Saturday, June 30, 2012


(Written entry follows images).

Red Couch-Version 8

Red Couch-Version 15

"The Red Couch" (Artists & Model series), oil on canvas, 60" x 48"


Dark Stockings-Version  4

Dark Stockings-Version 10

"Dark Stockings" (Artist & Model series), oil on canvas 36" x 36"


The new paintings are working in a way I’ve long intended, but the process of painting has become harder for me to fathom. Some of the pieces are large and studio sessions for them are long, but the change in process can’t be entirely attributed to scale or time. Here I take process to mean something in addition to method, something that is more—for lack of a better word—internalized.

The method itself has remained much the same for the last few years: drawing--but not often painting--from the model; drawing at the beach, in cafes and on the street; assembling photos and drawings as sources for studio work. What has become insistently clear in the last few months is the crucial role played by elements in the title; the problematic, the abstract and the personal. These days they seem almost as essential as paint and turp.  And they’re elemental in my heart, not just in my head.

I used to think the stubborn difficulties in painting were purely signs of faulty construction or weak skills. And it’s clear to anyone who cares to look, that plenty of those basics are still missing from my work. Like most people, I rarely feel the need to seek out hardships. Smooth sailing and grace notes are welcome here--but the problematic moments in painting are something of equal value. As they stand in your way, they also turn you. They can shout all day long, “Not this way! Not this way either!” They can exhaust you—sometimes I think the prime purpose of these perceived barriers IS to exhaust you—to the point where it’s almost--almost--impossible to hear, “Yes , this way.”  

To be truthful, sometimes you never hear it.

I realize now that the abstract qualities of a piece, far from being something I invented, are the tools I need to complete the work. The most meticulously “realistic” portraits rendered in square blobs (Chuck Close) or thick lines (Alice Neel) are evidence of the long-running relationship between the abstract and the practical. I’ve come to see that, for me, there is nothing more useful than abstract color or form to construct an ear or enlarge a cloud or to translate an ambiguous light.

The personal element is the most mysterious one. It acts as a kind of clairvoyant shopping list. What I want to know and what I never want to know are present there in equal measure. This can’t be psychologized or art-historisized away, it can only be experienced, like these lines from George Oppen:

“In dream an old man walking,
An old man’s rounded head
Abruptly mine”