Monday, October 25, 2010

When a tree falls

(De Chirico, The Uncertainty of the Poet, 1913)

I’ve never questioned my assumption that the exhibition is the final step of the creative process. Showing, I’ve always thought, is just what comes after making. And this presentation is what makes the work evolve. After a show, when you get back to the studio, you’re somewhere else. Somewhere more advanced (ie: better). This is what they say.

Sometimes the attention causes an artist to steer the work in a direction that will please the most people. When this happens, you have to wonder who the artist is drawing for. But I’m not sure you can ever really just draw for yourself.

The high-minded idea is that by putting your work out into the world, you’re contributing to culture. Some say that art makes a difference. It does make me feel alive. Except for when I’m so mad about the crap.

Psychologically, putting your work out into the world satisfies a need to be seen. I think you can be motivated high-mindedly and psychologically at the same time. Then there’s the motivation of making the pile of paper in your studio a bit smaller. You could always just throw it out. Or cremate it, like Baldessari.

Then of course, you just can’t stop. Can you? It’s an urge. And also, what else would you do? And what about your identity?

When you sell a work, you feel good. Unless the person puts the work in their basement, where it gets moldy. This is what people are talking about when they say they want to “place” the work. Sometimes you just have to pay the rent. But that’s why you have the day job.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


(Joan Mitchell)

In last week’s New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl ended his review like this: “Then those movements [after Abstract Expressionism], too, disintegrated, and it’s been pretty much one damn thing after another ever since.”

I love how Scheldahl sticks to his guns.

Sticking to your guns is a good expression. I picture a guy in a field – and he’s going to die, it’s for sure, because the enemy has him surrounded – but he stays put, gun cocked and ready to defend himself.

And don’t you love the use of the word “damn” here. Damn is onomatopoetic for anger. Rightly placed, it’s a bomb.

Kind of like the word “Dealer.” Dealer is onomatopoetic for money. It makes no bones about it, especially because of the earthy “D” sound. “Wheel and deal” is good too, creating a sense of non-stop movement, maybe because of a slimy ground.

In any case, art changes, just like everything else does, in accordance with the law of impermanence. Artists have got to follow the beat of their own drum through it all. Or die.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Wanted: Art Shrink

(Molly Stevens, Heads of State, 2010, oil stick on paper, 40" x 60")

When drawing, I’m constantly making decisions: to go in a certain direction, to change a color, to stop working on a piece. I call the shots, but I’ve always had someone who would say (who I've wanted so badly to say), “yes, that’s right, I’m behind you on this one.” This person changes. But she's always someone I’m trying to emulate or please; she's always someone who knows. More than I do.

At this point in time, there seems to be no one I can rely on or turn to but my own damn self. Sure, there’s the encouraging word from friends and loved ones, but there’s no mentor, and this has left me feeling both isolated and uncertain (to use the tamest of words).

And yet this is likely a prime opportunity for me to go my own way and make work that really looks like my own. It’s just that… what if I make a mistake.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The revenge of the unsung hero

(Christian Viveros-Fauné)

Christian Viveros-Fauné doesn’t mince words. Bless him.

In his latest rant
in the Voice, he rips Jeff Koons a new one, and in doing so humiliates the world of art-money that bolsters him.

I especially like this description of his chat with a dealer who toured him through her Koons show:
Besides reconfirming art history's judgments and the weird sense that some rich people still think that price tags measure the cutting edge, the parley lent a particularly Koonsian brazenness to the day. The polished Dayan [the dealer] identified a picture of reverse-cowgirl anal penetration, Red Butt, as having been the favorite of Koons's octogenarian ex-dealer, Ileana Sonnabend: "She hung it in her office, right at the entrance." You don't say. A second image of cum on La Cicciolina's cheek Dayan compared to Bernini's Ecstasy of Saint Teresa: "It's called Exaltation." Of course, what else? The exhibition's last hardcore picture waited: Titled Dirty Ejaculation, it bore a feces-flecked close-up of Koons's dick pulling out of Cicciolina's bunghole. "I think it's radical," Dayan purred. Uh, yeah!, I mouthed archly. And if this load were music, you would be the New York Philharmonic.

Passages like these are tremendously satisfying to read. It's the revenge of the unsung hero. You can't help but feel holier, purer, wonderfuller. But really, would that it were so clear-cut. If you're in it - in the art world and in fact in the world in general - you're part of it. That's just one of the many contradictions that we embody by just being here.

Remember when Mr. Virveros-Fauné lost his job as Village Voice critic because he was organizing an art fair? That was ridiculous. It's a messy world. Face it.

Monday, October 11, 2010


(Giotto, Joachim’s Dream, 1304ish)

It’s hard to use pink as a woman, because it’s considered girly. And it’s hard to use pink as a man, because it’s considered the opposite of masculine and straight. But what a fine color: strong, optimistic but serious. That’s because it has both red and blue in it.

Every Giotto could be an example. Skin glows pink, robes are pink, the simultaneous dawn and dusk light is pink (I think). Pink looks so good next his blues, his grays, his ruddy reds.


And why can’t there be more flying angels emerging into visibility in contemporary art?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Green Monkey

I’m just not into brainy art (broken record). Ideas tend to lack vitality and also visual appeal. I prefer to give precedence to the porous connections of the unconscious mind, which is at work doing its thing all the time anyway, whether we like it or not. I’m not in control. And neither are you.

Let me see if I can describe how I can trace the doings of the unconscious mind while I draw. In hindsight, of course. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

A few weeks back I took a picture of a wooden sculpture of a monkey at the Met. Yesterday, I set out to draw a human figure. It was a decision. But, at some point I thought I’d turn it into a monkey, then remembering the piece at the Met. That was semi conscious. Then I began daydreaming about a local (expensive) hangout, called Le Singe Vert (the green monkey), where I hoped to meet a friend. Did I make the monkey association? No.

Then I picked up my orange oil stick. I turned the page upside down, as I often do to continue drawing. Then I started on another piece, while listening to Democracy Now and considering the world’s mess. When I turned back to the monkey, I decided it needed to be green, making no connection to the restaurant. Then I wanted some red in there, and stripes gave the color some air. When I turned the image right side up, I realized, I had made a green monkey with shorts, the kind a street animal might wear as he sits next to an accordion player.

It’s not that I think the unconscious mind makes better art (this drawing, eh). It’s that I know it’s there. And if I give it some room, it makes the work less controlled, lending it a fresh quality that I like. Ideas are just not as interesting.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Wall Street

(Michael Douglas in front of a Condo-like painting in Wall Street)

One way to look at it is that art makes money look good. It brings “culture” to greed and the downright dirty. Oliver Stone portrays this so well in Wall Street (part I) that you’ve got to feel a bit like two-faced slime striving to join the market as an artist.

Major art fills the movie: in Gekko’s office we’ve got a large Miro-like piece (that he bought for 60k and is now worth more than 600k, he says); at his home in the Hamptons, there’s a Sultan-like lemon, a few Chamberlain-like smashed cars on the wall and some Leonardo-like huge drawings that act as a Greek chorus behind the drama. At one point Gekko buys a Stella-like painting for a couple of mil. This is definitely accurate décor – and it plays a supporting role; it goes so much further than just the classic portraits of foreboding head honchos – the fathers of wealth – that we expect to see on the walls of old-money firms (although there are these too in the movie).

In a telling scene, when Charlie Sheen asks Daryl Hannah’s character (her name is Darien – as in Connecticut?) what she wants in life, she answers a perfect canary diamond and a Turner (as in Joseph Mallord William Turner, I presume). I understood. Art is desired by power because art perfects power. Art makes power appear solid as a rock (a hard diamond). Art makes beauty belong to power.