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The Mystery in Micro-Macro: Q&A with Artist Andrew Sendor

April 16, 2019 // by Caitlin Swindell

Boris Flumzy, Lafayette, Saturday, Aranxa, Walitha, Lamar Beray-these are all fictional characters from the creative mind of Andrew Sendor. Visit the third-floor galleries at MOCA to encounter these characters rendered meticulously in his paintings and drawings included alongside the abstract paintings of artist Ali Banisadr in the exhibition Micro-Macro. 

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Image courtesy of the artist.

Tell us about your interest in painting as it relates to the history of photography. Your hyper-realistic paintings challenge viewers to question whether the pieces are subjective or objective as well as imaginary versus documentary.

For the past decade, I've been investigating how the distribution and consumption of images has changed with the proliferation of digital photography. When looking at the history of image creation, a critical era that is often highlighted is the middle of the 19th century. As the science of photography advanced from the first Daguerreotypes in 1839, critics attacked painting, accusing it of inadequacy in accuracy and speed as compared to its unexpected nemesis, the photograph. Such debates have swirled around the act of painting decade after decade… if we fast-forward to the 1990's, when digital cameras started to become more commonplace, the strained relationship between painting and photography was forced to be reappraised.

The conversation eventually refreshed with a new tone and ultimately new content. Once upon a time, a printed photograph functioned as an objective frame of reality-a document captured by the clinical austerity of a machine. This idea prevailed until the widespread digitization of photos replaced the analog format. With the eventual ubiquity of graphics-editing programs, the options for manipulating a photo became relatively easy and quick. This inconstancy combined with our image-saturated environment, largely due to portable computers, smart phones, social media, etc., makes for a peculiar situation in which images become unstable. The reception of images therefore is slippery, and when I'm creating a painted image, I conceive of its essence in a transitory state. My painted images are fractured, fragmented, skewed, asymmetrical, slanted, distorted, inconsistent, slipping within their compositions, and unstable.

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© ANDREW SENDOR, Portrait of Lafayette with Bhaya on the southwest wall of Saturday’s living room, 2017. Oil on matte white Plexiglas in white powder coated aluminum frame, 26 5/8 x 20 1/8 inches. Courtesy of Krawiecki Gazes Family Collection.

Many of the paintings included in Micro Macro depict moments from a story derived completely from your imagination in which Saturday, the female protagonist goes missing on a hiking expedition in Greenland. Without the audio narration, which has been included in some of your previous exhibitions, visitors are left wondering what happens to this cast of characters. How do you hope viewers will engage with the exhibition and this strong narrative component?

This is an excellent topic that you have raised. There are various types of mystery inherent within my work, and this notion of the viewer being caught in an indeterminate space where there is no clear resolve is attractive to me. To this point, I will quote a wonderful passage by the Belgian Surrealist, Rene Magritte:

To equate my painting with symbolism, conscious or unconscious, is to ignore its true nature … People are quite willing to use objects without looking for any symbolic intention in them, but when they look at paintings, they can't find any use for them. So they hunt around for a meaning to get themselves out of the quandary, and because they don't understand what they are supposed to think when they confront the painting…They want something to lean on, so they can be comfortable. They want something secure to hang on to, so they can save themselves from the void. People who look for symbolic meanings fail to grasp the inherent poetry and mystery of the image. No doubt they sense this mystery, but they wish to get rid of it. They are afraid. By asking 'what does this mean?' they express a wish that everything be understandable. But if one does not reject the mystery, one has quite a different response. One asks other things (i).       

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Installation view of Micro-Macro: Andrew Sendor and Ali Banisadr, MOCA Jacksonville, February 2, 2019 - July 28, 2019. Photo by Doug Eng.

Technical precision and detail are integral to your work - tell us a little bit about your process of painting.

One desire I have is to project, as clearly as possible, scenes from each narrative as if I was an impartial witness to a particular event. Ultimately, I'm more invested in the essence of a painted image's outward appearance than in the paint that was moved around to get it there. At the same time, I'm aware that a certain level of curiosity in the viewer is stimulated by virtue of not knowing exactly how a handmade object came into being. Part of my approach within the act of painting is to distance myself, my hands, my own subjectivity, in the hope that I'm affording the viewer an opportunity to have an empathetic understanding of my characters and the circumstances in which they're situated-to slip into the reality of this other place.

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© ANDREW SENDOR, Portrait of Bhaya in the lower left quadrant on the southwest wall of Saturday’s bedroom, 2017. Oil on matte white Plexiglas, stained walnut, Purple Heart wood frame, 25 ¼ x 20 ¼ inches. Private Collection, Houston, TX.

There is a theatrical component to both your paintings and Ali Banisadr's.  How is this theme realized in your work?

There are many similarities between my process and that of film-making and theater. At the outset of a body of work, I transcribe descriptions of the characters, the situations they find themselves in, and their interrelationships. As critical moments in the narrative begin to take form as painted images, additional details within the story emerge. The hovering resolve within the narratives stem from my motivation to present glimpses into the lives of specific characters, as opposed to crafting a structured story with a beginning, middle, and end. I've always been drawn to stories that possess and/or reflect a certain level of porosity-allowing space for the audience/viewer/reader to enter and ultimately engage their own imaginations.  

 (i) Suzi Gablik, Magritte (New York Graphic Society, 1971), 11. 

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