June 20, 2016

Artist of the Week: Philip Guston

Philip Guston
Philip Guston, Alchemist, 1960, oil on canvas, 61 x 67 3/8 inches
Philip Guston
Philip Guston, Position I, 1965, oil on canvas, 65 x 80 inches

Since I'm moving to a new house next week my time at the studio, or anywhere else for that matter, has been temporarily taken over with packing. Thankfully last week I was able to take a slight reprieve to go and see the Philip Guston show at Hauser & Wirth. Although I needed to climb over a few boxes to write this to you I wanted you to read it before the show closes next month.

Seeing this exhibit couldn't have come at a better time for me. While I'm at the cusp of an important address/life change, my work is also having a moment. It has reached its point to change directions.

With that, I think I can safely say this show has changed my life! 
Although it has left me with more questions than I know what to do with, I'm inspired to dig deeper within myself to find the thing that most interests me.

Philip Guston
Philip Guston, Portrait I, 1965, oil on canvas, 68 3/8 x 78 inches
I need to know why these paintings work!
How they work. It is baffling me. I've never been so perplexed by an exhibition. Why not paint to the edge? Why the same size brush throughout? Why the color choices? Why the muddy grey that's somehow not muddy at all? How is it possible for that black to work so well as a figure? How is he pulling this off? A line here, a gesture there and somehow we know exactly what he's trying to say. I don't know how he's done it but I'm determined to find out! 

Philip Guston
Philip Guston, Inhabiter, 1965, oil on canvas, 76 1/8 x 79 1/4 inches

Guston believed artists don't always choose the kinds of paintings they inevitably end up making. That might go without saying. Guston was an artist who changed his course more than once and at no small cost to his professional career. 

When I consider that, it makes me wonder why I am making the kinds of paintings I'm making...


Philip Guston
Philip Guston, Untitled, 1962, oil on canvas, 66 x 73 inches
Philip Guston
Philip Guston, Group II, 1964, oil on canvas, 65 1/8 x 79 1/8 inches
The show at Hauser & Wirth highlights the period smack in the middle between Guston's pure abstraction and late figuration. It's interesting that you can almost see his wheels turning, each brush stroke transporting him from one important moment to the next. Perhaps this work would look wholly different if we weren't able to place it so effectively in its historical place. But perhaps it would have succeeded just as well. I'm not sure about that, but I am sure that his mode of expressive painting seems to have chosen him rather than the other way around. No matter what, Guston was open to finding his absolute truth and the best way to represent it.

Philip Guston
Philip Guston, Painter III, 1963, oil on canvas, 66 x 79 inches


Philip Guston
Philip Guston, The Wave I, 1967, Brush and ink on paper, 13 7/8 x 16 5/8 inches

I'd say that's kind of where I'm at: I'm searching for my absolute truth and the best way to represent it.


June 6, 2016

Secrets of the Muse

Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is such a good book. Even though I don't consider myself a writer per se, most of what he talks about could easily be applied to any artist of any discipline. He may have a whole chapter on vocabulary and grammar but it could just as well be about color, line and composition. There's so much to talk about with this book. His fascinating personal history, cool background information on some of his best novels and the Hollywood movies they turned into, the realities of being a working artist, the pragmatics of writing and persevering, etc. I've earmarked so many pages I will probably have to read the whole thing all over again.

Louise Bourgeois, The Insomnia Drawing no.14, 1995
One of the major things that struck me was the idea of a muse or an "ideal reader". It's been on my mind since page 215 which was like 2 months ago. King writes,
Someone- I can't remember who, for the life of me- once wrote that all novels are really letters aimed at one person. As it happens, I believe this. I think that every novelist has a single ideal reader; that at various points during the composition of a story, the writer is thinking, "I wonder what he/she will think when he/she reads this part?" For me that first reader is my wife, Tabitha.
Gerhard Richter
The first thing I thought about when I read this was a blog post I wrote almost a year ago that started with that very person's name who said the thing about writing like you're writing to one person. I never published the post, ended up deleting the whole thing, and subsequently cannot remember who the person was either. crazy.

Anyway as soon as I read it it was everywhere. It's like every article I've read since then has some artist naming his/her spouse as their muse or "ideal reader", the person they show their work to first and whose opinion they most rely on. It's been an epiphany for me. It's one of those subconscious things that you're aware of without realizing you're aware of it. Like when you're stuck on a piece of artwork. You know something is wrong but you can't articulate it until someone else comes in and points it out. Then it's, oh my God of course, that's what I knew the whole time.

Cy Twombly
The epiphany is that I realized I do not have a muse, and what's worse, I think I need one... badly.

So what the heck is a muse anyway? King writes,
... she's the one I write for, the one I want to wow... when I write a scene that strikes me as funny... I am also imagining my Ideal Reader finding it funny... He or she is going to be in your writing room all the time... You'll find yourself bending the story even before Ideal Reader glimpses so much as the first sentence. I.R. will help you get outside yourself a little, to actually read your work in progress as an audience would while you're still working.
There are plenty of arguments about the role the audience or viewer plays in works of art. Some artists claim they don't care and only make the work for themselves. I have a hard time with that. My thought is that visual art is visual. It needs a pair of eyes on it to complete the whole process. King seems to agree, at least about writing, when he says, "if you really feel that way, why bother to publish at all?"

Louise Bourgeois
Since I believe the viewer is an important part of my  work, then it goes along that a muse might also be important.
It's nice to have someone to want to impress, and what artist can't use another pair of eyes? If not to lavish their opinionated bits on you then at least to point out the things you can't easily see by yourself. It's kind of like having an extra standard to hold the work up to. A criteria that's outside yourself. That's what makes it useful. Because as artists we are so absorbed in our own heavy heads, it's important to step away sometimes and see things from a different point of view.

So the big question is, do you believe in the muse. Is it important? Is it necessary? Do you have one? Do you need one like me, and if so, where do you find one??????????