Whitehot Magazine

March 2009, Robert Thiele @ Howard Scott Gallery


Robert Thiele, The Eight 501-508, 2007, 26.0 x 26.0 x 5.0 in.,
Courtesy Howard Scott Gallery, New York
Recent Works
Through April 4, 2009
The world can be seen as clearly as one wants to see it; however, how badly do we want to see clearly? Robert Thiele’s works seem to me to be representations of not how-the-world-is but of models of our choices in viewing that world. Rather, due to the veiled and hidden nature of the work, all illusions are gone.
Imagine looking at the world through silk. It’s not as difficult to conjure as one might think. Sartre postulated that the world was a screen in a darkened movie theatre, and that the projector beam itself was consciousness. Without consciousness we wouldn’t be able to see the screen; consciousness by its very nature casts itself on top of the world, covering “reality” in the process. The very notion of perceiving and apprehending the world “in its pure form, uncluttered” by human sensibility is sheer fantasy.
Robert Thiele makes works that straddle the boundaries between painting and sculpture. The Eight 501-508 is a quadrant of images of different faces, each covered, it seems, by a rather thick veneer of dark red, a semi-opaque, diffused layer which hides any and all details and only allows forth to the viewer the vague visual referentials: the ill-defined outlines of a face, the shadowy areas of eyes, the indeterminate masses of hair and so on. The entire piece is quartered, and is the perfect example of something that inspires not only the double- and triple-take but also the extended gaze and the calm, careful study, the repeat visit. This piece invites meditation. Indeed, all of his pieces do.
Robert Thiele, CH-MO 16-17, CH-MO 14-15, 2007, Courtesy Howard Scott Gallery, New York

The second works I’ll mention here are CH-MO 16-17 and CH-MO 14-15. Much like the aforementioned, these two works are covered in a gauze-like layer, somewhat obscuring the images below. Much is covered. Much is focused and controlled, including the circular “window” through which we spy yet another stratum of obfuscation in the shape of a cross. Inside of each cross we see a woman’s face, her features and outlines rendered vague and nearly incomprehensible. These are veiled identities. They harness as much power as does religion, which also veils some of its narrative threads and connections.

There is a great mystery here; imagine coming upon a drawer-full of photographs of individuals, complete strangers. In this fantasy some of the eyes in a few photographs have been marked over. Obscured. How would we draw information and knowledge from this? What conclusions would we come to? We’d rely quite a bit on every shred of contextual evidence we could get our hands on. But what if there was none? What if we came across images, faces, semi-obscured, housed in a white-walled space in a nondescript industrial building right off the West Side Highway in Manhattan? Nearly all “original” context would be missing. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to draw conclusions from these arcane images. They remain, like much of the world as-it-is, conundrums. Puzzles.
We obscure the world. Therefore, it remains, still, a mystery. 

Hans Michaud

Hans Michaud is a freelance journalist in New York.


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