TL Solien Research Narrative circa 2005-2010

For the majority of the last 25 years, and as a guiding philosophy of studio practice until approximately 2003, I had considered the function of painting to exist as an autobiographical construct. I had focused upon exploring the“architectural”structure and narrative constructs of contemporary autobiographical figuration, and the limitations which govern the manner in which a visually-based autobiography can be structured “coherently”, defined as narrative, and ultimately extend beyond the characterization of an individual psychic identity to function, allegorically, within the broader human culture.

During this 25- year time frame, I had attempted to invent a personal and idiosyncratic visual language in which consideration of both the history of Abstraction, and the traditions of Figural Painting are of equal and essential concern. I attempted to stretch the boundaries of what has been considered viable source material from which to distill human narratives, from an emphasis upon the “anecdotal”, to include explorations into the manner is which product iconography, vintage illustration, commercial animation, and the drawings of children, also have contributed to the way in which human experiences of all manner can be characterized, co-mingled, and distilled. .

I had been particularly interested in the appropriation or construction of “surrogates” for the contemporary Self; the interrelated nature of “dream life” and a fictional “condition” based upon the confluence of multiple modes of representation. I engaged the use of Pop culture iconography as a means of personal signification, the viability of a “private” discourse offered for “public” consumption, and the use of “rational” and “irrational” means in the creation of narrative structures.

Studio research concerning issues involving fragmentation, dislocation, psychic dismemberment and the constitution of a self-referential figural form had been of particular interest, I had begun to think of the relationship of the “dislocated” figure to narrative “dismemberment”, akin to the kind of multifaceted, sometimes awkward, illogical, and non-linear narrative structures commonly found in daydreams, night dreams, and daily “consciousness”.

I was, and still am, interested in what stories are “recalled”, modified, or invented without self-censorship issues affecting their birth in a “rational” social or textual construct. I was interested in the manipulationof an “unspecific” but “resonant” space in which conventional mores, daily obligations to rational communication, social problem solving, and general lucidity, are not the guiding principals of system also framed by existential dynamics, desire, guilt, endo-tragedy, hope, fear and the search for ”acceptance”. In essence, I was interested in the projection of a cathartic figural action within an unspecific “void”.

Romantic, Sexual, Familial, and Religious histories in concert with, Factual and Fictitious Memory, Dreams, Nightmares and spontaneous emotive gestures collided,
“intuitively”, establishing an abstract, painterly “arena” and an open-ended figural “architecture” with which to represent the Contemporary Self.

Somehow, Logic and Responsibility together with Self-preservation and Irrationality seemed the most “honest” means by which to form the ”flesh and bones” of the Self.

This studio “logic”, framed the research that I was engaged in through the probationary period of my initial tenure track appointment and my promotion to associate professor with tenure in 2002-3. In 2003-4, the nature of my research and studio practice began
To evidence a distinct change.

In 2003, I wrote a Graduate Research Grant Competition proposal titled: “Accessing Graphic Eclecticism in Allegorical Figural Painting”. Within this proposal, citing my development of images under the influence of works of literary fiction, I wrote:

“This range of imagery is responsive to works of literature such as Melville’s “Moby Dick”, Philbrick’s “In the Heart of the Sea”, McCarthy’s “Blood Meridian”, Faulkner’s “If I Forget Thee Jerusalem”, and Benedict’s “Dogs of God”, together with images culled from the History of Painting such as Leutze’s “ Washington Crossing the Delaware”, Copley’s “Watson and the Shark”, Homer’s “The Life Line”, and Gericault’s “Raft of the Medusa”. These works of Art suggest, to me an allegorical correlation to contemporary life and events in which the human subject is suspended in timelessness, apart from salvation, far from a supportive context, or precariously avoiding or succumbing to mortal disaster. The expressive language of the protagonists, embedded in eccentric or fantastic contexts, suggest models of abject fear, resignation, heroic resolve, disbelief, frantic despair, or triumphant survival.

By 2004-5, I had undertaken a project unique within the history of my studio practice.
Drawing comparison’s between the self-centered compulsiveness of Melville’s antagonist, Ahab, and the often, destructiveness of an artist’s commitment to their studio practice, I was determined to explore images “influenced” primarily by Melville’s “Moby Dick”. I was engaged by a procedural “flexibility” which would allow those images to emanate from a “collective” creative consciousness, somewhat in sympathy with the manner in which “Moby Dick” is divided into 135 chapters, many of which read as though they were written by “contributing” authors.

I was willing to allow the pursuit of these ideas to be “watershed” moments in my creative life, and to, simply, adapt my “sensibility” to a subject/response idiom that was completely unfamiliar to me by any historical or conceptual measure.

At this time I was consumed with understanding all things “Melvillian” and in a broader scope, all things 19th century: The nature of Melville’s life, the character of life in the 19th century, fashion, fashion ritual, medical and scientific discovery, architectural style, natural disasters, disease and pandemic outbreak, societal dynamics within the Immigrant era, governmental growth, development, and philosophic plasticity, Robber Baron culture and the growth of American Industry, Westward expansion, societal and cultural development on the frontier, the Conservation and Progressive movements, etc.

In the last 5 years I have read 50 books detailing aspects of human experience in America from 1850-1940. Somehow, a great majority of this information is relevant to the images I have been making since taking this departure in 2003.

In 2006, an exhibition of 23 mixed media works on paper at Luise Ross Gallery in New York City presented a selection culled from the volume of work made in response to my interests. This exhibition was titled “Insulatus”, which is Latin for “made into an Island”.
This term not only describes the “lost at sea” narrative extruded from the influence of the many texts that I had confronted, but also reflects the isolated nature of studio practice as a physical and intellectual isolation from others, loved ones included.

The relationship between Ahab his wife, is alluded to in “Moby Dick”, but is not fleshed out in any meaningful way. Upon the establishment that Ahab is married, and frequently
“estranged”, by distance, from his wife and children, I became very interested in, perhaps, illuminating the nature of that relationship. Understanding through my own personal marital history, the difficulties a spouse faces when they are in sole charge of domestic responsibilities as the result of the economic realities and relative unpredictability of an artist’s income earning capacities, led me to consider that the extended “weight” those responsibilities might lead to expressions of anger, jealousy, and perhaps violent retribution.

With Ahab’s demise, my concerns shifted to those of the surviving spouse.
What would happen to her? Would her predisposition for self-determination, adventure,
and wanderlust (as established in Jenna Naslund’s “Ahab’s Wife or The Stargazer”) compel her to active participation within the larger societal dynamics of the late 19th century?

I have, since 2007-8, been interested in establishing the protagonist in linear motion, affected by documented accounts of the westward expansion history, and in the position of “abandoning” the withered life as the widow of a wealthy ship captain in favor of entertaining her spirit of renewal and adventure. The context for this narrative development is located within the history of the 19th century American Westward Expansion.

I have suggested by way of an additional 35 images, the abandonment of the comfort and predictability of Eastern American social status, for the “promise of fulfillment” and economic success suggested (to those who chose to be “reborn” within the immensity of the American Great Plains) and the harsh realities of romantic complexity, death, disease, draught, plague and poverty, largely heroically resisted, so essential in the formation of the “myth of America” and the “stoic self-sufficiency” of the mythic American.

It is also important to this research that this historical narrative is recognized as a “prophetic” allegory mirroring the profound alterations of American life we must perhaps confront as a result of cataclysmic economic collapses, the dichotomies inherent in the “New Guilded Age”, the dynamics of an irretrievably altered environment, and the necessities of transcending geo-political boundaries in search of economic viability and fulfillment.

In 2008, The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art organized a 50 piece exhibition titled, “TL Solien: Myths and Monsters”. This exhibition focused, primarily, on my research and studio production, while on the faculty of UW-Madison, from the 1998-2005 period, with limited additional inclusion of works from 1981-2008. Some of these choices provided examples of the direction my current research was taking.

In 2009-10, the most recent research developments were included in another solo exhibition at Luise Ross Gallery in New York City, titled “To the West”. This exhibition included images relating to 19th Century American Westward Expansion.

In May, 2010, The Rockford Museum of Art will host a 3-person exhibition titled “Image and Alchemy”. This exhibition will feature the work of John Wilde, Fred Stonehouse, and TL Solien. My segment will be comprised of approximately 10 works executed in the last 3 years. Some of these images will relate directly to The “Ahab’s Wife” narrative, while other works will provide insight into my desire to expand beyond the “restrictions” of that 7 year long project.

In October of 2013, The Plains Museum located in Fargo ND, will premier an exhibition of 75-100 of the works on paper I have made exploring the theme of the Westward Expansion and its role in the fictional life of Ahab’s widow. The working title for this exhibition is, “Toward the Setting Sun”.

“Toward the Setting Sun” is intended to travel to several other national museums or art centers, and be supported by a complete, illustrated, and documented catalogue containing essays by leading critics and immigration/western expansionist historians (Michael Duncan, Contibuting Editor, Art in America, Elizabeth A.Schultz, author “ Unpainted ‘Til The Last: Moby Dick and 20th Century American Art,” and Erika Doss, historian, Notre Dame, will contribute essays.
Specifics of the exhibition have yet to be determined, relative to an extended institutional tour.

The Plains Museum’s interest in this project lays in it’s geographic connection with the westward expansion movement and the development of the upper Great Plains; its connection with 3 local universities (Minnesota State University-Moorhead, Concordia College, Moorhead MN, and North Dakota State University, as well as the Center for Regional Studies, also located in Fargo ND. The Plains Museum’s desire is to implicate these institutions in an expansive discussion of the 19th century imperative to move west, and to engage the many attendant issues this movement generated. My studio research and the narratives that I develop and/or reveal will serve as the entry point of these discussions.