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The Machinery of Desire


Robert Otto Epstein is an artist living and working in New Jersey. His current
work consists of paintings and drawings on paper based on turn of the century French
and German filet lace patterns and vintage knitting and crochet schematics. His primary
interests are in modes of production or ‘the machinery of making.’ He considers the
body at work in the vain of Gilles Deleuze’s ‘desiring machine’—as a kind of round-the-
clock factory model where the assembly of ‘being’ and ‘doing’ and its creative wares are
one in the same.

Epstein is intrigued by the sentimental and quaint qualities embedded in this imagery.
He finds that painstakingly rendering patterns in paint on paper subverts their original
purpose from decorative and utilitarian to something that is purely formal and without
function. The paintings become an admixture of the classical and the contemporary—a
flattened and pixilated adaptation of imagery intended for the production of fiber arts
and textiles.

Epstein’s source material is culled from vintage knitting and crochet books. Sometimes
he selects patterns for their kitschy animal pictures, and then other times he focuses on
more allegorical or historical tableaus. From there he draws a grid on paper and begins
to paint each ‘pixel’ of the pattern, line-by-line and square-by-square. He works very
systematically, even obsessively, painting each sign and symbol, and paying particular
attention to every marker on the ‘map.’ As such, Epstein’s paintings are as much about
the repetitive, mechanistic process that he performs as they are about the final painted


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