Living in a world now saturated with endless streams of images whose authorship is largely impersonal or irrelevant, we can forget that paintings are different.
In the time it takes to snap a picture with an iPhone, post it to Instagram and have it go viral, a painter may complete just an inch or two of a canvas’s surface. Now surrounded by literally countless images every minute of every day, we can’t conceive of a time, barely 200 years ago, when images were far more rare and when anyone who looked at a drawing, etching or painting knew they were looking at something a person spent an enormous amount of time creating. Looking at a painting meant looking at labor. Paintings represented time. Someone living 200 years ago could not imagine flipping through hundreds of selfies on an iPhone, but neither can we –living today- imagine how much time individuals spent looking at and moving within single images. In seconds we can dart our eyes past dozen of images while a school student 200 years ago might see less than a twenty images in a year, and might spend hours looking at them again, and again, and again. They wouldn’t know how to look at our images – and vice versa.
Going into museums - or even the gallery you are standing in right now - how are we to look at paintings in any way even close to the way in which they were created? Works by Ingres, Goya, Rembrandt were all created within an historical period very different from ours both socially and politically, but the period was also one where people experienced seeing images differently. In mere seconds we assume we have seen what an artist may have taken months to create. In moments, the optical experience of seeing an image is processed and digested as having been understood, or comprehended. We believe that seeing and understanding are the same thing. They are not.
Andrew Sendor’s works, though visually arresting and optically readable (even the pixelated areas) are nevertheless unstable spaces for meaning. While we quickly read them as pictures of things - people, places, objects - we cannot easily comprehend the meaning of these things as they are composed in the paintings. These finely detailed paintings float in time and space. Read the titles and it emerges we are looking at figures that look like they are from some past, but painted in the tones and timbre of modern cinema and photography, posing as elements in museum installations by unknown artists from the future. The specifically contemporary practice of documenting museum or gallery ‘installations’ by taking photographs is here reversed – these are paintings whose subject is the documentation of other art – paintings, sculpture, people – done in the future.
Is this a paradox?
The real paradox is that in daily experience we live with such vast quantities of constantly changing visual information that we assume we are informed and knowledgeable while in reality the more information we accumulate the less possible it becomes for us to actually know anything. Too many images make meaning impossible.
Sendor’s work soothes, calms, and brings quiet beauty to this paradox by embracing it and stepping back. His work is ‘of our time’, paintings made between 2010 and 2013, but paintings whose subject is a future depiction of objects from the past. They hover – not truly past, not truly future. We are drawn in and find ourselves lavishing on them what we can barely afford – our time. And the more time we give them, the more we understand them, the more they speak to us. A beautiful paradox indeed.