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Trading spaces
A talk with The Urban Showís Greg Day

In their studies of the elaborate public and private practices we have devised in order to "practice everyday life," cultural theorist Michel de Certeau and his colleagues Luce Girard and Pierre Mayol tell us that urban experience is constituted by the "relationship between the formal necessity of the encounter and the random aspect of its content."

That is, those who live in spaces where population is dense can be sure that regular encounters with others are inevitable ó and can be equally certain that it is impossible to say when and where these encounters will happen, what will happen during them, and what will happen as a result of them.

The Hay Galleryís current exhibition, "The Urban Show," brings together four painters, each of whose work provides a radically different conception of urban experience. From Nicole Herzís studies of urban architecture framed by unlikely vantage points to Tim Cloriusís wild patchworks of graffiti, sex, and advertising, mixing intimacy and anonymity to Jude OíConnorís painterly realist portraits of the cityís human and nonhuman inhabitants, "The Urban Show" depicts the predictable chaos that constitutes urban life.

In his experimental series of paintings ó works blending methodical and rigorous design and the flows of matter and memory that disrupt it ó artist and architect Greg Day addresses precisely this tension; the Phoenix caught up with him in order to learn more about how it enables him to work productively at the intersection of painting and architecture.

Phoenix: As I understand the project you are currently working on, it consists of the creation of a vast number of modular paintings, each one a translation into painterly form of a section of a schematic drawing. The panels themselves can be taken apart and recombined in infinite varieties, and some incorporate images presented to you by friends. It seems to have a number of components, each with a series of variables. How then is the painting meant to work in the world?

Day: Some of these questions Iíve been trying to coherently answer since the first seeds of my "Elva" project five or six years ago.

A few clarifications: The schematic drawing that you refer to was created (and continues to be created and modified) on a computer and is, in theory, infinite in all directions. The drawing consists of the lines and bands which extend across the panels either in straight, curved, bent, or angled directions. The drawing is also divided into a grid of 32-inch-high by 24-inch-wide segments which represent the standard panel size. The larger "Elva" piece in the Hay Gallery show is made of six of these panels which have been bolted together. Within this somewhat rigid framework I have complete freedom to explore color, texture, reflections, subject matter, painting techniques, and even sculptural techniques.

The panels can indeed be taken apart and become individual paintings or groups of two, three, etc. However, they cannot be recombined randomly; if a panel is reconnected to other panels it will always be to the same ones. That way the lines and bands will always be continuous.

Not every panel has a donated work by friends. Itís just a fun idea for me to have people contribute something here and there, especially people whose work or ideas I admire. And not just friends: There is an architect couple from New York who donated an image of a close-up of one of their buildings. And not just images: An interior designer friend simply chose two colors for a small segment spanning two panels. The photogram on the six-panel "Elva" piece at the Hay Gallery show is by Kevin Moquin and it also spans two panels (splitting-up the donated work and having it span multiple panels is something that really intrigues me, and hopefully doesnít upset the donor).

People sometimes ask how I will ever find a space large enough to display "Elva" once it is "finished." Although itís fun to think of a huge contiguous assembly of panels someday, I think that my intention resides simply in knowing that, in theory, it would be possible for all of these paintings to be connected ó and that a line on a panel two hundred yards (or miles) away would connect perfectly with the line on the panel right in front of you. And as far as "Elva" ever being finished, by my own set of rules Iíve set up, it never can be.Q: I was thinking, as I was looking at "Elva 86903," that it could be more a map of fictive agricultural plots as much as a map of an unknown urban center. The paintings seem to deal with ways of parsing and navigating space ó rigid and ordered spaces, transparent and seamless spaces, and opaque and fluid spaces all intersect and intermingle with each other in them. Do you consider them to have a relationship to notions of urban experience? If so, is it a direct one, a tangential one, coincidental one?

Day: Iíve always been fascinated by Manhattan Island and how it started out as wild virgin land with this meandering cow path extending the length. Gradually, and then rapidly, the natural boundaries (the Hudson, East and Harlem rivers) and somewhat natural boundaries (cow paths, etc.) got divided and manhandled to become one of the greatest urban spaces in the world. And I think one could argue that Manhattan can be described, on one level anyway, as a mathematical space.

And, I would say that my workís relationship to urban experience is possibly direct, tangential, and coincidental.

Chris Thompson can be reached at xxtopher@hotmail.com

"The Urban Show: Tim Clorius, Greg Day, Nicole Herz, Jude OíConnor," shows at the Hay Gallery, in Portland, through November 23. Call (207) 773-2513.


Issue Date: November 14 - 20, 2003
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