Julia Rymer

Original mixed media painting on paper, 30″ x 22″ unframed

At its core, art is about leaving a mark. This ranges from the conceptual work that leaves a thought in a viewer’s mind, to a three-dimensional sculpture carving out space, to the ubiquitous gestural mark in painting and drawing. The last is the mark that most interests me, of course, for I am a painter, and in the lineage of the abstract expressionists, for whom the gesture was all, and everything.

Despite decades of mark-making – and painting declared dead, or irrelevant, or simply boring – the gesture persists. It is ever present in abstract art, sometimes the subject of the art itself, but always the record of the presence of the artist and the human hand that made it.

In this world where we ask Alexa what time it is, and to turn on the light, is the gesture compelling because it is the manifestation of the human hand? “Alexa, make a gesture.” It can’t; it has no hands. Can a robot paint or draw a gesture? Is the robot leaving its mark? Can we tell the difference? And is the robot’s gesture even art?

My work is concerned with the mark of the human hand. There’s nothing manufactured in my work, and I allow the gestures to simply be, shaping them only as best I can with my modest tools: a brush, a palette knife, and a silicone scraping tool. Otherwise, the gestures I make are all mine, in all their awkwardness, their mistakes, their imperfections. They are delicate, they are forceful; they are solid, they are ephemeral.

Perhaps the gestural mark is the purview of wabi sabi, the Japanese art of impermanence. The gesture feels – and is – fleeting, incongruent, evolving. It cannot be planned or pinned down, defined or organized… instead it exists of the present moment, a record of time and place, but is in no way descriptive. It gives way to interpretation, and is subjective; the person who sees it does not feel the same thing the artist did when they made the mark.

The gesture is suggestive of power and presence and strength. It is individual, monolithic, or, if grouped with multiple gestures, is like a school of fish moving skillfully through the ocean.

As art becomes more manufactured (as the robots take over), will the gesture lose its appeal? Or will it persist, compelling us to its mystery, reflecting our human mark upon the Earth?