This wall that the painting resides on is a direct inspiration of one of my favorite works, Michelangelo’s famous Last Judgment at the Sistine Chapel, and this is a direct quote from that fresco, to scale, placed basically in the same place it would be in the original composition. My husband Andrew was very ill at the time I created this painting, which I always wanted to do anyway, but I felt it especially apropos to do it during this period, as I was nursing him to health and when he was sleeping, wishing him the very best by meditating to this painting. Michelangelo was equally great at painting as he was sculpture—some of his anatomy is wonky, but he makes it work, and by following his strokes (or in his chisel marks in his sculpture) you can really learn something. While his folds and wrinkles don’t necessarily go into other worlds like El Greco or Duccio, there is a warmth, a synesthesia that happens in the corporeal attitude of his forms, lines, and gestures. They aren’t as wacky as some of those others, and perhaps, in their sobriety, the better for it, yet there is a true transcendent quality to his figures, that seem so alive, while at the same time he is able to embrace his desires, the profane in addition to the sacred, in how he renders his figures, despite whatever gender that purport to be, they are sensual, though not eroticized, even in this figure (and his accompanying spooning angel!) as he is being levitated to resurrection. Andrew thank goodness got better, and it was edifying and cathartic to infuse my passion for him and his good health through the act of making this painting.
I was asked by Ingrid Sischy in 2008 to "cover" the Haute-Couture shows in Paris, for what turned out to be her last issue of Interview Magazine. I was honored (and surprised!) for this great "assignment," and was able to convince the magazine to allow me to bring (although we paid for our own extra expenses!) Andrew Madrid, my husband, as my "assistant" (although really he came along for just emotional support, and "the ride of a lifetime"!). This was during the time of the Democratic debates for President, and also right on the cusp of the economic crises that we were just feeling the beginnings of the permutations of. Ironically, Andrew and I were living on our credit cards, but being hoisted into this amazing bubble of wealth and fantastic prosperity, despite our own bohemian economic situation. After coming back from these amazing shows of fashion and pomp and circumstance, we would retreat back to this fancy hotel (along with the other working class glamorous models who flew coach back home and lived cheaply after they took off their extreme dresses), and were grounded by watching the debates and the issues that they brought up. It was fantastic to watch Obama, who I was and am for, his intellectual honesty and humanness, in these debates, especially at the time, as he cut through the pomposity of the world that we were in Paris, and told it "like it was." I painted this retroactively after he already became President, remembering all this, during a time that Andrew was extremely sick, and part of my emotional motivation was caring for him through painting, while he was at my side in bed sleeping, whilst also thinking about the bigger picture, grateful for our environment of our world of our apartment in New York and our life together, but also the bigger issues of the current state of politics, and surviving through the ensuing time of economic crises, hoping that Obama and his team could help to drag us out of economic depression, and for the act of painting to give us some catharsis during a time where Andrew was feeling bad and I was doing my best to help him (and myself) through our current situation. Of course, I love Van Gogh, and the paintings of his room, and felt that hopefully this work could also emulate the ultimate love for this room and the hope and aspirations that ultimately it could symbolize; that I hope is brought out in the painting.
I always wanted to make an image of New York City from space, but in lieu of this, I went to the top of a building I painted many times, Empire State, and went to the top level, stood on a podium holding a column as high as I could, and holding my arm stretched took this picture in which I painted this. One of secrets of achieving the sublime in painting is micro-managing moments for the macro-managed whole, and I tried here to equate that overwhelming feeling of feeling a being a small part of something big, what it feels like to be a barnacle on the boat of one of he greatest cities in our great country as it floats into the future. Loving Manet, Modernism, and the Old Masters, I hope to imbue in my painterly interpretations a synaesthetic aura that transcends my source imagery, to bring about an experience upon him as he is painting and ultimately his viewers, thoughts, feelings, memories, and dream worlds that have an uncanny, sublime evocation. Part of the chapter shown in 2014 of My American Dream at Derek Eller, I wanted ultimately the image just the story of the artist, and his dreams, hopes , and aspirations, but of the American psyche at the beginning of the 21 century, staying afloat and in power despite its struggles, looking forward towards a paradise of equality, understanding, and love.
I’m hoping in that this work breaks down into little Broadway Boogie-woogies in the fractions of each moment, that each window can represent an idea of an individual in the giant world of the entire cosmology, each like the barnacle on the beast of the whale that could be New York City in our turbulent times.
I have been painting from my own photos for some years now, after years of working from appropriation, using characters and scenes as allegorical avatars for the larger, non-linear narratives I assemble from paintings working like panels in a comic, where the viewer ultimately decides the ultimate narrative what the theme could be about. I love the Beatles, who a sort of first Post Modern band, spoke through avatars about their real life (they weren’t the Beatles, they were “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” when Paul wrote a song for John Lennon’s first son when he parents were getting divorced it wasn’t “Hey Julian,” but “Hey Jude”). I also love John and Yoko, post-Beatles, when they wrote and sung songs about themselves, a sort of Post Post-Modernism, because the personal was political, and although autobiographic, the music and the sentiment was so strong it had more “universal value”. So in painting pictures of my husband Andrew Madrid and I, of our world living in New York and California, I’m hoping the painterly resonance of the pictures appeals to others who can cathect to it’s vision.
I was influenced also in part by T.J. Clark’s “The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and his Followers,” where he described how the impressionist wanted to paint scenes of Paris, but not necessarily the aspects the tourists knew, but the gentrified margins that the tourists didn’t see, the real Paris. In painting from my photos of New York, I want to bring this about, but also to point to aspects tourist might not see behind the verneer. I love Manet, who was able to turn his personal world into an also political one, that referred to aspects and ideas in the world beyond his canvas, and also bringing an emotive, painterly touch to his brush that also could simultaneously convey emotion and transcendence to his critical mind and ideas. In painting Times Square, I wanted to expose the buildings and the edifices that the bright world of capital and corporate conglomerate culture almost submerges, to bring about the human, hopefully sublime experience that I still feel when I cross through the bustling universe that seems the center of our globe. In the movie “They Live” by John Carpenter, its an almost post-Marxist satire on America, where when the working class obtain special glasses, they can see the wealthy are alien robots who control the masses—when with the same sunglasses they look at billboards, the words on the sign say things like “CONSUME” and “BUY”. At this moment, around Christmas time in Times Square, the HSBC sign flashed “DO” during a sequence, and I appreciated how this could be a theme for our America, but maybe in a good way. I am inspired by the films and references in the signs here, and we really are about “DO” everyday as New Yorkers to survive and succeed, and as much as this could be a comment on Capitalism, its also an endorsement for the American Dream, in that hopefully its still true that if we try hard, we can achieve our goals, and lift ourselves into a world of freedom and responsibility. As a son of a psychoanalyst, I have a penchant for the unconscious, and want some of the abstract, unconscious feelings and subconscious iconography spill out along with my conscious brush, and hope that in the lower portion of the painting especially, where humans and cars habitate underneath the signage, that it breaks down into little Broadway Boogie Woogies that are synaesthetic for the excited human agency that populates and hopefully makes even better our world.
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Mondrian, Broadway Boogie Woogie, 1942-43, collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
I have always appreciated the Ashcan school in general, but in particular, George Bellows, who like Monet and his steam engines, portrayed a content-charged landscape of New York by painting it as it “really was” at his time, for timeless pictures that still resonate.
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George Bellows, New York, 1911, collection of the National Gallery, Washington, D.C.
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Joseph Stella, The Brooklyn Bridge, 1939, Whitney Museum
I love the Beatles, as I feel they were the first “post Modern band” in that they always spoke through avatars—they weren’t the Beatles, they were “Sgt. Pepper”. They weren’t depressed; it was Eleanor Rigby, and so on. But I also love John and Yoko, post the Beatles, as they wrote songs and music about themselves, and the words and lyrics were so potent that they resonated beyond them themselves, and other people could relate to their story and have it become theirs. In many ways, I feel they were the first post post modern band because of this. I also love Manet, as he would paint about himself and his life, but the personal was political, and he was able to create biographical portraits that extended beyond himself and brought a painterly, warm, emotional politic to the world through his imagery. “The Death of the Author” by Roland Barthes was particularly influential when I was Semiotics major in the 80’s at Brown, but after the death of Barthes, I feel the author is still important—that it never really goes away when we interpret the works of Van Gogh or Manet or any of the great genius Old Masters. After creating many images from appropriation after many years, I wanted the autonomy of creating work where I owned the authorship of the entirety of the image, painting from my own photos rather than images culled from other sources that I was using for my avatar-like inspiration. I feel that when you paint from your life, the love hopefully comes through, which is an emotion that perhaps comes through the brush along with the conscious control better than any other tool or medium in art. This is an image from our cabin home, in Meadowbrook, California, where we have planted many producing trees in the midst of the cacti and other foliage planted by Andrew’s grandparents that lived there long ago. This is a scene from when the sun I believe is starting to go down from the day, and my husband is walking down the hill above our humble cabin along with our two poodles Michelangelo and Rosa, and the lens flare is captured in my camera lens, but I want to paint through it like a Turner with his radiant landscapes showing that Nature rules over all, and the buoyancy of the greens of the landscape emulate the best of Van Gogh, when he also embraces his love of nature and the harmony of the world.
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Edouard Manet, The Monet Family In Their Garden At Argenteuil 1874, Metropolitan Museum, New York [INLINE IMAGE: radiantlandscape_clip_image004.png]
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Van Gogh, Two White Butterflies, 1889
In 1999, Andrew and I were living in midtown, on 46th between 5th and 6th avenues in a real “no man’s land”, where only tourists resided at night, and during the day businessmen populated the area. Although there were holes in the ceiling (the contractors would say “why do you want to live here, it’s not Africa!”) our apartment was 1300 square feet for 1300 dollars, and we thought it was a real deal after living in a tiny bohemian apt. on Christopher street for years with the bathtub in the kitchen. But on the first day after moving in, we were moving furniture for the floor people, and something fell on our poodle puppy, killing her. We were shocked and devastated, to say the least, and when we came back from the vet., with blood on our clothes, these horrible men on the floor below us beckoned us into their apt. showing us strange velour wallpaper, asking us which kind we liked—it was red velveteen wallpaper, and the men were mobsters who were opening a real bordello underneath us. Andrew told them frankly that he was teaching at the John Jay School of Criminal Justice—when we asked them what they did, they exclaimed “uh, TRAVEL?!”. From then on, during the night, they would play demonic disco music, and haggard looking woman would come in, and Andrew fell into a deep depression, as did I, having a “mendacity” moment of the artworld. Although I was doing well for the time, I felt a Holden Caulfield-like romantic disattachment to the audience of fine art—was I doing all this work just to appeal to “white rich people” and so on, and when we had the opportunity to purchase Andrew’s grandfather’s cabin, in the middle of nowhere in Riverside California, I withdrew all my work from the galleries, thinking I was going to “retire” (like Rimbaud!) at age 30 from the artworld, and like my heroes Van Gogh and Cezanne, paint in the provinces for myself. After removing nine tons of garbage from our new place, in Perris California, surrounded by trailers of retirees and crystal meth labs, and living for a year teaching and painting, I realized that if the people at the WalMart knew what we were about we would probably be clubbed, and being in blight (this is near the epicenter of what became the center of the housing crises in California) wasn’t all of what it was cracked up to be. I came back with my tail between my legs to New York, and forged a place for Andrew and I to live again, and slowly began my prodigal son journey back into the artworld.
Now we love the cabin, which has become our “fortress of solitude” when we can escape there to get a breather from being in the center of everywhere living in New York. Hopefully we can have the best of both worlds! We have planted over 200 producing trees on a drip system, and although our place is quite modest, really a shack on a hill, we love it, and although the surrounding area is not much to speak of—there is a highway in place of the 2 lane road that was once there leading up to it, and all the big box stores nearby, it is still secluded enough and once you get used to it, can really be quite beautiful. I still have a romantic notion of living in the middle of nowhere—we are in an unincorporated area called Meadowbrook, between Lake Elisnore (named after Hamlet!) and Perris (home of all terrain vehicles, a large train museum, and parachuting and hot air balloons, along with an impoverished suburbia), and the poor man’s castles surrounding us, with plots of land with families of goats and people who have ostriches). The meth labs are still there, but the retirees are friendly, and nature overwhelms all. I hope that the content of my cabin pictures is just this—two gay men who are married trying to live their domestic life in a cabin on the margins, with the beauty of the landscape transcending the politics. I love Turner, and hope that the light of the painting emulates the symbolism of everything it can mean, including the spirit of nature. I also still love Van Gogh and Cezanne, and hope that the nature of the landscape is complex enough that while I’m in the meditation of painting, my unconscious can project onto the map of form, light, and distance, and in micromanaged moments, like the trees of Van Gogh and the rocks of Cezanne, dream worlds can emerge that bring an inner life the surreal joy we find in our escape there, a place that Andrew spent his whole life going to, and what I’m hoping in the future will be our blighted Giverny, where I can grow out my beard real long and paint like Monet the environment and world of our life together.
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Paul Cezanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire , 1895, Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia
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J.M.W. Turner, The Harbor of Dieppe, 182