free–range adj \ˈfrē-ˌrānj\: allowed to range and forage with freedom of movement; also : of, relating to, or produced by free-range animals

In a recent New Yorker cartoon, two chickens on a free range farm say to each other “let’s make a run for it!” Many painters today feel the same way – the natural conditions of the art world allow for extraordinary freedom of movement, and we are all free range animals.

The question remains, though, run for what?

What can we do with paint now? What questions can only arise from this stuff? Are there specific modes of experience and seeing that allow painting to rearrange our consciousness in particular ways? Are there ways of knowing that only happen through the ways of paint? What images can only happen here, in this way?

The experience of painting exists at the confluence of its sensual and intellectual presence, a place where physical material meets philosophy. Painting is a form of embodied cognition, a meta-language, a game of free play in a land of signifiers and visual infinities. The practice of painting has become the home of a jubilant interpretation of a multiplicity of languages and discourses.

What is the job description for painting? A theoretical operation, a particular category of being, a metaphysical expedition? Painting functions as a conceptual confection, mapping virtual worlds and personal cosmologies, a form of conjuring and a ritual of actualization. It also houses plenty of doubt, crisis, and myth-busting.

The artists gathered here represent some of the diverse and eclectic ways in which the complexities of painting are currently playing out, and loosely converging within the free range farm that is Penn – faculty, critics, and alumni who have engaged in the discourse around painting together. This exhibition, represents some of the bounty discovered after each of them has made a run for it.

(written for “Free Range: Painting at Penn” exhibit, 2011)