ATAA: Robert Marra "The Line"

art ATAA Robert Marra

This is the first of our "Artists Talk About Art" (or "ATAA") posts. This one is by Robert Marra.

Robert Marra

In his book titled ‘On Modern Art’ (1948), Paul Klee asserted that, of the 3 formal factors (line, tonal value and colour) the line was the most limited. According to him; “line is solely characterized by measurement, tone is characterized by weight and measurement and colour is characterized by quality, weight and measurement”. My curiosity led me to think about the merit of this statement and to eventually pursue creative initiatives to determine whether the line was, in fact, as limited as he described.

Consequently, the line became the central focus of my creative endeavors. I made efforts to create lines that bore the weight and colour that Klee asserted were not there.

Robert Marra - L4 - 2006 - 40 x 26 Inches - Acrylic On Paper

My first works were abstract and painted with acrylic paint on paper. Within them, I magnified the line, fattened it, added texture, colour and variable tones, but soon after I shifted away from the bloated finite lines I was rendering. In time I began moving towards a more sculptural and conceptual approach which focused on the expression of my idea of an infinite line. A proliferating line that folds on to and into itself without end, filling and transforming the two-dimensional space it progressively occupies. The volume that the expanding dense mass I created in my work offered varied tonal weights as well as colour quality. In part, this was the result of the light, shadows and colour that is absorbed from the atmosphere around it. Whether my lines were magnified and finite or infinitely proliferating, I found that they could convey more than simply measurement. 

I began going beyond aesthetics and into the realm of human experience. Investigating the line’s psychological role and function began to further inform my work. One needs to look no further than language to find evidence of this role, for example; hold the line, in line, out of line, over the line, front of the line, back of the line, shoreline, skyline, underline, deadline, toe the line, sideline, borderline, crossing the line, and more. Our adopted ideas related to the line play a major role in the development, coordination and regulation of our lives as well as our surrounding world. Our inherent sense of the line and its applications provides the same functions in life as it does in art. In part, it has contributed to our ability to measure, organize and navigate through our universe in a manner that assists us in being self- determinant within it. Ironically, the experienced freedom from being self-determinant and confident navigators in our world eventually becomes compromised and limited. The rules associated to organization, measurement and order that lines assist in creating introduce restrictive barriers as well.

Robert Marra 'IN LINE FOR THE CROWN', 2020, mixed media on wood frame, 28 x 35 inches

Artistic expression in all its forms seems to be the most effective way to capture the human spirit and imagination. Art is an extension of everything it sets out to reflect. It is in constant evolution and is as fundamentally unstable as the world it attempts to reflect. Individually or as a group, whether celebrating life or contending with one’s “mortal coil”, self-expression has always been a fundamental part of the human narrative. Art has borne witness to a chaotic universal landscape that frequently shifts in search of stable and predictable formulas. The open-ended nature of art embodies the idea of an infinite line. It reminds its audience that the human story is open ended and is constructed with a string of lives intertwined and tethered together over time and experience. As such, the infinite line is an apt metaphor for our collective and personal existence. It is symbolic of not only the collective human journey but also of the creative drives that motivate and shape the journey’s progress. Beginning from an internal spark that energizes it forward towards its full expression, to the countless narratives and creative projects that are generated as a result it.

My art directs its lenses towards the underlying synergic mechanisms of this expressive journey. It unveils and brings forth what pre-exists unseen beneath the skin of the canvas and simultaneously tracks it onto the surface.

≈ Searching For an Infinite Line ≈

It is understood that a line has a beginning which can be called point A. As point A is stretched in a desired direction a body is formed, this being the line itself. Point A is ultimately stretched towards a distant point B, which is where the line generally ends. The idea of an infinite line implies that there is no ending. Point B does not exist.

The point A of my infinite line is meant to suggest the pure source, the underlying spark which gives motivation and life to self-expression. The extension of A is the coiling line evolving from beneath the canvas surface. As it evolves, the infinite line proceeds to divide itself into multiple lines which materialize on the surface; footprints it will leave behind once it inevitably makes its way forward.  The body of the proliferating line, endlessly folding and unfolding into itself, is a journey that offers a developing narrative which records and reflects the outcome of its expression. Breaking through the canvas skin the line goes on to impact all that exists on the surface, and in turn becomes impacted by everything it encounters there. All parts are transformed into something different, something new, as a result of this interactive exchange.

The reality of existing on a two-dimensional surface sets in as disparate lines and surface matter strive towards synthesis on a space they must now share and divide, similar to oneself and the relationship that one is constrained to establish with the surrounding universe. All parts are simultaneously independent and inter-dependent. In the absence of B, the viewer is invited to experience and be part of this ongoing transformative relationship between what emerges from below the surface and what pre-exists upon it. In this way I am suggesting an energized dynamic exchange that occurs between the self, the world and the rest of those who inhabit it. In effect, the evolving open-ended nature of my work invites the viewer to participate and experience its transformative and unsteady nature.

My aim is not in producing a finished static work of art, but art that is unresolved, moving and seething with the creative energies that lie beneath the canvas as well as the skin of both artist and audience. As the emergent biomorphic-like mass emerges from underneath, it appears to strive towards something that remains nebulous and inconclusive. No aesthetic synthesis or resolution is possible and no stability is ever truly achieved in my work. The lines’ ending point is absent and as a result of this an aesthetic conclusion, or completed picture, is unattainable.

Robart Marra 'LINE UP AT PIER 21', 2018, MIXED MEDIA ON CANVAS, 40 X 60 INCHESThe infinite line as I describe it challenges the conventional aesthetic and psychological functions of the line as a whole. The nature of the infinite line is to carry life, growth, death and rebirth simultaneously. Its constant evolution is made possible by the dismantling the very things it has a hand in creating; an idea, an action, a narrative, a painting replaced by another, then another; all temporary lines that eventually give way to other lines. On one hand, the infinite line facilitates new possibilities and opportunities which accommodate personal as well as collective needs or desires. On the other hand, in a dialectical fashion, it rebels and eventually destroys what it creates once the creation becomes too fixed or limiting to progressive change; Synthesis, antithesis, thesis, synthesis… This dynamic is temporarily frozen and, in effect, “caught in the act” on the canvas surface of my work. The existing balance appears as though threatened to become destabilized by what emerges from its depths. Ironically, what has proliferated from the depth of the canvas simultaneously plays a fundamental role in the composition it threatens to displace.

The infinite line can never be applied to discern a definitive measure of people, places or things as a line often is. It does not discriminate; nor does it exclude. The infinite line carries within it the promise of new beginnings but it will never provide an answer to the question, to what end? Even though it plays a role in establishing temporary moments of reassuring clarity and order, its unfixed nature, as well as its need to evolve, generates a constant shifting and chaos that cannot offer absolutes or stable conclusions.

Evidence of an ever-present infinite line can be tracked through the arts, but even so, its intrinsic characteristics render it largely ineffable and unpredictable.

August 2020

Robert Marra in front of his artworks

All images courtesy of Robert Marra

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