100 Sentences

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For my current show at the Julia Martin Gallery, I put together this little book of one hundred sentences about painting, history, slavery, memory. I don’t think that these, or any other paintings require text, but this show includes many detailed references. Thought it best to document them, for what it’s worth.

ONE HUNDRED SENTENCES
Regarding SHUBUTA & OTHER STORIES
NOAH SATERSTROM | 2017

It may be understood that paintings are always primarily about painting.

Certain themes persist.

Maurice Denis tells us to “[r]emember that a painting – before it is a battle horse, a nude model, or some anecdote – is essentially a flat surface covered with colours assembled in a certain order.”

I did not set out to paint about slavery, or bigotry

I did set out to paint about family stories and place.

The family stories are mine and the place is Mississippi.

What is unique about the South is not racism, not even its institutionalization – you can find that in the North, too.

Celebrating difference does not come easily for humans, even if recognizing difference does.

What may be unique about the South is its specificity regarding racism.

My family in Mississippi owned thousands of slaves.

There are records, signed contracts, inventory lists.

In 1828, my mother’s mother’s mother’s father’s father’s father was Governor of Mississippi and proposed to legislators that there be no more slaves brought to the state and the practice, “an evil at best,” should be ended within a generation.

They didn’t go for it.

In a state record of 1860, thirty-two years later, his own son was listed as owning 512 slaves.

I do not recount this to condemn my family.

Having slave-owning ancestors doesn’t make you a racist, but being a slave owner does.

Being an artist doesn’t free you from bias.

I am interested in making paintings, not in making social statements.

I’m not even interested in making artist statements.

The financial benefits of slavery were not enjoyed only in the South.

Bigotry is not a rural phenomenon.

I am interested in family, memory, history, my own and others’.

I could look at other people’s family albums all day.

Specificity pulls me in.

Questions arise from stories, both factual and apocryphal, passed from mother and father to son and daughter.

Want to pull out an old slide carousel?

We have all night.

Should art be interrogatory, not declarative?

One has a certain fascination with unresolvable questions.

Thousands of slaves were owned by my ancestors.

I don’t know how many stayed in Mississippi.

Presumably tens of thousands of current residents of the state are descended from people once owned by my family.

Painting is about capturing.

Storytelling is about preserving.

I don’t know if that’s true.

No, drawing is about preserving.

The Corinthian girl so long ago traces the flickering shadow of her lover on the wall before he left for war.

There is a case to be made for preservation.

Or is preserving always romanticizing?

You guessed it, he didn’t come back.

We know romanticizing to be hazardous.

We know a romantic past is a daydream.

When we long for a lost paradise, what we mean is our garden was taken from us.

“We didn’t surrender the good times, they were stolen.”

“There were the good times, and now there is now, and someone is to blame.”

“It was an economic decision.”

“They didn’t hate their slaves”.

“The field hands were a good investment.”

The house servants tended to their daily needs and to their children.

If you want to say something good, use your words.

No, better to use your actions.

Is there anything less significant than a history painting in the 21st century?

Paint can do very little beyond itself.

If you want to do some good in the world, have an apple.

Walls are for collectors.

It is good to look at paintings quietly, daily, over a period of years, decades, generations if possible.

There is a dimension beyond what can be experienced at this moment, and it’s called make-believe.

Images are resolved formally not conceptually.

Imagery propagates itself.

We were taught that my mother’s family were intellectuals, philosophers, scholars, doctors and planters.

My great great grandfather, a child during the Civil War, remembered how the black Union soldier stationed at their home to protect them from jayhawkers and bandits during the chaotic time of the federal occupation of Natchez would whittle toy bayonets out of cane for the little boy to play with.

They played soldiers; well, one of them was playing.

He grew into a respected man, one people thought of as good.

While a law student at the University of Mississippi in the 1880’s, he and his friends on a lark held a mock trial of a young black man they met on a bridge.

For fun they held him, made up his crime, and convicted him right there on the bridge.

After the fun, they sent him on his way into the night.

In the 1930’s he referred to the Klan as a “necessary evil.”

“Servants” ” nurses” “maids” and “drivers” feature marginally

in family letters, always with nurturing and friendly feelings.

Black people were often the last to see my ancestors alive.

Sam Brown, my great great grandfather’s great grandfather’s “trusted body servant”, was with him when he died beside his horse in 1823.

This continues right up to Wilfred, the yard man, my grandfather’s last hospital visitor.

And again to Sandra, the caretaker of my aunt and grandmother, both recently passed.

There may be little to glean here but interconnectedness.
In the minds of many white Southerners was not hatred of black people, but restoring the “previous social order.”

And fear, of course.

The previous order was seen as balanced, prosperous, natural.

As it happened, that previous order relied on white supremacy.

Memory is the same as History, just shorter and confined to one person.

History is the same as Memory, just longer and more crowded.

Both have unreliable narrators.

To intervene is to come between.

To interfere is to strike between.

Some are highly controlled and intentional, while others are improvisational, gestural: paintings, I mean.

I grew up mostly in a small river town whose system of race and class distinctions were strictly enforced by the ruling class.

Of course neither this town nor its system are special for that.

Is there any value in painting about something that even words — arguably a much more efficient medium — struggle to describe?

My work is finding a way to make paintings that are analogous to the way my mind works.

Not because the world needs to see how my mind works but if my painting is like my thinking, it will come without obstruction.

What artist doesn’t want that?

I recall Philip Guston’s long, long preparation for a few moments of innocence, and then I name my son Guston.

Trying to speak plainly about an uncomfortable subject is at least an alternative to catastrophic politeness.

On Sept 16th 1841, one of my ancestors gave $34.25 to his wife’s father to rent his servant William for three months.

After that they agreed he would be on loan as needed until April for $10 per month – about $263 today.

Painting can kick off involuntary thoughts and dreamlike associations in the brain.

For some, this is enjoyable.

The world needs good deeds to be done.

Painting does not do that kind of good in the world.

If I were raised on the ocean, I might paint what I observed about the waves.

If I were raised in the trees, I might paint what I knew of the canopy, of birds and bugs.

In real stories, everyone is human.

***
I would like to thank Julia Martin Wimmer, Sam Dunson, Jochen Wierich, Jessica Eichman, Anna Saterstrom, and Jules, Vivi, and Gus Saterstrom for encouraging me to make and show this work.

Shubuta & Other Stories is dedicated to my family.

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In Times of War

48″ x 60″
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Road to Shubuta

48″ x 96″
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Renting William

11″ x 14″
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Sunken Trace

24″ x 36″
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Sam Brown

24″ x 36″
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Cutting Bayonets

18″ x 24″
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Bed Barges

30″ x 40″
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Bridge

24″ x 30″
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Brown’s Velvet

30″ x 40″
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Carrie Fisher

12″x12″
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John Glenn

12″x12″

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The Quiet Game

11″x14″
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Rear View Mirror

11″x14″
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Cutting Bayonets

11″x14″
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Sam Brown

11″x14″
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Boys Will Be

11″x14″
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Child, Version of Child

11″x14″
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Another Brick in the Wall

11″x14″
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Two Figures, Forebears

11″x14″
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Sam Brown (study)

5″x8″
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Girls in Shrubs

9″x12″

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Drawing Faces

16″x20″
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Projection

11″x14″

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Two Figures

10″x18″
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Frida Kahlo #3

12″x12″
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Elizabeth Taylor

12″x12″
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Leonard Cohen

12″x12″

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Lead Belly

12″ x 12″
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James Joyce

12″ x 12″
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Shel Silverstein

12″ x 12″
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Virginia Woolf

12″ x 12″
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Bill Berkson

12″ x 12″
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Michael Jackson

12″ x 12″
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Shimon Peres

12″ x 12″
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Tetherball

11″x15

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Jerry Garcia

12″x12″

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Bob Dylan

12″x12″

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Pupils and Bees

24″ x 30″
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Eudora Welty

12″x12″
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Pablo Picasso

12″x12″
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Emily Dickinson

12″x12″
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Alberto Giacometti

12″x12″
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Pupils

24″ x 30″

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Orphans & Hornets

44″ x 58″
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Orphans & Ribbons

36″ x 36″
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Orphans & Bees

36″ x 60″
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William Faulkner no. 3

12″x12″
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Sylvia Plath

12″x12″

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Woody Guthrie

12″x12″
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Terrence McNally

12″x12″

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William Faulkner no. 2

12″x12″
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Loretta Lynn

12″x12″
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Serge Gainsbourg

12″x12″
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Gertrude Stein

12″x12″
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Elie Wiesel

12″x12″

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Frida Kahlo no. 2

12″x12″

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Prosperity Cake

16″ x 20″
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Arlington

24″ x 36″
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Wish You Were Here

24″ x 36″
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Muhammad Ali

12″ x 12″
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Shubuta Fountain

5″x5″
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Swim

20″x20″
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Car

6″x8″
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Tails

6″x8″
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Lake

24″ x 30″
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Marco Polo

20″ x 20″

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A One and a Two

18″ x 24″

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Marc Chagall

12″ x 12″
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Prince

12″ x 12″

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Golda Meir

12″ x 12″
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Carl Sagan

12″ x 12″

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Bathing Suits

8″ x 10″
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Oscar Wilde

12″ x 12″

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Tiger Man

8″ x 10″
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Songs for Sundays

30″ x 40″

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Jean-Michel Basquiat

12″ x 12″

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Simone de Beauvoir

12″ x 12″

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Franz Kafka

12″ x 12″

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Frida Kahlo

12″ x 12″

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Patty Duke

12″ x 12″
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Jim Henson

12″ x 12″
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William Faulkner

12″ x 12″

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Did You Ever Watch a Moonbeam

48″ x 72″
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Personhood of Farms

30″ x 48″
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Helen Keller

12″ x 12″

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Phife Dawg

12″ x 12″

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Belle Meade

16″ x 20″
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Picasso and Upside-Down Newark

16″ x 20″
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Hayfield

16″ x 20″
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Flo

16″ x 20″
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Lylah’s Bus

12″ x 24″
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Wish You Were Here

16″ x 20″
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Specter Projector

16″ x 20″
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Life on the Moon

16″ x 20″
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Plastic Pool

7″ x 9″
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Personhood of Birds

7″ x 9″
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Pirate’s Cove

7″ x 9″

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Out from Penn Station

7″ x 9″

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Hayfield

7″ x 9″
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