Stripped to its skeleton, my work is about the difference between truth and reality. I think of reality as everything that exists, with or without human observation. I think of truth as the ways humans interpret reality. The flesh of my work — what I address directly — is how truth and reality relate to human conflict. People naturally, it seems, want their own definitions of truth to be universally accepted as the definitions of reality. These competing definitions — equivalent insofar as they are interpretations of reality — are the origins of human conflict. From bullying to hegemony to conquest to genocide, humans hurt and destroy each other to gain dominion for their own truth.
Materials used in my work represent both reality and interpretation: natural materials like earth, minerals, water and vegetation are the basic elements of the physical world, created without the aid or craft of people; man-made materials like paint, glue, fertilizer and metal represent our crafting and reshaping of reality. I combine these two categories into materially dense paintings and sculptures that are both unique objects and symbolic texts about definitions of truth. I occasionally pair my three-dimensional works with video and sound compositions, which serve to translate my material and visual language. My use of intertextual titles also provides interpretive cues about the content of my paintings and sculptures. I want my work to both mimic reality — the untouched lithosphere, biosphere and atmosphere — and convey the liminal realm of truth — ambiguous, debatable and subject to manipulation.
My studio practice involves experimenting with non-traditional materials to find combinations that lead to physical transformations. For example, covering a panel with a mixture of iron-based fertilizer and Alkyd enamel produces a geomorphic crust. Copper sulfate, an herbicide, reacts with lime to create a turquoise patina on concrete-coated surfaces. My own recipe for gesso includes a large proportion of pulverized limestone; as it dries, it shrinks, forming dramatic fissures over the surface of the panel. In this methodology, my work relates to that of Sigmar Polke, Antoni Tápies and Ryan Sullivan.
I have adopted a wall-hung format that expands the three-dimensionality of painting. I construct panels using Masonite screwed onto sculpted armatures to create painting surfaces with obvious topography. I also am experimenting with unstretched fiberglass mesh panels as malleable painting surfaces. Works by Frank Stella, Charles Hinman and Judy Rifka inform this treatment of the picture plane.
In my conceptualization and research process, I follow examples in the work of Trevor Paglen, Jenny Holzer, Dario Robleto and Glenn Ligon. My use of non-traditional materials relates to the work of Eva Hesse, Dieter Roth, Alberto Burri and Wolfgang Laib. My ambition is to develop a proprietary visual and material language — as Anselm Kiefer has done — that spans the entirety of my mature oeuvre, creating self-referential consistency over decades.
© Billi London-Gray