“Stewart’s Sticks” 1999

Collaged newspaper, ink dyed news print, acrylic medium and chalk line on canvas, 103” x 288”.  Collection of the artist.

Working  In The Grid

Freedom through discipline.
I encountered this concept in my studies of Japan and Japanese writing Kanji– but in military school I had already learned of it 1st hand. It certainly did not seem like something profoundly philosophical. The academy’s penalty system called for essays of 1000 words a day until we were told to stop. The topics were picked up in the office at 3:30 where I had my blank sheets of notebook paper stamped with the date. That was when I first learned the art of working in the grid. There are these limits you see — subject, length, quality etc — I learned to enjoy working within that grid, composing my penalty papers creatively, being a smart ass between the lines and racing the clock to finish just in time to hang out with my friends on the corner.

It would be a simplification to say that my grid works were limited to penalty writing. I have always worked within the grid. When I carried papers in 1957 I rolled those 120 copies of the Telegraph Herald within the grid. When I cut grass in the 50’s I was the precursor to Frank Stella, always limiting my cuts to inward radiations of the lawns exterior format. While my lawns were spiral rather than concentric, it was through them that I understood the power of Stella’s black paintings. When I read the formal apology for those Pin Stripe paintings in 68, I thought that perhaps I should become an art critic. While mowing lawns in Dubuque, I had hit on the basic ideas that could have catapulted me to the status of a prime mover for minimalism. Oh well…..

When I work on a grid it is just one…square…at….a….time. I concentrate on the square with totality. Entering into it (like Alice), I leave the world behind, and forget the remaining 200 squares that must be done before finishing. Then in the mindlessness of space, hidden within the rules, I find ample room for gesture and abandon. I am free to glide within those 4 corners thinking of nothing, nothing — as I execute the simple rote activity of copying—

As some yogi once said of Nirvana, “It is like an infinite sea of tapioca”.

Certainly Chuck Close has been there — to that place in the matrix . So also were the masters of the Chinese bamboo brush. Writing the 4 stroke character for “middle” (naka) within the square, in “the” only way permitted — they somehow find a passage that leads to something authentically unique & personal. That is the reason why Close stands alone of all those 70’s photo mechanical artist. Only Chuck Close found the grid as sanctuary. For the rest it was a job. Close took it to a new level — transcending the mechanical to find that which must have been lost on both Durer and Eakins.

Tom Nakashima December 1999

Photo for Stewart’s Sticks, 1999, photograph. Collection of the artist.

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