Sometimes, I close my eyes, and random thought leads to random thought, quickly, and as they do, a dense, sprawling, electrified network of mental pathways fades in, revealing the connective tissue of this thinking as it fills the immeasurable tardis of my mind. The network’s impenetrable structure and scale and feeling—dromey, buttery, skinned—terrifies me as it links together all that I have done, am doing, and am still to do; messages sent and never returned, received and never responded to; conversations; relationships; objects; impressions; moments; fantasies; worries; plans; memories; hopes; ideas—basically, consciousness. When it manifests itself in this way, I think, If only I could untangle this mess. If only I could lay everything out in neat rows, or, in one row, like a long country fence. This excites it even more. I open my eyes, and can hardly put together an impression.
These mixed-media paintings from a series called Spring and Summer Blues, made in April and May of 2014, feel like impressions of mixed-up moments and scenes. Gestural lines move like voices, and pigeons, through space. Vague, actually caricatured human figures exist in relation to randomized renditions of Tony’s “mental noise.” In some pieces, such as the second in the series, the figures emerge from within the work’s stormy fabric with an exaggerated presence. In others, such as the last, a spliced figure peeps out on top and trips up below as a memory of a body runs along from right to left, traveling but never arriving.
I’m trying to remember someone that I used to know. I can’t remember if they have hair on their head. I can remember the feeling of being around them, and I trust this feeling.
In this series, self-trust, paradoxically, induces distance. “Work like this happens when my thoughts are intermingled to a point where I can’t pick words or phrases out. Various conflicting forces convene for an instant, creating the impulse to do this thing—the picture-event that takes place.” Impulses are acted on spontaneously, automatically, or otherwise out of (ones?) control. Consciousness and agency, although always present, feel absent, while the body and mind tap into in some potent form of auto-pilot. What materializes can, quite literally, be called an expression. It can not be taken back. “I’m not sitting down and saying, I’m going to make a series of beautiful abstract works using these materials working automatically and seeing what happens. It isn’t planned, deliberate, or calculated.” Trust trumps rationality, and if these pieces feel slightly frantic, confused, or confusing, it’s because they are. “That’s the thing about obsessions—,” writes Holly Hughes, “they tend to follow a logic all their own.” I, like Tony, want to embrace that.
In her 2011 book The Art of Cruelty, Maggie Nelson writes: “By virtue of its being multiply sourced, art cannot help but offer up multiple truths. To a moralist in the market for “an ordered universe and objective truth,” such an offering can only be a contradiction in terms. Worse still, because of its episodic nature, art offers the passing impression of truth, without the promise that the truth revealed will have any lasting power. For however powerful any given artistic truth might seem, a new, contradictory, or at least adumbrating truth might appear in the next instant, the next installment, the next frame, the next line, the next chapter, the next canvas.”
What is true to me about these painting is the way that they attempt to communicate something coherent about the instance of their making. They exist in and for the event, working out of it, not from or towards an idea of it. As a series, the pictures allude to those other dissociative experiences, such as sudden outbursts of absolute love or anger, which realign one’s impression of oneself, one’s relationships, and the world. We are caught, suddenly, in amazement, whether joyous or debilitating. “Textures and non-representational imagery with a sense of macro or micro remind me that things exist on a scale that I can’t perceive.” And yet, even with this knowledge, or the ability to articulate something close to knowledge, we are bound by the constraints of our consciousness as we reach infinitely, but in stages, instant to instant, towards whatever indescribable things that drives us through life and work.
“I’m working from discord to harmony, where something can build up. What the body does, what the body produces, is only a by-product of a never-ending stream. Any time you reach an ending, a new thing must begin, but take away these boundaries between phases, and you get a continuous line. That is the process. That is the one thing that remains once you take away the imposed significance of everything else. But the process neither ends nor begins.”
Tony Wylen, age 24, grew up all round the Pacific Rim, including Los Angeles, the Philippines, Portland, OR, and Seattle. In 2009, after finishing high school, he moved to Brooklyn to attend Pratt Institute, where he graduated in 2013 with a BFA in Illustration. During college, he used every chance he could to experiment and try new things. He produced a huge body of fragmentary work, much of it abstract or inspired by cartoons but having little to no real narrative or symbolism. He used illustration assignments as a way to try new mediums and styles. While working in the print labs as a monitor, he became familiar with the digital printing process and incorporated it into his work. He began to design and print books and zines, using them as a way to collaborate with other artists. He continues to produce visual art, and has book projects in the making. He has participated in various group shows around Brooklyn, and he also curates, designs, and publishes a single page publication called the Asemic Edition (asemicedition.tumblr.com), which features asemic writing from various artists. See more of his work at rollotony.tumblr.com.