17 Seconds Is Not Enough

The Art of Jered Sprecher at Three Flights Up


by Matthew Blanshei

According to the results of a 2001 study presented to the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics, visitors of museums and art galleries on average allot 17 seconds of viewing time to each work on display. While this statistic is cited as evidence of a persistent and pervasive cultural deficiency, the thought of contemplating a painting for almost half a minute may in fact strike many as an appreciable amount of time when contrasted with the speed at which web-news headlines, text messages, or crawling television bulletins are processed. But itâ’s likely that no curator or artist who identifies him or herself as an heir to the tradition of modern painting would regard these 17-second offerings as anything other than a slight.

But rather than asking who or what is to blame for the fact that paintings today often fail to command our lasting attention, we should first consider what happens (or fails to happen) when someone stands before a work that depicts either an overly familiar object or an incomprehensible abstraction whose contemplation seems reserved for members of a secret society. In either instance, what is missing from the aborted relationship between work and viewer is any palpable sense of tension, provocation, desire or even curiosity.

While contemporary American society may seem like an inhospitable place for cultivating a certain aesthetic sensibility, Jared Sprecher regards the â“culture and crush of images that are in constant fluxâ” as an occasion for issuing a challenge rather than making an accommodation: â“Confusion can be a powerful thing.â”

So how does Sprecher induce an experience of â“productiveâ” confusion that can make 17 seconds of viewing time seem like a blink of an eye rather than some sort of endurance test performed by holding oneâ’s breath for as long as possible? First of all by suspending the distinction between abstract art and representational art.

â“I am not so interested in a hierarchy of abstraction vs. representation,â” Sprecher says. Because his works inhabit a borderland between those two worlds, viewers of his paintings are initially confronted with indistinct yet suggestively distorted images which seem to solicit patient scrutiny. These oil paintings invite comparisons to modernist photographers like Paul Strand, who framed strange, unfamiliar shapes in a manner that still allowed traces of the objectsâ’ original, practical purpose to be detected. At the same time, many of his paintings are modeled after similarly conceived images he captured with his camera while exploring the backstreets of Knoxville. But it is actually misleading to use the term â“modeledâ” in this context, for itâ’s doubtful that viewers will actually be able to identify the particular object or image that served as the point of departure for one of Sprecherâ’s paintings.

â“One way I arrive at a painting is to find an image or source that provokes [me],â” he says. â“I think of this as paying homage. An image affects me and I feel I need to try and understand it by painting from it. But oftentimes I veer from the original image during the act of painting it.â”

What is perhaps most striking about Sprecherâ’s pieces is how this process of transformation, which occurs during â“the act of painting,â” can in a sense be reenacted when someone actually views the works. In other words, it would seem Sprecher has made it possible to experience something that the Italian Futurists attempted but failed to bring about nearly 100 years ago in their depictions of humans and animals with multiple limbs: the ability to perceive a two-dimensional painting as a work situated in both space and time.

All three of Sprecherâ’s works on display at â“Three Flights Upâ” are equipped to empower the imagination of the viewer in this way. The use of several shades of grey that seem to stain the linen surface initially appears to divest The Cave of a â“background.â” But upon closer inspection, the work takes on a layered quality as the blurred contours of several objects emerge underneath small globs of paint and several striated lines. While the shapes seem to congeal into pieces of furniture, they simultaneously recede from our already de-centered view behind a gauze-like material that does not so much form a partition as suffuse the room with a haunting presence. The belated recognition of something that resembles a window then seems to cause the room to expand, but this â“openingâ” also exposes several mysterious circles which hover around the shapes, giving the entire scene the look of a flickering reflection or shadow; the suddenly fragile image now seems to be breaking apart the more tightly we try to hold it in place, as though it were an endangered memory or dream.

Every single point on the surface of the oil painting counts. The value cannot be measured in 17 seconds.

Who: Jered Sprecher

Where: Three Flight Up

When: Thru Sept. 28, Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

How Much: Free


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