August 1, 2015

nuances of creativity

unfinished painting (don't smoke crack II)
There are some months where I can write and write, and nothing else -
where my mind is so clear all I want to do is sit in a room and think -
where words come out automatically, without permission or request.

There are also months where I can't put two sentences together no matter how hard I try -
not ironically coinciding with me barely having a clue about what I'm thinking or doing.

Painting is not like that.
I realize that for me, painting does not require a clear mind, and in fact a tangled mess can sometimes lead to wonderful accomplishments in the painting studio.

I am amazed at these nuances of creativity.
There are so many parts of us that need exercise, practice, restraint, contemplation, time, space, etc. -
each part playing a slightly different role, but just as important
because all of it together makes up the whole.

I'm so glad that when words come I have a place to write them down,
and when paint is flying it has a place to land.







June 10, 2015

"You see, I want a lot"

One of my favorite books of poetry is
Rilke's Book of Hours/ Love Poems to God
by Rainer Maria Rilke

detail of current painting in progress titled Save me from my Desires

I've read it through so many times yet I always find something inspiring.
Written in German and translated, here are two worth rereading:
 

Ich glaube an Alles noch nie Gesagte

I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.
I want to free what waits within me
so that what no one has dared to wish for

may for once spring clear
without my contriving.

If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,
but this is what I need to say.
May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.

Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing you as no one ever has,

streaming through widening channels
into the open sea.


Du siehst, ich will viel

You see, I want a lot.
Maybe I want it all:
the darkness of each endless fall,
the shimmering light of each ascent.

So many are alive who don't seem to care.
Casual, easy, they move in the world
as though untouched.

But you take pleasure in the faces
of those who know they thirst.
You cherish those
who grip you for survival.

You are not dead yet, it's not too late
to open your depths by plunging into them
and drink in the life
that reveals itself quietly there.








April 14, 2015

Interview with Painter Brenda Goodman

Here is an inspiring, wonderful interview with painter Brenda Goodman posted by Figure/Ground. Follow the link to read it in it's entirety but here is one snippet I love.

© Brenda Goodman and Figure/Ground
Brenda Goodman was interviewed by Ashley Garrett at her show on Life On Mars Gallery on March 29th, 2015.

And in my work I’ve always dealt with what was going on in my life. People say my paintings are so from the heart. I used to give intensives to people who had creative work blocks. And I was really good at intuiting people’s issues of what’s causing those blocks. And it’s usually that they won’t go to the dark side in their work. They’d rather paint nice. 

Self Portrait 4, 2004, oil on wood, 64 x 60 inches.  Courtesy the artist and Life On Mars Gallery.
Self Portrait 4, 2004, oil on wood, 64 x 60 inches. Courtesy the artist and Life On Mars Gallery.


































I like that expression, ‘paint nice’!

Paint nice – like getting praise, or nice colors, or it looks like something, it’s realistic, or something like that. I’d say – what’s the worst experience you’ve ever had? It often has to do with your mother for some reason, and I’ll say let’s paint that. And people will react: “I can’t paint that! That would be awful!” Like they would die if they painted what they felt. And I always said no, unless you can go there – you don’t have to stay there, like I have for so many years – but if you go there you can come back and paint how you want to paint, but it won’t be out of fear anymore.

I don’t get in front of a painting and think I’m going to be open or I’m going to be vulnerable or I’m going to be light or I’m going to be pretty or I’m going to be sad, it’s so who I am to the core. What I don’t like about work is when I look at it and there’s a wall between me and it. And that’s what happens when I do the intensives with people who have creative blocks, that wall is going to disappear the wall between the painter and the viewer. Everyone comes from a different place and there’s great things in the different ways people work. But I can always spot when someone has this wall. I strive in my work to have no wall between my painting and the person looking at it. You should want to be seen! I mean, what’s the point, what’s the wall for? Who are you? Be vulnerable! When people see my work it feels real to them, it’s not bullshit, it’s from the heart, there’s no barrier between me and them. When you meet me, who I am is what you get. I don’t have that kind of facade.

April 2, 2015

Artist Communities

I just found this article that I saved a while back from Stephen B. MacInnis' blog Painter's Progress. I'm including it here as a follow up to my next best thing to community post, part of the conversation about artist communities.

Painter's Progress

Works in progress by Stephen B. MacInnis




Artists questioned. How does an artist make connections and become part of an arts community?


Krista Svalbonas, S8NC_02 mixed media on Khadi 8 x 8, 2013
Krista Svalbonas, S8NC_02 mixed media on Khadi 8 x 8, 2013

All artists have questions they seek answers to. Sometimes they ask themselves the same questions over and over again, and sometimes they seek out friends and mentors who provide answers to their questions. If you ask the same question to several people you will most likely get several different answers, and then it is up to you to select the answer that is best for you.  
So the question is… How does an artist make connections and become part of an arts community?

Julie Alexander  
Making connections and being a part of an arts community can be hard. I have so many demands on my time with a job and kids. That said, I also think there are many ways to be a part of the arts community that are unique to each of us. I am still feeling my way around and shifting what it means to me to be part of the conversation. I am a member of a collective gallery in Seattle (Soil) that features a curated show each month rather than the more insular model of focusing on members. As a gallery and as a member of the gallery, I am part of the arts community in Seattle. I have also had some good connections happen on facebook. I have been included in opportunities and have curated a show from connections that began on line. Other than that, I think just showing up to things – openings, lectures, discussions – and doing studio visits all bring you in contact with the arts community. I intend to do more of that in perhaps a more targeted way in 2014.” JA

Marc Cheetham
I would say the best way to make connections and be apart of a community is to go to openings, open studios, etc. Getting out and talking to people, especially those that are artists, and can help you in making new acquaintances. Since this isn’t always a feasible option, due to location, work, etc, for most people I would recommend Facebook. It becomes very easy to connect with artists from all over the world. You can get feedback on your work from this interaction which is an important thing and the dialog is instantaneous. I feel that all artists, even though you should be making the work for your self, need some form of validation as well. It helps in pushing your work forward and also opening up your mind. You also get to see a wide range of work you may not get to otherwise see. Unfortunately, seeing a digital copy is not as good as seeing in person, but seeing in some form is better then not at all. Increasing your knowledge of Art will also, I think, help put your work in a general context of the world. Also, being apart of the online community can lead to many opportunities to show your work. Often times artists that you are friends with may have curatorial projects going on or even just a chance to put something together and may ask you to be involved. If you have the chance to curate a show, etc. you now have a larger pool of artists to choose from as well.” MC

PE Sharpe
“The short answer is network, network, network.
For some people being comfortable with others is a natural part of the way that they move through the art worlds they inhabit, be it for business or pleasure. They find it easy to be amongst strangers, are able to put themselves forward in an open and friendly manner, can remember the names of the people to whom they are introduced, and have impeccable manners. For the majority of us, it’s not so easy. Add in the complications of the many hierarchies both visible and invisible in the arts communities we see around us and it’s a wonder any of us ever leave the house. Times have changed since I tried to break down the door to my local art community; bearing that in mind these are my suggestions to help boost your chances at finding your familiars when you are the new kid at the rodeo. I’ll stick to attending openings for artists but it’s broad enough advice that it can be useful for other circumstances.

Ready? Take a deep breath. Exhale.

Be yourself. It sounds easier than it is. The reality is that you are under scrutiny at all times when entering into any new community and it also holds true in the art world. Your entree goes beyond what or who you know – it’s a community in which people have many pursuits outside of a shared interest in art. You don’t need to know everything about the brave new world in front of you, but you have to be ready to engage with the strangers you want on your team. Give yourself the task of saying hello to at least one person you have never met before. If you don’t have a sponsor or mentor making introductions for you, introduce yourself. Make sure you don’t mumble, mmmkay?

What will you talk about? Don’t go in with an elevator speech or speed dating script in your back pocket – being ambitious for your work is not in and of itself a bad thing but starting with self-promotional screed is not the best tactical approach to building a sustained dialogue within a community. Talk about your interests and let the interests lead the conversation. Don’t be afraid of small talk – ask the people you meet how they know the host or the guest of honour at the function you are attending. Be fearlessly sincere in asking questions about the interests of others and you may find out that the business end of things fall into place when/if the time is right. Struggle too hard at being the most outlandish person in the room or be too obvious at schmoozing and you may find others backing away from you while making the sign of the cross: nobody likes a hard sell.We are artists, we have things to say about the world in which we live. Artists by their very nature are already at the top of the Intrigue Olympics. Be cool with it.

Art communities in particular place a very high value on an individual’s reputation. If you talk smack about people be prepared to be assigned to the smack talkers. It’s the most entertaining table to sit at when it’s party time, for sure, but nobody wants to think that they are going to be your next target. Be judicious. Be ethical. Don’t lie for effect. It will always come back to bite you in the ass.

Be prepared to be viewed with suspicion as a newcomer. Don’t take it personally. There is a lot of professional envy out there and it really has nothing to do with you. The art world makes people do crazy things under duress. Try not to do those things either to yourself or unto others.

Keep your wits about you at all times, even when others appear to be losing the plot. All that free beer and wine at the openings that you will attend? Don’t use it as your personal invite to get shitfaced on someone else’s dime. It’s not your birthday and you didn’t get handed a ‘get out of drunk-mode free’ card.  Don’t be greedy, and if you do try to steal that wheel of Brie for dinner at least try to be discreet. As you leave the event, remember your manners: thank the host, be it the gallery owner, event organizer, artist who invited you, say goodbye to the people you met. Try to remember their names for next time. Joining a community isn’t about signing up, it’s about showing up and becoming recognized as a supporter of other people who are in the same boat with you. Don’t forget to sign the guest book on your way out – it serves as a record of your attendance to others who watch for that sort of thing.

In the end it’s about being social, remember? Staying home while trying to become part of a community works on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr maybe, but that’s a topic for another day.” PS

Krista Svalbonas 
I don’t believe there is a single definitive way to do this. Speaking from experience, there are many ways one can become part of or form an arts community. For me, community is really about building a network. I find that attending residencies are a fantastic starting point in building a community. Social media is an extremely effective force for following up and continuing to strengthen relationships created there. One may attend a residency program miles away or on another continent and still be able to easily stay in touch with those they’ve met. It’s easy to find like minded people on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Artstack, etc. I’ve befriended some fabulous artists and just great people through Facebook, many of whom I most likely would’ve never met otherwise. Also, depending on where you live, your local Arts organizations are a great place to start building a network. As a former resident of Jersey City, ProArts gives artists every opportunity to meet one another via openings, social events or happenings. I’m also a member of the College Art Association, which gives artists and teaching artists opportunities to network and meet one another. Though I can’t speak from experience on this, I would assume that having a studio in an arts building could land you in the middle of an arts scene. I think its important to find out what works for you and what makes sense in your daily life.” KS


February 18, 2015

Seductive in White

It is mid February and I have been freezing for the past two weeks. All I see when I look out the window is white. How to make that not depressing? Look at some amazing artwork in white!

Robert Ryman

Robert Ryman



Robert Ryman
Agnes Martin
Agnes Martin
Agnes Martin
Agnes Martin

Anne Truitt

Anne Truitt

Cy Twombly

Cy Twombly

Cy Twombly

Cy Twombly
Ad Reinhardt

January 26, 2015

Taking Advantage of Art History

I'm currently reading a fascinating biography on Arshile Gorky.

Arshile Gorky

Arshile Gorky
One of the things I think is so interesting and that I'm discovering more and more as I read other artist biographies, is the reverence, devotion, and obsession in some cases, that these old great artists had for art history, and even for their fellow artists. Gorky walked around with a book on Ingres for years. De Kooning followed Gorky around for years even though it sounds like he was a real jerk to him before they became friends. And it seems like everyone from that 1930's era was completely fawning all over Picasso and his cronies.

Picasso in his studio

They copied each other, they studied each other, they knew every drawing and painting ever made. They became apprentices, and when they'd copied every single work they could, they suddenly emerged with their own voice and their own way of making things. Amazing.

Amazing because we don't do things that way now. I mean, we learn art history in school because we have to. We collect our heroes along the way, but I think one of the downfalls of my generation of artists is that we don't think we need those old great artists from art history. For some reason there is a whole generation of artists now who think they've invented the wheel and are actually making art that is that most ridiculous and impossible word of all... original.

I suffer from this myself. Not that I believe in originality, but I definitely do not hang out at museums nearly as much as I should. Outside of school assignments I can't think of a time I ever sat down and started copying another artist's work. I think maybe it's time.

Even at this point in my artistic life it still makes sense why it would be beneficial. As an abstract painter I'm pretty much dealing with the same issues that every abstract painter has ever dealt with. So why not take a few cues from artists who've already figured it all out?

Cezanne
I just need help figuring out whose work I want to copy...


Joan Mitchell

Picasso










January 15, 2015

"don't try"

the house all to myself for a couple hours last night,
I thumbed through some poems from Charles Bukowski's  
The Pleasures of the Damned

here's some Bukowski inspiration:

Charles Bukowski's gravestone reads "DON'T TRY"
When asked What do you do? How do you write, create?
Bukowski replied,
You don't. You don't try. That's very important: not to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or  immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more. It's like a bug high on the wall. You wait for it to come to you. When it gets close enough you reach out, slap out and kill it. Or if you like it's looks you make a pet of it.

a short poem from The Pleasures of the Damned:


secret laughter

the lair of the hunted is
hidden in the last place
you'd ever look
and even if you find it
you won't believe
it's really there
in much the same way
as the average person
will not believe a great painting


for all his raucous persona in real life,
I always thought Bukowski's poems were exquisitely perceptive and charming

here's a good documentary if you don't know much about him






January 5, 2015

An Article About Abstract Painting by Chris Martin

I absolutely had to post this article written for the Brooklyn Rail by artist Chris Martin. Totally on point- some amazing statements that just reminded me why and how I turned into an abstract painter. This is going on the studio wall. Thank you Chris.

Everything is Finished Nothing is Dead: An Article About Abstract Painting




There was a time when abstract painting by its very definition was blazing new territory. Malevich trembled with excitement as he wiped the slate clean, confident that his "desert of pure feeling" could usher him directly into the higher reality. And it did. Mondrian understood that through the balancing of vertical and horizontal lines, and the exact placement of primary color areas, he could create a dynamic equilibrium that vibrated with the universal energy of life. And he did. Hilma Af Klint followed the direction of "the guides" and surrendered herself to the new language of abstraction, confident that great theosophical truths could be revealed. And they were.

Hilma Af Klint


I remember driving on the New Jersey Turnpike arguing with Phong Bui about who made the first abstract painting. I said that Kandinsky had gradually camouflaged his imagery and made abstractions by 1911. Phong said Kupka made completely abstract paintings in 1909 and that Arthur Dove first showed abstract oil studies to Steiglitz in 1910. I said what about Serusier and his Talisan painting from 1888 and Phong said that was just one painting and it’s still a landscape. I said Victor Hugo made drawings in the 1850s like abstract Redons. We argued about Annie Besant and Charles Leadbetter who made their Thought Forms in 1905, and Phong said those weren’t really paintings. I said maybe the first abstract paintings came from Hilma Af Klint in her 1906 Paintings From The Temple series. Just then Alfred Jensen woke up in the back seat and told us we were both fools and asked what about the Mayans and the Tantra painters and the Peruvian carpet makers and the American Indian rock painters and the Aboriginal dream-time bark painters and he told us that we had just missed the exit for the Holland Tunnel right there in 2002.


When the Abstract Artists Association started in New York City in the 1930s there were barely a dozen members, just a lonely band of abstract painters fighting for respect from a hostile and uncomprehending public. I remember I lived on Houston Street. I took methedrine for two days straight and made hundreds and hundreds of drawings only to drop them out the sixth story window and watch them float gently one by one down to the sidewalk below and the next morning only a few remained next to a broken piano in a puddle by the basketball court.


All around us a vast materialistic juggernaut surges across America. We are rushing to buy the images of pleasure that flicker across TV screens and glisten from giant billboards. America is rushing to burn down the Amazon, rushing to steal all the rainwater out of the Sudan, rushing to obliterate mud huts with million dollar missles, rushing to build shiny SUV’s out of coyote bones, rushing towards death... There was a time here in New York City when heroes walked the earth. In 1941 Mark Rothko lived at 29 East 28th Street. Clifford Still had a studio at 48 Cooper Square. Now history is finished. I climbed to the top of the Williamsburg Bridge and had a sunset vision about the trembling possibilities of abstract painting but came down cold and hungry with just a few dollars for pork buns and tea. I used to open the Ellsworth Kelly book to this 1958 photograph of Kelly, Kenneth Youngerman, Robert Indiana, and Agnes Martin taken on the roof of Coenties Slip. That image had all the romance of the New York art world in it and most of all I loved the way Agnes Martin looked in her white raincoat— monumental and alert. When I approached the delicate pencil lines and shimmering washes of color of an Agnes Martin painting I was suddenly conscious of my own breathing. Agnes Martin says, "We are in the midst of reality, responding with joy. It is an absolutely satisfying experience, but extrememly elusive..." Sometimes a horizon line is a horizon line and sometimes not. Dan Walsh says "We still need a horizon." And I agree.


Abstract painting contains powerful limitations and extraordinary freedom. Great abstract paintings can be the result of a tremendous condensation of information. An abstract painting can be a tight tough form with which to transmit huge content. Peter Acheson calls it "a hard nut containing the whole tree". The painting enters vision fast but continues to flow into consciousness as it releases it’s meaning slowly over time. We live with the image and it lives with us. This is what the soul needs— long periods of slow focused contemplation.


I had this dream: There was a big cocktail party in my parents’ house. A homeless man was lurking behind the sofa. I recognized him vaguely as an old friend and a drunk. Then I realized it was Rothko. We talked. He became strangely threatening. He showed me a matte black old forty-five caliber revolver like the starter pistol my older brother kept in his bureau. I ran upstairs and returned with a shiny new pump action 20-gauge shotgun. We met in the elegant drawing room surrounded by chatting oblivious guests. He reached for his pistol and I blasted him once, twice and again right in the chest. Red blood stained his burnt umber overcoat. I was euphoric. I had killed Rothko!


We are not thinking about art anymore. We are out of our minds. We seek a blunt visual meaning— not just a riff on postmodernism, color field painting, psychedelic kitsch or whatever. We can’t stop talking about Forrest Bess who closed his eyes and painted the images inside his eyelids with utter conviction. We are searching for this state of utter conviction. We digress and we stay up all night talking about abstract painting. We talk about Yayoi Kusama who painted the dots that flowed endlessly out of her own body and she painted them on canvases, on ladders, on couches, on naked bodies, and all over the floor until she couldn’t stop and then she did stop and disappeared into a quiet room in Japan.


Ad Reinhart said this about his five-foot square black on black paintings, "This painting is my painting if I paint it. This painting is your painting if you paint it." He was a great painter and could be very very funny. When I first came to New York in the 1970s a lot of abstract painting had been hijacked by people interested in conceptual purity and some kind of dogma of negation. They had no sense of humor and consequently could never be taken seriously the way
Ad Reinhart was serious. But in 1978 I saw Mary Heilman paintings that had a sense of humor and a sense of the a serious absurdity of things. The colors were as strong as they were in the tube. They seemed inevitable and offhand— like they just happened that way.


"If truth be known, abstract painting seems to have come to a bad end, with, to be sure, underground pockets here and there," John Perreault wrote last year. Mondrian is buried in Queens at Cypress Hills cemetery, one grave in an anonymous row of little headstones next to an old locust grove in Block 51, grave #1191. I dressed up in a suit and a tie and went to see him. A small rabbit darted from behind a nearby headstone. Now there’s a hotel for movie stars in Los Angeles called the Mondrian Hotel. Mondrian is dead and buried alive at the Mondrian Hotel under piles of new laundry, under piles of periodicals and art magazines and scholarly articles and heavy books on Mondrian. Abstract painting is finished: it’s marginalized, it’s minor, it’s dying and no one really cares or notices. Huge Whitney Biennials are filled with miles of glossy photographs and political installations and video installations and sound installations and computer internet installations and moving sculptures with blinking lights and there are exactly three abstract paintings in the whole museum and they look like decor.


And yet... Andrew Masullo is quietly sitting on the floor in the San Francisco night cradling a small painting in his lap carefully painting and repainting the candy colored shapes and the spirit of Florence Stettleheimer reclines on a miniature chaise-lounge perched on his shoulder and his very own Forrest Bess painting is hanging on the wall behind him. Masullo sits quietly in his apartment filled with hundreds of objects, his "little bits of nothing," each one carefully numbered. Masullo’s paintings have an eccentric severity despite their snappy pinks and yellows. They are utterly painstakingly subjective. Underneath a modernist naiveté his paintings contain a quirky ‘rightness’ and an undeniable honesty. Abstract painting is modest plain revolutionary anonymous. Abstract painting does not stand up and say, "Fuck Festivalism! Fuck this parade of international carnival art fairs with endless hours of fun house videos, sound installations and talking sculptures, screaming advertisements and sophomoric political propaganda."  Abstract painting is silent. Abstract painting is a humble hand-painted recognition of humanness.


Abstract painting isn’t necessarily abstract. Abstract painting is not abstract but is filled with the forms of the world, is filled with cracks in the sidewalk and light off the water and floor plans and solar systems and an afternoon sunset in Bombay and the lumbering form of the big black bear Brice Marden saw as it disappeared across the lawn of his studio in rural Pennsylvania. If Julian Schnabel writes the words "70th Week" across a huge tarp painted with white forms that are not accidental and not deliberate but wonderfully fucked up, is it an abstract painting? If Peter Halley says that a rectangle is a piece of conduit or a prison cell and not a rectangle and it becomes some kind of neon road sign of sociology and the rectangles disappear and just the savage color is left, reborn as an absolute fact, is it an abstract painting? When we stand in front of a ten foot Ellen Gallagher painting and zero in on the thumbnail sized black faces with staring rows of eyes and we are swimming in a vast pink grid, is it abstract? When Tamara Gonzales pours white enamel over the black lingham form that she has decorated with cake icing flowers, is it a Shiva puja or an abstract painting? When is Carroll Dunham painting fuzzy knobs and when is he painting penis noses? If Andrew Massullo carefully sprinkles the moist dirt he has been saving from the grave of Alban Berg in Vienna onto the small canvas, is it an abstract painting? We are painting with the bones of our ancestors, we are painting the endless forms of the world, and it was Kandinsky who stated "Any form is possible if it arises out inner necessity."


I asked Kathy Bradford whether she was still an abstract artist. When she first came here from Maine she made paintings of logs and old mountains and they got very thick and more abstract and so she began to make abstract paintings and showed them in Soho. Then simple objects and clunky figures started to come back into the work so that a painting would be abstract and later a figure could be painted in it weeks later the figure could be painted out and it would be abstract again and I asked her whether she was an abstract artist or not and she said "I’m a freedom artist". In 1951 de Kooning said "There is no style of painting now. There are as many naturalists among the abstract painters as there are abstract painters among the subject matter school." And fifty years later it’s true more than ever: there are no boundaries. There is slippage and if Sigmar Polke starts moving paint and resin and meteorite dust and silk screens around in search of the alchemy of the moment there could be an image or maybe not. Sometimes Polke’s dots are playboy bunnies and sometimes the dots are dots. For many of the best painters the abstract paintings and the figurative paintings sit in the studio side by side— think of Polke, Schnabel, Sillman, Offilli, Taaffe, Tomaselli. Strictly speaking there is no such thing as abstraction and there is no such thing as painting and there is no such thing as writing about abstract painting. Abstract painting is not old, abstract painting is not new, abstract painting is happening in secret this moment, in abstract painting nobody knows what’s going to happen next. This is not a manifesto. Abstract painting is a state of mind, an openness.


I met Tom Nozkowski years ago setting up his first show in Soho. He was up on a tall ladder holding a small painting. The painting had a detail of a Giotto fresco— the peeling back of the edge of the sky— and I said "Hey that’s a Giotto" and he said "Yeah..." Nozkowski’s paintings are born out of a hand eye dance and his vast memory of other paintings, carpets, sculptures, architectures and drawings and the shapes half glimpsed out the car window and the thousand details of the Lower East Side and Shawangunk landscape that he knows and loves so fiercely. Out of the corner of his eye Nozkowski sees a silver birch or maybe a striped traffic divider and weeks later they enter the painting in the top left corner. Every day his paintings get weirder, more eccentric, more varied, more truthful, more particular, more stubborn, and less predictable. His color is unnamable and specific as if each panel contained its own weather and time of day. The new abstract painting says, "Fuck you we will not stand guard at the tomb of modernism but neither do we feel pressed to deliver the latest titillation..." The new abstract painting is in the same old boat the same leaking old boat the same perpetual crisis of inventing the new language to tell the brand new same old truth. We must grab this dusty skeleton of painting and (as Tom says) "make these bones speak..."


In 1979 I was sitting in the shadows of a Soho loading dock at 2:00 A.M. tripping on peyote and Bill Jensen walked by. I got up and I just started following him. I was too shy to approach him, so I just followed him through Soho down to Magoos Bar and then I went home. I never told him this. Bill Jensen remembers being born on November 26, 1945, in a Minneapolis hospital room with white tiles and green tile border a foot from the ceiling. He remembers his real father in an air force uniform gazing down upon him in the crib and then leaving. He never saw him again. He says he remembers it vividly like a scene from a Tarkovsky movie. Jensen studied painting with Peter Busa at the University of Minnesota and moved to New York in 1971. At that time, he saw five Ryder paintings at the Brooklyn Museum. He abandoned heavily impastoed large spiral paintings as the materials caused severe illness. By 1975 he began his legendary small easel paintings which blazed with inward compressed organic imagery. In 1978 he painted "The Black Madonna." In 1979 he completed the masterpieces "Crown of Thorns" and "Ryder’s Eye." The work deepened and grew strange: "The Tempest" (1981), "Spoons and Straws" (1984), "Denial" (1986), "Sea of Green" (1989-90), "Bright Moments" (1992). In 1994 the paintings began to open to a more gestural empty horizon line in "Colossus" (1993-4), "Stalker," and the great "Winter’s Light" of 1994. The paintings continue to grow simultaneously more open and more concrete as in the recent "Images of a Floating World" (1999-2001). Bill Jensen is a radical artist who harnesses the power of painting to present inner realities. Abstract painting is a search for freedom. This freedom cannot be found in style, or in details, large size, any particular forms, or in computers, new materials, old materials, or in trying to find the end of some daydream railroad track of art history. This freedom is found inside. There is no inside and there is no outside.


What does it mean, "abstract" ? Does it mean to abstract from something— to start with an image and transform it into essentials, like Mondrian’s tree series? Maybe it means some kind of freedom from the image so we can get directly to the serious part and not get lost in apples or nipples. Maybe it means the big idea itself— painting as physics or philosophy. Maybe it means to be purified or to be closer to concrete essences. Maybe it’s a formal design strategy with invented rules, a graphing or charting of information. There is no guarantee of freedom in abstraction. In the suburbs of Seattle there are Barnett Newman postcards on the refrigerator. Here in Brooklyn the sidewalks are littered with caribou bones and the taxi drivers are lost. They drive to the airport and sit in the parking lot huddled in circles around the ancient Kashmir firelight and never return home. The painter Max Gimblett says "The impulse moves between the instant and the gradual... In alertness and attention. In silence with the paint. Painting is inherently mysterious, it’s a state of being where there is no recognizable ‘Mind’..."

Bill Jensen
We were living on Houston Street in a six floor tenement building with no locks on the front door and a steady stream of drug dealers, transients, crazies and dogs living in the hallways. The tiny apartments were filled with poor hispanic families with up to ten people packed together. The saxophonist Robert Aron had a huge lizard that ate cockroaches and one day when it escaped to the apartment downstairs, the Chinese lady killed it with a broom and complained bitterly "We have roaches, we have mice and rats, and now the big lizards are coming!" Painters lived there: Gary Lang, Bob Kraus, Henry Chotkowski, Peter Acheson, Mark Potter. Jean Michel Basquiat slept on the floor and Glenn O’Brien lived across the hall. He used to knock on my door in the middle of the night to look at art books. The super Joe Terranova had a pompadour hairdo and loved the young artists in the building— we were his "boys". So one night Peter is making abstract paintings on the floor pouring gallons of yellow latex paint everywhere and at midnight the Puerto Ricans downstairs call up the super to say that there is bright yellow pouring down from their ceiling and the walls are turning yellow and Joe screams at them to stop taking drugs and shut up and don’t ever bother him again and next day tells Peter that the crazy Puerto Ricans were on drugs last night and would you believe they were seeing the paint move on the walls.


I was twelve-years-old and all I wanted to do was play touch football. I was dragged to The National Collection of Fine Arts in Washington DC. I remember we were walking around a courtyard among these tall, shiny, red white and blue sculptures when the top of my head lifted off and a sudden sense of euphoria filled my chest. We spent, I guess, twenty minutes clambering around these soaring towers. The sunlight glinting off the new enamel paint filled me with the most intense feelings of love and I KNEW THAT I KNEW and I never told anyone but I never forgot the joy like some secret initiation. Years later I dropped out of college and worked as a guard at the Guggenheim Museum. Browsing through an old catalog of the Paul Feely retrospective I felt a shock of recognition— my initiation came inside his Sculpture Court piece from 1966.


Seeing a group of Paul Feely paintings and watercolors at Lawrence Markey Gallery this November I could not explain their presence. I mean I can see how they are painted— the guiding pencil lines are visible, the paint is stained directly into the cloth, the color is simple, the forms are subtle but not complicated, and yet they radiate an authentic classical joy. Feely’s paintings have a modest and effortless lightness of being. There is an anonymous universal quality to the paintings like the side of a house in Morocco, a painted sign in Brazil, or some tiny corner of the Taj Mahal. James Siena once told me he liked to think of himself as an anonymous craftsman setting tiles one by one in the Taj Mahal. Actually he’s an extremely sophisticated abstract painter who loves baseball and uses very, very small brushes. He focuses his humble laser beam attention on thin aluminum panels that you can hold in your hands. In a tiny room in Chinatown, Siena sets up a simple set of rules or strategies for each piece and follows them to their ultimate absurdly compressed conclusions. The paintings remind me of Celtic illuminations, Peruvian textiles, computer chips, cellular structures, or an LSD patterning flashback.They flicker, they glow, zigzag, vibrate, pulse and shimmer with energy. Yet this Op dizzying vibration is really just the by-product of Siena’s search to understand and bring these structures to life. You follow the direction of a particular line in it’s convoluted path from one place to another and the mind lights up. You can feel your own body watching your mind watching.


Myron Stout is the secret hero of the new abstraction. Stout, the incomparable tortoise, began his mature black and white work at age 47. In twelve years he finished three paintings, left five more almost finished, and a few others restored with the help of an assistant. Stout endlessly caressed and minutely adjusted the sublime edges of the white forms and black grounds, and now they radiate a superhuman light and energy, and resonate in archetypal tragic harmony. For the last fifteen years of his life Stout worked only on tiny drawings an inch in diameter, polishing and polishing. Can we ever finish the paintings? How can we stop? In 1958 Jay De Feo began her big mandala painting The Rose on Fillmore Street in San Francisco. She built up and scraped off layer upon layer of paint. It was reproduced a year later in The Museum of Modern Art’s Sixteen Americans catalog as The Death Rose. She continued to work on it, trowling on massive amounts of lead white until it became a veritable bas relief and eight years later when she and Wally Hedrick were evicted from their studios they had to use a crane and moving men to carry the 2,300 pound painting through a hole in the building. In 1976 David Novros began a series of very large abstract paintings on canvas in his loft on Broome street. Twenty five years later he is still working on them. The paint is inches thick but the light is unearthly and magnificent. They are almost finished; they will never be finished.


I’ve worked on individual paintings for twenty years. I have slides of paintings that were finished in the early eighties and then repainted and photographed in the nineties and now once again they’re almost finished. It’s not that it takes twenty years to make the painting— it takes seven minutes to make the painting— but it can take twenty years to find those seven minutes. Jim Harrison was a great artist who worked on some works on paper for thirty years. He told me "You don’t make the painting— the painting makes you..."


We are trying to paint what is real. We are trying to paint what we have never seen before.

Chris Martin

 


CHRIS MARTIN is an abstract artist based in Brooklyn, NY.