Friday, March 25, 2011

About Mellowing

I got some comeuppance recently when a friend handed me a copy of a statement about my work that I had written more than twenty years ago. I expected to find it wanting. After all, I am older and wiser now. I would like to think I can do everything better now. But no, I liked it. It wasn’t bad at all. I could use it now with minimal revision. There was a photo of a much younger me in  a newspaper clipping along with the statement. No way do I look better now.

I discuss this experience of aging with my peers and usually get an upbeat or at least a serene acceptance of reality as a response. Does anything get better as we grow older? Well, for one thing, I am more accepting of my own foibles. I figure that I’ve gotten away with being who I am for all these years, no need to fret over making improvements now. Am I a better painter? Well, I certainly know a lot more about making a painting look as I want it to. I remind my self of Titian and my old friend Richard, painting with power almost twenty years beyond the age I am at now.

I have just finished selecting slides to do a presentation and talk as part of a series of six artists doing the same. I will be the last. It was clear that there was development and learning and major advances in each of the retrospective slide shows already presented. What I see as I look at my own selection of images, past and current, is that there is a coolness now that wasn’t present when I was younger. A clarity and definition that wasn’t there before. The earliest work looks a little vague. Then it becomes very much alive and a little out of control. Kind of impassioned and unstructured. Maybe a little confused but quite vital. And coming to the present a richness and serenity set in.

I no longer struggle with a painting. The enjoyment of the process is greater. I know what I want and how to go for it. I am closer to the unattainable perfection I want and happy not to reach it. The work parallels the life.  So alright, old age ain’t so bad. What I saw when I looked at those early paintings was that, yes, I can do better now.

The image above is Valentine, ©1987, acrylic and pastel on etching paper, 48” x 60”. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

About Business as Usual

At this time while we are aware of the horrific events in Japan, I and people I know and many that I don’t know are in our studios focusing on a line, a shape, a color, a texture.

Isn’t there always some horror somewhere? Of the natural kind, or blood shed for political upheaval or famine taking children’s lives or AIDS decimating a population? How then do we go about business as usual? I was celebrating a birthday, grateful for all the love in my life as others were attempting to cope with unimaginable loss. I remember clearly walking out of the house where my best friend lay dying and being surprised and offended by the world looking so normal. I was on my way to do some grocery shopping.

We form a picture of the world when we are young which is constantly under revision. The experiences that darkened my world were about death: I was ten years old when I lost a beloved aunt and a dear cousin, my puppy was run over and died, and I saw some horrific wartime photos. These experiences influenced the choices I made ever after. I wonder about the survivors of the bombings of Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and of devastating earthquakes and other catastrophes. How did their lives go on?

Only recently have I understood how that sudden first experience of death shaped my life. At some unthinking level, I chose to make my life about life. To this day I am reluctant to miss anything that life offers with the result that I have made many very unrealistic decisions. Supporting myself by painting is amongst the silliest of these. A totally romantic decision, but it was the right choice.

Writer E.B. White said: “All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.” I do too. In spite of the fact that our lives can be taken with no regard for the plans we make. Edna Saint Vincent Millay ended a poem about loss with these words: Life must go on; I forget just why.

The image above is Lament ©1996, acrylic on paper mounted on canvas, 22" x 68.

Friday, March 11, 2011

About the ColorWalls

While I am making a painting, I live within the limits of that rectangular flat surface. If I am painting for a gallery show, I am aware of the look of the exhibition space. I want the work to be appropriate in size and strength to its surroundings. 

Lately I have been thinking that I would rather not do any more gallery shows. Exhibitions are disruptive, expensive and sometimes disappointing in terms of the response I am hoping for. What has been a more practical and rewarding operation for me has been working with consultants who place the work and send me a check in the mail. (More about that in Blog by Joan Gold: About Marketing)

So I’ve been thinking about where I would like my paintings to hang because it’s nice to have that vision in mind as I work. It kind of helps me to get clear about the work itself and pushes it to resolution. If the work is not destined for gallery shows, where will I imagine it coming to rest? The answer is on the walls of any interiors that can accommodate them easily where people live, work or just pass through. With that picture in mind I know how I want to proceed with the next series I am planning. I am going to make colors for walls and maybe I’ll call them ColorWalls. I am going to make the paintings on heavy paper (thick, velvety, luscious etching paper), that will each focus on a color. There will be a panel about red, one about green, and one about every color that I can find a name for. The important condition that goes with these pieces is that they must be displayed in groups of three or more. More being better. Color is most interesting when juxtaposed with other colors. 

This could turn into such a big project, given the possible variations in approach, in materials and in scale, that I imagine it will keep me happy and focused until I croak. And just so that doesn’t happen too soon, I have invested in the new Jane Fonda workout video and a new set of hand weights. I’ll need to endure for at least another twenty years.

The image above is the project of the moment, a precursor to those described above. They measure 50” x 25” each and for the moment are made of acrylic on etching paper. They will soon be adorned with some collage elements (already taped in place) and then embellished with pastels to illuminate them. They were started at Yaddo (see About Yaddo) more than twenty years ago and will be finished now.

Friday, March 4, 2011

About the Vision

Yesterday I had the pleasure of hearing very accomplished potter Peggy Louden,  DesignCraft Heroine: Peggy Loudon | handful of salt , speak of her work and show slides of the beautiful objects she creates. What was special for me was to hear her become animated as she spoke of the curve between the wider, lower part of a bottle and its neck. That vision, attention to a curve, a shape, or a line is the kind of nuttiness that makes a work of art spring from ordinary to extraordinary. It is out of balance with the rest of life. As my friend Richard used to comment (somewhat paraphrased), what nonsense is this that we spend our time making marks on canvas? When all hell is breaking loose in several parts of the world, people getting shot at as they struggle for better lives, we sequester ourselves in the safety of our studios and close out the world as we struggle to get the right color or texture. The only way I can see this as any kind of reasonable operation is to remember the images on cave walls and the amazing fact that prisoners in the death camps of WWII made drawings with whatever materials they could scrounge together. The explanation, for me, is that it’s just something we do. It's built into our humanity.

Peggy’s operation as a potter is much like mine as a painter and probably like that of artists in all kinds of disciplines. It is the focusing on a vision, fine tuning, varying, embellishing, and working with it not totally formed in the mind, until it becomes real. Towards the end of her talk, Peggy spoke of simplifying her creations. What that means to me, if I understand her through my own work, is to remove from the object, the vase, bowl, bottle, painting, novel, or sonata, everything that is extraneous. Purification and cleanliness is the goal. Yves Klein’s monochromatic paintings are clean and pure and to the point. Most of us want something more from a work of art but there is something very satisfying in seeing how far simplifying can take us and some of us need to go that route even though it has been done before by others.

Many years ago when I was just beginning to exhibit my work I imagined walking into a gallery at some point in the future and seeing my own work on the walls. The idea was to raise a picture in my mind of how I wanted it to look. Well, here I am, after all this time and still I haven’t painted what I envisioned back then. What I saw in my future was a large canvas, just one, that was variations on one color. It was a deep and misty violet. Sort of smokey.

I am getting on in years. I am going to get to work on that painting. I do not want to leave it undone.

The image above is INTERVENTION, ©2002, Acrylic and Mixed Media Collage on Canvas, 31” x 35”