David Serisier: Absolute objectivity - Art Collector

Issue 69, July - September 2014

Tracy Clement discusses the semi-scientific method of painter David Serisier.

David Serisier, photographed for Art Collector Issue 69, July - September 2014. Photo: Zan Wimberley.

David Serisier didn’t need to become a painter. He seems to have had plenty of other career options. His first degree was in English literature: he might have become a professor, novelist, or even an art critic. Instead he went on to study painting in Sydney and at the New York Studio School. But if he hadn’t become an artist he might also have made an excellent scientist. It’s clear from his paintings, which explore the effects of light on colour, that he certainly could have handled the classic scientific method. His work is rigorous, methodical and he has very keen powers of observation. In fact, several of his recent projects are almost structured like laboratory experiments designed to achieve that tantalisingly unattainable goal of all scientists: absolute objectivity.

To select a colour for his monochromatic paintings, Serisier has devised a painstaking, almost scientific method designed to reduce subjective influence. First he chooses what he calls “an ephemeral light event”. Then, using photographic images of that event, he isolates individual colours using software such as Photoshop, prints them out on a digital printer, and “re-forms” the chosen colour in oil paint on canvas. He is very particular about the use of this phrase. For him, there are subtle distinctions between mediation, replication and re-formation. “The colour has been re-formed through these multiple processes,” he explains. “It is a multigenerational process in which the colour is transformed, yet is still linked to the beginning.”

Serisier often sources information for his work from road trips and he developed this process in response to a fluorescent light tube piece by the American minimalist Dan Flavin which he had seen in Marfa, Texas. In the works on show at Liverpool Street Gallery in
David Serisier: 2008, the artist explains that he tried to re-form the colours from memory, and although he felt the paintings were successful, he says, “I failed to connect. Memory was not a very good way of dealing with it.” For his Fluorescent Sun paintings of 2012, Serisier returned to Flavin and Marfa, but this time he set up the appropriately coloured fluorescent light tubes in his studio and through a series of experiments settled on his multi-step process for choosing colours.

In his most recent work,
Gallium Sky, the transient light event being scrutinised through Serisier’s semi-scientific method is James Turrell’s 2013 LED light installation at the Guggenheim in New York. Although he admires Turrell’s work, his project is not an homage as such. “I’ve always been really interested in a lot of work by light and space artists and the way that they developed ideas out of painting. I’ve been thinking for a long time how can I bring those ideas back into painting,” Serisier explains. “Turell’s show was an ephemeral light event: it’s been structured, it’s been captured, it’s become a form of readymade.”

Ever since Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger created his paradoxical thought experiment starring a fictional cat in an imaginary box, scientists have been forced to admit that the mere act of conducting and observing an experiment influences the outcome. As an artist, Serisier is aware of this. “There is no doubt that my process is riddled with subjective decision-making,” he says. “I want to reduce subjectivity but I can never take it out. But when it comes about, I can identify it more readily. I am more aware.”

By following his rigorous, self-imposed selection process, Serisier avoids the easy path of, as he puts it, going straight to his “happy place” by simply painting his own favourite colours. “I think the ideal position for an artist is to be able to avoid convention, at the same time as being able to avoid your own conventions,” he explains. And what he is also doing is adding a narrative depth to his resolutely non-representational work.

The title,
Gallium Sky, provides a clue to the story behind his current work; gallium is a key ingredient in LED lights. However, even if you don’t know the background, David Serisier’s paintings can still be appreciated as beautifully rendered, intense fields of colour. But, as he says, “the contextual chain is there, no matter how slight, and it conjures up something else.”

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