6″ x 8″
The walls and floor of our apartment aren’t really red, and this painting isn’t at all based on Matisse’s “Red Studio” at MOMA, which I haven’t seen in years though I do remember enjoying it.
The stone wall is there, however, outside the window, like the one in Peter Doig’s otherworldly painting “Gasthof zur Muldentalsperre“, which I also wasn’t thinking about when I painted it.
Sometimes I think painting is the act of wringing out whatever imagery has been soaked up by the mind over the years. The best results are an uncanny assemblage of existing references – unique and not at all original. Which is of course frustrating but simplifying. An enjoyable process nonetheless.
6″ x 8″
I feel like now would be a good time to stop making paint color called “flesh.” First of all, everyone should be able to mix whatever color it’s supposed to be using various amounts of red, blue, yellow and white. Also, it could be better described as “peach.” Also, and it’s racist. This is the first and last time I’ll use “flesh” from this new pack of paint before I throw out the tube.
But please walk softly as you do.
Frogs dwell here and crickets too.
Ain’t no ceiling, only blue
Jays dwell here and sunbeams too.
Floors are flowers–take a few.
Ferns grow here and daisies too.
Whoosh, swoosh–too-whit, too-woo,
Bats dwell here and hoot owls too.
Ha-ha-ha, hee-hee, hop-hoooo,
Gnomes dwell here and goblins too.
And my child, I thought you knew
I dwell here… and so do you.
– Shel Silverstein
The full title is “February 4, 11:57am, Interstate 10, near Las Cruces, New Mexico.” I’m really happy that it will be included in an exhibition about roadtrips, called “Hit the Road” curated by Ben Johnson at Tohono Chul Park.
In 2011, I drove from Tucson, Arizona to Boone, North Carolina. Every hour I took one photograph, straight ahead through the windshield. Over many hours, the vast dusty terrain turned to lush tangled ravines, and by taking an hourly photograph I think I was trying to isolate those incremental changes. Not sure if I learned anything about increments and landscape, but this is a painting of one of those photographs.
Someday I will try to work one of the these up in oil, but so far the image is too turbulent, shifty, and oil doesn’t lend itself to improvisation for me – or I don’t lend myself to planning things out. A corny metaphor, but drawing can be like jazz – pick a key and start playing. Oil painting is operatic. Try to improvise an opera and you’ve got a nasty mess on your hands. I admire painters who seem to truly improvise complex paintings in oil. Amy Sillman, Tim Hyman, R.B. Kitaj, Nicole Eisenman, Ken Kiff to name a few.
48″ x 60″
The cat in the lower left was taken from a photograph of a cat in the early 1920′s. Funny how many more generations of cats have passed, than humans, in the intervening years.
This little 3 minute animation was made for Vivian, commissioned by Exploded View Micro-cinema (Tucson, AZ) and published by Seneca Review (Hobart & William Smith Colleges, NY) in an issue called Beyond Category with all kind of wonderfully boundary-crossing stuff.
The movements of the animation are embedded in the paintings. Watch it and that will make sense… make sure your sound is on, there are sound effects. Here are the paintings (each approx. 8″x10″):
36″ x 42″
Often when people have a blog that they haven’t posted to in a long time, they start with something like “Finally, after a long hiatus, I’m back!”, as if people are sitting around waiting for a new post, and relieved when it finally happens. I’m not going to do that. Here’s a colorful painting that has some mirrors and a guy on the right that I forget is there, unless I look right at him, he disappears.
11″ x 15″
“Something offered is not offered; something finished is not finished; nothing changes.” (from Gilgamesh proverbs 3.107)
That odd saying is in some conversation with Herakleitos many centuries later: “Everything flows; nothing remains. [Everything moves; nothing is still. Everything passes away; nothing lasts.]”
Gilgamesh proverbs are bizarre and great. Here’s another favorite: “The runaway slave girl only pretends to sleep.”
12″ x 14″
After his best friend, Enkidu, dies, Gilgamesh suffers such grief, he is “as a man who wanders too far from home; like a ghost that will not go down.” Here he is rowing to see Utnapishtim to talk about eternal life. Spoiler: turns out there isn’t any. Having said that, I’m still talking about Gilgamesh, so maybe in that respect.
10″ x 15″
The poet and painter worked in a highly personalized idiom and with a face of wonderful birdlike French-ness (or Belgian-ness).
(excerpt from “Carry Me Away” by Henri Michaux, translation by Eli Siegel)
Carry me away into a Portuguese boat of once,
Into an old and gentle Portuguese boat of once,
Into the stem of the boat, or if you wish, into the foam,
And lose me, in the distance, in the distance.
11″ x 14″
Early each morning I sit on the couch with my daughter Vivian wrapped in my robe and drink coffee and we listen to an audio recording of the Epic of Gilgamesh. On the back of this wooden panel is written what Gilgamesh kept saying when he was startled awake in the Forest of Cedars. I love the cadence of these questions and the confusion upon waking of a demigod so many generations ago.
Did you call me?
Why am I awake?
Did you touch me?
Why am I so upset?
Did a god pass?
Then why do I feel so weak?
13″ x 13″
There was a man who was so disturbed by the sight of his own shadow and so displeased with his own footsteps that he determined to get rid of both. The method he hit upon was to run away from them. So he got up and ran. But every time he put his foot down there was another step, while his shadow kept up with him without the slightest difficulty. He attributed his failure to the fact that he was not running fast enough. So he ran faster and faster without stopping until he finally dropped dead. He failed to realize that if he merely stepped into the shade, his shadow would vanish, and if he sat down and stayed still, there would be no more footsteps.
(Chuang Tzu, 4th c. BCE)
6 1/5″ x 10 1/5″
The ancestral blocks are coming in handy for some more studies in color. The great classic book, The Interaction of Color by Josef Albers has recently been translated by Yale Books into an interactive app for the iPad. I highly recommend it for people interested how color is deceptively received by the eye. It’s very not as heavy as the book.
Stacks of colored bars appear to have a fracturing affect on these two. For stability, I referred back to the original frontispiece from A Child’s Garden of Verses.
As the painter Paula Rego said: “Every change is a form of liberation. My mother used to say a change is always good even if it’s for the worse.”
Enough government stuff, here are some Vikings. Vikings sojourning in a land of many colors. Each color is incrementally informed by the tone that comes before and after it. I’m practicing palette discipline. It could be that Vivian’s name and her nickname Vivi has called up these Vikings. All the V sounds and the slow, determined exploration of new worlds. No plundering, no marauding, just rowing and watching. Take that, Congress.
A viking ship and some letters in the elegant Bodoni font. I’ve been doing a lot of middle-of-the-night studying of fonts. The world of typeface design is complex, intelligent, and sensitive. It’s also a warren of deeply held, and militantly defended opinions about the most minute minutiae, it’s hilarious. Not sure where the viking ship is coming from.
I was up in he middle of the night making this painting, while Vivian lay next to me in her bouncy seat. I thought “My mind is surprisingly sharp for not getting much sleep.” When it was time to get back in bed, I picked up Vivian and on my way out of the room, tried to turn off my painting with the TV remote control.
Blue ballpoint pens are, I think, terrible to write with but the lines sling all around, good for drawing. The river below. Above is a sketch of this little lady from a group of plaster Fisher-Price casts I did years ago. In this she’s maybe an ancestor, or celestial something.
18″ x 24″
I’ve had a policy of not including outside sources on the Work-a-day page, but this seems necessary.
On Sept 25, 1864, an ancestor of mine wrote a letter to her daughter from the family home ‘Sweet Auburn’ outside Natchez, Miss. To save paper, which was in low supply, the letter was cross-written. This is such an anomaly of Victorian letter writing, happened quite a bit during a time when formal letter writing was common, but paper was not, and postage expensive. The penmanship is so elegant, but when it’s written on top of itself it gets all jangled up. The writing, nearly indecipherable, is about the current (bad) state of things (war).
Then sixty-five years later, the letter writer’s great-great-granddaughter (my grandmother) was learning to write in her seventh grade class in Natchez. This is drill 20.
The ancestors keep giving me stuff to draw about, I’m barely touching the surface here. More cross-writing/drawing to come.
This is a hard-boiled son of a gun, related in theme to a number of paintings I’ve done of orphans, frontal group portraits of children. Some of the children in the Orphans paintings may in fact be orphans for all I know, but more the point for me is that the source photographs are old enough to nearly ensure that all portrayed have all lived and died. Then it’s not the child, but the image of the child, that is the orphan.
The surface of this four foot square canvas has been worked and scraped many times over the last year, was nearly cut off the stretchers recently. Then I saw a grainy photograph of my great uncle’s second grade class that was recently published in the Baton Rouge newspaper. The caption recalls the two-room school house, the mule-drawn bus, the hand-me-downs. I put the canvas back on the easel again and they hopped right on.
This drawing is based on two dimly xeroxed ancestral photographs taken by a family member in the 1910′s.
I recently read that Faulkner said his writing was a process of “sublimating the actual into the apocryphal.” One of the aspects I love about drawing is that its connection to ‘reality’ is always spurious. As it references one actuality, it simultaneously creates another, separate actuality.
The snake is saying, “For me, drawing is a source of energy, while painting is the expenditure of energy.” I really have to say that’s my experience as well. As much as they have over-lapping concerns, the stylus and the brush are very different instruments and when I go looking for how an artist thinks, I look at their drawings. It’s like looking at their drawings gets you closer to the source of what motivates their ideas.
This one I’m twisting my beard, a nervous habit I can’t seem to break (though I honestly haven’t tried). Self-portraits often strike me as sad. I don’t make self-portraits very often, but I like seeing other people’s self-portraits. What a touching and awkward thing to record, studying and drawing one’s own face. I do love Jim Dine’s horribly awkward self-portraits. Rembrandt’s almost don’t count. Maybe my favorite self-portrait is old Bonnard in his later years, purple fists up in the bathroom mirror.
Because seven ate nine. On another note, the word stylus comes to us from Etruscan, as few words do.
Recently talking with Bill B. about polysemy and open meanings in drawing and writing. He said about one poem “as much polysemy as the poem can bear.” (phrasing taken from something Jane Freilicher said, about wanting “as much light as the painting can bear”).
The origin of this image is an ancestral memoir recounting a journey from Natchez, Miss. to Shubuta, Miss. in 1863.
“The party consisted of my Mother and myself, my uncle George N. Monette and my cousin Billy Phillips and my Negro nurse Emeline Netter. Although I was less than two years old at the time, I can recall as if yesterday little incidents of that journey, – the drive over rough country roads through the great forests of virgin long-leaf Pine which then covered that part of the State, the stopping at times to rest and eat lunch under the shade of the trees, and sometimes at farm houses in the “clearings,” – my uncle and cousin jumping from the wagon and walking up the long hills to ease the tired wagon mules, and at last the meeting with my dear Father at the little town of Shubuta.”
“You collaborate with your peers, either directly (that is, you write works together) or not (that is, by parallel creations you form the work that comes to be recognized as that of a period style, the art of your time). Competitiveness is a form of collaboration. Addressing an audience—conceiving an addressee, a reader or viewer, for the work—you collaborate with that shifting phantasmagoria. Such sociability is what puts the work in the world.” — Bill Berkson, from “Working with Joe,” 2002
It’s these broad definitions of collaboration that gives me hope. Sociability, generosity and conversation at the heart of art-making and art-viewing softens the sense that the Art-World is a fractured and self-important megalith. I had an uplifting morning with Bill Berkson at SFMOMA; this isn’t a great drawing necessarily but captures the conversation as I experienced it. And the Ellsworth Kelly room was elegant.
In a book on the British painter Ken Kiff, the author refers to Art as a ‘species of Philosophy.’ I like this but wonder if there is more nuance. I think of what I do as a species of Philosophy, or sometimes a mutant relative of Linguistics, or sibling of literature. Seen from a certain angle, Painting could be considered a ‘species of Interior Design.’ Grouping like that helps me stay clear of the vortex of seeing one medium as in competition with another.
When I was in Glasgow, Painting was of no consequence, but Video Installation was of vital importance, now Social Practices (which could be seen as a ‘species of Activism’) is making Video Installation look like basket-weaving, and Painting is no longer a threat. Activism is seen as morally superior to intellectual pursuits now – not to mention the collecting of art objects – so Art that engages social issues and justice is at the top of the wheel for the moment. Will be interesting to watch the Art establishments domesticate Social Practices; reminds me of that quote from Octavio Paz: “More astute than Rome, the religion of art has absorbed all schisms.”
The above drawing: I made a note to myself and then did it, right there on the same page. Rare that happens in life.
Before exit 70 on the interstate that runs the length of Kansas there is a series of signs tempting one to pull off and admire the “incredible six-legged steer.” I just came across some notes I had drawn while driving (I know) and worked them up into more developed drawings. Maybe interesting for those who follow the Wastrels saga on this page, clearly the genesis of the eight-leg deer . . .
The next few drawings are of related oddities of beast at the same exit.
I do not want to close, and to worship, but you have my ears pierced. Sacrifices and sin offerings you will not, therefore, behold, I come from, we told him. The head of the book is about. I’m not asking you, you, I, and about the middle of your heart.
(this text is a mutation of Psalm 40:6-8, having translated the excerpt using Google Translate from English to Italian, Danish, Latin, Turkish, Bengali, Finnish, Hebrew and back to English)
When Jessica and I were designing the homepage for the new issue of Trickhouse (this one here), we wanted to use a paper alphabet, so I cut letters out of construction paper. This is the layering of the paper that remained. This is also I guess the first Workaday post that is neither a painting, nor a drawing, though an expanded definition of drawing would include any mark left which records a movement, action or idea. So, let’s call it a drawing. Not that it matters.
I already posted this but then I changed it, so this is me posting it again. And oof, this photo is kind of glare-y; highly glazed surface. It is also the final piece in this group of musician paintings. They’ve been very fun to paint, and all the while I’ve been painting to the alternating musical backdrop of early hill country blues and Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention’s full concert at the Palladium in 1981 (a youtube video find). A curious mix, but effective.
This is a heavily encrusted painting, with lots of evident wrangling. Sometimes a painting comes together without a mess and a fuss, and that’s okay too, but if there are lots of changes of mind, they might as well be available for view. A live oak, an orange bird, a curtain of impasto and figures who come and go. The piano player is a kind of anti-color, like what collects at the bottom of the turpentine can.
The title of this comes from Robert Johnson’s 1936 recording of “Last Fair Deal“: Ida Belle don’t cry this time / Ida Belle don’t cry this time / If you cry about a nickel / You’ll die about a dime.
When I was seventeen, I moved to Jackson, Mississippi and was on my own for the first time. I spent a lot of time in my station wagon exploring every dark corner of Jackson, playing my Robert Johnson tape on a cassette player I held on my lap while driving. I remember rewinding this song over and over. I also played a lot of guitar that year but could never play a Robert Johnson song to save my life. This painting feels more like his music to me than anything I ever could do on the guitar, though of course there’s no real comparison. As a side note, the Wastrels are making a cameo appearance in the pictures on the wall above Ida Belle’s (presumably) double arm. Immutable little interlopers.
This is related to Sweet Emmalina. The fellow on the far left is a cut-up in both.
There is a vaporous mood in this one; ether and suspended blood cells. Hard to know where to point one’s eyes sometimes.
I don’t have a problem with others signing their work, but for me adding my signature to a painting, after working to create a balance of marks, can feel like an invasive afterthought. So I’ve started signing a canvas as soon as I start the painting, then signing it again periodically throughout the process of making a painting. That way the signature feels more a part of the painting process and not something jammed on like a mic-drop at the end. In “Don’t Go, Flo” you can see a little swarm of initials in the bottom right.
Here is another large-ish oil painting. There is a lot to look at in this image, and a lot of eyes looking back. The paintings hanging on the wall on the right side make me want to walk behind the bass player and see what’s going on back there. And pink face, can’t even look directly at him almost. Then there’s the rakish fellow on the left, all rubbery and swarming with eyes.
I am fortunate to have a solo show scheduled at the lovely Carol Robinson Gallery. The exhibit will consist entirely of paintings of musicians and I thought I’d start posting them on the Work-a-Day one at a time.
This one here is a biggie. And colorful.
Ja-Da, Ja-Da, Ja-Da, Jing, Jing, Jing!