Sunday, November 25, 2007

I Am Not Talented

Just returned from a trip to Fort Worth, visiting my family, and incidentally my archive of Early Works, which lives in a storage unit down by the railroad tracks. The verdict is in: as a feckless young art student, I had No Talent. Yack. I mean it.

Mom and my aunt Prudence were splendid; they helped me haul the piles of cracked, crumbling, dusty, dirty, decaying artworks out of their tomb, unroll them, take vile snapshots with a digital camera for the Historical Record, and then pile them into a dumpster. I didn't throw away everything, just the extreme monstrosities that made me cringe in horror and shame. Actually I even saved one or two of those, as a reminder. They remind me, principally, to be kind.

Because I can't begin to describe how bad those student paintings were. Suffice it to say that I had no notion of color, composition, light, surface, paint quality, line quality, or conceptual content. My student work had no redeeming qualities whatsoever, except for a certain cheerful willingness to keep flinging paint around, in the absence of all external evidence that this process would lead somewhere fruitful.

Funnily enough, I don't find this revelation of my profound untalentedness to be the slightest bit depressing. Instead I feel an expansive sense of peace, liberation and connection. It's difficult to describe.

I'm not one of those PC egalitarians who thinks that talent is an elitist myth. It does exist, and I've seen it. There are people born with grace, skill, vision, and a discipline which expresses itself ceaselessly and without apparent effort; it is if they spent a thousand lifetimes in intensive practice and study, and were born into this body already possessing a mastery of medium and profundity of expression.

I repeat; I am not one of those people. I started off as a committed painter with nothing more than an overpowering sense that there were things I needed to learn through painting, and things I needed to express. I had only the vaguest idea what those things were; if I'd known, I wouldn't have needed to paint. I waged epic battles in defense of my right to be callow, immature and clueless. Anything I may have achieved in the way of worthwhile art has been done the hard way, through trial and error, discipline and practice, and sheer irrational pigheadedness.

Why does this give me such a sense of peace? Well, for starters, I'm no longer the slightest bit upset with all those faculties, arts organizations, committees, galleries and philanthropists who turned down my persistent applications. They were obviously people of taste who knew exactly what they were doing, and I commend them. I didn't need or deserve their help; any assistance from then would have only fed my unrealistically inflated notions of self.

Furthermore, I feel a warm sense of connection with the vast majority of humanity, also not born with the facility of a Mozart or a Barry McGee. Being perceived as 'gifted' sets you apart; it is isolating and chill. Much is expected of a talented person--success is regarded as automatic, and failure is received with exasperated contempt. Talented people are not judged by the standards of ordinary mortals. They are not expected to be kind, mature, ethical or friendly; if they are any of those things, it's a bonus.

When I expected myself to be talented, I also regarded myself with exasperated contempt, as a separate creature from the rest of humanity, where the usual standards did not apply. This was not a comfortable state of mind in which to exist.

Now I look back and think--well, I'm not talented. I just worked really hard. I worked to earn money, and practiced hard, and studied hard, and thought hard. I improved, really really slowly. I made a lot of messes and wasted a lot of time and money on dead ends, and picked out the one small thing I learned from that dead end and used it later on, to better effect. Now when I look around at how many people have paid good money to hang one of my paintings on their wall, and continue to enjoy it, and don't regret the money spent, I'm very proud of that. It was never a given that this would happen.

Now I look at my future, and think that I will continue doing this, without the burden of thinking that it has to be something special. If I create something beautiful, that will be a joy. If I don't, that's to be expected. I am not talented.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Goals


I took a short studio moratorium while hanging the Blogger Show; it seems to be true that I can only flex my creative muscles in one or two directions at once, and hanging shows is like painting and sculpting using other people's artwork as your raw materials. It's a process I really enjoy, and know that I'm good at. Moreover, I've known many many artists who are not good at it at all, and thus I have no problem with unapologetically taking charge of the process. A bad hanging or lighting job can make a great piece look mediocre, and a mediocre piece look like garbage; a good hanging job, or just lots of clean white walls and good light, can make a mediocre piece look like it's in Chelsea. Oh, wait...

So, anyway, at the opening I had a good chat with Nancy Baker about the blatant sexism of the Art World at the highest levels, the levels where serious money changes hands. It is true, as Tracy Helgeson says, that there are tons of non-NYC galleries run by women, that show lots of women's work--largely work that is pretty, in a recognizable genre like landscape or still life, and breaks no new ground, artistically speaking. It is also true that women who paint like Nancy does have a very hard time selling work outside of NYC. Nancy told me that she has repeatedly been dumped by galleries, even when her work was selling well, and replaced by a good-looking young guy just out of art school. Big Money, and Chelsea dealers, seem to be interested in good-looking young men, and not much else.

This is the kind of thing that I prefer not to think about, for obvious reasons. But when I am forced to think of it, I don't expend much mental energy on getting angry. Instead, it forces me to consciously prioritize my life's goals--because, given that there are enormous obstacles in the way of my achieving even moderate worldly success, I haven't got any energy to waste. I need to remember what the ball is, and keep my eye on it.

So, in no particular order, here is my list of Lifelong Ambitions:

• Design a chapel, in collaboration with an architect (hopefully my brother-in-law, who is something of a genius) and a glassworker. It will be of stone, placed in a rural setting or on a large piece of forested property, with a stream bisecting it from back to front. It will include simple vaults, windows based on my mandala paintings, and lanterns suspended in arcs, parallel to the stream. (At least, these are my preliminary sketches.)

• Form connections with artists and other creative people (musicians, writers, dancers, performers, directors etc.) and work with them on collaborative projects that help extend our joint creative minds in genuinely new and effective ways.

• Have some influence on the way hospitals are designed and fitted out, to make then into genuinely healing environments, and not the nightmarish torture-zones that most of them currently are. (I can and will write an extensive treatise on this subject, soon.)

• Exhibit my work in serious professional galleries, where it gets the press and recognition that it deserves. (This may seem so obvious as to be tautological, but it needs to be stated.)

• Produce museum-quality work that extends the capacities of the human mind--perceptually, imaginatively, and spiritually.

• Create healing and meditative environments at every opportunity.

• Publish at least one book.

Maybe these goals are too general, but it's a working list. I am wary of setting my eye on specific targets that are all too easily shot down by forces beyond my control--i.e. 'I want a solo show at the Whitney by the time I'm thirty-five.' I am equally wary of putting too much weight on what might be called external factors--money, recognition, and fame. It has to be enough to for me to succeed on the terms where I have the most control, which are self-discipline, relationships, and the quality of the work itself.

My biggest enemy, and the biggest fear I have, is that despair over the world's indifference will make me lazy. It has done so many times in the past. My biggest challenge is to overcome my own negative tendencies.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Rufino Tamayo--Tres Personajes

Well, some people have all the damn luck. If I had found a Tamayo in a dumpster, you bet I would have recognized it.
But one March morning four years ago, Elizabeth Gibson was on her way to get coffee, as usual, when she spotted a large and colorful abstract canvas nestled between two big garbage bags in front of the Alexandria, an apartment building on the northwest corner of Broadway and 72nd Street in Manhattan.

“I had a real debate with myself,” said Ms. Gibson, a writer and self-professed Dumpster diver. “I almost left it there because it was so big, and I kept thinking to myself, ‘Why are you taking this back to your crammed apartment?’”

But, she said, she felt she simply had to have the 38-by-51-inch painting, because “it had a strange power.”

I wondered why my blog traffic had suddenly spiked; evidently the New York Times ungenerously posted an inadequately tiny photo of the Stolen Masterpiece, and when a person Googles the name 'Tamayo,' looking for a bigger one, they get me. So I did a high-resolution scan of 'Tres Personajes' from the Tamayo anthology on my bookshelf, and here it is. We aim to please.

Rufino Tamayo, 'Tres Personajes,' oil on canvas, 1970

Over the last few days, I have been following a couple of debates about Quality in art--whether it is subjective, objective, or has any relation to morality whatsoever. Much has been said, which I shall not attempt to paraphrase or repeat. I will merely state that one aspect of Quality may include that nameless thing which causes a non-art-scenester to haul a large, odd, cumbersome object out of a trash pile and put it on her wall, because it has 'a strange power.' Not because it has a ream of text on the wall next to it, explaining the post-modern or political ramifications of its existence; not because a haughty individual with a gift of gab and many wealthy connections tells you it is Important; not because it enrages people, or cost a lot to produce, or critics wrote about it, or because hipsters are clustered in front of it, talking about themselves. Just for the energy in the object itself.

Monday, October 22, 2007

That's IT!

'Divinity Lotus' by Agnes Pelton

Thank you, Jackadandy!

Why didn't I know about Agnes Pelton before this? Good grief! I went to an accredited (barely) Art School, and received an honor degree from a major university. Additionally, I studied Humanities in high school with the mad Hungarian pianist who demanded that all graduates of HIS school be classically, culturally literate. And I've combed the painting galleries of major museums in seven or eight major cities, exhaustively and repeatedly, looking for the Inspiriting Spark. I don't think I've been THAT lazy.

So why have I never heard of the Transcendental Painting Group? This is it! This is The Stuff!

The TPG manifesto stated that their purpose was "to carry painting beyond the appearance of the physical world, through new concepts of space, color, light and design, to imaginative realms that are idealistic and spiritual." The manifesto included the statement that "the work does not concern itself with political, economic, or other social problems." Arranging exhibitions of transcendental work that would "serve to widen the horizon of art" became the focus of the TPG's activity.

One of the most significant accomplishments of the TPG was to bring the term transcendental to prominence within the semantic dialogue. The TPG's application of the term to their art advanced the meaning assumed by the terms abstraction or non-objective. The term transcendental allowed expansion of the ideas already behind each artist's work and established the concept of the sublime, a word that conveyed high spiritual and intellectual worth. Because a transcendental painting represented an ideal condition or one of expanded awareness and acceptance, the TPG believed that it held the potential to serve as a powerful icon for enlightened cultural values.

Difficult and perhaps seemingly obscure terms such as spiritual, transcendental, quality, or ideal were part of the transcendental dialogue. At the time, the group was aware of the difficulty involved in defining these terms and made a genuine effort to explain the TPG's ideals through lectures, newspaper articles, and the group's manifesto. These terms generated confusion, fear, or dismissal. For the TPG, spiritual was meant to convey something other than religious meaning--rather, something that was reached from a process of refining integrity, skill, knowledge, and experience into an artistic statement conveying openness and acceptance--and something that was ultimately inspiring for the human condition. The term transcendental was tied to quality, as was the concept of ideal, because no work lacking in quality could represent an ideal, and therefore could not approach the spiritual.

Well, THAT'S not very PC, is it. Silly question.

Agnes Pelton, according to the essays I found about her, spent the final thirty years of her life in the desert, painting spiritual energy through abstraction from nature. I could BE this woman.


'Mount of Flame,' Agnes Pelton


Wow, wow, wow. I suppose, for the sake of being My Own Artist, non-derivative, progressive etc., I should explain why I am NOT Agnes Pelton; the technician in me notes that she, like Georgia O'Keefe, seems to have labored under the Old Master paradigm of creating a flat-surfaced image with a homogeneous paint quality. The images, although abstract, are still vaguely illustrative, and thus can be engaged with on a literalistic level, as 'depiction.' Whereas I, schooled in the SFAI 'piece of the floor' aesthetic, am integrating a range of textures and surface refractivities into my paintings, to better convey the multidimensional aspects of transcendent experience.

But gosh, they're gorgeous. I want one. I want ten. Someone send me one, please. Woo hoo.

This almost makes up for my last few trips to Chelsea, which have been largely dispiriting. I will refrain from cataloguing the 'art' I viewed there, except to say that most of it was ugly and/or lame, boring, puerile, derivative, tepid, negative, and narcissistic. I am making a bigger effort to Reach Out, this year, but when you trudge through gallery after gallery of pure hubris, it kind of makes you question what you're aspiring to.

This is what I'm aspiring to. It's lovely to be reminded.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Layered intent

Desert Cat has a burning question:
In the specific way that you employ these mandalas in your paintings, what do they represent? (I'm ruminating on that "Meditation" one in particular at the moment, but there seems to be a common theme to their use in many of your recent paintings.)
DC, for me the mandalas work on a number of levels simultaneously; each of these levels comes into play in each painting, and they are all equally important. In no particular order, they are:

1) A meditation practice, in and of themselves, in the process of drawing them. I am opening myself up to receive guidance about how to work, while working within the same stringent form.

2) A metaphor for an underlying holistic order, independent of space and time--what Bohm calls 'the implicate order'--which determines how the physical universe unfolds. Since mandalas are circular and symmetrical, they work rather like cut-paper snowflakes--one gesture can simultaneously create form in many different physical and temporal locations.

3) Chakras.

4) Celestial bodies.

5) Organic growth patterns.

Sometimes the lines of force both within and without the mandalas represent kinetic trajectories as well--orbits, currents and gravity.

Thus, these paintings can be read simultaneously as landscapes, mindscapes, microscapes, and metascapes.

And it is quite late, and you can perhaps tell that I just got in from Opening Night in Chelsea. The powers of deconstruction are upon me...

After the Fact

Anonymous has a question, which Chris doesn't think I should answer. But being basically self-absorbed, and thrilled with the attention, I will answer it anyway:
I'm not an art person. I know nothing. I have neither the vocabulary nor the sensibility to discuss it. If anything, I like nice old historical portraits of individuals, where one knows just what one is seeing and whether it looks pleasing or ill. But 'Heart' affects me unlike anything I've ever seen before. How odd and bewitching! Please explain it to me if you can, what this painting is supposed to represent and elicit.
Well, Anon, please take all of the following with a huge handful of salt, because this painting (and just about all of the good ones) was created intuitively, without attempting to literally depict anything, either an object or an idea. Each new painting is a function of everything that went before, both a sum total of my experience with painting, and of life experience, and ideas floating loosely around in my mind.

With that said--it was based on a mandala I drew last year:

which is one of my favorites, being particularly baroque and organic. The painting, instead of just being a bigger, colored version of it, is a bit like being hit in the face. At least, that's how I feel when I stand in front of it.


Compositionally, it's a pretty simple assembly of three more or less circular forms, one ornate, one small, one dark and messy. Colorwise, it's also very simple, with the whites over gold and rose giving it a feeling of glowing from within; however, the broken sections of deeper rose in the mandala have the feeling of cuts or wounds.

The color of the small circle specifically gives me a tight feeling over the solar plexus; I didn't analyze it much farther than that.

Take the rest of this as metaphor, if you like; or don't take it at all.

Yoga philosophy postulates that our bodies have seven vortices, called chakras, at major nerve plexuses--root, genital, solar plexus, heart, throat, third eye, and crown. Each chakra, when functioning properly, takes in information from the world around us and processes it, helping to build our world-view and sense of place in the world. However, most of us have 'blocks' in some of our chakras, which mean that we are 1) not taking in information through them, 2) projecting information out through them that we then read as coming from outside, or 3) defending against the miasma of clogged energy brought about by past traumas and fears.

This painting is not a literal illustration of a blocked heart chakra, the way Alex Grey might paint it, but rather an attempt to convey the feeling of having such a block; the muddiness obscuring something which you can intuit is whole, intricate and symmetrical, but which you cannot completely access.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

To Be Continued

I can hear you out there, thinking, "Well, Brooklyn, is this it? Are you headed for the Blog Graveyard? Have you completely morphed into that irritating Lady caricature, and lost touch with that moody, acerbic Inner Self we have become somewhat pruriently attached to?"

Well, perhaps.


'Desert,' oil on linen, 48"x 36", 2007

The truth is, I have been: 1) dating somebody really great, who, instead of distracting me from my work with all sorts of useless drama, actually helps me focus; and 2) actually focussing.

'Ring,' oil on linen, 36"x 48", 2007.

Usually, I work on one painting at a time, and turn as many of the others toward the wall as possible, so that I am not distracted by them, nor am I painting 'relatively,' but focussing my whole attention on the one in front of me. The idea, for me, is to make certain that every painting stands on its own terms, as powerfully as possible. A few weeks ago I got out all the newest ones I'd done, eight or ten of them, and looked at them all together. And I realized that I was grossly overworking them.

They weren't terrible, but the word that came to mind was turgid. I was trying to pack my Whole Entire Essence into every one of them; I couldn't just put something down and leave it alone. Chris Rywalt visited about that time, and confirmed what I was thinking. He said, "you're not using your lines. Let your hands speak for themselves."

'Heart,' 48"x 36", oil on linen, 2007.

So, I decided to Let Go. Let go of trying to state my entire agenda with each painting, and just try one thing; one odd thing, one new thing, one gesture, one concept. Make paintings as postulates, not definitive statements.

'Current,' 36"x 48", oil on linen, 2007.

Within a few weeks, I had burned through all my available supplies, and reordered. I also took a few failed canvases off the stretchers, turned them over and painted on the back; when those failed, too, I stripped the stretchers again and recycled them. Lucio Pozo, one of my only good teachers, once told me, "Painters have to have an attitude."

'Meditation,' 48"x 36", oil on linen, 2007.

I also realized something else, which oddly helped me come to terms with certain perennial 'career issues,' which have paralyzed me in the past.

We've discussed, ad nauseam, the politics of the Art World. We know all the horrendous odds against getting one of the fifty grants or residencies you've applied for in the last ten years. We've discussed institutional sexism, ageism, cronyism, yadda yadda. But after getting into a rather high-pitched argument last week with a gentleman who turned out to be an art critic, I decided that for me, personally, there's something else going on.

Because my work is emphatically, overtly, primarily spiritual, both in process and content. 'Spiritual' is my 'schtick.' And 'spiritual,' in the Art World, whether it is religious or not, is not only not in style, not trendy, not P.C., but it renders you virtually invisible. It triggers an instantaneous dismissal which occurs below the level of conscious thought. Few art critics, dealers, curators or collectors will go so far as to say, like this fellow did, "I'm not interested in this 'spiritualism' junk." It just doesn't even register.

Having spent plenty of years among the self-styled Intellectual Elite, I am fairly certain that I know where this is coming from. It is a reaction against the perceived hegemony of Christian conservatism, the bigotry which frequently accompanies it, and the anti-scientific literalism of Bible Belt evangelists. The fact that this is a shallow, simplistic, unexamined dismissal of something that is not only integral to the society, culture and psychological makeup of the vast majority of human beings, but which at its root is the most anti-bigotry, pro peace-and-integration philosophy in existence, is never addressed. Spirituality is the ultimate taboo. When I mention it among a group of hip, progressive, cutting-edge radicals, the social effect is precisely the same as if I had mentioned mutual masturbation among transsexual lesbians at a Junior League meeting in South Texas.


'Bridge,' 36"x 48", oil on linen, 2007.

Strangely enough, this realization helped my state of mind immensely. This is probably because I'm emphatically a 'J' on the Meyers-Briggs personality scale; as long as I know what's going on, I'm okay. It is the paranoid feeling of, "You know, I feel like I'm invisible, but that's crazy, there's no reason I should be invisible, I'm confident and smart and articulate, I'm polite, I listen--why would people ignore me? They can't all be spiteful jerks!" that completely confounds me.

So what this means to me, right now, is that I have to make three times the noise and ten times the high-quality work in order to get the same amount of attention that a mediocre artist who pushes all the right P.C. buttons gets. What it means is that I have to work my butt off with no expectations.


'Singularity,' 16"x 12", oil on linen, 2007.

What this doesn't mean is that I will tweak my agenda to accomodate the prevalant cultural gestalt. Being a 'spiritual' artist is not only my vocation, for which I have jettisoned everything approaching security and social approval, but I sincerely believe that grounding in the transcendent is the only way to resolve the myriad miseries and conflicts of this world. I pursue and explore the path toward inner peace in the hope of extending it outward.

I was working on this one until twelve-thirty last night; it's not done yet, but I'm pretty thrilled with it so far.


'Blue Orchid,' 48"x 36", oil on linen, in progress, 2007.

For the young who want to

Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.

Work is what you have done
after the play is produced
and the audience claps.
Before that friends keep asking
when you are planning to go
out and get a job.

Genius is what they know you
had after the third volume
of remarkable poems. Earlier
they accuse you of withdrawing,
ask why you don't have a baby,
call you a bum.

The reason people want MFA's,
take workshops with fancy names
when all you can really
learn is a few techniques,
typing instructions and some-
body else's mannerisms,

is that every artist lacks
a license to hang on the wall
like your optician, your vet
proving that you may be a clumsy sadist
whose fillings fall into the stew
but you're certified a dentist.

The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.

--Marge Pearcy

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Why The Current Art World Youth Obsession is Completely Asinine

I've been meaning to address this issue for quite some time; the reasons I haven't are 1) that I've been in the studio, producing work that dealers and collectors ought to be scratching each others' eyes out over, and will be someday, hopefully before I'm eighty; and 2) this is not a hugely influential blog, anyway. I'm shocked that I still have four or so readers who put up with my long silences, interspersed with bouts of random rambling.

But anyway. I've just happened across an awesome John Scalzi post: Whatever: On Teens, and the fact that their Writing Sucks.
Most teenage writers, for various reasons, aren't particularly good writers (I wasn't). I thought it was important to get that bit of news out of the way, because among other things, the fact that teenage writing sucks isn't a bad thing (that's point number 2), and because I think it's not a bad thing to be honest with teenagers about this stuff. They might not listen (I probably wouldn't have), but they deserve the truth nevertheless.
I recommend reading the entire article, as well as the comments. My contention is that the same thing is true of the vast majority of artwork produced by persons under thirty, and for the same reasons. It's just that the art world, as Franklin puts it in a legendary comment which is already making the rounds, has its reasons for denying this fact:
But for several reasons the current milieu of contemporary art is predicated on visual quality as a subordinate concern. There is heavy philosophical investment against the primacy of visual quality; people actually become angry if you suggest it. The market has to justify a lot of inferior work in order to function in the grandiose way that it does. This climate pushes superior work into the background. It doesn't celebrate greatness - it flatters inferior taste in a manner that lets it think of itself as superior taste. Taste and talent, particularly in high concentrations, remain rare.
The fact is, most artwork by Young Persons looks like most other artwork by Young Persons. There are the obsessive, flamboyantly colored Self Portraits; the boys do Self Portraits as Jesus Christ, and the Latina girls do themselves as the Virgin Mary. There are the Stream Of Consciousness Messes, with random words interspersed over random, layered images. There are the Experiments in Multi-Media Assemblage: see all of the last Whitney Biennial. There are the thin, outraged, obvious, literal Political Pieces, and the Aids Is Bad pieces. There is the graffiti. Have I missed anything?

(If I sound flip and bitter, it is because I myself have produced great piles of most of these things, in a decade where artists under thirty were mostly ignored. I will sell anyone the key to my storage space for thirty thousand dollars.)

As Scalzi says, it is not that this stuff is just bad, end of story. It is a necessary phase in the process of learning a craft. However, it still sucks. What makes a true artist with staying power is not youthful obstreperousness; it is commitment, perseverance, honesty, craft, depth of consideration, and perhaps a certain amount of talent.

And you do not, cannot see who has these things until you have been observing them for a couple of decades.

So let me say it as clearly as I can; anyone who fetishizes young artists merely for the sake of their youth is a fool. Moreover, they may be ruining the very artists they set out to invest in. Too much easily attained success for merely being a jackass creates monsters, not great artists. Look at the later careers of former child actors if you doubt me.

Healing

I had a Bad Client Experience recently, which nevertheless led to some new insight.

It must be said that most of my clients adore me. They adore me so consistently that I don't realize how used to it I have become, and how integral a part of my working life it is. I work really hard, physically hard, and barely get by financially, but that relieved, grateful 'Thank you' that nearly every client breathes at the end of a session keeps me going. (Tips are even better.)

So when one client fidgeted during her session, particularly during the energy work, refused to look me in the eye, did not say thank you, bolted without paying, then emailed to say she was 'creeped out,' it was quite a shock. As I told her in my reply, some people just don't resonate. But it was a good thing for my self-confidence that the next six clients were adorers, old and new.

As I also said in my reply, I try to be respectful of people's boundaries, first and foremost. Over many years it has become clear to me that trying to 'fix' someone is not a healing activity. Mostly what I'm doing is simply being present, sensing currents, and allowing them to balance by themselves, if they so choose. I often worry that when it comes to 'energy work,' I'm completely deluded, and that nothing is actually happening--except for the consistent feedback I get from clients that a whole lot IS happening, and 95% of the time it seems to be for the good. And on the rare occasions that people fidget and completely reject it, I am never clear whether they're frustrated that I'm doing nothing, or that they're feeling something major which freaks them out.

But more and more I am convinced that it is the latter, and that it's not my fault. Because I've had my share of bad bodywork, and most bad bodywork won't kill you. It is usually safe to give your practitioner the benefit of the doubt through at least one session; not all healing procedures are comfortable at the time, and you need to be open to the process in order to derive any benefit from it. I've had my sciatic nerve stripped nearly raw, borne the brunt of projecting, incompetent neurotics, and suffered a lot of substandard rubdowns. But every time I've gotten at least minor relief, learned a thing or two (if only what techniques NEVER to use on a client), and occasionally experienced a wholly unanticipated miracle.

What I realized, after working on some regular and adoring clients, is that the healing process is a completely collaborative one between client and practitioner. For a client to get anything out of a session, they have to allow it. The longer I've been working with someone, the more they get out of a session, because they trust me; one long-term client mentioned that she now feels herself relax as soon as she gets to the top of my stairwell. It's like Pavlovian conditioning.

Thus I am fairly convinced that the bolter was not 'creeped out' because of bad bodywork, for the simple reason that she did not experience the bodywork. She blocked it. Which was certainly her prerogative, although it strikes me as rather foolish to book a session with someone who clearly advertises 'energy healing' and then get upset when you feel energy starting to move. I suspect that, despite the fact that she was a bodyworker herself, she'd never experienced anything similar, didn't trust it, and leaped to the conclusion that I was trying to impose some occult agenda on her.

This theory was borne out in her reply: "What a good nice response. Not what I'd expected."

I've worked on a number of people who blocked the work, both complete strangers and people I knew extremely well. What they all seem to have in common is a need for control at all costs, whether this control is of the direct or indirect variety. Much as they might pay lip service to the idea of 'love and trust and brotherhood,' fundamentally these people are unable to trust anything, whether it be a person, a situation, or God. They literally only feel safe when they're suffering.

This is one of the reasons I've decided never to give a bodywork session as a gift again. Having to make an appointment and pay for a session weeds out a lot of the resisters, because when you're paying for something, you're conscious of making an investment, and thus open to receiving a return on it. It also cuts down on the number of instances where people might suspect that I'm trying to 'get' something from them by 'fixing' them. Because when I look back, I see that a disproportionate number of sessions which went awry were of the 'gift or barter' variety. So not any more. I'll continue to offer gift certificates, because when someone else buys a friend a massage they don't want, the friend usually just doesn't show up. And I'm fine with that, so long as I've been paid. :-)

Before I embarked on actually learning to practice a healing therapy, I read oodles of books which said, in various ways, 'healing begins in the mind.' Now that I've been practicing for years, I understand firsthand how completely true this is. It is axiomatic that I can never 'heal' anyone. I can only assist them in healing themselves, if they so choose.

Also, healing is not always physical. I know many people who are mentally, emotionally and spiritually thriving, whose bodies should have died about ten times over from their various ailments. I also know people who are as physically strong as oxen, whose souls look like shriveled-up snakeskins. There is no judgment incurred when someone does everything they can, and still their body doesn't get better.

Finally, it should be noted that one does not heal oneself by willing it to happen. This misconception is the source of a lot of snappishness on the part of sick people who bark, in response to all well-meaning comments, 'I CAN'T JUST GET BETTER, YOU KNOW.' Of course they can't; that's not the point. You start to heal yourself by allowing the possibility of healing to dawn on you.

This can only occur when one respects oneself enough to 1) listen to the messages from their body without judging; 2) set appropriate boundaries and hold them; and 3) then, and only then, learn to trust that there is a larger force which promotes healing, whether you call this force God, or love, or medicine, or massage therapy. If your core belief is that the universe is a hostile entity which is out to crush you, your body sooner or later responds accordingly.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The wear and tear of Conceptual Art

My friend RA, an astonishing photographer, has posted a harrowing tale of how he installed a camera obscura in an abandoned belfry in Pennsylvania last weekend. Check it out.

I have a friend named Susan. She's an architect, but really she's an artist. She will end up being a full time artist, maybe even one that gets remembered in the history books. But she's not an artist like me. She's the kind of artist whose work will either be totally unsaleable or will be going for millions. In the meantime, she'll get by on grants, fellowships and residencies while I hussle to sell my photos.
...
I said to Susan: "This feels like 12th century Christianity." She gave me a confused look and I thought maybe I had offended. I added, "terrible earthly toil, for a heavenly reward."

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Contemplation of Things Past

That was quite a long silence indeed, wasn't it. The good news is that I have shaken off my year-long inability to face the monumental task of upgrading my website; the bad news is that I'm not posting any pictures of new work until it's done. Instead I am going to bore you with pictures of old work, work that only a mother could love.

Oftentimes I find that I can't decide what I truly think of a painting until I've lived with it for awhile. Some of the ones I'm thrilled with at first, don't hold up over the long haul; some that Other People seem to love, I can't stand to look at. Those are all out in the hallway with their faces toward the wall.

And some of them are the ones I painted for me, myself, and I, because I'm the only one who loves them. Those tend to end up hanging in my living room.


"Crater," 2006, oil and wax on linen

This one, I freely admit, is weird. It is the sort of painting that, at first glance, causes many artists to dismiss me as an incompetent, delusional twerp. Some of them change their minds when they look at my old portfolios and discover that ten years ago, I was painting things like this:


"Above the Laundromat," oil and wax on panel, 48"x 32", 1997
Private Collection

I'm not offended by this. I think there is a qualitative difference between a painting that sits as part of an exploratory trajectory, and a random daub presented on its own, isolated in its pretension. That's what irks me about 'artists' who paint one painting and then trumpet it all over town. "Look at me! I painted A Painting! Isn't it great? Are you going to give me a show now?" That's also why I avoid putting pieces in non-curated group exhibitions. Context is everything.

Anyway, from my perspective, I see the 'Laundromat' painting as a successful study in light, shadow, texture, composition and mood, and this 'Crater' painting as an insouciant experiment in radical streamlining of those same principles, which makes me happy enough to put it on my wall. Or rather, now that it's on my wall, it's making me happy.

What's making me happy about it are the colors, the texture, and the radical contrasts of line quality, value, and form. They're hard to see in a photo, no matter how close up:

With the layering of golds, pinks, whites and blues next to the dark earth shapes, every bit of it seems to vibrate and glow.


A lot of people see this as a 'volcanic eruption.' That, in my opinion, is ridiculous. Can't they see that it's pink? Volcanic eruptions are orange and red and black and gray. This is an eruption of pink light from the crater of my heart; the little silver thistle thing is the ghost of heart-chakra blockages past...

...and all bad poetry is sincere, too. I can't say the same for bad painting; some of it is tremendously insincere. But I don't see this as a bad painting. I see it as a necessary painting, which helped me get to the better paintings of present and future, and a piece of controlled chaos in my living room, where it creates a nice tension with the decorative formality of the Oriental rug.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. Cheers!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Silence

I have officially declined to participate in this years' Park Slope Studio Tour. I kept delaying about sending in the application, until finally I realized that I don't want a bunch of strangers trooping through my studio in May. In fact, I don't think I even want my friends trooping through my studio right now. Strange and mysterious things are beginning to happen, and they need to happen in silence and in solitude. I may post detail shots, but I'm not sure.

In other news--God bless Peter Schjeldahl.
...Ryman stays fresh and taut. Even out of date, his conscientious integrity ought to abash today’s hordes of careering youngsters, whose idea of the future of civilization reaches little beyond the next art fair. But to be shameable, under present conditions, may be an unaffordable moral luxury.
...
...Two other artists contribute negligible works with arbitrary political associations.

Is all of this a mite thin and forced? It is, along with almost everything else of recent vintage in an art world where frenetic production has outrun any substantial supply line of ideas. Nearly a century of experiments in abstraction have become a fund of handy tropes. What’s lost—while being barely preserved, with monkish zeal, by the likes of Ryman—is a sense of risk at the frontiers of convention.
About a year after I graduated from art school, I realized that I could either follow art fads, and hang out on the Scene, and critique and discuss and schmooze and opinionate--or I could try to make some art with integrity. I could not do both. At the time I thought that this was a temporary state of affairs; I figured I'd work for a few years, produce a solid body of work, get grounded in who I was and what I had to say, and then re-enter the Scene.

Come to find out, I think my Scene-aversion may be permanent. I don't just love Art because it's Art. I love really great art, and am supremely indifferent to the rest of it. Moreover, having to address the rest of it produces so much brain-chatter that I can't be still and listen to my inner voice, which is the one that makes the paintings.

However, I am very pleased to report that my bodywork practice is doing so well that I can now afford to be shameable, at least through the end of April. I raised my prices at the beginning of the year, and now I note that I am getting a lot more calls from Google hits to my website. It seems that people are more inclined to trust a person who charges more. I knew this was true in theory, but I was still gun-shy after experiencing a precipitate drop in business the last time I raised prices, when I was working in Williamsburg. That, I see now, was probably just due to the fact that artists are cheap.

Monday, March 12, 2007

I'm still here

Sorry for the hiatus, there. First I was working on a Creative Capital Letter of Inquiry (thanks for the editorial assistance, You Know Who You Are), then I was taking stretcher bars apart, turning failed canvases over, re-stretching and re-priming them, scrubbing down and re-priming other failed canvases, and working on this one, which is in danger of being overworked and over-complex, but which can possibly still be saved.


Sometimes I wonder if I will ever reach a point in my career where I don't wreck most of my paintings halfway through, and then drag them back from disaster by scraping and re-thinking and trying twelve different things until something works. I keep thinking that someday, I will just put it down, and it will be perfect, and I'll put the next one down, and the next.

But then I'd just be working on autopilot, and it wouldn't be fun anymore.


Look what I discovered about the proportions of a scorpion, as relative to a circle with the focal point moved exactly half of the distance from the center to the edge:


Nifty, huh? I know that scorpions are more or less proportioned like this, because I spent several months while living in Mexico, drawing and painting the scorpions that lived in my house. I was also dating a Scorpio at the time, and it was going badly.

But that's probably too much information.

Yes, I know, it's too busy. It's also too wet to continue messing with, this evening; also the hues are too homogenous. But I SEE it in my head, I swear. It WILL be better in the morning.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Okay, that thread was getting too damn long

Pipe down, you guys, okay? Take your Gamblin war outside. I mean it. Life is too short.
First, an observation. The painting "Curtain" intrigued me, and I made it my desktop wallpaper for a while a couple of weeks ago. Although I certainly can see the curtain contained in the painting, with the yellow floor it resembled to me the edge of a forest, suspended in a dusk sky. It would take a long time to explain this, but certain cirrus cloud formations sometimes (to me) look like broad swaths of deserts with snowcapped peaks. It's merely a matter of perspective shifting, the orange sky is the sand, and the clouds are the mountains reflecting in the distance. It takes effort to see the sky in this way, but while I sound utterly insane it is possible to see this given the correct meteorological conditions and an open mind. Even with the removal of the orange floor (sky) it still looks like a fantastical yet spooky treeline, to me. I guess a lifetime spent looking at and traveling along treelines will do that to a man.
Actually, I intended the 'orange floor' to give you the feeling of light, just light, flowing up under and behind the curtain, blocked by the dark heavy line at the bottom, glowing through the top. So I guess it's not a complete failure, if you're getting 'sky' from it.

I look at treelines, too; in fact I have spent my life staring at all things organic, and growing things, and moving around with them as though I could get inside and become them, with the result that now any random mark I make tends to follow some sort of organic pattern, more or less. I'm still not hugely happy with the painting, but after slapping a 'brown-pink' glaze over the bottom yesterday, which somewhat intensifies the glow, I've come to the conclusion that it is what it is, and trying to make it something else will only make it worse. I'm glad you like it.
Ok, for the questions. I have driven past an art school once or twice in my life, and that is the sum of my training. That said, why is it necessary to use canvas, as opposed to other materials to paint on? I understand the material itself is resilient, but isn't it possible to paint on some other surface and achieve the results you want? Aside from black velvet Elvii (is there a plural for Elvis?) prominently displayed at the finer east Texas trucking establishments, I cannot recall anyone using alternate materials for the backing of their work. Is there a reason?
In the course of my career, I have painted on:
canvas
burlap
plywood
construction palettes
scraps fetched out of dumpsters
masonite
lids of tin cans
muslin
bedsheets
lauan (high-quality plywood veneer)
linen
various other types of fabric, including silk, velvet and prints
walls of buildings
dead flowers

Each of these materials takes paint in entirely different ways; it's like a completely different activity, with a whole different set of results. Therefore, once you get good at something and like the results, it's difficult to switch to something else. Perhaps a major reason that most painters paint on canvas, then, is that we're creatures of habit, and basically lazy.

However, I can also tell you that burlap, muslin and bedsheets are for shit; they disintegrate within short order, and the burlap has too loose a weave to hold any detail at all. You have to prime them all, of course, but even under an acrylic primer that could survive nuclear war, they still rot.

Metal is good, except that the paint peels off it. Glass and plastic have the same problem. I know a few people who paint on aluminum.

Wood is great, except that it's heavy. I once made a piece on a construction palette that weighed about forty pounds; it was a nice piece, but schlepping it around was a real pain, and it was impossible to hang on a normal wall. It ended up being a sort of standing sculpture. You don't want your entire oeuvre to be like that; life is difficult enough.

Also, when you paint on a rigid surface like wood, the painting is much easier to damage and much harder to fix. You whump a canvas painting into the corner of a table, it gives. You do the same with a piece on plywood, you get a nice lovely triangular scratch, and the paint color that matches is back in Mexico.

The benefit of wood is that you can use rigid materials like encaustic (wax paint), oil sticks, and collage. It's also much easier to get a perfectly smooth surface.

Cotton duck canvas is the preferred student-grade medium, being cheap and durable. I hate the stuff. It's ugly, and the machine-woven texture is a cliché on the order of a Thomas Kinkade print-on-canvas, pretending to be a real painting. During the many years I used it, I put on so many coats of gesso by hand that the texture was completely eradicated, replaced by a subtle texture made by the marks of my hands. That texture became the basis of the vibratory energy in the painting.

Now I use linen, and a whole lot less gesso. A piece of linen is a gorgeous thing, all by itself; it is organic, irregular, rich and poetic. You put one stroke of paint on it, it already looks like a Degas. So that is what I'm sticking with. Even though it's $150 a roll.
My second stultifying question is style. Dig if you will the picture that does not fall into any of the known "schools" or is an amalgamation of two or perhaps more styles - does this negate the piece because it was not strictly Impressionistic or combined Realism with Surrealism? In addition, if the artist is completely ignorant of both of these schools and yet paints within the confines of a few varying styles does that automatically render his burgeoning masterpiece into a festering piece of shite?
Painting in a non-named style, in this day and age, does not 'negate' the piece, unless you mean 'disqualifying it from a plein-air kitsch art fair,' which is a GOOD thing, in the context to which I (and the other artists reading this blog, hopefully) aspire. If you are painting in a recognized style, such as Impressionism or Surrealism, in this day and age, you are not considered an 'artist' by anyone who writes for, or reads, Art in America, Art Forum, the New York Times, or anything in the art blogosphere. You are considered a commercial craftsperson, if you are considered at all.

You see, the one required quality of anything regarded seriously by the avant garde art world is newness. (Do not even get me started on Jeff Koons. Just don't.) The nastiest, most dismissive thing ever repeatedly, snottily said to a struggling art student during critique is, "That's been done." (Or, "that's kitsch," which comes almost to the same thing.) You may, of course, borrow from the vocabulary of recognized styles out of the past, but if you're just making an Impressionistic painting, welcome to Hotel Rooms, Inc.

If the artist is ignorant of style, period, he is termed an 'outsider artist,' ignored while alive, and lionized after he dies, penniless, in a mental institution. See Henry Darger.

I wonder if the lack of training or knowledge would provide the painter a unique, fresh perspective or merely damn the fledgling artist to a life of noisome craft shows and loving renditions of the King?
Yes.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Clean up

It's a lot less fun, and excrutiatingly painful at times, to go back and finish a second-rate painting after knocking out a first-rate one. But here is where I'm leaving 'Curtain,' at least for the moment:


It could be better. But at this point I don't think that fussing will make it so. The main point of the painting, as I conceived it, is the tension and the contrast between the crusty stuff and the glowy stuff:


Which is more or less what everything is about, really.


I know what the title of my next show will be. Fanfare please:

The Implicate Order
"In the enfolded [or implicate] order, space and time are no longer the dominant factors determining the relationships of dependence or independence of different elements. Rather, an entirely different sort of basic connection of elements is possible, from which our ordinary notions of space and time, along with those of separately existent material particles, are abstracted as forms derived from the deeper order. These ordinary notions in fact appear in what is called the "explicate" or "unfolded" order, which is a special and distinguished form contained within the general totality of all the implicate orders..."

--David Bohm, 1980

"I don't know how you'd paint that."
--my brother, 2007

I could go on and on, at the moment, about how Bohm's theories of the implicate order integrate nicely with what Ken Wilber calls the 'perennial philosophy,' exemplified by Eastern mysticism--that space and time are illusory, the nature of mind is unbroken unity, and that the world as we see it is a projection of a filtered mind.

But since, in general, I despise artists who yammer incessantly instead of creating, I shall get back to work, painting the scarcely conceiveable.

I will say, however, that for me, the implicate order=God.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Prep work

I helped the family clear out my aunt's house after the memorial service--probably one of the most emotionally draining tasks there is. I would have preferred to just leave everything as it was for, like, a year or so, but there were a lot of practical issues to be considered.

So it's done, and I'm back in New York with an inherited fur coat, some flamboyant jewelry, and a Kate Spade handbag. My aunt had excellent taste. Her last letter to me said "Keep New York going for me;" I think she would like to know that some of her more exotic items--the silver choker shaped like a tiger, for example--were swanning around the hippest places in The City. I'll endeavor to do them credit.

Meanwhile, the best recipe for pensive moods and emotional discombobulation is prep work. Luckily, I was overdue for a lot of it.

I am very proud to report that I have graduated, in my own estimation, after twenty years, to 'professional grade' paint. Behold, three hundred dollars' worth:

When I was a very lowly student, I bought my paint at the hardware store. There was this brand called 'Pictor' which was about ninety-nine cents a tube. The colors were irregular, the consistency varied at random from oily-puddle to stuck-stiff, and you could see the specks of pigment that hadn't been properly integrated.

I did this on purpose, partly because I had no money, but mostly because I didn't want to feel that my supplies were inordinately precious. It was important to me to be able to experiment, and if this involved using eighteen tubes of ultramarine blue on a failed canvas that went directly into the dumpster, so be it.

And let me tell you, nearly ALL of those canvases went into the dumpster.

Over the years, I upgraded my paint quality at regular intervals, partly according to my finances, but mostly according to my own assessment of my skills. I used Utrecht and Winton for years--moderately priced, decent quality, comes in huge tubes. I could splash it around, then scrape it off and throw it away without wincing. Since moving to New York I've largely been using Georgian, because Pearl had a sale on it right as I was stocking up. And I splurged on Williamsburg when someone gave me a gift certificate to Jerry's.

But man, after trying my first tube of Gamblin, I knew there was no going back. It's not just paint. It's sort of like the difference between fois gras and Braunsweiger, or truffles and a Hershey bar. Dense, smooth, sensuous, pure--yum.

Then I was out of beeswax medium. I make my own, from a recipe in that invaluable tome, Formulas for Painters. I recommend that every painter own a copy; for some reason I ended up with two. I think I accidentally swiped one from Nancy in Mexico. Oops.

My beeswax medium is a paste, similar to Dorland's, but golden and slightly grainy, rather than white and bland. I get the beeswax in blocks at the co-op, whack them up, melt them down, and mix the wax with Damar varnish and turpentine.


Isn't the color pretty?



Chris, I owe you an apology. They DO actually, now, make eco-sensitive Damar varnish, with 'isoparaffinic mineral oils' and 'natural orange terpines' in place of oil of turpentine. When I actually looked at the label on the Damar varnish that made up sixty percent of my usual recipe, it said "Danger! Combustible. Harmful or fatal if swallowed. May be harmful by breathing vapors. Overexposure may result in nausea, headache, confusion or instability."

Well, that explains it.

So my new medium smells like honey and oranges. Whoopee. I also remembered to start melting some Damar resin crystals in odorless mineral spirits, so that I don't have to spring for the pre-made varnish next time. I always forget until I need it now, not in the six weeks or so it takes to dissolve. These two jars are now on the windowsill, to be shaken every morning at breakfast. Look, there are buggies in the resin!


In my home, nothing ever goes to waste. Clothing goes from 'good' to 'massage work' to 'studio work' to 'paint rag'; by the time a piece of clothing leaves my hands, it is an unrecognizable grayish lump. Tin cans are recycled into paint mixing vessels; glass jars and squeeze bottles are for various mediums. I don't even buy Baggies or Saran wrap; I just rinse and re-use the grocery bags. I don't buy Tupperware because take-out Chinese food now comes in fairly sturdy plastic containers, which can be re-used for over a year before they disintegrate.

Something deep in my farm-wife soul rejoices in this.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

In Memoriam

I just discovered that at the same time I finished the painting below, my aunt, Betty Speer Burke, whom I was on my way to visit this weekend, passed on. I believe her love, grace and energy contributed to the beauty of this painting. I will miss her.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Cathedral


While waiting for the other one to dry enough so that I could finish it, I think I almost accidentally finished this one. Now I'm on my last tube of white, scraping the dregs of the wax medium, ditto the gesso can, almost out of yellow ochre, alizarin crimson, burnt sienna, cadmium yellow medium, cadmium red dark, payne's gray--all the expensive colors, in fact.

Now is the time when the hordes of adoring slaves who work for free descend upon me, wash my brushes, feed the cat, go to the grocery store, pay the bills, go to Pearl and pick up the paint, stretch the new canvases, cook my dinner, and give me a massage.

Okay? Slaves?

Maybe those fumes are affecting me worse than I realized...

I'm going to this, probably

Hey, I have access to a 25% discount to hear Laurie Anderson, Nellie McKay, Joan Osborne and Suzanne Vega sing with the Brooklyn Philharmonic at BAM on Thursday, February 1. Does anyone else want to go? Email me ASAP if so.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Curtain

I dunno, I think I'm kind of liking this one, despite some problems, and despite the fact that this is proving to be yet another color palette which is impossible to photograph.


What I'm not liking is the fact that whenever I get working at what I think should be my standard level of productivity, the fumes in my studio (due mainly to the Damar in the beeswax medium, since I use odorless mineral spirits for thinning) become rapidly overwhelming.

I am now sitting in my studio in the middle of winter in New York City, during a snowstorm, with the window open and a fan set to 'max extract.'

This would not be such a concern if I did not also sleep in my studio. It's not that the studio is in the bedroom, it's that the loft-bed is in the studio because there was nowhere else to put it.

And despite the fan, the central heating circulation, and the HEPA filter running 24/7, I don't think this is good for me. I'm waking up with a scratchy throat and going through the day with a headache.

Most younger artists, I have noticed, think that safety and health precautions are for wimps. They live in industrial neighborhoods, sand without a respirator, weld without protective clothing, and use the kind of paint thinner that, well, peels paint. Without gloves. I know, because I used to be one of these artists.

I'm not anymore, but at the moment, there's just no help for it. Life is about doing what you need to do, above all, and if that proves hazardous, then so be it.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

For the time being

I do believe this one is done.

Now I think I'll turn it toward the wall and do the next three as fast as possible. Thinking too much may be counterproductive at the moment.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Many Rants

So I've been out and about a bit lately, going to art exhibits that don't involve Chelsea. Chris Rywalt and J.T. Kirkland have pretty much summed up the reasons I'm determinedly avoiding Chelsea at the moment, and possibly forever. I'll quote you some of the best bits:
What I found in the gallery, however, was three paintings and an installation consisting of a pile of cardboard boxes. In the corner of the boxes sat some unfortunate performer in too-tight shorts and a homemade papier-mâché Batman mask playing with an old kiddie electronic keyboard and occasionally singing along very badly....

As usual, Anthony fell into the fine artist trap of being unable to competently reproduce cartoon characters like Mickey Mouse and SpongeBob, and ultimately his message was hopelessly shallow: Corporations use the same techniques to sell porn that they use to sell movies for kids! Sex sells! Won't someone think of the children?

I tried to give the show some slack, I really did. Then I noticed that there were three small LCD screens set crudely into some of the stacked boxes, and one of them was showing footage of the World Trade Center on September 11th. That did it for me: This show was not deserving of any goodwill. It simply sucked.

I've been visiting Chelsea almost every week day for the past 3 weeks during lunchtime. On each visit I get to see about 10 shows, sometimes less, sometimes more, depending on if anything catches my eye. Today's visit was the last straw though. Art sucks. Let me re-phrase, the contemporary art in Chelsea sucks. It all looks the same. It all looks bad.

...Last night an artist stopped by my show and we got to talking about artist statements and how he struggles with them. He told me about a gallery in Brooklyn that he was talking to and that they thought an artist statement was critical. They said that galleries use them to determine which packages should be looked at.

I told this artist that any gallery that looked at a statement before the images was not a gallery for me and I felt it shouldn't be for any other artist. If a gallery can't determine for itself if they want to look at the images, well, the art world is in more trouble than I thought.

And then, the mother of all art rants, courtesy of J.T., which I recommend that anyone who genuinely cares about the state of art in the world today go read:

...many will confuse the questions with conceptual sophistication or radical sentiment. It is only the former, if even that. Triple Candie's strategy is an attempt to purchase credibility using the tokens accepted as currency, in every sense, in the contemporary art world: the raising of questions. It's no more radical than a Kyoto office worker paying for his soba noodles with yen. To think otherwise indicates a kind of blindness that I find hard to explain except that careers are riding on it. I'm reminded of the Upton Sinclair quote that has become a favorite of Al Gore's: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it."

There you go.

The study of art, I believe, is a lot like the study of ethics. Something that is clear to people with a cohesive set of spiritual beliefs, and utterly unclear to those without, is that you cannot have an internally consistent set of ethics without a conceptual grounding in something transcendent--i.e. a belief in God, Spirit, or some other over-arching, non-relative force.

The current art world is lacking this transcendent standard, in a big way. The standard has become, simply, egotism. It's all about how well you can leverage and amplify your tics, strangenesses, stupid ideas, arcane rhetoric, Sisyphean processes, and personal connections into some monstrosity that approximates a theory in form, but is utterly hollow at the core. To quote my friends above, it sucks.

For me, the question "what is Great Art?" is easy to answer. Great art is charged. As in, a charged particle or a field, a cohesive interactive force which influences and reacts with the space around it. Bad art is inert. It's as simple as that.

Look, HERE:

This, obviously, is "The Milkmaid," by Jan Vermeer.

I'd like you, just for a moment, to forget this is a wickedly well-drafted painting of a woman pouring milk. I'd like you to forget that it was painted by a then-obscure, now-famous Dutchman in the seventeenth century. I'd like you to forget that this painting is so famous that it's now a cliché. Those things are NOT IMPORTANT.

What I'd like you to do is observe the WALL behind her head.

Let me help you.

Is this 'empty space'? Is it even 'negative space'? Is it a depiction of a white wall? Is it a bunch of dirty, oily stuff, stuck to an ancient piece of cloth?

Is it just sitting there, or is it DOING SOMETHING?

From my perspective, and from the perspective of the vast canon of art historians who have finally agreed that this painting is Great, it is not just sitting there. It is blowing you ACROSS THE ROOM. The contrasts are simultaneously subtle and dramatic, the forms are familiar and strange, the tension is both frictive and harmonious. It is not just the depiction of light, of form, of space, it is the energetic whammification of the EXISTENCE of light, form, and space.

I don't know how to be any clearer than that.

Here, we have what may be my favorite painting of all time. I sat in front of it in Mexico City for about twenty minutes, despite the fact that I only had one day to see the whole of Mexico City, due to the fact that Mexico City is mind-bogglingly unsafe, and my host was a lunatic.

This is "La gran galaxia," by Rufino Tamayo. Tamayo is a painter who barely registers on the radar in the enlightened old art world in Europe and the USA, but the Mexicans in their superior taste and wisdom have devoted a major museum entirely to him.

This painting, like the Vermeer, is not about a figure of a person in a landscape. That's only the excuse. The painting is about the fact that being a human in an awesome mysterious universe is, well, mysterious and awesome.

It also packs an energetic punch that leaves you gasping on the floor.

Stars. Blue. Black. Whack.

Yes?

Snarl.

This is where I'm coming from. These are the principles which inform the work I do. Not idle, made-up 'questions,' not precious, pretentious references, not the desire to be Special and Different and Strange. My work comes from the deep spiritual need to create an intensely, strangely, deeply, darkly beautiful object which is simultaneously simple and complex, evocative and mysterious, resonant and ambiguous, which knocks you across the room.

This is not quite done:


From my perspective, it's now falling apart mostly at the mid-to-lower left quadrant, in the background. It's too fiddly, too chaotic. It needs to be simpler, more direct, more assertive.

But by and large, it's not half bad. You should see it in person.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Thinking and feeling

Sayeth Chris:
I feel torn between these two ends. Painting from feeling and painting from thinking.

Of course the two are not mutually exclusive. Are they? Are they for me?
Replyeth Dandy:
I'm finding that in addition to the "ass in studio", brush-in-hand work, I also have mental visions that, damn it, really ARE the thing, too! In times past I would have dismissed them, not given them credance as "the real stuff", because they seem to come from my brain instead of my hand. But you know what? I think I've actually just gotten a shorter route from my creative center to my awareness such that sometimes my hand can be left out of the circuit, at least for a moment.

What I find is that it's a constant process of bouncing back and forth between the two, and bootstrapping myself along, basing each new piece on everything I've learned before.

Because let's face it, if you attack a canvas with sheer emotion and no skill, you're going to get a mud pie. A deeply felt mud pie, but a mud pie nonetheless.

However, if you approach painting from a purely cerebral place, the results will be academic and lifeless; they also won't push the boundaries of painting, whether that painting be good, bad or indifferent. A purely academic painting, in this day and age, in my humble opinion, isn't 'art' at all. It's a technical exercise.

I spent a lot of years doing paintings which I now consider to have been technical exercises. One of my primary concerns was painting light; it was important to me that I not merely depict luminosity, but that the actual object have a presence that was as close to radiance as possible.


'Paris Bridge,' oil on panel, 1998

I got that down. People started buying the paintings. I could probably have landed myself a decent dealer at that point, if I had stayed in San Francisco and continued cranking them out in the same vein.

So what did I do but move to Mexico and commence making mud pies. I didn't know at all where I was going with them; something in me just needed to push the envelope.

What I found, eventually, after generating a huge pile of bulky, problematic, strange paintings, was that all that technical work informed my ability to express myself more abstractly. I understood the principles of form, composition, color, medium and brushwork (or palette-knife-and-handwork; some days I never even pick up an actual brush) well enough to create an abstract painting which contained those same qualities of radiance and organic movement which the realistic ones depicted.

Also, I find that now when I get a mental vision of something abstract, I have the technical chops to manifest it effectively. This is still not easy and sometimes takes months of scraping down and re-working. But the technical principles remain the same, and there is still no compromising.

For example, with this one I'm working on now--part of what I'm doing is creating a tension of color, energy and texture between the intricate mandala form in the center, and the ferocious energy of the rest of the painting, as though they were coming from two different levels of reality. One of the most important things is not to paint the 'smooth' part in a flat, predictable way; I have to keep the brushwork interesting, and the color built up by layers of glazes so that it has depth, as though you were looking into a pool.



Using beeswax medium and a palette knife for the background, and stand-oil medium and brushes for the mandala further emphasizes the contrast.


As you can see, this one still has quite a ways to go. Just because something is abstract, doesn't mean it's random; I am constantly making decisions about balance, hue, contrast and color, so that the whole thing eventually projects the vibration that I'm experiencing.

The good news is that the break seems to have made a New Artist of me. I'm having no problem motivating myself to spend the vast majority of every day in the studio. Let's just hope the money holds out.