Jonathan Zwi spent the month of August as an artist-in-residence in the village of Tatuamunha, Brazil, along the country’s Coral Coast.

Through his painting, Jonathan sought to evoke some of the natural and social experiences of daily life in this rural part of the country.

Mixed media on canvas • 63x63in • 160x160cm

By straining the sand from his beachside residence, Jonathan filtered out everything but the finest-grained black sands to be used as raw materials in his paintings. With a limited palette of black, white, ochre and gray, these sands were used to create a textural and aesthetic reference to the black-washed beaches that result from the receding tides.

Mixed media on canvas • 63x63in • 160x160cm

In addition to the use of sand, Jonathan incorporated mud, clay and cement in his work in order to allude to the humble mud-brick houses that can still be found in these rural areas of the country. These works - which are not only visually textured but also tactile in their nature - serve as a metaphor for the simplicity and humility that underlies the daily experience of so much of the local population.

Despite the persistence of what might be labeled as the area's ‘underdeveloped existence,’ Jonathan did not create these works to serve as a moral or political statement.

Instead, he sees these paintings more as a poetic reference to the individuals who - with hope and humility - continue to find beauty and dignity in the simplicity of their lives.

Attempting to move beyond merely aestheticized references to simple homes, Jonathan sought to tie his work more directly to the immediate realities of the local population.  To this effort, Jonathan created a painting that would be completed by the house staff at the residence where he lived. 

The locals who worked on the property were responsible for cooking, cleaning and gardening - typical minimum-wage labor that is characteristic of the area's quickly growing tourism industry.

The 'painting' that Jonathan prepared was a nearly-completed work which could have stood alone as a final version.  However, this 'completed work' was merely intended to serve as the basis for the remainder of the work that would be carried out by the staff.

Jonathan recruited the gardener to spend some time scrubbing the 'completed painting' in an attempt to remove some of the dried paint.  The objective was to make the canvas 'clean' again with the basic tools that the gardener or maid would use for daily work: a hose, dish soap, sponges, laundry detergent, scrubbing brushes, etc.

 

The involvement of the gardener in the process of creation immediately brings to the fore certain underlying questions.

Mixed media on canvas • 63x63in • 160x160cm

For one, it calls into question the definition of a completed painting - it requires us to grapple with an underlying teleological definition of art-making that presupposes a particular finished product whose development is intended and prescribed by an artist. 

 

The intervention of the gardener on an already 'completed' painting begs the notion of what it means for the work to have been complete in the first place.  Under standard definitions, we might be inclined to say that either the painting wasn't finished when the gardener got to it, or he was the one to actually complete it.  It is rare that we allow ourselves to think about an artwork as having numerous states of 'finality' that are equally valid.

While the end result of the gardener's intervention might be visually similar in style to the painting's previous state, there is an undeniable shift in the relation of the visual elements that comprise the painting with the actions that created them.  As a result of the intervention, the physical canvas becomes more of a dialectical tool than an aestheticized object.
 

As such, the aesthetic elements (which result from the actions of a man who lives in a community that resembles the painting) call into question certain basic relationships that drive and sustain the world we live in.  These visual elements begin to unravel relationships such as the value of an artwork vs. the value of a human being (i.e., the value of their time, their labor, their energy, etc.) - especially in light of the fact that the market value of such a painting greatly exceeds the economic power of a low-wage worker.

Despite the fact that the service rendered by the gardener was neither difficult nor time consuming, the basic premise of the social context problematizes the issue of what the appropriate compensation might be for the gardener's assistance.

 

This painting (and the socio-economic dynamics that it intentionally embodies) strives to explicitly highlight this tension - a tension which is often present in works of art, but which is typically overlooked (or ignored) when the art is being admired above a fancy living room sofa, in a board room, or on a gallery wall.

 

We live in an age where a great number of contemporary artworks are made by assistants - as opposed to the artists who otherwise claim authorship of the work; an age in which an artist often serves more as a director or manager and whose hands may never sculpt a single aspect of a final product.

Who, then, should be named the author of this work?

Many may reply (as did the gardener himself) that the artist bears such rights - in virtue of having created and developed the idea - and that the participation of the of the gardener was merely a mechanical intervention; a basic execution of menial tasks.

However, one might rebut that the artwork could not contain its dialectical significance and value without the participation of the gardener; that the interaction of the gardener is intrinsic to the meaning of the work - regardless of the task that he may have been recruited to carryout. 

Mixed media on canvas • 63x63in • 160x160cm

The 'post-dialectic' painting literally embeds the intentions and realities of a person who (by the restrictions of his social and economic status) is likely to live in a home and neighborhood that resembles the fracture and decay that is present in the aesthetic elements of the painting.

Both of these views may have justifications rooted in competing conceptions of power and authority, but the intention of this painting and, more importantly, the context it creates, was not intended to answer this question.

The goal was merely to make visible certain question that are often suppressed, but which must be addressed.  This painting makes these questions undeniable by making the central significance and function of the work to be that of a catalyst and tool for deconstructing itself and the circumstances that produced it - regardless of whether it turned out to be aesthetically pleasing or not.

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