The Information Age and Found Poems

Jack Burgess_The Least Information.jpg

As my paintings progress they tend to get more and more simple. I try to use the least information possible to convey the message, and in an age where we are inundated with information it seems an important thing to do. I’d like to pretend that it’s a philosophical decision, but in truth it’s just the way I like things.

The idea behind Annie Dillard’s Found Poems, and the poems themselves, feel very much in line with what I try to accomplish when I paint. I find something–a location, or time of day, or composition–and I start by putting too much information on the canvas. I over do it, and then I slowly whittle away until I get to something that feels complete. The natural byproduct of working like I do is simplicity. It’s not what I start out to accomplish, but it’s an indicator that a painting is done.

When I was a kid playing Little League Baseball, we lived in a small town in West Virginia. There was a group of old guys who would sit in lawn chairs down the first base line, watch the games, chew tobacco, and whittle. They didn’t make things–meaning they didn’t whittle out little figures or whistles–they would just carve away until the piece of wood they were carving on was gone. As a kid I was fascinated by them. They were interesting looking old backwoods guys. They were veterans, mechanics, machinist, farmers–all of them retired. It stuck with me, the idea that they weren’t making anything, just doing this repetitive action, enjoying a sharp knife and the grain of the wood. When I put myself in their place I can now see how making something would have been a drag, it would have required energy and thought that would have clouded their enjoyment of the tobacco, the baseball and good company.

I deeply love the work of Julie Mehretu and Matthew Ritchie. I can’t think of anyone at the moment whose work I like looking at better than Mehretu’s. I appreciate it more as a result of their process and their consideration of information and systems. My work seems to me to be a polar opposite, not about how much information can be incorporated into the work, but how much can be removed and still feel like something worth looking at.

Jack BurgessComment