Glenn Ligon's Mirror #1, with its stark contrast and heavy surface, is a formidable work that challenges the process of painting and its limits through the use and manipulation of language. The work places much emphasis on the process of creation--he embeds a specific text onto the canvas by pressing oilstick through a stencil. Because of the accumulation of the material residue on both the canvas and the stencil, as he moves from the top to the bottom of the canvas, the text slowly becomes indecipherable and ultimately lost, only to be transformed into an abstract pattern. The text assumes a physical form, evolving into a visual sign rather than an arbitrary form of communication.
Ligon's goal "to make language into a physical thing, something that has real weight and force to it" well summarizes the various visual and linguistic issues that he tackles (R. Smith, "Lack of Location Is My Location," The New York Times, June 16, 1991, p. 27). Furthermore, the process of embedding text onto the canvas draws a connection to the printing process and reproduction of text, though Ligon stresses the fallibility of the material to suggest the futility of language--after a while, it becomes an arbitrary sign that become faded, muddled, and ultimately lost. All that is left on the surface are dense striations of overlapping text, and the weight conveyed by the canvas reflects the burden of language. The present work poses numerous challenging questions regarding constructs of language, representation and visual culture.