VIEW FROM THE PANOPTICON

– William Betts

We live in a society where there is a continuing erosion of privacy. We move through spaces with the illusion that our most private conversations, most intimate contacts and actions are private. The ubiquity of surveillance and photography makes us an unwitting actor in thousands and thousands of CCTV videos and holiday photographs as we traverse a city square or walk through a park. These mediations create a new visual vocabulary I explore in my work.  I was originally inspired by the writings of Jeremy Bentham on the Panopticon and Michel Foucault in his work Discipline & Punish. My paintings seek to create dialogue and explore the sociological and philosophical implications of these new applied technologies in contemporary society. 

In my work I look for the ideal balance between recognition and ambiguity allowing viewers to draw on their own experiences, imagination, and anxieties. Ultimately, I believe in the individual right to privacy and as an advocate, I take steps to protect the privacy of my subjects using image resolution and other techniques to obscure the images beyond direct recognition.

For years, my work has operated in the space between photography and painting, examining how they inform each other. As the ubiquity of photography has diminished the technical hurdles of image making, I have focused much of my work on the output process – how we take an image and make it into a ‘thing’. For me, the physicality of the piece and its final permanence is an important declaration as it is the culmination of all of the artist’s choices and skills the image itself a catalyst or structure for the exploration.

I use highly modified linear motion technology, proprietary software of my own design, laser cutters and engravers, as well as other computer controlled devices to apply and manipulate paint. My work is most often based on photographic material mediated through technology and process. I use images as data sets to be examined, sampled, re-contextualized, manipulated and represented. I have always been more concerned with the structural and social aspects of the image. My practice is non-linear and I specialize on several bodies of work and techniques concurrently that inform and also help clarify each other.

The stencil paintings began as an outgrowth of a project I did in 2015 for Art Basel on the side of a warehouse in the Wynwood Arts District of Miami. The entire 80 feet of the façade were covered in individual 24×36 inch stencils of images I selected and painted on the side of the building. The project only lasted a few weeks as the building was sold and renovated in the quickly gentrified area, but I became fascinated by the possibilities and immediacy of the process.

With the beach paintings, I continue exploring privacy and the expectation of privacy in public spaces, adding a layer to obscure the subject using a process intervention I developed, by manually intervening in the output of the laser engraver that I use to make the paintings. This improvisation into what is typically a hermetic process (for safety reasons) gives me direct control of the final image making as it is being output. This disruption is serial in nature – each step of the intervention, an aesthetic reaction to the last and the final piece is unique.

As I began playing with different ways to make stencils using a pixel grid as a base structure, I eventually designed a software program that broke down images with a continuous value range, allowing me to create a truly photographic stencil which remains true to the pixel-based origin of the digital image. The irony of using a technique of street artists to create illicit public artwork, to create images representative of the tools of social control proved too compelling, yet, also fits well with the frequent political messaging of street art. 

Courtesy of William Betts

Someother Magazine

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