Dylan Vandenhoeck

“Inside and outside are inseparable. The world is wholly inside and I am wholly outside of
— Maurice Merleau-Ponty,
The Phenomenology of Perception
I make observational paintings. I paint either on location, from voice memo
phenomenological accounts, from preparatory drawings/photos/notes, or a combination of the
three. From life, but what does living actually look like? It’s far from straight-forward. We are
told we can perceive the world but cannot perceive our own perception. Those words do not align with lived experience. Phenomena like the sides of the nose, acuity and the vague
periphery, stereopsis, proprioception, an eyebrow or eyelash catching and refracting the light, color, the curve inherent to the eye that appears in the horizon, entoptic phenomena like floaters, afterimages, visual snow, and pressure phosphenes—all of these are structural, perceptible, and not mere anomalies hovering above an objective world. The body is contingent in the perception of the world to begin with. The moments in my life that call out to be painted are those in which I feel most present in the world, when the weight of the ambiguity between inside and outside
becomes too intense to ignore. That both-ness of perception spurred my painting “Entoptic
Touch: Pressure Phosphene and Coffee Mug”. I was with my brother on a boat in the Galapagos
drinking my coffee and as I itched the side of my left eye I saw the crescent-moon-looking
pressure phosphene in the far upper left of my visual field. The coffee mug’s appearance was
contingent on the tactility afforded to it being at arms length, and the light and color of the
pressure phosphene was contingent on my pressing the side of my eyelid with my index finger.
These were equal in my experiential field, so I did what no camera can do and began to draw my total experience (inevitably including the making of the drawing). I took some notes on the color, took a couple pictures, and used the drawing to make the full painting back in my studio in NYC with the time to flesh out everything properly.
I am in the world and the world is in me. I am painting but not painting at all. I am
smooshing goop with a stick onto a thing/a blind person navigating with a cane. I feel like the caveman tracing or fixing their vision to the wall. Painting is both proprioceptive and
exteroceptive, and its tactile dimension is inseparable from its visual one. The body (the hand) is a step ahead of reflective consciousness, and is like the already-ness of the world (it’s through this understanding that I “act” first, “think” later, to capture the ambiguity of peripheral vision). I am in a place and am so bored that I feel overwhelmingly alive to the point of nausea. The “Subway” painting and the “Ceiling Vent” painting I made while reading
Sartre’s Nausea. Everything I see is completely itself, and yet everything is constituted by my
The current US political and cultural climate is regressive on an existential level. Photos and videos have served their purpose to represent the world and have grown to be synonymous with it. Abstract virtual avatars of social media are interchangeable with actual persons. Spectacle is valued as more real than a present moment not yet put into words. This essentially Cartesian attitude separates the mind from the body, de-sensualizing reality. Juhani Pallasmaa writes in The Eyes of The Skin that images “are converted into endless commodities manufactured to postpone boredom; humans in turn are commodified, consuming themselves nonchalantly without having the courage or even the possibility of confronting their very
existential reality. We are made to live in a fabricated dream world”. The inundation of the
virtual world, in its elevated form of escapism, has made this kind of disembodiment second
nature and brought spectacle culture to a boiling point— the president of the USA is a reality TV show star. Human agency is threatened if lived experience is willingly devalued. On one level it makes us easier to control: self censorship (curated personas with deterrents/rewards of the internet mobs), consensual surveillance (“if you see something say something” to personalized advertising), passivity in the eradication of boredom. On the other, having devalued embodied
existence, it renders us both speculative and empirical; perception not adhering to the HD pixel format of a camera, or idealized geometry, is found to be “imperfect” and not to be trusted.
Alienated from the world, we become solipsistic with our objectivity (echo chambers, alternative
facts) and empirical with our subjectivity (rigid identities, disembodied generalized perception).
I think art-making is a worthy life-project to embrace the indeterminacy of human
existence on the level of being (over spectacle but also over discourse) and offer something back
to the lifestream. To my frustration, I find much of the art in the world today to be directly
complicit in spectacle culture and/or exacerbating the Cartesian myth of a dualistic split between
consciousness/intellect and an empirical world. The unfortunate notion that art is mostly a
discursive language of symbols and signs and historical references is almost second nature to
most students. In art school, students are taught they can either be conceptual artists or
formalists, either abstract or representational, medium specific or interdisciplinary, research-
based or autobiographical. The sensual, indeterminate, and unknown are left out of a typical critical setting. Photorealism is interchangeable with realism, vision reduced to a disembodied camera-obscura. This blatant Cartesian dualism has the danger of rendering the world as either rigidly objective or solipsistic and speculative rather than palpably abiding and is phenomenologically inaccurate, not to mention oppressive.
Painting is still a privileged medium in that it allows the possibility of faithfully picturing subjective human experience, in real time, beyond photographable appearances. Because painting can take place at the bodily plane of perception, nothing is better at capturing the immediacy of what is not yet named. My life project is to paint living true to what living looks and feels like. I don’t know how to do this but I must keep trying. I don’t know why it feels necessary but it does all-the-same. It has not yet been adequately done.