I love the painting The Jewish Bride by Rembrandt, one of my favorite paintings of all time in how he was able to capture the love and exaltation in a tender moment in oil paint, in a formal language that transcends any written word.
This is Andrew and I at our cabin home hideaway, in Lake Elsinore, Riverside CA. This is our fortress of solitude where we escape to when we can and where I want to retire and grow out my beard and paint like Monet in a bathetic Giverny. Perris with “e” is our mailing address, and trailers with crystal meth labs and retirees surround us, but we love it and get up every morning to watch the sun rise. This is my “Jewish Bride” is one of my favorite paintings by Rembrandt, but called “Husbands” as we married there the first Sunday we could in CA before the window came down. Luckily the country and the world is getting smarter and love prevails as we just celebrated our 21 anniversary together.
Of course, this is also from a “selfie” (that I first had published on Facebook when I joined!), and I hope that another contemporary context of the painting is that it is obviously a response of me wanting to penetrate to the photo to bring out the emotions and timeless feeling from it, as when we were married we pledged to love each other through eternity.
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Rembrandt, The Jewish Bride, 1665-69, Rijkesmuseum, Amsterdam
I had a dream of painting North America, but that it looked like a puzzle, and realized, after waking up, that Jasper Johns had painted his flag painting from a dream, and although it’s a super smart painting that helped to bring modernism into post-modernity, that it was an idea that was simply generated from his instinctive, dream self, and that you should always follow your dreams when making art—as you subconscious can be as smart as your conscious self. I realized, after doing research looking for an America that was like my dream image, that Google Earth was the best source for this, and created the painting. After doing this, and feeling success with the work, I also realized that unlike Johns, who in a Duchamp-way found a “readymade” with his map, and painted the borders and stenciled names of the states in an ab-ex-y way, perhaps making a wry commentary on ab ex and landscape painting, in a knowing, tongue-and-cheek manner that also was allegorically expressive of how we map over reality with language and/or how any means of expression—the “freedom” of the ab ex painters was merely just that—a language. Although my initial painting was pixilated, I wanted it to be about the nation without borders, the real landscape captured by satellite photos. I had also painted pictures of the earth—the first picture of the earth—taking analogue, by a human astronaut, and while enjoying this and the effect of looking at this kind of image, it seemed dated, and more seemed possible to bring about the notion of painting a landscape, but unlike in times of the past when we were restricted by what we could experience “en plein aire” or by photography. For the initial installation “My American Dream”, which I feel is a giant, comic like composition, where each painting acts like a single panel in a comic, juxtaposed with another to created a content and time-rich sequence, I wanted the camera to “pan out” as it were, from my own personal life, and like an epic that has micro-managed “personal narratives” within macro-managed panoramas of world events, wanted to bring in our country and the planet that its on to emulate the global aspects of what “My American Dream” could be about. So I went back to Google Earth, but this time, panned out farther, and chose the day I was doing this, and the time, so it would be as if I stood outside in space and painted the scene of our world floating in space, and did this on my husband Andrew and I’s anniversary day of Feb. 22, 2012, when we were celebrating our 20th anniversary of being together! It was fun painting all the micromanaged moments in the work, and remembered the feeling of watching the opening scenes of “The Big Blue Marble” that showed the Earth as it really was, generating a sublime feeling even as a youngster, that we were really all like hamsters running around on this rock we call Earth, and we think we know what we know but how much do we really know about everything. When it comes to gender identity politics, certainly it becomes true that we are all merely animals that use language and the proceeding ideological ideas of politics to subjugate and partition different groups and different peoples. I do feel that the earth is a living thing, like a giant whale in space and we are merely barnacles clinging to its surface—if we could all learn to respect one another and the planet that we are living on hopefully we can all come together an make the world a better place where we can all survive happily and healthfully into the future!
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Jasper Johns, ‘Map’, 1961, MoMA
Next to their family farmhouse, and next to my painting of the house, is the cemetery where Dean and his family are buried. He would escape from his window at night to visit the grave of his mother, who died when he was six. He said he would see and talk with her. I thought I felt his presence when I visited his grave, now buried next to his mothers’, and kissed his grave, too. Like a method actor I try to get into the head of the character I’m portraying while painting, doing all my research, and listening to what they listened to and thinking about what they thought about and my relationship to it, in the hopes that something "real" will come out. Dean loved and carried with him everywhere the book of the Little Prince, and as I listened to the audio book while painting, I realized the prince seemed like the angel to the left, the fox appeared in somehow in a shadow or sculpture on the right, and Dean, the ghost-like Prince spoke to me as I was like the Pilot painting the picture. If you look closely, you can see his face in the flower wrap on the right of the tombstone—all of which seemed to also appear in the photo.
For our 40th birthdays, I had a serendipitously had a show in Brussels, and we had a 40th birthday blowout that was one of the most excellent times of our lives we have ever enjoyed. We went to Amsterdam, Paris, Brussels, and London, and stayed in incredible hotels and had out of this world food, but the most amazing moment was going to the Van Gogh Museum, where in the same place was a Rembrandt/Caravaggio show that was to die for. It was like one of those Sunday Titans of Rock, where our favorite heavy hitters all were under one roof. Much of the Rijksmuseum was closed for reconstruction, and they had some of their masterpieces, but many of the greatest hits of Rembrandt and Caravaggio were there alongside the very classic wealth of Van Goghs at that fabulous museum. Really, we went again and again, soaking it in, and not only was it edifying, it changed my life and my artistic career. I realized that the Old Masters had the same verve and vitality as Van Gogh and my favorite of the Impressionists. Instead, however, of just relying on when the muse left them after one or two goes at a canvas, both Rembrandt and Caravaggio went back in again and again, weaving their paint into a chiaroscuro, but also bringing out a layered warmth and ineffable emotion with each dense layer and skin they put down giving each canvas a life of its own. I had been spending more time on each canvas, wanting to get it right and not trusting on my first or second instincts like I had in the past, and was appreciating the results of this, but they proved to be a great lesson for me. We had bought expensive luggage for this trip too, and I realized, while not art in any sense, the luggage was expensive as it had been made by master craftsmen who made these wonderful pieces with their own kind of TLC, it was obvious that the bags were created in good time and with much care. I felt that if I was to make art, something that I couldn’t even afford, that I should take as much care as possible to go back into the work and not rely on first or second impressions, that going back into a work isn’t going to kill it, but rather have it "cook" longer to become, most of the time, even better—if you start out with a good image that all your noodling can make it great, especially if you can keep in the moment of the meditation, and focus greatly on what it means to you while your are generating something that you are aesthetically considering while allowing your thoughts and feelings to come through. In many ways this image is of a perfect moment, we couldn’t have been happier, and I was trying to convey my love for Amsterdam, my love for Andrew, my love for this world of culture and everything in it for as long as I could with my brush to remember it, and its lessons, forever.
The personal is political, and I’m learning this the more that I paint through my life. I love Manet, who painted his world in such a smart manner that although many of his images are of his life and his friends, the way he set up his images feels both natural and conceptual, realizing the little moments can be loaded with such meaning that the painterly can come out in a considered, intelligent way that relates not just to one’s personal life and environment, but could also behold universal conceits and ideas. In any event, this is my husband Andrew, at our new pool that we bought for ourselves for our 45th birthday, at our extremely humble cabin in Riverside county, his working Latino grandfather’s place that he always wanted to live in, where he always wanted to have a pool. I finally caved in, and although we are still paying for it, we love it, as there is 120 degree heat and we spend our summer days that we are there down by the pool and have had some of the happiest, "perfect" moments of our later years there. And on top of Andrew are our two dogs, Rosa, who just recently passed away (the apricot poodle) and Michelangelo, the little grey guy who is very much in our lives and the apple of our eye. I’m holding onto the raft with my hand that has the marriage ring on it, connecting to my husband who has his foot on mine—we make a strange, one bodied creature with many armatures in the process. Behind Andrew is the beautiful place we call home, and I guess the Tex of the raft represents the country for me. While sequestered away in our NYC apartment we often yearn for the great outdoors of our California humble utopia, and painting through the image I can think about the perfect moment of our life, feeling the love for my own nuclear family, which hopefully has gender identity politics embedded into a scene that is the most perfectly natural I can think of.
Julian was our German Shepherd who lived about 14 years, and Rosa his constant companion—a sort of wife—who also, while outlasting Julian, just recently died last year at about age 14. We loved these dogs so much; truly they were like our children. We got Julian when we were living in midtown at a dangerous, deserted loft above gangsters that were running a bordello that the cops were in on. He was for protection, but Andrew had also grown up with shepherds and loved them, and I always wanted one too. Julian never took to the city much, but loved being inside nesting with us like another roommate, and he and Rosa slept in our bed and shared most of our waking moments with us as family. He was smart and kind—never chewed through a toy, and the blissful time we lived in the California desert we raised chickens and ducks from chicks and ducklings, and Julian never harmed any of them—it was one of those pictures where the little chicks would jump and rest on his head. In fact, for a short couple of years we had adopted an aged cockatiel a friend’s friend found outside their window, and it would ride on the back of Julian shrieking "Julieeeen! Julieeeen!" and Julian kept his cool.
In the movie Rembrandt, with Charles Laugh ton—who really looked like Rembrandt—loses his beloved wife Saskia, when it is time for her funeral, he is painting a portrait of her, and his friend rushes in and exclaims "Rembrandt, why aren’t you at Saskia’s funeral!" and he shouts back "Go Away! I’m trying to paint her while I still remember her!" This painting is a momento mori—Julian had just passed away, and I was mourning his loss by painting him while I still remembered every aspect of him, petting him through each stroke of my paint and thinking deeply about our companionship (and my love for our apricot poodle, Rosa too, who adored him). This painting isn’t for sale, but when art world people come to my studio, many times way more than any canny postmodern "smart" art that I may have on my wall they turn to this and ask and love after it. I sometimes really do believe at the end of the day painting what you love, the old trope, is really true and important. Sometimes the image is really just a talisman to bring out what is best and most emotional in you, and as you are transcribing with your brush, something truly special comes out.
This is a picture of our little dog Michelangelo, who is a toy poodle who was about two at the time I took this image to paint him by. I love this dog, who was a great companion to our older poodle Rosa, who has now passed away and was like a mom to him. We had mourned the loss of our Julian, a German Shepherd who had passed away from old age for about a year, before we could adopt another pet. I searched high and low for a place that wasn’t a puppy farm or some other egregious animal breeder, and came upon the gay couple who raised poodles not as breeders, but as a life-long hobby to show dogs and to have as pets from the president of the New Jersey Poodle Association who found out about us and told us of her friends. They had this little guy who was too little to show—he now is about only five pounds, and immediately we agreed to adopt him. After having a big dog in New York City we vowed "never again" for their sake, and Michelangelo is the perfect size for us and urban living—and loves it when we take him to the cabin where he can run around (under watchful eyes of his parents, who are on the constant lookout for Eagles and Owls and other creatures). He is a bit of a "type A personality" as he is quick to judge, react, bark, etc., but he is one of the most loving dogs of all time and covers you with kisses and loves nothing more to sit in your lap. He is my constant companion, and is usually my "artists assistant" as most of my paintings are created with his companionship, sitting in his place in my lap or the pocket of my sweatshirt as I paint. He is named of course after my favorite artist, which is funny and ironic as he is just a small silver guy, but really he is regal and has much of a canine genius intelligence that if he were human, would be very Michelangelo-esque! I love Van Gogh, and his grassy fields, which may have been on my mind while painting this (and his high, sometimes non-existent horizon lines, inspired by Japanese woodblock prints), but really it is more like visual emanata—the short staccato notes of brushstrokes emanate his personality, which is also like this. I have painted many dogs in my lifetime—I think they can be serious subject matter, and transcend the ages, and also anthropomorphized beasts that we can relate to in their animation, a la Snoopy. I had a painting of an angry poodle on display as part of the permanent collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for several years, and he was like an avatar of the Angry Young Gay Man I was in those years (in part). I’ve mellowed somewhat with age, and although Michelangelo and this portrait of him really is about this individual pooch, I also think it is part of a subtle identity politics gesture to hopefully paint more regal than merely cute paintings of my poodles, who while not strictly adherent to gay identity politics, can be a "code" of sorts when you see an adult man with one in the street (although of course there are many straight men who adore poodles, too!). This isn’t why I painted him, or any of my dogs, but would like to think in the public display of my pets that the personal is political, and like Manet, by painting my life I’m also painting my politics—all are fused into one, and the subject matter brings warmth and personal emotion to something (perhaps like to my more impersonal—of sorts—painting at LACMA) that otherwise would serve merely as a politic.
I am one to believe we actually of course did go to the moon, and being someone who was born in 1966 grew up with space as my final frontier in my aspirations of what could be possible in our life and in our dreams. Films and pictures of our journey in space have always compelled me—they are inherently sublime, and its amazing to me to think about journeying into space—all the astronauts always comment how small and insignificant our own world is by comparison, and how one can easily see a world without borders, where the battling of nations seem so insignificant in the big picture of the universe and its significance in the unthinkable enormity of the galaxy within galaxies. When my husband Andrew and I are at our cabin home in Riverside California, far away from civilization of New York as we know it, and transported into a different, quiet land, I feel as if we are two astronauts on the moon, forging our own territory as we plant each tree, beautifying our beatific parcel, something it reminds me of here as they are absurdly planting a flag claiming that space of the desolate moon for America. Of course Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were deservedly heroes, and some of my first dim memories are of the live broadcast of this historic even on TV. I love this as a JFK national mandate—it seems so visionary, and something our current climate wouldn’t tolerate-it would be amazing to have our Presidents mandate that we need to send someone to Mars in our lifetime and return them safely to Earth. I also love anything science fiction, and Andrew and I are the first to see any movie about ships flying through space. It was fun and intense negotiating all the micromanaged space in this truly uncanny photo of space, and astronauts have claimed before to see or feel otherworldly beings observe them as they promenade in unknown galactic territory. To help get into the mood while painting this, I played a lot of Miles Davis, especially the stranger and darker works from the late 60’s and 70’s, that get otherworldly. Space is an amazing place to be but I wouldn’t want to be there forever, and glad I have the companionship of my husband to get me through the strangeness of this life.
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