Roxy Paine

New York USA 1966, lives and works in New York

The mushrooms, poppies, grasses and other plants that we encounter in the realistic work of Roxy Paine are made from synthetic materials and painted by hand. These ‘growths’ look entirely natural and could be part of a diorama or botanical inventory. Crop (1997-98, collection De Pont) comprises a field of lifelike poppies whose blossoms and bolls dance atop tall stems. It is no coincidence that the real versions of all of this vegetation have hallucenogenic properties. Paine was confronted with experimenation with drugs at an early age. In his art he seems to have sublimated this, however, by transforming, with concentrated precision, mind-expanding plants and mushrooms into an endless range of replicas. The illusion no longer lies with the use of these varieties, but with the fact that all of them here are fake. 

This reversal of expectations also plays an important role with the other group of works, the machines that automatically produce works of art. Even in the current industrial age, the idea that machines are able to manufacture ‘authentic’ works of art, in which the unique ‘handwriting’ of the artist is replaced by traces of a mechanical action, continues to be unusual. Paine’s machines make one suspect that he radically rejects authenticity and originality as criteria for a work of art. Even so, this interpretation of Paine’s work is too limited. It is within the very traditions of painting that his work can be regarded as an distinct and personal stance. With Roxy Paine ‘mechanical reproducibility’ – considered by many to be the beginning of the end of art – leads not to uniform repetition but to a varied production of individual, unique works of art. At the same time the machines themselves, with their computerized programming and ‘production lines’, can be seen as independent artworks made by the artist’s own hands.

In 1996 Paine constructed his first Paint Dipper which automatically submerges the stretched painter’s linen into a bath of paint. The PMU (Painting Manufacture Unit) (1999-2000) is more complex and works by way of a computer-operated paint pump. The white paint is pumped, layer by layer in brief sessions, onto a hung canvas, after which it dries into a whimsical monochrome landscape of fluid forms. In this machine-method of production, all of the results are nonetheless different from each other. This is also the case with other machines devised by Paine. SCUMAC (sculpture-making machine, 2001) produces sculpture by an assembly-line technique. The SCUMAC works consist of polyethylene that is ‘pumped out’ in a fluid state. Each sculpture is made up of multiple layers that have congealed into amorphous forms. These forms cannot be predetermined; ultimately no two sculptures are alike. The color of the sculptures differs with each location at which they are made. During the exhibition, PMU and SCUMAC will be put into operation several times each day. The production process gives rise to a fascinating spectacle.