MAKING [IN] DALLAS: Volume 2
Vol. 2: Charles Mayton, The Power Station and the Long Vision
Before I go any further, here is some official literature about The Power Station:
"The Power Station is a not-for-profit initiative dedicated to providing a platform for ambitious contemporary art projects in Dallas, Texas. Housed in a Power & Light building constructed in 1920, artists are invited to respond to the raw character of the architecture, offering an alternative to the traditional gallery and museum context.
Geared toward an international audience and most immediately, the community of Dallas, the bold programming serves as a catalyst to provocate public discourse around art and culture.
Projects and publications at The Power Station are made possible through funding provided by The Pinnell Foundation."
The concept is (understatedly) simple: invite living artists to engage a site specific venue and then open up the results to the public. This idea can be related to The Power Plant in Canada or Artists Space and The Kitchen in New York. But The Power Station exists as a raw setting, here in the heart of Dallas. Add to that the highly considered artist publications that accompany each show and you got a passion project with guts in a city that has never seen anything like this on such a scale. I must briefly state that at the core of all of this is Alden Pinnell. He wouldn’t want this to be about his actions and it’s not but it is necessary to underscore how engaged Mr. Pinnell is with his vision and the city that it resides in; however, Mr. Pinnell recognizes that The Power Station’s viability rests solely in the artists who are invited to show. On working with artists, Mr. Pinnell states, “We provide artists with what they need and we’re here to support and work with them. In some cases we work closely with an artist to realize a project and in other cases the artist comes with everything resolved.” At its core, The Power Station is an interesting problem for artists to maneuver through. The most recent artist invited to undertake the space is Charles Mayton. While currently showing in Painter Painter, The Walker’s love letter to contemporary abstraction, Mayton went to work at The Power Station for his show, Two Step.
Arthur Peña: Can you talk about what your notions of the show Two Step were before you arrived to Dallas and saw the space of The Power Station? What happened once you encountered the architecture of the building?
Charles Mayton: Well, I didn’t really have any idea related to the two-step until after visiting The Power Station. Once I returned to the studio I started thinking about different ways I might be able to approach the show with some thoughts that might relate to the context and still be open. For me, it’s a pretty big and complicated space to deal with and it’s almost impossible to understand this from images alone. I was sent a packet including a floor plan and photos of both floors and the exterior of the building. I haven’t been one to organize shows using plans, images or models so it was important for me that I got a chance to visit the site in person in August of last year. I was just there for a day but it gave me a physical understanding of what I had to work with. The space is very raw and specific with many quirks within the architecture. I’m guessing some are a part of the original building and some aspects are unique and possibly left from the several renovations and changes that have taken place over the years.
The space has so many nuances that it really seems to dominate almost anything that is put into it. All this makes the idea of making a painting show within this setting quite challenging. At the time of my visit there were only two existing white walls that would be easily suitable for hanging work. Of course, there are numerous ways of exhibiting flat work within this context without relying on white walls but I really wanted the paintings to have a space of their own and not submit to the existing conditions of the interior. Knowing that I wanted to make a painting show, the first thing I started to think about is how I would display paintings in a space that could essentially compete with the work.
In turn, this became the first challenge to the show and might have been the moment when I began to think about the notion of the two-step; the decision to make a physical support on which to hang the work was initially the first step in how to construct the show. I'd say that the challenge the space offers is the best thing about doing a show at The Power Station and I hope they continue to leave this as an obstacle that has to be dealt with in future projects by the artists they invite.
AP: After figuring out what to do in the space, how did you approach making the work?
CM: The idea of the two-step as a structuring mechanism for making the work began with thinking about the two-step dance as a rhythmic building through a space. The two-step, taken from the country western partner dance that typically involves two quick steps and then two slow steps, is not meant to be taken literally of course but more as a relationship to space. I began with this as a loose structure. The initial thought was as simple as starting with something as basic as two similar sized canvases functioning as a related pair. With this pairing, one canvas would be more or less a lead and one canvas would be a following 'partner'.
For me, this became the basic framework in how things would unfold as the work was being made. In the beginning it started very simply by starting one canvas with a somewhat quick decision involving either a generic motif or a process. This in turn was then followed by a painting that would respond to, play off, or compliment the first painting made. As I continued to work the process began to develop into a more complex and denser body of works that would build and unbuild each other both physically as well as pictorially. An example of how this actually manifests in the work would be how a motif or a procedure in one set of paintings gets carried over, stretched out, extended or erased in another set. I'm not sure if it is so apparent when you examine the individual works but looking at the wall as a set of moves, counter moves, twists, and turns you can began to see how the paintings operate in a rhythmic manner on a whole.
AP: When I walked into the show, I immediately thought, "Well, this guy definitely has a sense of humor." Then I saw people looking at the legend you provided, then looking at the work, then back at the legend. That interaction with the work signaled to me a process of how we are allowed to decipher painting as viewers and the artist role of willing or non-willing giver of information. Are you taking a jab at this concept?
CM: I'm happy you see some humor at work here. I try to aim at something I can only call 'serious humor'. I guess what I mean is to try and have a sense of humor about how serious I am in constructing the work. I don't think about this as being limited to the process or material alone but also in how the work might be read on a linguistic and subjective level which leads to the press release in this situation. I wanted the press release to function as information in a game, much like a puzzle that would play off the works themselves. This is may be more obvious in the wall of paintings and the mirroring of the wall as a diagram that was available along with the press release. When I completed installing the works I saw the large wall of paintings to have a formal graphic association with the word search press release.
In a way I think the installation functions similarly as the word search but is carried throughout the entire exhibition with varying ways to locate and possibly read into how the works function to build and unravel different types of signifiers, associations, and potential narratives. Again, in the end it's a dance through space so I like to think of the work as dancing with a partner, that person being anyone willing to play along.
Charles Mayton’s Two Step runs through March 22. Mayton is currently working on his publication for Two Step that will be released through The Power Station.
The Power Station will welcome Tobias Madison, Emanuel Rossetti & Stefan Tcherepnin in April, 2013.
Arthur Peña is an artist and professor currently living and working in Dallas, TX.