There are painters who relish the opulence of their materials— for them, the act of turning pigment and oil into image is an alchemical process. Standing in front of Sharon Gold’s jewel-toned paintings, you recognize at once the labor that goes into that love. Immaculately varnished surfaces gleam with light. Layers of transparent, glazed color emanate from canvases of Belgian linen. Engraved nameplates adorn Baroque gold frames. The materials and process -not far removed from those of the Old Masters- are timeless. But Sharon Gold is faced with a more contemporary challenge - how do you replicate the richness of this viewing experience in a virtual environment?
In November 2006, the artist launched a website featuring her latest body of work entitled A Fictional Autobiography. The series of sixty paintings is the accumulation of six year’s work in the studio; the Internet project, designed as an exhibition, took a solid four months at the computer and required the help of web consultant, Letha Wilson. The result is a densely layered, informative website where viewers can choose whether to navigate the exhibition with a simulated walkthrough or via a charted timeline.
In the walkthrough section, images are arranged salon-style in conversational groupings, the clusters containing anywhere from five to fifteen works. The scenes, populated almost entirely by women, present a rich interplay of images; small paintings punctuate empty space, larger work is balanced and informed by the neighboring pieces. The juxtapositions allow for an understanding of scale – a factor hard to establish on-line – and set up visual context.
The timeline section establishes a chronological context, in which artwork is linked to preceding pieces in flowchart form. Each type of work (small paintings, large paintings, silhouettes) is replaced with a corresponding color-coded symbol. Blue squares, orange circles, green diamonds become signifiers; labeled only with a title, they conceal the image until it is selected. The relationship between text, image and meaning become interchangeable - reflecting Sharon Gold’s densely layered, creative process and her continued exploration of visual semiotics.
Signs and signifiers, codes and paradigms – sifting through the language of semiotics can be heavy work. Luckily, Gold’s exploration into decoding images uncovers levity. Antique dolls gang up to take on gendered identity in Posse; Foucault’s Panopticon is renovated in In House and transformed into a child’s plaything. In Pluperfect, a cat’s cradle of historical memory is delicately woven. The tangle of intercepting lines can simultaneously be read as a casting net, a spider web or as Fibonacci’s perfect spiral. The playful title suggests even more variations on this multitude of readings – a plurality in meaning that the artist welcomes.
The intensive act of visually coding and recoding information is glorified not only in the subject of the paintings but in the way we are allowed to interact with them. Sharon Gold’s website presents ideas as hypertext – literally as words link to images and back again and figuratively as concepts build upon one another through active mental linking. These personal connections that rely on the most human of processors (the viewer) are less immediate than their technological counterparts. But, perhaps, experiencing art –even on the web- is not about immediacy. Like their timeless predecessors, the paintings in A Fictional Autobiography are cause for reflection – requiring more than a cursor’s glance.
A Fictional Autobiography can be viewed at www.sharongoldart.com.
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