Meaningless and Sure

Diane Endres Ballweg Gallery, 3rd floor
Madison Public Library, Central Branch, Wisconsin
February and March 2017


We showed five pieces at MPL. The work high on the 3 walls in the foreground is the title piece, Meaningless and Sure. Four more pieces are in the background where the gallery height drops in half. We shared the gallery with a show of 3 abstract painters, Sam King, Ian Hagarty and Matthew Choberka. The space is curated by the Bubbler.


Meaningless and sure is how we think about abstract art. We work on a piece until we're sure of it. Color, form, gesture, vibe enter into it, but on a head, heart and gut level it's got to work. We shrug when asked for meaning and say, "Dunno, make up your own damned story!" Barb once had a show with that title.

view of  Meaningless and Sure  during the Zinefest

view of Meaningless and Sure during the Zinefest

a gallery of Meaningless and Sure shots:

Jeremy Wineberg, Gravity Shifts

Jeremy Wineberg, Gravity Shifts

We just had to do something on that high 'letter' wall where the gallery name is spelled out. Another artist, Jeremy Wineberg, had put something there a couple of years ago and we liked the effect.

In other shows with the side walls filled with artwork at the standard 55", that high wall looks so deserted and so inviting. We realized that the gallery has the feel of a church. You enter the gallery at one end into a space with a clerestory on one side. You walk toward that high wall from a long way back as you would toward an altar wall.

gallery view before our show, looking very stately

gallery view before our show, looking very stately

To keep that parallel from being too overt and to avoid a flat, movie theater screen look, we wrapped the piece onto the side walls. The wall opposite the window has an enormous vessel-like form to catch the light streaming from the opposite wall. It's built up of brightly colored, translucent cast sheets of abaca fiber.

The wall below the window, in contrast, has cascades of webbed shadows thrown by the 2 dimensional "nets" of opaque cotton paper held off the wall and made dimensional by curly wire struts.

We took measurements of the 3 walls and mocked it up in the studio. The gallery walls are 18 feet and our studio's are only 12, but we did our best. We lay on the floor a lot looking up to visualize better the viewer's elevated sightlines.

The four works in the back are in what we dubbed the 'cave.'

These pieces aren't site specific like Meaningless and Sure, but the ideas we developed got filtered through the needs of the space and the other pieces. For instance, Making Art without the Upper Right is along the back wall. Any work hung there has to be pretty flat because of the foot traffic through the doors to either side. (You can see the green Exit sign on the left side and the black card key reader on the right.) We figured what went there should emphasize the wall surface by meandering across it. The composition suggested the title, and the political climate suggested the wording. There's nothing in the upper right quadrant of the piece and yet the piece doesn't seem incomplete.

a gallery of shots of the 4 pieces in the 'cave':

One of our ways to work through a difficult piece is to just keep adding something else like the guy who thinks if he just talks long enough, he's sure to make a point. That's what we did with Imagine the open sky coming through this piece. Then we edited. When we'd put all the material we took away back on the shelf, the title wrote itself.

Shake your planes, left, came together pretty quickly. 3 weeks before the installation, Imagine the open sky coming through this piece was still looking ragged and cluttered.

Proudly Hailed, Perilous Fight, Dawn's Early Light was a difficult piece because its setting is stuck beside a gleaming overlit restroom entrance (We actually photoshopped out the large aluminum letters indicating such) In previous shows, we'd noticed that work hung on this wall somehow disappeared. Sculptor Ed Smith once had a big muscular charcoal drawing on this wall and no one could later recall it clearly.

We thought our best chance was installed eccentrically, low and off center from the restroom entrance. After a few days of being part of the composition, we noticed the green, black and white pulp painting had 13 black "stripes," so it started to resonate as a kind of afterimage of an early American flag.

On sunny days, a bright bar of sunlight rises up the left wall, so we put some billowy translucent paper there to be scanned each day by the sun.

On sunny days, a bright bar of sunlight rises up the left wall, so we put some billowy translucent paper there to be scanned each day by the sun.