Surface #1

Surface: longitude 93.6881 N and latitude 41.7017 W elev +835′ (variable)
48 in. x 48 in. acrylic on plywood.

Matt Niebuhr


I’ve finished finally the first of what I think will become a series of paintings exploring the visual aspects of a particular surface of water as I recall (from my pictures anyway) on the 15 May 2005… at the approximate location of longitude: -93.6881 and latitude: 41.7017.

I’m fascinated with the technological ability to identify location / position / and “what is seen”… for all its nonsensical potential… (for arts sake)… yet imagine the military application! Witness CNN… GPS / digital image / Google Earth / Flickr…. all of it starts to converge to a particular event scene – which in this case is a surface of water…

So how to describe that?

Well… the grids on the 48 in. x 48 in. square are evenly divided in 1/2” increments. This is a frame work for organizing and transfering the image. It’s also a reference to latitude and longitude… Jeffersonian grids.. etc. A system of geometric rules by which to classify a position.

The next issue was the rendering of the image. I chose to use only black and white pigments – and the resultant shades of grey – to represent the depth of the image… white is high – black is low (light and shadow)….

I’m not sure if I have a real personal working definition for what qualifies as an abstract image… maybe an image that is more or less self referential…not to be found elsewhere… in that case… this painting is more like an organized and restricted impressionism(organized by squares (rules) and limited to black and white mixed pigment)…because it references a picture I took of a rushing water surface … at any rate.

Most importantly, I had fun with it.


8 thoughts on “Surface #1

  1. hey thanks Jen… I’m trying to understand the why behind my actions… 9,216 – 1/2″ x 1/2″ squares each requiring a decision about whether to be white or black or some shade inbetween

    ….choosing this subject and trying to paint something about it… bear with me on the written gibberish… it’s a way for me to “talk it out”…. to distill the idea… rough notes…

    On a serious note though I am really interested in the question of what means to paint – today -“why paint when you can take a picture?”… I’ve finished reading a couple of essays about Richter who seems to me to really pose that question in his work – especially as it relates to photography in “modern art”…

    Painting was something else by necessity before the invention of photography… then… painting was “freed” of a certain responsibility to “record the factual”. When painting became unneccessary to record an image – it had to make other aurguments for necessity…is to be enjoyable enough?

    Moden photography today is begining to be accepted (museums… exhibitions…) in the same manner of attention as painting… for very similar aurguments… Is it possible to paint like a photographer… or photograph like a painter?

  2. I remember writing something about this very subject back when I was studying Malevich and the Suprematists.
    I like the notion that painting was freed from being a means to record the factual…… and free to instead dig deeper into the psychotherapy of what we see and feel. To explore individual interpretation rather than “mirror back” what we see. If you look at most modern painters, their early works are typically realist, but as they mature, they find their own, more abstract, voices (Picasso, for example). I think painting and photography are both valid, but for completely different reasons. Photography tends to be more readily accepted by the masses, simply because it captures the real. Its subject matter is (usually) something that even the layman can understand at a simple, gutteral level. The individual interpretation and expression comes with HOW we take the picture, and how we post-process it, among other things. It’s infinitely more portable, and the simple fact that it can capture many, many images in the time that it takes to draw or paint allows more experimentation in this fast-paced “NOW!!” world. It will NEVER take the place of painting or drawing, though. There is something beautiful and personal the latter…..everything about them is as individual as a fingerprint.

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