On May 23rd 2016, I was entrusted with the responsibility of StudioLab: a new, stunning facility strapped with untapped potential. It was built to facilitate a curriculum that had been carried on the backs of a handful of professors for many years, fueled by nothing but their own scholar, passion, and a damn good career’s worth of knowledge. I stepped into the role with ideas to shape and form the program into something that extended outside of the curriculum, I wanted StudioLab to be a hub for research and the communal exchange of material investigation, I wanted to connect with the larger art materials community, I wanted to somehow provide all the resources there were to be had– I wanted everything. I was all tenacity and passion, with nothing more than my foundational research and insatiable thirst for the unknown to build a dream on. On July 1st 2017, my role as StudioLab Technician evolved into a full-time position. Taking care of this incredible facility and the fostering the study of painting and drawing materials and techniques that takes place within is now my full-time responsibility.
I’ve spent the last year and a summer building a foundation of more than just passion. I’ve spent the last year and a summer slapping myself on the forehead (“well of course a natural antioxidant would be problematic for paint film oxidation”) then patting myself on the back (“pigments derived from can be used in place of ball clay in conté crayons!”), connecting dots between what I know (“okay so I understand the basic chemistry of organic and inorganic pigments…”) and casting the line out into the vast open sea of all the things I don’t (“…but then you have to factor in light refraction and optics?”). I’ve been building my own curriculum to fill in the gaps of understanding that I have to trust are there until I can find them. I’ve been constantly grounded by my own lack of knowing, realizing again and again how fickle and fleeting knowledge is, yet endlessly entertained and deeply quenched by the moments I can hold that knowledge in my hands before it seeps through my fingers again. Yeah, I’m still talking about painting. But probably everything else, too.
Through conducting my own material research, reading lots of books, and the general day to day of running StudioLab, I have learned more than I thought was possible each and every day. I have come in contact with great scholars in paint manufacturing, and have consequently become indoctrinated by the history of paint materials and the study of conservation. This knowledge simultaneously brews inside me and constantly evades me. It’s not something I have, but seek. And through all of this seeking, it’s become harder and harder for me to write about what I’m learning. Why? For a while, I couldn’t tell you. Now I think I know. The more I have learned about paint and its long history and many characters, the more I realize I don’t know. Maybe this is actually a coming of age story. I remember the question crossing my mind, “what place does my voice have when there’s so many people who know so much more?”
I’m tentative, but hopeful, that I have answered this question. When friends ask about my job, they seem to wonder why I care so passionately about such a specific thing, why I study so insatiably, why this fuels me. That, I have always known the answer to. If painting is how I speak, the materials are the vocabulary and syntax and inflection that allows meaningful communication to happen. I love the study of paint materials because knowing the material allows me to make meaning exactly how I mean it. So, what place does my voice have when so many people know so much more than me? My voice is entwined with my passion for painting, not just paint. I seek to connect the hard truths of paint materials where history and chemistry intersect for more for the information itself, but for the way it allows me to speak. To paint. A process that is so universally individual. My voice’s place is in the studio.
Before, I only knew what I knew– and I still only know that, but I also know there’s a whole infinity in front of me that I don’t. It’s only through this learning that I have truly begun to know the inexhaustible possibilities that materials present. And through being swallowed by that inexhaustibility, wading through the unknown, I’ve been reminded why I’m here in the first place: a reckless, naïve love affair with painting. That love is my bottom line, my foundation. It’s from here that I build, and from here that I speak.
"I find security in the inexhaustibility of the unknown."
–Anthony Caponi, Meaning Beyond Reason (p 115)