Saturday, April 25, 2020

You're the Man, Prince Charles.

Village Majorca, 1990 Prince Charles

I had a moment of panic this morning. I could not find my book of Prince Charles's watercolors. I bought this book in the gift shop at The Morgan in New York City a few years ago. I love this book. I love the Prince of Wales and not because I am not one of those fans of the crown or anything like that. When I finally found the book, rather than taking it over to the table, I opened it here on the floor by my bookshelf and drank my coffee on the rug. like that he signs his work "C." I'd like to know him and call him C

The text that accompanies the paintings describe the landscape the weather, technical challenges he encountered and his childhood memories of some of these places. He frequently describes his body in space. For example, he "sheltered pathetically under a leafless tree." Or, "the setting winter sun created the sort of dramatic display that had me fumbling for my paint box." And this, "I was sitting on a grass slope amongst a large quantity of sheep droppings with my back beginning to give out and with pins and needles in my bottom...!" Don't you want this guy to be king?!? Look at this picture of him painting. 

He likes Turner; I like Turner! Who doesn't like Turner. Prince Charles writes, "Turner was one of those geniuses of English art who understood so well and whose sketches and paintings betray this deep and unstoppable passion for the beauty of God's creation." His watercolors show he likes Turner but of course he is not as good. No one is. Turner's paintings are other-worldly. Prince Charles's are worldly. This is something I like about them, about this book. 

I like the way Prince Charles writes, the language he uses. I wonder if he talks like this. I hope he does. The way he articulates why he loves painting. He is so sentimental. Despite the ascot on the language and exclamation points (which convey passion as they neuter it) I am right there with him in the way he is moved by what he sees, by his desire to articulate it in paint. In these texts he cannot contain his deep love of painting, nature, and being present with them both. I have not come many painters who express such a juicy love of it. "The wonderful thing about painting is that it provides you with an excuse to sit in one spot long enough to appreciate the quality of changing light and the theatrical effects of the weather on the landscape." Dang right, bruh. 

I like when he mentions the intersection of being Prince Charles and painting. The accompanying text to one painting of a beach describes how just after he settled himself to paint he discovered that a bunch of paparazzi were "crouched in the sand dunes pointing their ridiculously long lenses in my direction." It's funny in this passage he switches to the second person, as if using I would somehow be too revealing. "your imagination plays on the predictable captions to accompany them..."Beach Boy Charlie Paints Alone" or, better still, "Beached Wales – the Potty Prince Revealed!" His comments on being a prince and a painter that make be feel lucky to be a painter and not a princess.

HRH The Prince of Wales Watercolors Jacket Photograph, by Lesley Donald
And while, no C, I cannot relate to your concerns about tabloid headlines, I think I do understand something about you and the way you look at the world. Did I already say I wish we were friends? 

For the past couple of years I have been trying to do something similar than is done in this book: I have been looking at paintings and drawings I have made, and trying to say where they come from. Prince Charles describes how they come from within a person and without. This is the intersection of living and art. Part of me wishes he could get even more personal but the future king can only be so candid. Oh well. All I can say is, no you cannot borrow this book, and Long Live Charles, The Painter of Wales! 

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Motive and Intent

The other day I drew, in colored pencil, a picture of a Digital Touch drawing I made a while ago. Digital Touch is a texting feature on an iPhone. The drawings are crude and they self-erase once sent/opened unless you elect to keep them. You draw them with your finger and when they replay for the recipient there is a glowing mark where your finger has been; the image appears as it was drawn. It's oddly intimate.

For days I have been wrestling with this question: can a work of art be honest or dishonest? What does that even mean? I have interrogated the little drawing because I made the drawing and posed the question on the same day. I have no answer yet. I am still trying to clarify the terms. I began to note words related to honesty: sincere, deceptive, genuine, impersonate, lie.

I lied about this little drawing. In the privacy of a draft of whatever I am still hashing out here, I claimed that I drew this colored pencil drawing because my phone was out of space and I was deleting old messages (including old digital drawings) I had saved. It is true that my phone was out of space, and true that I have been deleting messages. Maybe I did have the thought that I should draw this image before deleting it. And maybe I situated that fact next to the act of drawing. There is a gap between the truth and the whole truth. When I wrote that I drew this because I was deleting images, the polygraph needle trembled.

Motivation is complicated. In thinking about this I discovered a possible contraction in my motivation when making art in general. The impulse to make a drawing or painting is driven by the desire to internalize something and also to get rid of it. It can be a feeling, an attachment to a person, place, or story. When I draw something, I transfer the subject into my muscle memory, into my brain’s database. I internalize it.  But it also becomes something external I can stick in a drawer or give or throw away.  As of yet I have not figured out whether or not one can be honest in paint. 

The interrogating room in one’s head can be as exhausting. Sometimes confessions, false or true, happen as a result of sheer fatigue. I confess I made this drawing this image because it mattered to me. As for intentions, I don't know. 

The best way to tell the truth is to remain silent.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Hand Painted Tube Socks

This is taken almost word for word from a message I sent to Lara:

"one morning my friend and i were going to drive out to Belle Chasse to try and watch the fighter jets take off from the airbase.

i was wearing black knee socks and said that i wished they were tube socks. i said i could paint them…

then my friend said something to the effect of, what if people just made the things they thought of instead of thinking about them? I painted red stripes on my socks before we left for the west bank. 

the result was not perfect but the action was perfect."

This morning I shirked my routine. Well, part of it. I got out of bed later than usual. I did not open my laptop and did not open a new document and type the date on top. I went to the kitchen to make coffee and brought it to the table rather than to my desk. I took out all four of my Peter Doig books. I looked at pictures. For the rest of the morning, this would be my hub; I came and went from the table. I drew in colored pencil. I drew a text message. I drew the book I am reading. 

Later, I went for a walk and talked to Lara by phone. Those tube socks came up in our conversation and I elaborated to say that in fact the paint had not dried inside the socks and it left rings of wet acrylic paint on my calves. We stopped at an auto parts store so I could wash the paint off at an outside spigot because I became concerned about elements in the paint leeching into my skin. I closed the socks in the back windows to dry the paint outside as we drove. We could not get near the airfield and no jets took off that day. 

In fact I have not seen jets for over a month and miss them. Well, to be accurate, I saw two and they flew at a much higher altitude than usual. When my friend and I exchanged messages after not being in touch for a couple of weeks, he said he had seen the same two jets. I sent this: 

"i'm having migraines every day. it must be the absence of planes or the presence of seagulls." 

I digress. As was the plan. The result was not perfect but the action was perfect.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Enter The Void - The Walls Inside Part 6 (The End)

how are you

The question came from a friend last night by test message. I am trying to be still but I keep forgetting, was my response.

My response, not about art or walls, could be translated to an art confession: I am trying to sit with an empty wall, but want to fill it. I guess I, like my children, abhor a vacuum. Or am just not chill with it. 

To the message I added this photo. It's a little watercolor taped to the wall I cleared the other day when I said I was going to sit with that emptiness. I didn't sit long. This is not about interior decorating. I actually prefer empty walls. But these walls were asked to tell the future (and sometimes to tell the past) with respect to the the art I would make (or had made). 

I filled and emptied the wall space above my dresser with this little watercolor of an empty text message and responding ellipsis. (It's funny to think that a painting can be Apple-specific. Funny or gross, I guess.)

This seemed like a valid illustration to my claim that I was trying to be still but kept failing. (deliberate change from forgetting to failing.) Yesterday I filled the space with a watercolor/colored pencil drawing of a piece of legal paper. Filling a space with space. Filling the void with a void. And then I await an answer...

I address the void, draw it: This is the void; I am fine with that. 

I am totally not fine with that but I am, as they say, working on it. 


Thursday, April 16, 2020

This is Where We Are - The Walls Inside Part 5

It is unseasonably cold in New Orleans. I feel like I would know this from the light on the wall even if I could not feel this fact. The wind, in gusts, sounds cold.

I am looking at these blank walls. One wall is hardly blank because the sunlight is flashing on it. There are the two empty hooks where the painting on paper hung.

It is late (for me), 9 in the morning. My mind is already full, cluttered. My children are up and talking and moving through the house. I am sitting on my bed trying to look at blank walls. Children abhor a vacuum.

I want the vacuum to tell me something but walls speak in soft voices. Tomorrow, when the house is quiet I will be back here listening.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Saying Nothing - The Walls Inside Part 4


Before today, my goal was to look at what I had painted, to see where I had been in order to see where I was going. Maybe that failed. Or maybe this was where I was going. It necessarily was.

Now my goal is to sit with nothing to see what belongs there. If anything.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Containing Everything - The Walls Inside Part 3

My last two posts addressed two paintings on the walls of my bedroom. They were there so I could consider and reconsider them and they would, I thought, inform what I make next. This painting of the Citadelle de Sisteron (oil on canvas) is on the bedside table. 

I first painted the citadel on gessoed paper. I could not initially remember where in southern France the citadel had been so I sent a message to Michaela who identified the photograph or painting, whichever I sent, as Sisteron. I was painting on paper but was preparing to move to a larger scale and had ordered beautiful, large stretchers from Maine. At the time, it seemed I would begin working on this large scale on canvas and stick with it for a while, but the shift in scale (and surface) would inevitably present some problems. The attempt to paint the citadel large scale (maybe 5 x 6 feet) failed. I had too quickly given up articulating the large forms and too soon began painting detail. Also, my painting sessions were too short to make a complete pass on this larger space and on this more thirsty surface. There was no cohesion in the image and the painting was quickly looking overwrought and unstable. I unstretched the canvas and returned to this smaller scale to try to look more carefully at the few basic forms that made the composition.

Those days I was committed to making paintings that were self-contained, that said everything they had to say within their four edges and did not rely on a series or on installation to articulate something. I had also begun to think of certain source material as having special qualities or special potential. This was opposite of the practice of painting almost arbitrarily images I came across or photographs I had shot from the hip. The special potential I looked for in a photograph to use as source material was that it “contained everything.” This was the phrase I gave it. Or, "everything is there." I would go through a pile of photographs and set aside the ones that were different. I relied on a kind of intuition. Then I would have to paint them to really know. I was painting a lot on paper in oil and for the first time in my life returning over and over to the same image. 

The photograph painting of the citadel is based on, taken from a car as I drove through southern France with Michaela, did not on the surface look special. But it contained a mountain, which had been carved into a citadel. I had believed that this was a monastery and that informed my understanding (or misunderstanding?) of the image. Citadel or monastery, fittingly, at that time I considered my practice cloistered, private, and detached from any career intentions or concerns of audience. I had no need to say or write down what I was doing or why, a kind of vow of silence, so any attempt to put my ideas about a sacred image or a painting containing everything are loose translations of thoughts that occurred without words.

This painting did contain everything I knew in that moment. It is a humble claim and a humble painting because while it contained everything I knew, I really didn’t know much and what I knew was vague. So this painting, here on my bedside table is not so much an unfinished thought but one of the last completed gestures I made before moving out of my studio. 

I am looking at this painting of the citadel now. My goal was to look at these paintings on view in my bedroom all along, but I at some point I stopped seeing them. I am looking at this painting now and I see its derivative passages: the shape of the trees a little Doig-y, the palette a little more Tuymans-y than is my own, though black is there and that is for me the essential element. Can something be derivative and honest? 

Not to cut myself off (but, yes, to cut myself off), I think it’s time to take these three paintings down and store them. I see now I was not looking at them as I intended to do and they were just taking up space.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Forgetting to Remember - The Walls Inside Part 2

In my last post I wrote that I sometimes hang my own paintings on my bedroom wall so I can consider unfinished thoughts they embody or because they are positioned between what I made and what I will make next. I do not hang a painting I made on my wall because I think it is some amazing thing. 

I painted this acrylic painting on paper (48 x 56 inches) years after spending an evening in the Piazza del Popolo with Jake and Laura. It was the night Jake and I arrived in Rome, my first trip abroad. When I painted it, the time and place I was thinking back on (fifteen or so years before, the Piazza del Popolo, Rome, Italy) seemed to belong to someone else. And now the time and place I painted it (maybe five years ago here in New Orleans), seems to belong to someone else as well.

Is the subject of the painting a tree and some sky or is the subject something else? Is the subject Returning? After all, I directed Google Street View here and not somewhere new and not somewhere I was planning to go. Click by click I returned to circle the piazza, where I spent one evening fifteen or so years before.

I hung this painting on my wall so I could look at it again, so I could answer the questions it poses and get on to other things. It occurs to me that I have only looked at this painting peripherally since hanging it on my wall. Looking at it now is not so pleasant.

There is a wrinkle, two actually near the top of the paper. They were made when my son, two or three years old at the time, fell on the painting, which was rolled up and somewhere safe I thought. There was confusion on his face when he saw that my concern was for the painting rather than him. I had seen immediately that he was not hurt, but he was used to see me orbit him, a planet with no name, little gravity of my own. Even if he had gotten a bruise, it would be healed and forgotten by now as he has forgotten this moment. But the wrinkle in the painting is still there.

The wrinkle was there when I included this painting in a casual little show in a gallery that would be home to an artist collective for a few years. The space had just been converted from a daycare to a gallery with several small studios for rent in the back and it was walking distance from my house. I would have a studio in that building, various spaces actually, four in all, over the next few few years, but I would not join the collective. When we hung the show I pointed out the wrinkle to one of the other artists. “I sort of like it, she said about the wrinkle.” She followed up with a reason but it was not interesting to me. That comment has stuck with me and annoyed me and it has outlived the gallery, the studios, and my knowing this person. It doesn't really matter that there is a wrinkle in this painting but it certainly wasn't and isn't some good thing. It is funny that this wrinkle, this scar in the paper, has become such a significant landmark in this painting which is not significant. 

The wrinkle is not what makes looking at this painting now, writing about it, sort of unpleasant. Is there a significance to this painting on my wall? Is there a thought or a story behind it? Is it about Jake and Rome and retracing steps, in rummaging in the past? Is it about painting on paper rather than canvas, about working on a new scale and having that experiment cut short when I had to move out of the studio the in the middle of a life upheaval that required all of my resources? It strikes me as funny now that the dominant backstory of this painting seems to be about a wrinkle, an inconsiderate toddler and the tenacity of identity, a comment that for some reason has bothered me for years.

This painting on paper (and not on canvas stretched on the posh custom stretchers that left my studio with everything else in the back of my friend's pickup truck in the wake of a life upheaval) does not asked to be considered important. The painting asserts itself only as a passing thought, and not an idea or belief. There is something immediate in the image I painted. It is also awkward. The perspective follows the Google Street View fisheye lens, which I raised upward above the concerns of map navigation to see the top of that poplar tree.
Just as the view overlooking the Mediterranean (in the painting on the opposite wall) was not about David, this painting is not about Jake. But Jake is there somewhere, isn’t he? 

In the Piazza del Popolo there are four statues, personifications of the seasons of the year. In Google Street View, years after leaving Rome, I circled the piazza click by click as one circles the years and then stopped at the spot where we sat on a bench drinking red wine, Jake and Laura and I. I turned the virtual gaze upward as I turn my physical gaze upward to wonder about this thing that is hanging on my wall. What did I want to remember to think about later? Is there something I am forgetting to remember?

Sunday, April 5, 2020

The Walls Inside Part 1: Where Do We Come From...Where Are We Going?

The self-isolation mandate and the shutdown of physical cultural spaces has me looking at my own walls.

Generally I do not decorate my walls with paintings I have made. (When I display other people’s paintings I don’t really think of them as decoration either.) But when I used to live in spaces where I rented a single room and shared a kitchen and bathroom, I would fall asleep and wake up looking at the paintings I was working on.  This habit has persisted. Though I am not painting at the moment (other than little watercolors) I have on the walls of my bedroom two paintings that represent an unfinished thought. Though the paintings themselves have been finished for some time, there is in each of them something I will pick up again.

This is an oil painting on paper. I painted it from a photograph I took in France. I am pausing now, trying to remember if I was with David when I took this photograph and where exactly it was. It was near the Mediterranean and David was there for sure. 

The composition of this painting is not a composition I gravitate to, not a composition I have used before that I can remember. That and the calligraphic black trees not representing my usual shorthand or gesture make this painting a little alien to me even though I am the one who painted it. I notice the halo around the two branches cropped on the left hand side. I notice the slight curve of the horizon line. There are wisps of white paint, smoke, that may be exaggerated but that remind me of Provence and the smell of burning grass. And this is fire territory, there had been fires that year and I wonder now if my knowledge and memory of fires informed the way I drew the trees, which look charred, though I do not recall the trees in the photograph were burnt. There is pink in the foreground that almost looks like an accident but reminds me now of when the wind came across the Mediterranean from North Africa sometimes it carried sand from the Sahara and left it on the windows and cars in outside Marseille. But that had not happened when this photograph was taken and not when David was there. 

am thinking of how some parts of this painting, the alien facts of these–I do not want to say decisions because when one is painting it becomes a kind of séance, a thing only part under one's control, part not–these marks, these material utterances, seem to come from someone else. But I was someone else when I stood there taking a photograph on the passenger side of the car David had been driving. And I was someone else a couple of years ago when I painted it. And I am someone else now when I am writing about it. 

This view is rare for another reason: I have not usually been drawn to representing scenes of the water, views of the sea. Even when I have lived near the water, I spend a lot of time turning around, my back to the water. In beach towns I like to look leave the beach and walk to see things a block or two away. I don't think this painting is really considering at the water. Maybe I remember now, stopping the car with David, looking at the road snaking behind us, looking at the road ahead that went to the sea.

This painting was the result of a gesture of looking around, a gesture I made standing outside of a car in southern France a long time ago. It is also the result of a decision to make a trace of paint on a piece of paper some years later. About a year ago, looking back and squinting forward I hung this painting on the wall. These words are the result of my still standing here trying to figure out where I have come from and where I should go from here.