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Void of Course

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Void of Course

Artist: David True (American, born 1942)

Date: 1984
Medium: Oil on canvas
Overall: 84 x 11in. (213.4 x 27.9cm)
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 84.25
Label Text
In his painting Void of Course David True presents the viewer with a strange landscape. A deer leaps out of sight to the left while an overturned car to the right perches precariously on a boulder. The sky, trees, and ground resemble a theatrical set more than nature. In describing this painting, the artist said: "the sky is somewhat geometric in construction, presenting seemingly natural cloud formations in configurations which are not natural. By doing the sky in this way I could. . .exercise an abstract geometric order, that reinforced the geometry of the boulders and auto."

The painting depicts a scene of activity that is just ending. The implications of the title suggest that emptiness will soon overcome the situation. In fact, the title has multiple meanings. "Void of Course" is an astrological period when the moon passes between signs; new undertakings are discouraged during this unstable time. One interpretation of this work suggests that the deer, representing nature, slips away from the questionable promise of "civilization" and technological advances.


Text Entries

In an essay on his own work for the catalog that accompanied the Whitney Museum’s New Image Painting exhibition (1978—79), David True narrated how he was visited by a spirit ten years earlier. He discovered this “translucent figure” with minimal features sitting “on a stack of four-by-fours” in his studio. After a soulful conversation, the spirit disappeared into True’s body. Four or five years later, the artist began to adopt a more introspective viewpoint, fueling his ideas about the physical world with his powers of imagination.(1) Thus David True, who was formerly a Minimalist sculptor and painter in the mid-1970s, reintroduced figurative imagery in an abstract context. Although engaging in these new formal issues of representation and pure form, he sought to combine a stylized, naturalistic mode and speculative content into personal allegorical visions.

One of the critical issues of Minimalist sculpture is the literal, perceptual, and physical relationships that exist between the object and spectator in the same environment. In Void of Course of 1984, a leaping deer and overturned automobile appear in a verdant forest with massive stone outcroppings. True’s first concern was to compress the space in order to set up a theatrical relationship between the painted figures and the spectator. He recently stated, “I realized by putting a row of rocks in the foreground and allowing just a lip to exist for the figures that I could make a kind of proscenium. The spectator enters the picture and stands within that very shallow foreground, with the background becoming kind of a stage backdrop”(2) In the Utica painting True avoided making the backdrop simply the space that comes behind foreground and middle ground. Instead, he eliminated the middle ground and allowed the backdrop or sky to play a key role in establishing the conditions of the drama. “In the painting the sky is somewhat geometric in construction, presenting seemingly natural cloud formations in configurations which are not natural. By doing the sky in this way I could infuse it with unexpected implications and exercise an abstract geometric order, that reinforced the geometry of the boulders and auto.”(3)

In astrology the stars and planets determine human affairs. In his choice of a title for the Utica painting True chose to evoke a particular phrase in astrology. As he explained, “ ‘Void of Course’ is a phrase in astrology defining the period of time when the moon is not in a specific sign while it passes from one sign to another. Starting something new, especially something dealing with the material world, is discouraged during a ‘Void’.”(4) His use of this phrase in his title could mean that there is no new sign to lead the way. Also, if one inflects the title so that there is pause between the word “Void” and the phrase “of Course,” True could be stating that this painting is empty.

In a sense this is actually the case. The artist presented the moment when the deer exits the stage opposite the side of the overturned driverless car. The vacancy of the resultant scene sets up a strong sensation of tension, characteristic of many of his works. And, in his choice of title, he ironically avoided the rational state governing the sky, landscape, and figures. In his exploration of the static moment before the climax of a story, True also presented the passage from one place or state of consciousness to another. Rather than defining solutions for the present, he allowed Void of Course to refer to such deep thoughts and anxieties as our sense of continuity, transitoriness, and loss of utopian desires. In his use of the landscape to express ideas and emotions, True uncovered a new world of possibilities. In this fertile, almost primeval landscape, the perverted potential of technology, as exemplified by the car, contrasts with the new freedom of the hunted animal.



1. Richard Marshall, New Image Painting, exhibition catalog (New York: Whitney Museum of Amer-ican Art, 1979), p. 62.

2. Frederick R. Brandt, David True: Paintings 1977-1984, exhibition catalog (Richmond: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 1984), p. 14.

3. David True in a letter to the author January 28, 1986.

4. lbid.


© David True