‘Guyton’s large new paintings exude a kind of haphazard grandeur, the result of constant negotiation between technical failure and mastery, physical accident and control’
(S. Rothkopf, ‘Modern Pictures’, in Colour, Power & Style, exh. cat., Kunstverein, Hamburg, 2006, unpaged).
In Wade Guyton’s Untitled, 2008, the infinite promise of technological potential stutters in its encounter with reality. The black monochrome, a modernist archetype contended with by a century’s worth of artists – from Rodchenko to Reinhardt to Rauschenberg – is reworked by Guyton as a surface which revels in the erroneous. The inky blackness tilts away at the edges; at the centre, it is interrupted by a razor-thin strip of white. In places where the darkness falters, a constellation of errors scatter over the surface. Like a letter met with the obliterating blackness of an overzealous censor, Untitled speaks the language of process and chance.
Described by the artist as a ‘painting’, this work is created not with paint and brush but instead by feeding the canvas through an industrial Epson inkjet printer. Guyton’s experiments with printing as a medium stemmed from his frustration with the tedium of drawing – he was delighted that ‘the printer did a much better job’ at overlaying ‘hard-edged and geometric’ blocks of modernist primary colours on pages ripped from books and journals (W. Guyton, quoted in D. Armstrong, ‘Wade Guyton’, in Interview, June-July 2009, p. 79). In these works, which Guyton calls ‘drawings’, the fallibility of technology which would later fascinate the artist is already visible: minimalist furniture catalogues and reproductions of eighteenth-century portraits are only partially hidden under striations of unevenly distributed black pigment. In 2005, Guyton extended the printing process to the creation of large-scale paintings, and the technical difficulties which this presented have made him a master of his unprecedented medium. The artist describes how he was obliged to ‘trick’ and ‘coax’ the machine into printing: sourcing high-quality pre-primed linen from Provence, folding and taping it in order to override the printer’s sensors (W. Guyton, quoted in D. Armstrong, ‘Wade Guyton’, in Interview, June-July 2009, p. 81). The zip of white linen running down the centre attests to where the material was folded, to be printed first on one side and then the other, thus allowing a double width to be covered. The present work is sourced from a single digital drawing, a simplerectangle of black, and it is technology’s inability to execute such an elementary gesture which causes the stains, skips, smudges and smears which populate the surface of Untitled. Guyton, for his part, is expert in provoking these effects, pulling and tugging the material through the jaws of the protesting machine.
The result runs counter to ‘the mimetic functions or illusionism made possible by these new technologies,’ explains Guyton. ‘The artworks work against the machine. There is evidence of this struggle in the work, in its surface.’ (W. Guyton, quoted in J. Rasmussen (ed.), Guyton\Walker, The Failever of Judgement, Zurich 2005, p. 49). This tension between the potential and the failure of mechanical reproduction bears close resemblance to the work of Andy Warhol, who, while asserting that ‘the reason I’m painting this way is that I want to be a machine,’ allowed his silkscreens to slip, blur and misregister (A. Warhol, quoted in G. Swenson, ‘What is Pop Art? Interviews with Eight Artists’, in Art News, November 1963). Guyton’s work also has much in common with the paradox which fascinated the Pictures Generation artists in the 1980s, who sought to pin down the value of the image as it multiplied into ubiquity. Guyton updates this dilemma for the digital age: as images proliferate and – cropped, blown-up, filtered, shared – increasingly lose touch with reality, what happens when an obscure, black non-image gains arresting, physical form? Untitled attempts to pinpoint the shifting, unstable networks which connect technology and art, the digital and the tangible: a constellation of black pixels on Guyton’s screen becomes a canvas riddled with chance, whose image is in turn disseminated to be rendered on a multitude of cramped screens; and from there, in a process that mirrors its production, printed again and again, in glossy books and on generic A4. Under the austere black surface, in its every fault and flaw, Guyton’s Untitled celebrates the frailty, mutability and mystery of the collaboration between man and machine.