Bucheli’s ‘Semantic Web,’ on display at TASI in June, offers new ways of experiencing art
How many of us get to see paintings we admire in real life? They are often housed in galleries in far-flung places around the globe which we may never be able to visit. Fortunately, with advances in digital technology, a plethora of great art is just a click away. It’s just like being there. Or is it?
The digital images we see on our phones or computer screens only offer part of the experience of engaging with a painting. No matter how much we enlarge the image, we cannot truly appreciate the artist’s process — the brush strokes, the paint thickness — we are separated from the artist’s hand.
Dario S. Bucheli is well aware of the limitations of digital reproduction. His latest series of works, on display in the exhibition “Semantic Web,” at The Art Studio, Inc. in June, explores the process of both looking at and producing paintings.
“It came about when I was realizing that a lot of the art that I was experiencing, that I was looking at, and that my peers were looking at, was on the internet,” he said. “There are several artists that I follow on Instagram, for example, or other social media and their practice has really been very influential to me. But I’ve only ever seen those paintings on the computer or on my phone. I’ve never actually had the chance to look at them in person.”
When COVID hit and galleries had to shut down, the Monterrey, Mexico native said it became even more evident that 90 percent of the artwork he saw on a daily basis was virtual.
“Even though I try to go to galleries and go see shows in person, still most of it comes from the computer — and I think that’s an experience that a lot of people can relate to,” he said. “I was curious about that experience in itself. What is that experience like? Is it different than looking at the work in person? I think that might be what the leading question is.
“Part of what I get from the work, and why I personally do the work, is to try to answer in different ways or reflect on the questions of, how do we read paintings? How do we understand paintings? What are the mechanisms, the mental infrastructure that we have to understand a painting? And how are those different from looking at a picture of a painting?”
The paintings on display in “Semantic Web” are reproductions of paintings by other artists, as they were viewed through Bucheli’s phone. By zooming in to the digital image, Bucheli composes the future painting in his phone window.
“I’m looking for moments where the images of the work interact in a harmonious way with the internet environment in which they exist,” he said. “That’s why sometimes you have pop ups, or you have shadow boxes for slideshows, or you have links to something else, or you have a menu button somewhere in the corner to bring the attention back to the fact that there are images existing within the internet environment.”
Bucheli custom builds his canvases to reflect the 9:16 ratio of the standard smartphone screen, although they play with scale. The painting “Survey,” which serves as the invite for the show, is 70 inches wide.
“Semantic Web” is Bucheli’s prize for winning TASIMJAE 2020 (The Art Studio, Inc. Member Jurored Art Exhibition). He recently moved to Beaumont from Houston to work at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas, after earning his MFA from Texas Christian University. His then fiancée, now wife, Caitlin Clay, as curator of exhibitions at AMSET, suggested he enter the show.
“It seemed like a good opportunity to start having more of a presence here in Beaumont, even though I was in Houston,” he said. “I didn’t know that I was going to be in Beaumont, just a few months after, so it was all just kind of serendipitous.”
At AMSET, Bucheli works as registrar. which means taking care of the collections — keeping up with information on the database, legal paperwork and managing storage, as well as helping with installations. His eclectic experiences in graduate school have merged into his job, he said.
Bucheli works in acrylic on canvas and said the way he constructs the surface, the choices he makes on the canvas, is significant.
“I pay attention to things like the tooth of the canvas, how much that shows certain areas,” he said. “Maybe I’ll gesso over seven or eight times or more to get like a really smooth, sleek surface. But then some other parts of the canvas are left pretty textured with just one or two coats of gesso. I often use that to sort of bring attention to different components of the painting.
“As far as the painting technique, I try to use different methods. Sometimes I’ll use more of an impasto paint application, sometimes I’ll do varnish or glazes. It’s just to give the painting a physical presence and a way to justify it being a painting as opposed to just an image, like a digital image or a printed image.
“Then I also quite selectively varnish the surface painting, which is a really a nice experience for me personally, and I’ve heard that from other viewers as well. Some areas of the of the canvas will be very high gloss finish and then some other parts, either next to it or around it, are still pretty matt because they’re left unvarnished. It does a couple things — you can see yourself reflected on the surface of the painting, you can see your surrounds, like what’s behind you reflected on the varnish part. You can also use your body to move around and look up at it and you can see the reflections of the light. So, it gives you an incentive to engage with the painting, using your body, physically moving around it.”
Bucheli said he was influenced by a book on the German artist Gerhard Richter by Christian Lotz, which takes a hermeneutic view of painting.
“This is the view that paintings are not just images, they are materialized images, they are images that have a material component to them, they are physical,” he said.
This means our interaction with the painting has to account for contextual elements, such as how many people are in the gallery space when one is looking at the work in person, Bucheli said.
“It’s not the same looking at a show during the opening reception as opposed to a Thursday or a Wednesday afternoon,” he said. “That impacts, for example, the level of sound. The time of day as well, whether it’s in the morning, when you have a certain kind of light, or in the evening. Or if light is artificial and it’s being lit using like a track system.
“You also have to consider the mental state or emotional state that you’re in, when (you) go look at a work in person. These are all different things that like really affect how we read meaning. And I use that term like very loosely. I don’t necessarily think that a painting, or really any work, has meaning embedded into it. I think it’s all contextual. And all these things sort of come together to form what I can only best describe as me. All these different things come together, and we synthesize them as a viewer, and try to understand us and to understand what the work means.”
The Art Studio exhibitions are available to view in person, but they are still predominantly virtual until the fall. The fact that most people will look at Bucheli’s exhibition online another layer to the show.
“The fact that many people are going to see my work virtually, it is a bit ironic, because some of these works have been shown in physical exhibitions that I didn’t get a chance to go see,” Bucheli said. “So, my only experience of my work in an exhibition was also digital, so it all comes back around full circle — there’s a lot of spirals around this work. I find that fascinating.”
For all of the intellectual theory that underpins Bucheli’s work, the most important thing is the work itself, he said.
“It comes from a place of, first of all, love for the practice of painting just because I love painting so much — its history and its practice and the theory — and wanting to believe that painting still has a very significant role to play in the art community,” he said. “As much as we see other media coming up, whether it’s video or installation, (I want) to believe that painting can respond to changes in technology.
“You can think about the ways that painting responded with attraction to the advent of photography, when painting was no longer relied upon to be accurate in depicting the world because photography could do that way easier. Or the way that (this) generation responded to a flood of images and advertisements around them. Painting has that ability to respond.
“Part of the question that I have is, ‘How can painting evolve in the face of our current moment?’ And part of what I think characterizes the current moment, at least as it’s relevant to my work, is the flood of images of artworks online, that exist physically, but that are mostly experienced virtually.”
Bucheli said that we often take shortcuts or use crutches to understand a painting from a photograph.
“Many times they will use install shots, a view of the work in a space, or sometimes they’ll place a person next to it so you can get a sense of scale,” he said. “When you’re just looking at a cropped image, you can’t really tell how big that’s going to be.”
The size and shape of the works in the show is important, Bucheli said.
“I am very curious about what is the effective power of a work — how does it make you feel, how does that impact you and what about it impacts you?” he said. “Scale only matters in so far as like we have bodies, right? We’re used to navigating through space, using our bodies as point of reference. We use our bodies to relate to the effect of power for work. A monumental piece can seem imposing just because it’s so much bigger than we are, and it also gives us a chance for the eye to like travel over the surface, which is a very different experience than looking at a small piece — that can also be very powerful in its own way, it’s different.
“Also, think about the surface of the painting bearing witness to the time or the making of the painting itself. And the fact that the way that paint is layered, how it covers some things and reveals some other things. Sometimes you can see corrections, you can see different kinds of marks that are made with the paintbrush. They’re all given information as to what the thought process was for the artist — why did the artists choose to use this color before this other color, or this one next to the other, or why was paint applied in this particular way, in this particular area? (It) is a way to understand. You communicate what the artist was thinking, what the logic was for constructing the painting.”
The longer one listens to Bucheli, the more passion for the practice of painting is evident.
“There’s that old saying about the death of painting,” he said. “I think it might have been something that concerned people at some point, but I don’t really think that painting really, truly ever is going to die. It’s just because painting has this beautiful ability to morph and change and respond.”
“Semantic Web” will be on display June 5-26, 2021, at The Art Studio, Inc., located at 720 Franklin in downtown Beaumont.
The virtual gallery will be available June 5 at http://www.artstudio.org.
Story by Andy Coughlan (this story was originally published at artstudio.org and Studio Ink zine)