Amos Satterlee

CENTOTTO: By-Productions, or Asides
Matthew Miller, Vincent Romaniello, Amos Satterlee, and Bob Seng
November 2013. Bushwick NY.
Centotto website


Paul D'Agostino, the impressario of Centotto, suggested the following as a take-off point for discussion:

"The production of something, where nothing was before, is an act of greater energy than the expansion or decoration of the thing produced. Set down diligently your thoughts as they rise in the first words that occur; and, when you have matter, you will easily give it form: nor, perhaps, will this method always be necessary; for by habit your thoughts and diction will flow together."

from Wit and Wisdom of Samuel Johnson, ed. George Birkbeck Norman Hill, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1888.

In trying to make sense of Johnson's statement, I found it helpful to re-arrange the points he makes as three distinct ideas:

To the first point: "by habit your thoughts and diction will flow together" is a more dignified way of saying "practice makes perfect".

To the second point: "The production of something, where nothing was before, is an act of greater energy than the expansion or decoration of the thing produced" raises two important issues:

Does it hold that "production of something where nothing was before" is really "an act of greater energy" ? Many cases, from skillfully renovating an existing building to adroitly editing a document, require greater effort than starting from scratch.

And then, are we really capable of producing something where nothing was before? From Galileo and Copernicus to Newton and Einstein, the discoveries and revolutionary insights they made built directly on the work of their predecessors. It is difficult, if not impossible, to think of an instance where something was created where nothing was before, Big Bang notwithstanding.

Finally, the third point: "Set down diligently your thoughts as they rise in the first words". While this is excellent advice, it comes with caveats. We can't escape that our thoughts are shaped by the work of others. More importantly, though, is the affect of practice on thoughts. If you have perfected a practice, how much will the habits of your practice influence the thoughts you will entertain?

I know that I have difficulty considering expressions outside of the grids which infuse my work. I can get frustrated at myself in the apparent rigidity of my forms. I can get caught up in considering other, more fluid or expressionistic ways to address the ideas that concern me. The challenge I face is this: there is so much more I want to explore in my grid worlds that I wonder, will these other modes of expression inform and expand my understanding, or will they distract my focus? Or are these other modes a better way to express the ideas and make them more accessible?

These are, I think, the central questions that this show asks. On one hand, the perfecting of a practice is laudable and takes a great deal of focus and energy. On the other, does the perfection of practice limit our ability to express the fulness of our ideas?

November 1, 2013



I've been working with grids for many years, both in my drawings and photographs. A couple of years ago I was in a back corner of the basement of the Strand bookstore and a book, "A New Kind of Science" by Stephen Wolfram, jumped out and grabbed me and dragged me down into the world of cellular automata.

My work then became a search, via both images and programming, to peel back the logic and discover the mechanisms driving the automata and the allegedly unfindable pattern of repetition in the binary cell systems. I may never find it, but I enjoy the search. It's delightful and frustrating. It is dauntingly elusive. Indeed, it might not exist.

It is a quest where aesthetic ends guide the way.

October 8, 2013