Article By: Darren Miller
Published: Jan 25, 2012
For Jonathan Field, Ph.D., professor of art history
at SCAD since moving from England in 1999, teaching and maintaining a studio practice - though perhaps not always typical - are "two sides of the same coin."
"For me, when I'm lecturing in the classroom, my experience in the studio is as important as my time in the library," Field said. "Art theory, history and physically creating things are all very closely intertwined."
So for those who know him and his work, it should be no surprise that this art history professor garnered "Best in Show" honors at the 14th annual "SECAC Juried Exhibition
," which was held last November at SCAD's Gutstein Gallery in conjunction with the 2011 Southeastern College Art Conference: Text + Texture, An Intersection of Academics and the Arts.
Juror Dan Cameron, an internationally renowned curator and founding director of Prospect New Orleans, selected 31 works by 26 artists from more than 400 submissions by 178 artists. The represented artists come from 11 states, including Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Iowa, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia. The group exhibition featured sculpture, painting, photography, video, drawing and mixed media pieces.
"To hear someone of his stature say 'I like your work' is a real shot in the arm," Field said, "and put a lot of energy back into my studio practice."
Field earned the honor for "The Slipper Tongue," a 97-by-74-inch recreation of W.H.D. Koerner's "A Charge to Keep," using thousands of dressmaker's pins that puncture four sheets of black velvet to form the image of cowboy fleeing on horseback. Though the original Koerner painting illustrates a Western short story, titled "The Slipper Tongue," about the escape of a smooth-talking horse thief, George W. Bush has called it his favorite painting, identifying with the lead horseman, and acquired it after becoming a born-again Christian.
Inspired by Bush's fundamental misinterpretation of "A Charge to Keep" (read more
about the former president's wildly inaccurate reading of Koerner's piece), Field created a work that functions as part history painting, part satirical image.
"One of the things art can do," he said, "is prick pompous people."
Field's "The Slipper Tongue" is part of a larger ongoing series called "Maxwell's Demon," which comes from one of Thomas Pynchon's classic tomes, "The Crying of Lot 49." (Maxwell's Demon
is a machine designed to defeat entropy.)
His "Maxwell's Demon" series began as Field arrived in the U.S. shortly before Bush took office, and his work took on "an overt political dimension." Two of the series' three parts are dedicated to images taken from the New York Times and the London Independent on the first day of each month during 2003 - the year of the Iraq invasion.
"These pictures engage with issues of politics, the media, propaganda and cultural difference without attempting to make direct commentary on the rights and wrongs of the events that transpired that year," Field said. "Rather, they provide a silent memorial to one year in human history."
Add to that a pinch of kitsch and dash of satire, and you get "End Time," the third part of the series to which "The Slipper Tongue" belongs.
"I think of these pictures as history paintings for the historically illiterate," Field said.
His SECAC-winning work, the production of which was made possible by a Presidential Fellowship for Faculty Development from SCAD, took about a month of painstakingly placing pins, like individual pixels of an image, into the black velvet mounted on foam core.
But Field prefers the physically laborious nature of the work to a project that would require more mental strain.
"I can make these without switching on my brain," he said. "I only have to make one decision, and then I get to work on a piece for a month or so. My mind is devoted to my classes and students."
And students, he said, top the list of reasons he enjoys teaching at SCAD, followed by the university's investment in cutting-edge technology and the prevalence of multidisciplinary collaboration.
Field, who has exhibited work throughout the United States, Europe and South America, relishes in being able to "cross the boundary" between art history and studio practice, which helps foster a simpatico relationship with students.
"I do not see history as a dry academic subject," Field said, "but as a resource - to see that artists who have come before you experienced the same problems, the same challenges, similar ideas and similar solutions."