The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2020

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OCT 2020 Issue
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Edges/Limits. Edges/Tableau

Laura Lisbon, <em>Set-up, corner 2</em>, installation view, 2017. Courtesy the artist.
Laura Lisbon, Set-up, corner 2, installation view, 2017. Courtesy the artist.


I’ve always thought that painting is a matter of edges: negotiations and divisions between internal and external edges (to and from the world.) Painting, at its best, is a questioning of these edges.

Edges are limits. Limits are exposed through questioning. Uncovering and questioning limits in painting is a process that is akin to questioning the limits of the social, political, and personal—working painting at the margins or the center; top down or bottom up; visible or invisible; surface conditions and underneaths.

Questioning the structuring of edges as a key limit of painting is refusing to accept the givens. One must produce the surface, disjoin the accepted relation of front to back, of finished to unfinished, of attached to detached, if painting is to continue.

As surely as the definitive dimensional edge of a painting marks the front from the side and demarcates the division between painting and wall, the time of a painting poses its own questions of the edge between when the painting starts and ends. Like summertime, or quarantine during COVID, days become indistinguishable, seasons seem suspended, time goes unformed, displacing our senses, reforming our priorities. Questioning the temporal edges of painting – both as painting and as experience—is as urgent in the effort to recognize where objects and subjects intersect, begin and end, separate and join.

All of these thoughts about edges have been a part of my painting practice for many years. I continually define and redefine painting as a negotiation of edges. One particular recent piece, Set-up, corner 2 (2017), captures my questions most succinctly. It is not quite a painting but rather a “set-up” or “apparatus” for painting. Already, my concern for what constitutes a painting is evident in the difficulty I have describing the work.

Set-up, corner 2

The work, Set-up, corner 2, is comprised of five stretched canvases, one large unstretched canvas, paper, two chairs, and two paint cans all stacked and leant against each other and the walls of a corner. The work is situated in and spans the corner, a particularly complicated space where two walls join and the edge where they join belongs to both and neither wall. Standing in front of the piece, directly parallel to the recessional corner seam distorts the work as it spans both the left and right-hand walls.

The drift of the sprayed paint marks the surfaces. The exhibited work is a trace of the various edges of the dimensional masks once placed in front of the canvas to interfere with the paint. Some edge traces are brought to the interior of the work. The masks extend past the painting’s edges in its making, so that the painting appears to continually exceed its boundaries.

The drift of sprayed paint that produces the surfaces—surfaces originally conditioned by the various masking devices—do not form definitive edges, much like the drift of wind on the surface of water. Internal edges are complicated by the depth of the surface. They are also complicated by the depth of the “picture”—for example, whether there is a foreground, middle ground, or background. The bounding edge comes into view as a division that is the end of the painting, cutting out of the wall, or the wall cutting out the time of the painting.

Laura Lisbon, <em>Set-ups, painting</em>, installation view, 2019. Courtesy the artist.
Laura Lisbon, Set-ups, painting, installation view, 2019. Courtesy the artist.


I’ve come to understand painting as a “picture-object” or tableau that depends on being cut out from time and space. The edge between the painting and what’s not the painting is decisive, though necessarily contested by how one must continually question painting.

By constructing apparatuses—or set-ups—to make paintings, I displace the relation of edges, both interior and exterior, before and after. The set-ups are like dimensional masks or stencils through and at which I spray paint, paint that both marks and escapes the set-ups. Paintings emerge from spray that turns the corners of the set-ups. Paintings emerge from the reserve that the set-up produces, where the paint is blocked or the set-up interferes with the surface.

My edges are also found in this overspray, reserve, and the limits of the support or surface upon which the paint is collected. The pigment, a complex doubling of blacks or blues, separates through gravity, direction, and distance, and is dependent on variables of time, pigment weight, and size. Using at least two hues guarantees an edge or division between the nearly imperceptible hues.

The direction of the spray is evident, articulating a relation to an edge of the set-up and further inviting an orientation for viewing. As the spray works around the corners of the set-ups, like the wind that works around a sail, the internal edges are determined, but the external edges are yet to be determined, analogous to the shore or boundary of the canvas or wall.

The paintings are simultaneously a surplus and a trace produced after the set-up is sprayed, turning the question of the edge in my work into a temporal question, an event, making the edges in the work more like moments or interruption or displacement.

And yet, painting requires that the sprayed event be cut out, delimited, negotiated as a fragment of something that extends beyond it but which is produced within it; paused, holding the extension of the event within the place/time that is the painting. This cutting out is the ultimate edge. A cut divides, severs, arrests, and demands a choice. While I don’t embellish the edges of my work, they are definitive and essential, bare and abrupt.


Laura Lisbon

Laura Lisbon is a painter and Chair of the Department of Art at the Ohio State University. Exhibitions include a large-scale project for Le paradoxe du diaphane et du mur in Amilly, France (2010; her most recent ?set-up? was exhibited in Gray Matters at the Wexner Center for the Arts in 2017. With Philip Armstrong and Stephen Melville, she co-curated and co-wrote the catalogue for the exhibition As Painting: Division and Displacement, held at the Wexner Center in 2001.


The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2020

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