Jered Sprecher: Truth in Tension, published by The Art Gallery of Knoxville, Knoxville, TN, 2006.

Jered Sprecher
Wendy White

Much like twentieth-century abstraction, Jered Sprecher’s paintings fully accept that the attempt to assert power over an image is an inherently flawed process. Even so, rather than imposing a system or converting a limited vocabulary of forms to a pseudo-consistent aesthetic, Sprecher has adopted a largely intuitive approach, conceptually rooted in our inability to aptly process the flood of images in contemporary culture. Acting as hunter and gatherer, he finds each image and reinterprets it, refusing to define it with one overarching concept or a single painting style. As a result, each painting functions as one piece of a larger, non-linear, ongoing narrative. Essentially, they are one, long performance with unlimited beginnings, combinations and accumulations – but with no apparent “finishes” or intentional endings.

How this manifests visually in Sprecher’s canvases is elusive and ongoing. Several years ago, he decided to forego representational imagery to focus on re-contextualizing found images. Though he seldom uses recognizable objects or forms, or even identifiable parts, the paintings cannot be labeled non-representational – nor are they truly abstract. Based on what Sprecher refers to as an “eclectic aesthetic,” they hover somewhere in between. Some are painted from fragments of printed materials, often distorted. In many, there are shapes that could be shadows or swaths of light, glimpses of patterns, patches of color, sweeping areas of seemingly empty space, and free-floating lines. Suggesting, often through the use of overlapping, transparency, fragmentation, and at times pixelation, that the speed at which we are forced to process images inhibits us from properly digesting them, or perhaps that we unintentionally compress them, Sprecher rarely reveals his sources directly on the canvas. Instead, one views a seemingly incongruous combination of images that he has gathered, reworked, and redefined. After prolonged viewing, forms that at first seemed disparate begin to conceptually connect and formally refer back to each other in unpredictable ways.

Some canvases focus on a single form – these could read as macro views of Sprecher’s other paintings, or the experimental isolation of a form that the artist finds particularly compelling or troublesome. Located by the process of image destruction and restoration, each composition seems to be in a state of flux, as if it carried a number of possible permutations and Sprecher managed to capture one as a fleeting glimpse. As a result, the shapes are hard-won, but not merely by the process of paring down or abstracting. Instead, Sprecher shirks a true economical approach in favor of what works best for each image. His finished canvases are therefore a cumulative synthesis – when seen in combination, they meld impossibly, but without forced order or hierarchy. Conversely, each individual canvas manages to evade specific association or meaning while standing alone formally. Though each operates successfully as an independent, they are best understood as a whole, where they function as one extended, unfinished moment – much like a series of beautifully disjointed, half-conjured memories.

A tactile fascination and a penchant for experimental surfaces pervade much of Sprecher’s work. At first glance, the paintings may appear delicate or subtle. Though certainly constructed, they are never controlled by a strict formal regimen. Instead they have an easy-going tenacity that suggests the solving of each problem as it arises – an embrace of process as both physical and metaphysical. In some, the negative space is activated by visible brush strokes and carefully delineated tonal shifts that suggest the weathered effects of time passing. In others, figure and ground are rendered in nearly identical techniques, making it impossible to tell which came first, questioning the validity of a linear painting process. Sprecher consistently resists the temptation to use spatial ploys and gratuitous effects. Often, it seems as if he has only reluctantly accepted the composition, stopping at the point when the image tells the most about its flaws rather than imposing a pictorial problem and proceeding to solve it. Because of this, there is a visible freedom and lack of stylistic struggle – what the viewer finds in its place is a succinct formal resolve, one that refuses to lock the image in yet always manages to pose a question that connects it to the artist’s other works.

In Sprecher’s paintings, the destruction and reconstruction of subject matter is a slowly evolving narrative. First, there is dispersal into fragments, then unification as a result of the gathering process, translation into paint, and, ultimately, only partial dependence on the real world for meaning. Many of the works seem to question our very relationship to images, and, in particular, our commitment (or lack thereof) to digging deeply for meaning amidst a barrage of images and sources.

Moreover, there is the sense that Sprecher reconstructs found images with sincere regard to their original and individual integrities. His combinations and alterations, which refuse to mask the images’ destruction and evolution, seem to lack self-conscious editing, thereby retaining a genuine patchwork quality that provides visual tension. Often, shapes are rendered in purposely-varying techniques, subtly suggesting different origins or meanings without giving anything away. Evasiveness is a key element in the work. By allowing for incongruity, Sprecher shifts focus back on the reality of process, pushing each painting into a less graspable realm. In other words, rather than relying on the connotations of found images and surfaces as visual ploys, Sprecher intuitively redefines and recontextualizes his sources, allowing meaning to float back and forth and never settling for mere symbolism. In essence, each painting is a necessary and purposeful anomaly.