Jarrett Earnest: Three Waves

Five on Transition: Inspired by the shifting of seasons as spring arrives, we asked five guests to organize a series of works from our online collection, responding to the theme of transition. Please welcome artist and writer Jarrett Earnest.

Vija Celmins, Untitled (Ocean), 1977

Vija Celmins, Untitled (Ocean), 1977

Ocean waves are animated by celestial forces: pull of the moon, wind churned by the sun. Vija Celmins’s Untitled (Ocean) (1977) is a drawing not only of water, but of breeze and sunlight, too — a vignette of our planetary arrangement. The still image shows a ruffled sea. Paintings of waves are like marriages that end novels — feigned permanence in the face of transience.

Morris Graves, Bird Maddened by the Sound of Machinery in the Air, 1944

Morris Graves, Bird Maddened by the Sound of Machinery in the Air, 1944

We live in a tangle of sound waves, where Morris Graves situates his Bird Maddened by the Sound of Machinery in the Air (1944). On crumpled rice paper, his bird is in a fluctuating plane of wispy lines, a staircase-form collapsing in from the upper left. Terrified, the bird is submerged in abstraction and sensation. Graves graphically represents noise the way he shows light, with symbolic calligraphy. But this transformation from sound to line is itself a metaphor for a metaphysical dimension.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, "Untitled" (Golden), 1995

Felix Gonzalez-Torres, “Untitled” (Golden), 1995

Like Celmins’s meeting of water and air, Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s Untitled (Golden) (1995) is a glittering boundary, one that we inhabit like Graves’s bird. Walking through, we feel it passing over and hear its clattering. A plastic bead curtain, it makes perpendicular an ocean surface — sun and water and air. Yes, a “golden shower” with streams like beams of heavenly light in a medieval painting; as in Graves’s piece, these strings are about what is invisible — they constantly swell, part, sway as visitors move between galleries, and even when totally still, they speak of latent movement.

Jarrett Earnest is an artist, writer, and co-director of 1:1. After receiving a degree in the History and Theory of Contemporary Art from the San Francisco Art Institute, he attended the City University of New York Graduate Center for two years studying modern art history. His writing can be found regularly in the Brooklyn Rail and the San Francisco Arts Quarterly.

View the Five on Transition series here.

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