On the Shore 2007, 26 x 40″, Watercolor and Gouache on Paper
New York City based painter Humphrey Bilger makes work that mingles representation and abstraction. His paintings deal with the relative nature of experience, and the subjective challenges of representation. Using photographs as the starting point for his compositions, Bilger alters the original image to create works that are mysterious and evocative. His process of alteration is a metaphor for visual experience.
Alluding to the myriad individual filters that mediate visual experience, the photographic source material of Bilger’s paintings is integrated into a network of abstract, elegant line work. The abstract layer, which can be seen to represent the neurological filters of experience, is frequently based upon ply wood grain and raster dots— physical properties of the materials Bilger uses to make his paintings.
Such properties are generally taken for granted and “invisible” in utilitarian service. With this weaving of different levels of visual information Bilger’s photographic source becomes anything but utilitarian, as an illustration would be, and instead takes on a hallucinatory, highly subjective quality.
Bilger’s pictorial subject matter is largely drawn from the natural world. Images that relate to the landscape of the desert and the body abound. Asserted by the paintings is the idea that a combination of neurological processes and environmental factors provide the basis of subjective experience. There is a dry quality to Bilger’s work.
Colors are de-saturated and the desert landscapes emphasize rocks and mounds. The bodily equivalent is bone. The analogy is gracefully displayed in “We’re Here.” Another analogy, between the vast desert and the vast inner-space of the mind, is evident in Bilger’s work.
As a counterpoint to the dark and dry aspect of these paintings there is a fluid quality. The abstract line work is quite eloquent in it’s relationship to the representational aspects of the paintings. The line work evokes vascular pathways in “Brothers” and veins of ore in “Mohave.”
Literal interpretations in this regard are reductive and unnecessary, however possible. On another level, the abstract, fluid nature of Bilger’s work indicates the infinite and variable combinations of sensory input and neurological filtering by which to interpret the world. That such possibilities exist is at once a liberating and terrifying prospect.
Like Andy Warhol’s morbid “Electric Chair” and “Car Crash” paintings, Bilger’s paintings create a disquieting distance between their ostensible subject matter and a typical access and interpretation of the subject. The new context, intention, formal qualities and artistic processes in both Warhol’s and Bilger’s work all become part of the meaning of the artwork. The meaning does not merely reside in identifying that which is depicted.