Monday, April 26, 2010

History is an Angel

Tonight I dismantled Icarus my mind spinning not with one other painting but an entire series and then one after that. A string forward in time, all mysteriously envisioned and interwoven.
This past weekend I had spent pouring over show catalogs from museums I have visited. I was particularly interested in the Prado paintings and those from Rose Frantzen's Portraits of Maquoketa that I had seen this February at the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery.

What was I looking for? I am not sure. I was looking at technique but I was also thinking about the history of image making—once images were only able to be reproduced by eye and hand, now able to be captured, stolen, manipulated, reconstructed, and shared by and through all sorts of mechanical and digital devices. I am and have been a computer artist for the past 20 odd years. Why now paint?


Again the question of intent and of longevity.

What drives one to paint when one can photograph? Why paint when there is no longer a reason to document and record? Why paint—our lives are surrounded by enough visual turmoil: mass produced images, glossy sales catalogs, real life drama in the form of reality TV... Few seem to be able to cut through the clutter—to stand time still, to pause, to reflect, to add to the art's meaning. Canvases untended remind me of the question "when a tree falls in the forest..."

In Laurie Anderson's Life on a String there is this mournful string segment in the piece Slip Away. Music can capture the elemental, can reach into our hearts and minds, no literal translation required or desired.

Anderson, Frantzen, the masters—they had a way of transporting the viewer into the moment, into an emotion, a time, a way of touching profoundly, of superseding the personal and connecting into the universal.

Hansel and Gretel are alive and well
And they're living in Berlin
She is a cocktail waitress
He had a part in a Fassbinder film
And they sit around at night now
drinking schnapps and gin
—Laurie Anderson The Dream Before

Tonight I took apart Icarus thinking of how many ways it can be reconfigured. Of how it can belong to another to rearrange and create with it what is relevant. Intent. Mine. Yours.

The new painting begins—bringing with it masters before me. Props assembled, pencil lines drawn. A brush is chosen to lay the first wash.

Today as if by the intent of something outside yet connected to the self, upon my return home from excel spreadsheets, strategy planning, student outreach, Jim and I began our foray with the dogs into the woods, and there beneath my feet, a nest lay.

I had been searching for such a nest for the last few weeks for this painting. I find I prefer to paint form from an object versus a photo. When a photo is the reference, sometimes paint can lay flat and new ways of seeing are harder to uncover.

It was not a newly started nest, but one from the previous season. It had not been there the day before. Instead it had fallen from above the night before—history is an angel. The nest, once used, now abandoned.


"Your place is empty, empty in the night
When I reach out with hand or foot to touch
Your living flesh, the warmth that offers such
An affirmation, oh, it is not right..."
—Madeleine L'Engle from"Sonnet 1"


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