Thursday, December 14, 2006


Drawings #2 and 3 on the Cantus.

As a painting, I'm thinking the bottom part would become almost like bars of a prison, very high-contrast, while the rest of it is rather like a waterfall.

Cracks are where the light gets in. or falls out, or where the souls come from. This one made me think of Kaballah.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The drought is broken

So I found that collaborator after all.

The above drawing was done while listening to Arvo Pärt's 'Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten' on a repeat loop. It's a sketch, merely; it only barely suggests the sense I have of an infinite number of cascading stars, drifting gracefully and impersonally into a humming abyss.
Cantus: a personal threnody; an ultimate closing chord; a mystical, threshold experience.
The piece is only five minutes long; I probably played it about twenty times in the course of making the sketch. I found that I couldn't turn the music off and polish the drawing. Without the music I didn't know what to focus on, or where to go next. The sounds were directly informing the movement and the weight of the lines.

To get it really right will require color, of course, and probably quite a large canvas.

The tentative plan, for now, is to make a lot more sketches from the same piece, and a lot more sketches from other pieces. Then pick some of them and make paintings. But this plan is subject to change at any moment.

The thing that feels like a breakthrough to me is not that I finally made a new drawing after months of not picking up a pencil; that's just detritus. What is almost impossible to articulate (but I will try) is that while working this way, I seem to be able to access an infinite inner space, as though the membrane between me and the universe had melted away and revealed the whole of Reality within my heart.

Which would be the definition, more or less, of 'mystical experience.' As hokey as that sounds.

Perhaps the reason this appears to me to be a breakthrough, why I feel that it is the right way to work right now, is that taking away any literal representation, any 'signifier', and doing a fairly abstract drawing that nevertheless is a direct response to an experience, allows me to work freely but not randomly. What has prevented me from becoming an abstract painter hitherto has been that threat of randomness; that lack of any anchor whatsoever between meaningful communication and untethered ego-indulgence.

I have, almost, worked this way before. 'Passage' was done mostly on a repeat loop to the final track of Rachel's 'The Sea and the Bells,' 'His Eyes.'

A dear friend of mine (hi Jake!) made a video for me, incorporating moving images of my paintings with relevant pieces of music, but I think to really get it right I'm going to have to operate the camera myself; so much of it is kinesthetic, about a specific movement relating to a specific shape, sound and color.

Another concern of mine is that this way of working not become a 'schtick.' Rebecca suggested that I take commissions to visually represent people's favorite pieces of music; although it's a good moneymaking idea, this would absolutely not work for me. I pick these pieces of music because they resonate with me and my style. Doing cheery little depictions of the latest Britney Spears hit would not only be agony, but probably impossible.

So don't even ask.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Definition of Success

This week, along with the start of the Holiday Whirlwind, which has, in fact, included gingerbread houses, I had a wonderful visit from Rebecca Sullivan of Ember, and her boyfriend Paul. It's one of the virtues of living in New York, that even if you met someone more than five years ago, and hardly remember what they look like, they come visit you eventually. As long as they don't rip the sinks off the wall, or smoke indoors, they're welcome.

And now I have somewhere to stay, if I ever go to Wales.

It always amazes me when artists of any genre show no interest in, or knowledge of, other art forms. For me, every kind of art informs and enriches all the others. Not only do I find it fully possible to dance about architecture, I don't even understand why this might be construed as difficult. I'm not a musician, and I like it that way; music provides at least one source of pure inspiration and enjoyment, informing my work in the most direct way. I do not and cannot paint when I don't have music playing; sometimes I'll wake up with a start and realize that I have been staring at a canvas for 45 minutes without moving, simply because the CD ended.

I'm not one of those people who can literally hear colors and see music, but each set of vibrations appears to me to instruct all the others. Thus, at times I will put a piece of music on 'repeat' until I get the corresponding painting right, or make a painting about a poem. I am still looking for the right musician to collaborate with--once I met a cellist who would compose a piece, send it to a painter who would paint a painting about it, he would compose another piece about that, etc. This sounded like my ideal life. But he was a flake, so I'm looking for another cellist, with staying power this time.

And, now that I notice it, I have an occasional habit of accosting talented musicians in random night clubs, and befriending them, or at least introducing myself, buying a CD, and getting on their mailing lists. And even more occasionally, they end up crashing in my living room. What a privilege.

So while Rebecca was here, I subjected her to my favorite tracks off the CDs of all the other talented musicians I've harassed in the last few years, and she listened not only politely, but intently. I noticed that she seemed to be apprehending a new song as rapidly and comprehensively as I myself apprehend a new painting; she grasped all of the important elements before it was half over. It didn't matter whether she 'liked' it or not; she was just taking it in. And we talked about the creative process, and synesthesia, and she, like most of my other creative friends, promised to buy a painting of mine as soon as she could afford it. She looked at the paintings as intently as I listen to her music; she said, seriously, "You're a real artist."

Which took me aback.

I haven't been thinking of myself as an 'artist,' lately. Having fought so long and so hard to be one, I have realized that the fight was killing me, and decided to stop. Lately I have been taking one day at a time, and focussing literally on whether the floor is clean, and what the light is like, and--god help us--politics. And, if I am to be truly confessional, trying to figure out what to do with the voice that has been growing increasingly hard to ignore, over the last six months or so, the one that's making that keening sound, having to do with, horrors! nesting, and loneliness, and biological clocks.

Because the fact of the matter is, that at the point I hit that last nightmarish breakup, the nesting alarm was ringing full-tilt. I was taking bike rides through Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens, and my limbic brain was screaming, "That one! That cozy, solid brick house with the Greek trim, the French windows, the front garden with roses and cobblestones! Mine! Now!"

Then the breakup pretty much took care of that. You don't 'nest' when you're in psychic intensive care. You exist, precariously; you make some art. You do your job and keep putting one foot in front of the other. In a way, it was something of a relief; it's not comfortable to be compulsively coveting other people's houses, all the freakin' time, particularly when the basic starter home in your area costs upwards of $1.2 mil. It's purely an unnecessary mental stress factor.

Now, I do not believe in trying to force things. I refuse to do the personal ad thing anymore. I refuse to sign up for some horrible new thing called 'speed dating.' I will not hang out at clubs, or go to singles parties, or let my friends try to set me up. I refuse, refuse, refuse. I will not do any more 'relationship-finding' activities that constitute, basically, job interviews. It goes against my spiritual philosophy, my practical experience, and my innate sense of decency and propriety. It's yukky and disgusting, and it doesn't work.

No, instead I'm practicing that mental and spiritual acrobatic trick called 'letting go, and letting God.' I'm the first to confess that I'm not doing it very well. I mope, I hide, I leave parties and shows and openings early, instead of brightly getting on out there and Meeting New People. I do whatever I feel like doing in the moment, carefully ditching anything that feels like an agenda.

Because trying to force it got me where I was before, and there's nothing worse than that, and I will NEVER DO THAT AGAIN.

So instead I try to see things in a larger perspective--that this is just one of those things that all people struggle with, that it's a process of 'tempering,' that I don't know how it will turn out, but it's a necessary strand in whatever lacy web my entire life is weaving. And that, on some level, in some way, someday, I will perhaps get some decent art out of it.

Which brings me to a recent Adam Gopnik essay about Jerry Shore, which I found profoundly touching, in its illustration of how a life can be a success, can be a work of art, despite all apparent external failure.
...Work suddenly became very hard to find, and his search for it was not helped by his drinking and depression. Friends say that he lost confidence, as can happen quickly to a man caught up in a confidence game.

Yet this was the moment when he gave himself over to a project that he may have begun sometime earlier, in the late seventies. He travelled through Manhattan and Queens, making large-scale, exquisitely printed color photographs of some of the most aesthetically unpersuasive streets in New York City. For the next ten years, until his death, he pursued this project, with a focus and self-discipline made all the more moving by his ever more distressed circumstances.

I have been thinking, lately, about how art and life cannot really be distinguished from one another. Thus, discussions about whether or not madness and depression are a help or a hindrance to the artist seem beside the point. Our circumstances--mental, spiritual, physical and emotional--are our palette. What each of us do with our given palette is unique, mysterious, and not subject to any lasting critical standards but our own internal ones.
The project, which seems to have begun as a kind of surcease from his commercial work—a way of recapturing some of the concerns and obsessions that had led him to New York and to art in the first place—soon became a substitute. It was all he did; given the number of images he left behind, he must have been out with his camera, hunting scenes and taking pictures, nearly every day until he died.
Jerry Shore died at fifty-nine, in a 'well of alcohol and isolation.' He only sold one photo during his lifetime. Yet in those photos, and in their preservation by a collector, in their tender observation by a sensitive writer, his life is shown to be a complete success; an articulated, honest, loving vision.

So I try not to judge myself for 'failing' at anything, whether it be art, relationships, finances, or All Three At Once, the way it has appeared to be for the last--oh, since I moved to New York, pretty much. I try not to judge anyone else, either. Instead I look for the Jerry Shore in me, and in everyone--the beautiful, unique, irreplaceable perspective that this person brings to the world, whether it's a way of prattling artlessly in a way which sets strangers at ease, a habit of noticing, a way of phrasing, a grace. These things count; in the long run, they're the only things which do.

If you look for failure, you'll always find it. When you look for success, you can usually find that, too.

Friday, December 01, 2006


I've just discovered that I am now listed on Wikipedia as an anecdotal biographer of "Mission School" artists.

I think my website upgrade has just been moved to the 'high priority' file.