from Subjective Contour Completion

by Karen Cora Duchamp

It may be that the unthinking search for bodies is the most fundamental operation of vision and that, when there are no bodies present, we continue to understand the world in terms of bodily forms, textures, or metaphors.

--James Elkins, The Object Stares Back.












Subjective contour completion, the process whereby the eye completes an image despite obscurities attests to our desire to see things whole.

The fact of subjective contour completion attests to our dislike of fragments.

I made these paintings based on a photographic snapshot I took of my friend Wendy. We were driving in New York State somewhere along the Hudson River, near Poughkeepsie. I inadvertantly caught Wendy lifting up her dress. She wasn't being inadvertant at all. She knew I was taking the picture. Her action was intentional.

The gesture, the action, caught my eye. I have made over two hundred paintings based on this single photograph. In fact, I have not taken a photograph since I had the roll of film developed and I saw what I actually had here.

I have worked on this image practically non-stop for the last 15 months. Ultimately it is the photograph itself that inspires me. And I feel that much of my work is involved in the process of re-finding the original. The camera's lens is so much more sensitive than my eye, and yet its sensitivity is without purpose, without desire, without meaning.

And now I have over 200 fragments of meaning, the weight of the meaning is heavy, heavy indeed. The simple task of where to store the fragments, what to do with them, is a problem that distracts me. I am hoping that somehow, someway, these fragments will fit together properly and become a unified whole. In the meantime, for me, they suggest only a possibility.

Displayed Work (Top to Bottom)

  • A. Subjective Contour Completion No. 1.
    acrylic on dehydrated tapioca screen.

  • B. Subjective Contour Completion No. 3.
    acrylic and crushed darvon on canvas.

  • C. Subjective Contour Completion No. 4.
    tempura on aspic canvas.

  • D. Subjective Contour Completion No. 7.
    oil on canvas.

  • E. Subjective Contour Completion No. 11.
    chalk on glazed hemp.

  • F. Subjective Contour Completion No. 18.
    acrylic on tissue and salmon skin.

  • G. Subjective Contour Completion No. 29.
    acrylic on hydrogenated burlap.

  • H. Subjective Contour Completion No. 47.
    colored pencil on paper.

  • I. Subjective Contour Completion No. 76.
    acrylic on marbelized emulsion.

  • J. Subjective Contour Completion No. 123.
    oil on canvas.

  • K. Subjective Contour Completion No. 199.
    mosaic tiles on fiberwood.

  • L. Original photogaph.
    taken with an Olympus OM-2 single lens reflex camera.

    all work Copyright © 1999
    by Karen Cora Duchamp


Karen Cora Duchamp is an artist and freelance photographer from Dayton, Ohio. She is currently studying at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C.

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JCBA 18 Art
Published: December 18, 1999
Copyright © 2000 by the Cosmic Baseball Association