned away from it. There aren't many other art works you can say that about. Is a cloud mostly about what it happens to look like or what it does? For Finch, it's the doing that matters.

NOW: Spencer Finch at the Corcoran from Corcoran Gallery of Art on Vimeo.

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Excerpt from “Trying to Capture a Trick of Light, a Tug of Memory,” by Bridget L. Goodbody, New York Times, June 19, 2007:

In “What Time Is It on the Sun?” Spencer Finch takes viewers on a journey — equal parts psycho-autobiography, travel log and science experiment — to demonstrate that even with light and eyes, vision doesn’t give you unmediated access to the world.

Because he often uses light and color as his primary tools, it’s easy to place Mr. Finch among artists like James Turrell and Olafur Eliasson. But while Mr. Turrell’s goal is to illuminate light’s transcendent qualities, and Mr. Eliasson’s is to emphasize humanity’s place in nature’s construction, Mr. Finch wants to replicate, through scientific means, his experience of light and color in a specific place and at a specific time…

Mr. Finch is at his best when both the art and the science in his work embrace the poetic, as they do, literally, in “Peripheral Error (After Moritake).” These watercolors, exquisite small spots of jewel-like colors on otherwise large, blank sheets of paper, portray a butterfly — not head on, but out of the corner of the artist’s eye. The series pays homage to a haiku by the Japanese poet Moritake:

The falling flower

I saw drift back to the branch

was a butterfly

Cymothoe Coccinata
22” x 30”, Watercolor on Paper.