investigating pre-conceptual presence

My painting occurs in relation to presence – the presence in a room, in between things, in open space, in light. It is this quality of presence, always available within the phenomenal world, which my work investigates. I am interested in how this sense of presence shifts and adjusts as our experience of the world changes, in a daily way, from hour to hour and moment to moment; an ontological inquiry through a dialectic of the objective and the subjective. How does the attempt at the representation of presence and the accompanying form change as our apprehension of presence changes? How does a painting language change to accommodate those aspects of our changing subjectivity? Additionally, there is the parallel and interconnected problem of the work achieving and embodying its own presence, not merely as a reflection, but as an extension, adding to the fabric of the world. To the extent that this is achieved, the work may perform reflexively, focusing our attention back to the phenomenal world, in a state of inquiry and attention.


Jordan Wolfson: Studio Interior with Red Bucket ii

Studio Interior with Red Bucket ii 2013
oil on linen, 22”x20”

While painting I am in a three-way dialogue, between the piece of the world that I am observing, my inner subjective response, and the accretion of marks and formal needs of the painting.  I am exploring the world in front of me, a still life, flowers, an empty room with a few chairs, perhaps a person sitting.  As I continue this investigation I find that there are different modes of transaction and translation, different modes of painting language that conjure up differing experiences of presence.  When these different modalities are juxtaposed, as for example, distinct canvases within a triptych, they create a synergy of presence that I find not available by any one of them alone.

 Jordan Wolfson: Studio Interior with Red Bucket iii

Studio Interior with Red Bucket iii 2013
oil on linen, 22″ x 20″


The resultant appearance of the work may be seen as a postmodern attempt at the investigation of the juxtaposition of different painting languages.  But my interest lies more directly in the investigation and apprehension of a pre-conceptual sense of presence; and in that sense my theoretical interests lie more in phenomenology than post-structuralism.


Jordan Wolfson: Studio Interior with Red Bucket iv

Studio Interior with Red Bucket iv
oil on linen, 22″ x 20″

I believe it is through the identification of the self with a pre-conceptual and pre-linguistic sense of being that actual change occurs.  While our identification remains within the confines of discursive thought and language our model of the world remains one of fragmentation and conflict.  Language isn’t to blame – it’s just the way it works.

Actual change occurs through a shift in our identification of the self and the growing awareness of the essential and indivisible fabric of reality.  It is to an investigation of this sheer presence, which is not only pre-conceptual but also resides before and between form, that my work is committed.

– Jordan Wolfson

Images and text © copyright Jordan Wolfson

Jordan Wolfson is an artist, teacher and writer living in Boulder, Colorado. Visit his website to view more of his artwork, and for information about his courses.

Jordan has generously contributed his insightful essay for inclusion on ‘the awakened eye’ website:

How Painting Can Help to Save the World, Actually


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