Wednesday, January 18, 2017


Robert Wallace
January 28 – February 2, 2017


Opening reception: Sunday, January 29, 17:00 – 19:00

The Checklist came to me in an unexpected way in New York back in 1997.  My friend, the artist Daniel Joseph gave me a painting.  I asked him to sign it.  He turned it over and started writing.  3 or 4 minutes later he handed it back to me.  Along with his name he had written a checklist.  It was not a list of things to do, or things to remember, but random, disjointed thoughts.

The Checklist was the brainchild of Dan’s friend, artist Brian Moran.  I had seen scraps of paper with these odd, sort of free form poems around Dan’s Van Brunt St. apartment/studio in Red Hook.  Brian invited me to participate.  He outlined the "rules", which were just two: 1) the checklist must be 33 in length; 2) the last item in the list must be the word “degrees”.  Brian had been reading about Freemasonry.  33 is a significant number for this secretive international order, being the highest “degree” or level one can rise to.  Of course it has a special meaning in many cultures and religions, including Buddhism.  According to the Lotus Sutra, Kannon Bodhisattva has 33 transformations to assist in human salvation.  I was never quite sure if Brian was making a joke or if he too believed in the power of this particular number.

For me the Checklist is ephemera, little scraps of life that float into and out of ones mind.  It comes to you in the same way thoughts or other bits of text do: fragmented, broken, incomplete, disjointed, unrelated.  It can literally spring from any source.  Wherever there are words there is material for a Checklist.  One word.  A sentence.  A paragraph. 

A Checklist need not make sense or have a logical chronology.  It need not have a rhythm or flow.  It need not be thematic.  Consider the incalculable number of thoughts that flood ones mind in any given instant.  It is impossible to process it all, to listen to everything.  These itemized mental, written, verbal and aural snippets are what strike us, what make us stop for a second before we return to our train of thought, resume our activities.

The structure of a Checklist is quite simple.  It can be assembled in minutes, a spontaneous, stream-of-consciousness transcription.  Or they can evolve, as mine usually do, over weeks and months.  When one re-reads a Checklist built over time it becomes a sort of catalogue or record of ones fragmented life.  For me, these are the most successful/interesting, because they are so completely random and less prone to manipulation by daily emotion or fleeting mood.  They are the most free and ultimately poetic.

In the end a Checklist is perhaps nothing more than a vain and futile attempt to capture in writing the tiny details of ones life as they speed by too quickly and in too great a volume to ever grasp.  I endeavored with this exhibition to express visually, in paint and collage, what a Checklist is.  Embedded in each painting are Checklists written since I arrived in Japan almost three years ago.  Sometimes the words are visible and sometimes they are not; sometimes they float on the surface, sometimes they are buried deep within the painting, just as thoughts rise and sink in our head, and the vast amount of information we process is retained or discarded.  The paintings are united by materials and color palette, but lack a cohesive style, much the same way Checklists are all made up of words, but have no relation to each other.  It is the complete randomness of the mind and our lives I am inviting the viewer to consider.

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