Monday, January 31, 2005

inspiration slowdown

Just stopped painting, abruptly, when I realized I no longer had any idea whether I was making it better or worse. No longer had any idea WHAT I was doing, in fact. Time to call it a day.

Camilla called unexpectedly at 8:30 AM on Friday, wanting to go to the MoMA. Camilla is one of those long-term acquaintance-type friends with whom I continue to be on equally friendly terms, no matter how much time goes by. The last time I saw her was in August of 2001, which would make it three and a half years--ten years since we started work together as brand new Information Ladies at the P.L. of SF. She was the OTHER younger blonde chick who slouched in slightly late, carrying an illegal cup of coffee. We never became deeply close, after she once stood me up for a weekend camping trip by infinitely drawn-out degrees of postponement. Thereafter I decided never to depend on her for any sort of long- or short-term plans, but to fully appreciate her whenever she happened to be present. And lo, on Friday she was.

Camilla is now an "older" law student at Syracuse, in Buffalo. Yikes. She says she has wanted to be a lawyer since she was five--Things You Never Knew About People. I'm really excited for her. Over the last ten years it has been library school, and incompletes and extensions and unfinished papers, and buying a typewriter to write the novel that never quite got started, and torturous drawn-out affairs with men who were too old or too young or too phobic or married. And various political blow-outs at the library where she was invariably the scapegoat, I could never see why. Now she tells me that in her first semester of law school, at least one evil law professor made her their personal scapegoat. She could't say why.

The patterns of karma and personality are infinitely mysterious. Camilla is one of those people who gets into conversations with drab little old men at the information desk, and busboys, and workmen on the subway who are covered in mud, and cranky old women in wheelchairs and shy, unattractive children. She finds things to fascinate and admire in the most unlikely people; she is a populist, an egalitarian and an open-hearted humanitarian. She has little ego, little envy and no malice. It's hard for me to imagine why various people over the years have suddenly decided she was Satan, and screamed at her in the children's reading room or hissed at her in the hallway or tried to run her down with a book truck. Except that maybe once she slept with their husband or stood them up for a camping trip or spoke out loudly against corruption when all the rest were silent. But you've got to forgive these things.

One odd thing I always noticed about Camilla--no matter who she was dating, young guy or old, married or player, she was always a mistress and never a girlfriend. Not an expensive mistress with diamonds and furs and an elegant downtown apartment, either--a hole-in-corner, drunk-3-AM-booty-call mistress, an it's-over-except-that-it-isn't woman, a get-out-of-here-quick-my-girlfriend's-coming-over girl. She was always the rebound relationship even if the affair lasted nine years; the guy would always marry the one after her. I never understood this, either. She puts no effort whatsoever into personal appearance, but this generally fails to conceal a certain jaw-dropping stunningness of face and figure, to accompany the sharp and well-informed mind. For ten years I have diligently fought the impulse to drop her in a bathtub, scrub, apply hairbrush, mascara and contact lenses, stuff her into a slinky black dress and let her loose in a room full of French diplomats. It would be a rout. I have never understood why she has never bothered, but such is the nature of political idealists.

So it seems that someday, Camilla will be a drab little public defender with a crushing caseload of society's derelicts, underpaid and underappreciated, and this will be her dream come true. I'm so glad she's in my life. When she passes the bar I will be there cheering.


The MoMA was good, if only to serve as a reminder that no, I'm not a crappy artist and should not give up and go run some non-profit arts organization instead of wasting my time and more expensive linen canvas. It cost twenty dollars to get in or I'd go more often; fortunately I finally sent in my artist's membership application to the Whitney. I will go to Member's Only openings, schmooze, and remind myself regularly that there are lots of worse artists than me out there who get a lot more attention than I do. On good days I find hope and encouragement in this fact. Camilla and I saw about half the MoMA, nearly passed out from exhaustion and low blood sugar, restored ourselves in the café for two hours over beets, cheese, olives and two carafes of wine, then zoomed through the second half with arrogance and vigor.

Tally of favorite artists, this month: Egon Schiele rocks. He's even better than Klimt. Picasso and Matisse are idiots, Brancusi is a god, Rodin is boring, Hopper rules, Wyeth is anal but competent. MoMA curators do not have a SINGLE CLUE about Mexican art, they include the worst of Frida, Diego, Siquieros and Orozco and do not include Tamayo at all, a heinous, unforgivable oversight IMHO. On the lower, more contemporary floors--what IS it with Twombly? Video, don't TALK to me about video, even the "89 Seconds at Alcazar" that I missed at the Biennial and, surprisingly, found again at the MoMA was, well, unenlightening. Jasper Johns holds up less well than one would think. Richard Serra forgot to clean up after himself. Jeff Koons ought to be squashed like the cockroach he is, and not given surprise fiftieth birthday parties at Deitch projects that get written up with all due seriousness and a suspicious lack of irony in The New Yorker. There is no justice in the world.

Well, maybe I was getting tired toward the end, there. But somebody should put Brice Marden out of his misery.

At least I was able to come home and look at the half-completed "Unravelling of Grief" in my studio, and instead of shriveling up in shame and misery I thought--there's hope. Today as I was working on it, I had the revelation that my paintings should work to subvert linear logic, in the manner of a Zen koan. Ideally, a viewer should look at one and think, first, "wow, that's beautiful," and then, upon examination of this beauty, think "wait, what IS that, exactly," and then, upon trying to figure it out, mental circuits should temporarily jam, leaving a second of mental silence which opens the floodgates for the vastness of creation to enter, assisted by the deep beauty and cogent vibrations of the painting, and voilá! Enlightenment. THAT'S what I should be striving for.

Unfortunately this was an awfully big burden for "Unravelling of Grief" to shoulder all at once, which may be why I had to stop for the time being. I'll try again tomorrow.

3 comments:

nescient said...

I am not sure about better than Klimt, but I agree that Egon Schiele is underrated.

Twombly is not bad in his use of paint, but they all look like studies to me. Is there depth that I am missing? I don't think so. I think that he had a good promoter, and these fools who call themselves critics, believed that since they did not understand it, it must be deep. Not that they wouldn't be lost in a car park puddle. But, ah, well, the world is full of uninspired morons who are oblivious to depth and truth. They mistake tazo for good tea because it has good copy and has linked its image to being "knowingly edgy".

Never doubt your own gift as an artist. Your work is fantastic, and gallery owners around the world should be hanging their heads in shame for not fighting for the right to exhibit and promote your work. In the meantime, Sing! Paint! Dance! And paint some more, and when the opportunites arise, promote shamelessly!

serena said...

Gosh, thanks so much, I really needed that.

Who are you, anyway? I was so sure you were RA that I didn't even bother to check, but I just got off the phone with RA and he disclaims ever having written this. Mystery Friend! How scrumptious!

badgerbag said...

Huzzah for jamming the circuits and causing the infinite loop of wondering about things! What you described is just what I try to do in poems in the hope that when kicked out of the loop the reader has built some new complicated thought.

and yeah, your paintings do this!