Amy Sillman

Thirteen Possible Futures: Cartoon for a Painting


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Not on display

Amy Sillman born 1955
Video animation, flat screen, colour
Duration: 5min, 9sec
Presented by the artist 2015


Thirteen Possible Futures: Cartoon for a Painting is a silent, single-screen digital video animation that was produced in 2012. Running for a duration of five minutes and nine seconds, the work is composed of thousands of hand-drawn computer frames produced using an iPad drawing application that are connected together in sequence. They depict a range of narrative scenes – a man digging a hole in the ground, a rabbit talking on an analyst’s couch and a searchlight shining in the dark – as well as a series of transformations, as limbs cross, hands manipulate unidentifiable objects and coloured shapes morph continuously into each other. The animation is displayed on a wall-mounted iPad – what the artist terms its ‘native environment’ – with its screen orientation fixed and functions disabled to visitors. While it is the artist’s preference that the work be displayed on an iPad – as this is the technology on which the drawings were created and the scale at which they were intended to be viewed – the animation is not medium specific and an alternative screen of a similar scale could also be used should this technology ever become obsolete. The work is produced in an unlimited edition and is not available for purchase. It can only be presented by the artist to recipients of her choosing.

Originally created to be shown alongside Duel 2011 (collection of Thomas Dane, London), a greenish-yellow painting that depicts a pair of hands atop a black slit that divides the canvas into two, Thirteen Possible Futures: Cartoon for a Painting explores – as its title suggests – the many possible directions in which the painting might be taken if Sillman were to continue working on it. It demonstrates the influence of comic books, cartoons and the Chicago-based art group the Hairy Who on the artist’s vocabulary – as much as the contemporary legacies of abstract expressionism – and shows how her work relates to new technologies, as paint and brushstrokes are transferred from the physical to the digital realm. The result of a labour-intensive process belied by the cartoon-like appearance of the imagery, the animation is characterised by a compositional elasticity that implies a fluid development of ideas during the fabrication process. It can also be seen as a reference to Slides of a Changing Painting 1982–3 by American artist Robert Gober (born 1954), which documents through a series of photographs the changes made by the artist to a small painting over the course of a year. Speaking about Thirteen Possible Futures as an exploration and record of different artistic possibilities in this way, Sillman has said:

The animation takes up where the painting leaves off, the layer of the painting that you see is the beginning of the animation and therefore the animation is a new future. It is of importance to me that people understand the animation as a set of proposals for the future of the painting, as well as a way to reveal its past.
(Quoted in Thomas Dane Gallery 2013, paragraph 7.)

In her paintings, such as CLUBFOOT 2011 (Tate T13821), Sillman engages with issues surrounding new technologies and how the medium of painting relates to these. Alongside her painting practice she has created a vast number of drawings using an iPad, which she has linked together as animations. One of these was Draft of a Voice-Over for Split-Screen Video Loop 2012, which was displayed near CLUBFOOT in Sillman’s retrospective exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, in 2013.

Further reading
Amy Sillman: either or and, exhibition press release, Thomas Dane Gallery, London 2013,, accessed 16 December 2014.
Amy Sillman: one lump or two, exhibition catalogue, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston 2014.
Mark Godfrey, ‘Statements of Intent’, Artforum, vol.52, no.9, May 2014, pp.294–303, 344, reproduced pp.296, 303.

Hannah Johnston
December 2014

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