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Some artists paint to communicate what they mean, and some to find out what they mean, while some simply make objects that others find meaning in. But don't fall for that crap about a work of art simply being appreciated for itself.
Never is there use for a work that is meaningless. If a work does not signify, it cannot escape being insignificant. And it is unlikely that a totally meaningless work could ever exist anyway.
On the other hand, being significant has nothing to do with the quantity of signification: it is a matter of the coherence and importance of conjunctures that the work can generate with its context.
This, however, has not deterred the exuberant Scott Redford from playing with enough signification to make your hair curl. With unabashed zeal, Redford makes assemblages that push the inflation of meaning to its limits and then sprays them with a homogenizing layer of black paint.
His dream, he says, is to buy a work by Davida Allen, whose gestural Expressionism he admires, and paint it black.
In the tradition of Andy Warhol, Redford has many such stories and explanations concerning his work. But no matter how engaging these expressions of personal preference may be, an artist’s whim alone cannot be considered to lend any import to the work. And anyway none of these tales can be taken at face value.
A clue to Redford's true meaning is the fact that many of his drawings, as well as some of his paintings, reveal an equal interest in minimalism. The "techniques" of both minimalist and maximalist approaches to him are thus ultimately equivalent as methods. And through the leveling effect of black, they are permitted to coexist in one showing.
Redford, therefore, with postmodernist tongue firmly in cheek, has done a "job" on both figurative art and minimal abstraction. Excess and restraint are transformed into elements rather than qualities in his work.
At the same time, he includes some "straight" signification, traditional associations interspersed with the more esoteric code of Redford's own, so enviably young, generation. References to rock groups lie among such vicious instruments as pistols, wire cutters, razor blades, axes and their alter egos, electric guitars.
And amidst all the visual aggression there is a sense of humour: the occurrence of circular shapes as reference to Mickey Mouse ears, for instance, and the pointed relation of these black celebrations of excess to the impoverished surfaces of the Peter Booth paintings from James Baker's collection that we saw recently at the Queensland Art Gallery, and also Stieg Persson's comparable road to banality.
A significant work is significant to someone in some context—it is not transcendent of time and place even if found to be important outside the era of its production. However, there is also the matter of generality. If a work has significance in one point in time and space only, or to one person only, it is obviously too specific to be remembered as art, it doesn't amount to a "hill of beans” in relation to collective concerns.
We require enough generality for the work to hold its significance over a range of situations and to a group of people. On the other hand, if the work is too general it is apt to lack any significance at all because it can mean anything and everything—it becomes a tabula rasa. This latter danger is both courted and mocked by Redford, but eventually, it is safely negotiated.
One thing is certain, despite his profuse and anarchic use of images, Redford attains a coherence of purpose and a strong set of intertextual and contextual relationships. My only qualification in applying such words as "significant" in his case is that the final importance of these conjunctures must yet remain open for confirmation by historical hindsight.
Scott Redford, Flag of Convenience.