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Motion Pictures 3: David & Jac

Peter Sparling


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Motion Pictures 3: David & Jac

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“Motion Pictures 3: David & Jac” is the fifth large mural I’ve painted in this format but the first to be made in a large enough studio space to provide me with long distance viewing and unrestricted mobility. My muses, David Schultz and his wife Jacqueline Burnett, are both senior members of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. When I asked them to improvise for my camera in June, 2022, I knew I’d be inspired by their gorgeous and fluid dancing. By projecting their videotaped movement directly onto a large blank canvas hung on the wall of the immense studio at the Parsons Center, an arts retreat in northern Michigan near Interlochen, I was able to paint multiple “takes” while dancing with their images, following their motion with my brush. My intention was to pull the viewer into the pure kinetic flurry of this accumulated motion, while also providing traces of the dancers’ forms: a “motion capture” of their duet contained on one canvas. Like my other murals based on danced movement, I attempt to achieve a dynamic balance between chaos and order, controlled line and spontaneous motion, and the ephemerality of dance with the relative permanence of painting. The rest is up to the viewer to choreograph her own dance by allowing the eye to freely rove across the canvas, as the figures come in and out of resolution and the eye zooms in and out, taking it all in.

59.5"H × 127"W × 0.05"D
acrylic on canvas with grommets (5) placed equidistant along upper and lower edges; 59.5" x 127"
Hang by grommets unframed.
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As a dancer for fifty years of my own choreographic work and as former principal dancer with the companies of Martha Graham and José Limon, I bring to the practice of painting an interdisciplinary sensibility. I am also a video artist, so my practice of composing imagery for moving bodies within both the stage proscenium frame and the screen’s frame inform my consideration of the canvas as site for visual and visceral encounter. A picture of motion is created in the mind’s eye every split second as the eye seeks to comprehend what it sees, what catches its attention. Bodies in motion attract our attention, and a dancer’s motion is my main attraction. With my paintings, or “motion pictures”, I engage my painter self to join the dancer self: I call into play the action of the paint brush in my hand, and my brush hastens to capture via the stroke of paint an essential thread or indelible trace of the dancer’s movement. I hold the brush like a lit sparkler in the darkness and paint the void with traces of its light. What remains is a web, a nest, a cluster of intertwining fibers, ribbons, networks, ganglia: a light dancer, if you will. A picture of motion. A motion picture. My hope is yes, that each of my paintings imprints its unique kinetic branding on the inner eyelid, or a flurry that evokes a fleeting image of a body in motion: some of its delight, fierceness, lyrical effusiveness, animal alertness, its desire to catch my attention, its ability to draw its elusive pictures in space and time. If every instant of our waking and dreaming were seen with such x-ray calligraphy, would we lift off into weightlessness, like the timeless, floating calligraphy on an ancient Chinese scroll painting, or gradually plunge deeply into the microscopic neurocircuitry of our eternally moving bodies, grounded forever and yet newly mobilized in light? I am reminded of a quote from William Goyen’s “The House of Breath”: “Who knows what frescoes lie painted on the inside of the skull?”

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