Painting the Truth
A Written Interview with Mary Corse
By Carol Yinghua Lu
On the occasion of American artist Mary Corse’s first major survey exhibition in Shanghai, I conducted an interview with her through email. While previously I had not much experience of her practice other than occasional viewing of one or two of her paintings in group exhibitions, this show presented an opportunity to have an overview of such a leading figure in the art history of American abstraction within the context of postmodernism. The questions I sent her were my way of trying to understand her relevance in the lineage of American art since the 1960s. In the meantime, I could not help but constantly referring to my understanding of abstraction in the historical process of art in China of the same period. Since the 1930s, the Chinese art world increasingly canonized realism and abstraction into two realms of practice. In the revolutionary years that followed, politicization of artistic practices and discourses intensified and ossified the differences and tension between these two artistic forms. They were arbitrarily assigned with a certain status of political class. Since 1976, while artistic practices became gradually independent from political discourses, people continued to carry the same impression. Driven by the desire to liberate art from ideology, they even designated abstract art as a form of practice that embodied free spirits and art for art’s sake. Such projections continue to hinder artistic practices and interpretations of them.I was particularly struck by her response to my question about the antagonistic tension between realism and abstraction, commonly perceived among many Chinese artists. To her, it’s a matter of fact that realism includes abstraction. This makes me better grasp the realistic nature of her works and the intense intimacy between her practice and the reality we are in. In her paintings, the reality, including our perceptions, experiences and blindness of it, is constantly evoked and always present. Or in another word, realism and abstraction, objectivity and subjectivity are not binary categories in her world. Rather, they are essentially one another.