Philosophy and art: Dennis Kardon

In a 2004 NYTimes review of a solo exhibition at Mitchell Algus,  Ken Johnson described Dennis Kardon‘s paintings as “generously painterly, voluptuously creepy narrative pictures of familial conflict, sexual angst and infantile yearning.” During a visit to his DUMBO studio last week, Kardon explained that his earlier images emerged through a labor-intensive, revision-laden painting process through which he was able to uncover mysterious concerns embedded on a subconscious level. In his new work, Kardon is exploring a few different approaches, each of them inventive and promising, such as his embrace of blocky abstract markmaking, both in his figurative work and also as a primary element in a series of compelling abstract paintings such as the one pictured above.

(Image above: Dennis Kardon, Ice Bath, 2012, oil on linen, 36 x 30 inches)

 Dennis Kardon, Tempis Fugit, 2012, oil on linen, 36 x 30 inches.

In a concurrent series, Kardon has been creating Photoshop composites of images and details from his previous paintings to use as the basis for new work. During our wide-ranging conversation, Kardon revealed an interest in philosophy, particularly John Searle’s theories of intentionality. Searle’s work implies that when one perceives a painting, he or she apprehends not merely the object itself but a larger set of beliefs and understandings that the artist imparts to it, which reflect the decisions he makes in creating the painting. Accordingly, Kardon would like to see painters take greater control of the artistic process. I asked him if he thinks painters are too fatalistic, privileging the accidental and unexpected over the preconceived and intended. “Do I think painters are too fatalistic? For me, that attitude is just way too limiting to the power of painting and is why painting is in such an abysmal state,” he told me. Via email, we continued the discussion, with Kardon suggesting that:

the larger art culture’s regard for painting is partly so low because there is no longer any value conferred on the individual decisions made by a painter in the process of painting. Look at almost any Manet closely, and you can see that while the painting might cohere into a particular depiction, the number and kinds of decisions he had to have made for that painting to exist are complex and seemingly infinite, which is why his paintings as a representation of consciousness are so powerful to me. Now I have to convince the world that representing consciousness is an important thing for paintings to represent. But to me, the nature of painting all boils down to the nature of the decisions a painter makes. So Searle has made me pay very close attention to the decisions, both automatic and fully intentional, that I make when I paint, and how those decisions manifest themselves as a part of my intentionality.

Kardon would like to see the “whatever” attitude so pervasive in contemporary painting today give way to a more rigorous, mindful approach. How Kardon wrangles Searle’s notion of intentionality into a painting strategy will certainly be interesting to watch.

BONUS VIDEO: Watch this stop motion animation that chronicles the making of “Revert to Saved,” a 2012 painting that incorporates both the figure and the blocky abstract marks.


  1. E. Ball (New York)

    Like this excellent post, Kardon's paintings appear to combine intellectual depth with visual oomph. I dig the blocks. And it's a salutary treat to encounter a practicing painter with such well thought-out philosophical concerns and the will to bring them to bear on his work. I'm looking forward to seeing these and more Kardon paintings.

  2. Just came across this post and was quite pleased with Kardon's reference to Searle's theories of intentionality. This idea of intentionality has a slight link to Existentialist Aesthetics, where it is believed, by some, that the artistic practice reveals the nature of consciousness. Taken in this way, painting becomes a crucible of consciousness making sense of the world. Thinking of one's intentionality towards painting revives the metaphysical dimension of painting which really excites me.

    For those interested, check out closertotruth.com and look up John Searle.

  3. I must say Dennis "Superb". You have done an awesome job with this. "Tempis Fugit" is simply wow!! It is really so picturesque and innovative. You are an expert in artwork give some handy tips to me. Looking forward for more art-work of yours.

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