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Collections How Deep is the Ocean?

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Image
Courtesy Walker Art Center
Rights
Copyright retained by the artist

Copyright

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Title
How Deep is the Ocean?
Date
1998
Dimensions
unframed 72.0625 × 48 × 1.5 inches
Materials
ink, printed paper collage on fabric
Location
Not on view

Object Details

Type
Paintings (Paintings)
Accession Number
1998.115
Inscriptions
in black ink reverse TC U. Krisanamis"; in black in k reverse TC “How Deep is the Ocean”
Physical Description
strips of newspaper attached to a bed sheet and colored with dark blue and orange ink.
Credit Line
Clinton and Della Walker Acquisition Fund, 1998

object label Udomsak Krisanamis, How Deep is the Ocean? (1998) Walker Art Center, 2000

Udomsak Krisanamis is a Thai artist, now based in New York, who came to the United States in 1991 to pursue an MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Since then, he has gained a reputation as one of the most interesting abstract painters of note to have emerged in the past decade.

To make paintings like this one, Krisanamis pastes thousands of newspaper strips onto a fabric support and then obsessively inks them out, leaving only selected letter forms: every “O,” for example, or the enclosed forms within the letters “P” and “B.” What results is a densely layered, mottled, shimmering surface of dark and light suggestive of a night sky or a teeming city after dark. His work has been compared to Robert Rauschenberg’s black paintings, Jackson Pollock’s all-over compositions, and Robert Irwin’s dot paintings, and it also recalls Jasper Johns' early encaustic canvases, which had surfaces similarly built up over newspaper strip collages. The technique grew out of Krisanamis' method of learning English: while reading the newspaper, he would cross out each word he knew, leaving the “blank spots” to be looked up.

Krisanamis' painting fits well within the context of the Walker’s collection of postwar abstraction, which often has a personal or allusive content (including work of Vija Celmins, Lucio Fontana, Brice Marden, Kazuo Shiraga, and Yayoi Kusama). The acquisition also supports the museum’s mission to collect the work of emerging artists and to purchase work made outside the boundaries of the United States and Europe.

Label text for Udomsak Krisanamis, How Deep is the Ocean? (1998), from the exhibition State of the Art: Recent Gifts and Acquisitions, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, July 22-October 8, 2000.

Copyright 2000 Walker Art Center

online content Identity: English Language Learner Walker Art Center, 2003

The method Krisanamis employed for making his early paintings grew out of his way of learning English. While reading the newspaper, he would cross out each word he knew, leaving the “blank spots” to be looked up. As his English improved, the newspaper became more and more illegible.

This technique can be seen as a metaphor for the challenges faced by immigrants who do not speak the language of their adopted country. Learning a new language is an important factor in establishing identity in a new culture, but it also is only a part of a complex, long-term, and at times difficult process.

Identity: English Language Learner, from the website Global Positioning: Exploring Contemporary World Art, 2003.

Copyright 2003 Walker Art Center

online content Metaphor: Empty Spaces Walker Art Center, 2003

“… Krisanamis works not so much with the meaning between the lines as with the voids within the words themselves. The tiny white circles and ovals that fill his often very large and otherwise monochromatic canvases are the spaces inside each letter O and each zero on the strips of newspaper he pastes together to form his grounds. The fantastic cityscapes and night skies we read into his images are composed of heavily applied oil paint combined with, literally, nothing.”
–Charles Dee Mitchell, Art in America, 1997

Krisanamis' process for creating this work can lead to poetic associations with the concept of emptiness, voids, or spaces left blank. Or perhaps the holes refer to his obsession with golf. At the same time, the dense color around the empty spaces brings to mind celestial patterns, nighttime cityscapes, and other more visual associations. Also, Krisanamis gives his paintings titles from popular culture (“How Deep Is the Ocean?” is also the title of a song written by Irving Berlin in 1932, recorded by Rudy Vallee and Bing Crosby). This practice leads to more speculation about his work as a metaphor for his assimilation with American culture. Are these associations what the artist had in mind?

“Everything is in the painting.”–Udomsak Krisanamis

Metaphor: Empty Spaces, from the website Global Positioning: Exploring Contemporary World Art, 2003.

Copyright 2003 Walker Art Center

online content Museum: Background Information Walker Art Center, 2003

Udomsak Krisanamis was born in Thailand in 1966 and did undergraduate studies in art at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand. In 1991 he moved to the United States for graduate studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and he now lives and works in New York. To make How Deep is the Ocean?, Krisanamis pasted thousands of newspaper strips onto a fabric support and then inked out all letters except the spaces inside Os and zeros. This created a dense pattern of circles and ovals. Although the artwork is abstract in that it does not directly represent any real object, it has strong associations with the artist’s experiences. Like many foreign students, Krisanamis had studied English but was not fluent when he arrived in the United States. He read the newspaper every day to improve his English, marking his progress as he read. He would cross out the words he knew and leave unknown words exposed, later looking them up in the dictionary. As his English improved, he gradually covered more of the newspapers with ink until only tiny bits of text remained. Krisanamis adapted this process of learning English into his process of making paintings.

Udomsak Krisanamis, How Deep is the Ocean? (1998), from the website Global Positioning: Exploring Contemporary World Art, 2003.

Copyright 2003 Walker Art Center

online content Artist: Udomsak Krisanamis Annetta Massie, 2000

“Krisanamis’ work dips at random from the eddies and flows of his own experiences, from his life in Bangkok to his love of golf. He names his works with familiar terms–song titles and phrases borrowed from music, golf, Hollywood, and other popular sources–opening a relaxed sense of identification for the viewer, as if, through the title, you somehow already know the work personally.”
–Annetta Massie, Wexner Center for the Arts, 2000

Artist: Udomsak Krisanamis, from the website Global Positioning: Exploring Contemporary World Art, 2003.

Copyright 2003 Walker Art Center