At the heart of Finch’s practice is this romantic impulse to see what others have seen, and to share that impression— to accurately convey it—to a multitude. Often Finch is drawn to the idea of experiencing what certain historic figures have envisaged, and he imagines that the light of the sun is perhaps the singular phenomenon that may not have changed over the years.1 With that in mind, he has traveled to Troy to record the dawn that the Greek hero Achilles saw, ventured to Lascaux to document the sunset that the earliest artists would have witnessed outside the now-famous caves (fig. 2), and made numerous pilgrimages to Emily Dickinson’s house in Amherst, Massachusetts, to experience and transcribe visually the light she so eloquently described in her poems. Light and its color are ultimately the subjects that fascinate Finch and those that he returns to again and again—along with the perceptual, physiological, psychological, and linguistic workings that influence how we experience them. Like many artists and thinkers who have inspired him and who turn up in his work—scientists, artists, poets, and philosophers, including Monet, Turner, Newton, Dickinson, Goethe, and Wittgenstein—Finch is continuously celebrating, and grappling with, the beauty and enigmas of light and color. His mix of science and poetry is fitting for a subject that is equally tied to science and art.”
Excerpt from Susan Cross, The Brain Is Wider Than The Sky pp. 7, 2016
[...] Assuredly, somewhere in the future, Spencer Finch will symbolically drag the now distant year of 1862 into the present. In the meantime, this work, like much of his art, will continue to grasp at the ineffable—both as idea and as a remembered, if truncated, actuality. Often the artist’s projects point to the ways in which representational practice falls short of its mark, unable to capture or reconstruct events, emotions, and places now lost to history. A knowingly improbable sculpture, 366 (Emily Dickinson’s Miraculous Year) efficiently enacts its own limitations. That the work has never run its course is now an integral component of its symbolic register. As a corollary to Dickinson’s art and life, as an analogy to creativity itself, the piece offers an elusive rendering of both extraordinary achievement as well as a nimble shrine to possibilities realized and unrealized.
Excerpt from James Rondeau, The Brain Is Wider Than The Sky pp. 7, 2016
Finch carefully records the invisible world, while simultaneously striving to understand what might lie beyond it. Whether he is relying on his own powers of observation or using a colorimeter, a device that reads the average color and temperature of light, the artist employs a scientific method to achieve poetic ends. . . . Contrary to what one might expect, Finch's efforts toward accuracy- the precise measurements he takes under different conditions and at different times of day- resist, in the end, a definitive result or single empirical truth about his subject. Instead, his dogged method reinforces the fleeting, temporal nature of the observed world, illustrating his own version of a theory of relativity. In Finch's universe if you wait a few hours, the sun may very well change a leaden hue into gold. Like the ancient practitioners of the hermetic arts, who saw changes as the most fundamental truth of the universe, the artist doesn't always provide an answer in his investigations. For Finch art can do more; it can "ignite our capacity for wonder."
Excerpt from Susan Cross, What Time Is It On The Sun pp. 9-17, 2007
Representation always infers a distance from, and difference to the referent, and difference and distance are what Finch's light installations slowly underline. Though the viewers might initially look at the glow hitting the walls around them and be impressed by the accuracy of Finch's representation of a faraway light, they will inevitably cast their eyes upon the dumb materials which emit or filter it- the fluorescent tubes, the individual bits of colored plastics, the tape and cloths pegs that hold everything together, and so on. Unlike James Turrell, or even Dan Flavin, who occasionally pointed some tubes towards the wall to conceal the exact colors he used, Finch will never hide his materials, and by making them so self-evident, he allows his illusions to fall apart even as they are created. Attending to the literal materials of Finch's installations, viewers recall that they are in the interior of a gallery in a nondescript building in a city far away from the initial location. This is not the fleeting violet of a Troy dawn, nor the shadow on a bright snowy day at Giverny, but a crude and static technological recreation, albeit an accurate one.
Excerpt from Mark Godfrey, Parkett pp. 14-19, No. 79 2007
Sensing that our observations must be tied to experience if we are to get at the truth of something, Finch is compelled continually to expand the scope of his projects, returning to the same sites at all hours to look again and again. He traveled to Rouen to visit the cathedral painted by Claude Monet but found the building closed for renovation. Undeterred, Finch decided to make a series of paintings depicting the colors of various objects in his hotel room. By the time he had completed the arduous task of matching 55 colors, the changing light had altered every one. Thus the work grew into a triptych, a wry blend of Conceptual and Impressionist methodologies, representing the same set of colors in the morning, afternoon, and evening. As Finch is fascinated with the interaction of the physiological and the psychological aspects of perception, the way our inner world casts a veil over the outer, it makes sense that he would travel thousands of miles to make a work that explored the tiniest details of his hotel room. For him vision is an act of projection as much as of apprehension. . . . Darkness and light. Blindness and insight. Nature and Science. These dichotomies arise in Finch’s work only to have their usefulness and validity interrogated. Their too-easy formulas and their promise of an absolute veracity are not to be trusted. His work for the past decade had consciously distilled these issues and has grown richer, more potent. Resisting conclusion, Finch nevertheless aspires to a greater appreciation of the problem. . .
Excerpt from Charles LaBelle, Frieze pp. 66-69, May 2003
This means that Finch’s understanding of color theory, in the end, doesn’t amount to an alternative to formalism or Conceptualism. He is unafraid to inhabit the paradox that art exists in the play between language and perception. What many artists and theorists find unbearable, literally, the ‘speaking against itself’ implied in para-doxa, is for Finch less something to escape than the very condition necessary for his art practice. That is why his work demonstrates a Proustian interest in the difficulties and disappointments of recollection. He knows that color lies at the boundary of what we see and what we remember. Despite the thick red line of humor that runs through his work, Finch’s projects are always laced with the acute pathos of someone disappointed by both perception and language and by their mutual exclusivity and incompatibility. "There is always a paradox inherent in vision, an impossible desire to see yourself seeing. A lot of my work probes this tension; to want to see, but not being able to," Finch says in a catalogue for a 1997 show at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, CT. Color is less a trope of indeterminacy than a way to re-create an almost visceral experience of our impossible desire to name our perceptions.
Excerpt from Saul Anton, Artforum, pp. 124-127, April 2001
Alas, that all this energy and commitment should result in work that's virtually viewerproof.