One thing I learned from punk, whether it be the Clash, who really knew how to play their instruments, and the Germs, who barely could and Darby Crash, their lead singer, who wouldn’t sing into the mike, is that you could have great, poetic content that did have a critical, political edge, but at the same time have emotion and feeling surging through the words to give it life. The lyrics were the content, and the music was the form, much like what figurative painting can be—where the "lyrics" are the narrative allegory of whatever the people in the scenes are doing or represent, and the "music" is the way the artist has brought up the idea aesthetically… Maybe the Americans lost the ability, at their most cool, to convey emotion in their smart art in the Postmodern debunking of beauty and more Modernist notions of form conveying the ineffable. Beauty and emotion were seen as a drug that made the viewer forget their mind and mystify how work might not be addressing the world outside the hegemony of the picture plane—the subjugation of peoples and the proletariat digging the ditch wouldn’t be helped by pictures of women with parasols in a flowery meadows or Rothko creating sublime color machines to transport people while he listened to tragic opera. I think Postmodernity was important politically to let more people into the system and voices to be heard, and to necessitate content into the taste of fine art industry and the mainstream viewing public, inspiring artists to make work that did address issues surrounding the work as much as the form of the work itself. However, in not privileging what a picture might do best—to "say a thousand words" and to remind people they were human being living animals that have emotions—possibly we forgot something in the process. I love that image by David Wojnarowicz of himself as Arthur Rimbaud standing in front of the graffiti quoting Joseph Beuys: "the silence of Marcel Duchamp is overrated." David Hammons once said something to the tune of "all artists working today are children of Duchamp," and while you can see this is largely true, especially in examples of appropriation and conceptual art in galleries and museums today, I think its fantastic that you can now also see work that has more to do with Picasso than Duchamp, more Freud than Marx. Or maybe—as in Duchamp’s final masterpiece, étant donnés—an interesting hybrid of both! I believe in the "have your cake and eat it too" plan of art, like the best of punk, that allows for emotions, beauty, and the transcendent while at the same time being self-aware, smart, and critical about itself and the world in which the work operates.
My friend gave us a wonderful present, and bought us two tickets to the incredible play by John Logan entitled Red, about Rothko when he was painting the infamous Seagram murals, with Alfred Molina as Rothko and Eddie Redmayne as his fictional assistant Ken. As the audience was initially coming in to take their seats, Molina was in his characters chair, smoking a cigarette and contemplating his paintings. I thought it was hilarious and poignant that instead of watching Molina as Rothko and taking in the pretty excellent emulations of his work and the scene in general, the audience was actively ignoring him, reading their Playbills, chatting with one another, and generally jostling as I took this picture. I think the secret to Post post Modernity, or the very genesis of it (if form and content in painting, and works that relate the larger world in a critical fashion hasn’t always been the key to great art of any time, if this is part of what "post-modernity" can mean) is Manet, who painted the world of his time, his place, of his friends and lovers, but did so with a very smart, critical eye and mind, and let his subject matter become a talisman for his own painterly finesse and emotions to be projected onto the subject matter. This was a terrific play, that had as its apotheosis, Rothko storming back to his studio after going to an opening of Warhol’s, complaining about the banality of Warhol’s subject manner, and entirely rejecting everything that Warhol could represent. His young assistant comes back at him, telling him that Warhol was way more relevant to his time than Rothko was, and that Rothko’s addiction to sublime tragedy, and abstraction, was over. In my mind, seeing the play in our contemporary time, it synthesized what was now aged about both modernity and post-modernity, if this is what Pop was, and if Post-modernism wasn’t merely an extension of Modernism, or if we aren’t in an extension of modernity today. Rothko is allegorical, if you believe someone like Craig Owens—if you step back from his work, like in this play, his work was about a depressed Jewish man who committed suicide. But also Rothko himself would listen to tragic opera to be moved by and into his painting, and thought of them, I believe, to be their own movements with narrative intention, and would reject ultimately what Greenberg and Rosenberg might say about them. Still, I always "teach" people how to look at a Rothko in the way he wanted you to—to stand in front of the center of them so the edges extend beyond your peripheral vision, to stare into the center of them, to find a point you can focus on, and while staring, to think of a vision or a memory that you have experienced in your own life. They are like essential zed, iconic landscapes, and as you think "this is like staring at the ocean at night" or some other incredible sublime memory of landscape, the edges begin to fluctuate and WOOSH you are transported into a world of emotion and feeling. His work really DOES do this—but its ideological—you have to TOLD to do this for the most part—many common browsers of museums—and I remember overhearing someone actually say this during a Rothko retrospective—may think he came up with a good design and repeatedly repeated himself until he killed himself." Of course, there is MUCH more to it than that—I’m a HUGE Rothko fan, he really is one of my favorites—but you have to be taught about this, and then it may happen, unfortunately its not so universal as he might have liked his work to be. But Warhol also lacks the depth and the passion, emotion, and transcendent qualities a Rothko may have, and trades it in for its relatability, its relationship to the outside world beyond itself, and how, however significant the aesthetic qualities of a Warhol are, aren’t necessarily images you would want to stare into for hours on end in a "Warhol Chapel" feeling transported into a sublime state that makes you question life and existence.
I like the "have your cake and eat it too plan" and want to make work that has the cultural relatability of Warhol, but the depth and emotion and feeling of someone like a Rothko, and again, going back to someone like Manet is key, or early artists who used photography to create some of the first "all over imagery" like Bonnard, Vuillard, or Derain, given the nature of looking at a photo makes every element have an equal weight of aesthetic importance, or someone like Hopper, very important to me here and in general. In his famous New York Movie, from 1939, Hopper eschews painting the most important aspect of why most people go to the movies—to see the film, and instead focuses on an usherette, lost in her own thoughts at the margins of the movie house, his own Manet’s barmaid. I love the Broadway theaters, and before grad school, worked as house manager at the New Amsterdam Theater, right at the genesis of when they were transforming 42nd street from a sleezy porn row into what it is now (not much better—some may say worse!), when it was just a converted back from being a movie theater into a play house. It was still a bit decrepit, with glory holes in the bathrooms and more, but still held onto some of its grand dam grandeur. And if you dim the lights you could be transported into different times, as you can in the theater in general (my husband and I still routinely go to movies like Hopper and his wife Jo did, and I’ve been equally inspired by movies in all my work). It was fun trying to transport this scene to create my own Rothko in the golden ratio/rule of thirds compositional structure of the painting—in the optical blacks above I wanted it to bliss out into an unconscious other world, and in micromanaged moments turn into figurative abstraction. I thought there was a cool doubling/mirroring of the figures—the men’s bald heads with Molinas—tangentially to one like the Buddha statues that have many heads coming out of one, as Molina the actor channeling the lines that may or may not have been quotes from Rothko through the voice of the playwright acting as an avatar for the ideas and ideology the play was espousing while criticizing. And of course, no one is paying attention. I’m proud that I got to be an extra for my friend Ira Silverberg’s movie "Love is Strange," starring Molina and John Lithgow as aging gay men who get married. I got to meet Molina and exclaim that I’ve painted him "twice" (actually only his prosthetic Doc Ock arms in a Spiderman vs. Doc Ock), but showed him an image of this work and I think, as someone who has played many artists, he appreciated it.
This is a painting of a photo I had asked a friend of mine to take, in the Bay area, I believe off the coast in Ocean Beach, San Francisco near the Cliff House. I was a Junior at my big public (over 3,000 kids!) high school in the suburbs of Denver, Colorado—Cherry Creek High School (the same school that was used as a location for the Matt Dillon kids-take-over-the-school film Over the Edge!). I wanted to create a senior portrait for the yearbook that was unique, and had planned this "film shoot" in advance. Our school was pretty conservative—we had very few people of color for a big public school, and many of the students were Young Republicans and so on… I had been a young Dead Head, however, which quickly segued into being a young closeted Punk Rocker, New Waver, and what have you—but I always kept the transgressive elements under wraps to a degree—also I had the very strong notion I was gay, and kept this in the closet most of all, even to myself, not wanting to acknowledge, in this conservative environment and (looking back upon it) time. Although I was outspoken as a "super lefty liberal," I couldn’t go there—yet. I was president of the high school radio (KCRK—"Colorado’s Most Progressive High School Radio" was our slogan!), the art editor of the acclaimed paper The Union Street Journal—where I was also the campus cartoonist, and I enjoyed other extracurricular activities such as forensics, and more, skiing on the weekend with my friends, and enjoying life on all sides—hanging out with the punks, the "freaks," and the "popular kids" including some of the "jocks"! It was all good to me—I was even elected Prom King! In any event, when people took photos of me I always had fun "posing as a GQ model" which I did tongue-in-cheek, knowing it was a pose that covered up much and had to do pointedly to surface, but also to ideas of what we would call performativity. Consciously or unselfconsciously I realized that I was playing a role, but at the same time, knew that what I was "playing" was actually who I was, that there is little divide between the two.
I had journeyed with my friend Tim Peters, a fellow Dead Head whom I met one summer when we were both going to France on a high-school organized long trip where you stayed with a family in a small town, and traveled through much of the country, exploring and learning more of the language and customs. The first day we met, at another school in preparation for the trip, we both mentioned that we were glad we were coming back in time to see the Grateful Dead at Red Rocks—a historically amazing place to see any band but especially this one, and became friends. Like many Dead Heads, Tim had an older sibling that introduced the band’s music to him (I was into the band initially through another friend who had an older sister when I was in middle school), and we thought, the summer after our trip to France, that we would rode trip to Ventura California to see them, and on the way, visit Tim’s other siblings at Basalt, near Aspen, and up the road from Ventura in San Francisco. Even though we wore primarily shorts and t-shirts on this very hot drive without air-conditioning, I packed this "costume" to take with us with the explicit idea to take this image for my yearbook photo—a madras sport coat and purple shirt, the khaki pants, and topsiders—the ultimate "preppy outfit" to go with my hair sprayed helmet hair! The preppy look was at its peak during this time, and truly this was my good summer outfit, but it was fittingly ironic to pose "as a GQ model" on a trip to see the Dead in California on the rocks of the Bay Area. I thought I was playing a role, but looking back on it, I was playing myself, because I was a preppy kid who also enjoyed this kind of music and SOME of the lifestyle that went with it (honestly, Tim’s hippy brother in Basalt and the way he lived sort of freaked me out—and I made a mandate I would never go completely in that direction).
I’m glad now, many years later, that the Grateful Dead has become such a recognized institution, and that the music is almost universally accepted to be incredible, ground breaking, and important, and that not all fans of the band are seen as dropouts or hippies or losers—that you can have your cake and eat it too, and enjoy great art, liberal ideas and attitudes, and also be successful and help to sway the mainstream to having progressive attitudes and ideologies that make the world a better place for everyone, and also acknowledge a space for the transcendent, for the philosophical, for cutting edge and creative visionaries. While painting this it was fun to listen to the music of my youth, of course the Dead but many of the other bands in this great era of new wave, punk, and other pop music that is now seen as one of the pinnacles of pop music creativity. I love Cézanne, and how he is able to get lost in projecting his unconscious into the landscape, especially in the rocks in one of the paintings in particular I cherish at the Met., and it was fun to get lost in the rocks here—the fusion band jazz-like style of the Dead helps to promote transcendent attitudes in musical language that go beyond representation, which hopefully is what is happening. In analog photography, processed I am sure by a local Fotomat; the sepia toned colors of the original image invoke their own kind of synaesthetic nostalgia.
In the end, I ended up creating a more conceptual work for my yearbook that has stayed with me that I also recreated for this exhibition, however, this image is close to my heart. Like Diane Arbus, who always clicked an extra image or two after the one she publicly designated to her sitter as being the "one," the one after this, when you model is more off-guard tends to be the best, as they are truly themselves, which is hopefully what is happening here—where I’m truly myself, a preppy punk rock deadhead, climbing off the rocks, not knowing that 27 years later I would come into my own even more painting the picture of what I was projecting: that all my worlds would converge as one in my future, and hoping it would come true.
I had a show in Brussels during the time of our 40th birthdays, and we had a “40th Birthday Blowout” (that we are still paying for!) by traveling also to Amsterdam and Paris, where we stayed for a magical couple of days in the Proust Room of the Ritz Hotel. Proust would have his dinners supposedly in this small room above the restaurant, where he would also meet guests and hold soirees. We were enchanted by the place and its history, and Proust has long been important to us in his life and literature (I have created paintings of him and other works from this time, also in the Whitney installation). Proust’s famous Madeline’s were talismans back to synaesthetic memories that he so eloquently and geniusly wrote about in his experimental, non-linear narrative (that I hope the installation emulates), and his spirit seemed very alive in the context of the room itself. They had beautiful flowers in this elegantly appointed small single (but luxurious) room, and we spent much time there, ordering in Spaghetti Bolognese (that we shared) for our meals, etc. In our Ritz bathrobes, we chillaxed in luxury, and literally stopped and smelt the flowers, appreciating our life and feeling deep gratitude to what brought us to this point of our 40th birthdays.
I painted this work a couple of years later, when Andrew was extremely ill, trying to remember this high point in our life, and also painting this for my love for my husband, after being together for over twenty years. I also wanted to paint this for him, when he was able to get out of bed, so he could remember happy times in the hope that it would make him feel better. Sometimes the eloquencey of pithy epiphanies can be really true—stopping and smelling the roses of life is so important, and I choose paintings to meditate upon the subjects, like Proust’s Madeline’s, which are most important for me, and in many cases, make me feel good while painting them. Sometimes I think what you bring to the subject matter might be as important as the subject matter itself, especially true in painting, where thoughts and feelings unconsciously slip out as your brush is trying to consciously control the image. I’m hoping my love for Andrew and our life together is infused in this self reflexive moment—usually in movies when you have a scene with a mirror it is about self contemplation—and of course the mirror here emulates Andrew in his action, it’s also me looking into the mirror of our world together and everything that it means to me. Andrew is an artist, too, and we both love Van Gogh and Gauguin—narcissistically I think sometimes we could be reincarnations of this homosocial couple, and here hopefully the symbolic associations of color, etc., come out in this portrait of my husband, who I think looks a bit like a much more handsome version of Paul Gauguin!
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Paul Gauguin, Self-Portrait with Portrait of Bernard, 1888, Van Gogh Museum
I live on the corner of 25th and 10th in Chelsea, Manhattan, and was walking my German Shepherd Julian late one night after I got one of my first cellphones with a good camera, and took this picture of the flag waving in the wind on top of a storage facility, now the fancy private school Avenues. It was only after I finished the painting and it was being exhibited that a friend of mine recognized, or thought it could be the flag created by the artist Frank Benson, someone I never met, and in the distortion of the image, had no idea that it was an artwork created to enhance the feeling of movement. In fact, this was the reason I wanted to paint the image, to create a feeling of movement in a still image, in my case, an oil painting of (as I recognized later) an artistic appropriation that became its own appropriation—and for me, a ultimately a reaction to create a work thinking about Jasper Johns. I think the idea of appropriation is taking something that pre-exists and put your own spin on it, changing the thing in the process. When Johns was creating his flags, being inspired by Duchamp, he took a pre-existing design and by painting it in encaustic and paint and newspaper making it into something new, creating a painting that wasn’t, famously, a picture of a flag, but that WAS a flag. As I have mentioned, I think my job, working from photos post-Johns, post-Warhol, and even post-Richter is, instead of painting merely the surface, is to penetrate the picture plane and move through the image, to make a "window onto another world," after obviously recognizing the parameters of the picture, knowing its an object that exists in space and within a material world of capital, etc. In teaching comics in addition to fine art, I teach how to make images that have a feeling of moving in space, of changing form to emphasize movement and emotion within the viewer. I think still images can do this, and create sensations, via form and light and color, that generate synaesthetic responses from the viewer. When painting from a photo, I like to paint all the distortions, the blurriness, the out of focus elements, the lens flares and so on—I think it acknowledges that I’m painting from contemporary technological processes, which contemporizes the image, and also it creates amazing talisman that allow me to subconsciously build on abstractions and hopefully turn them into something else. In this image, even thought I had a little help with the initial flag design, the flag WAS incredibly moving in the wild wind at the time I took this shaky and out of focus photo that I made the picture from, being pulled by my shepherd, who was hurrying to get back to the warmth of my apartment, at a time of uncertainty when we were still in thralls of the most recent recession. Ultimately I wanted to create an image of how I felt about America at that moment, that it was still standing strong in a world that was threatening it and it was threatening others, and like the flag in the Star Spangled Banner, still standing, but in the abstract nature of how it was out of focus and undulating, creating its own surreal optical worlds in the process. Hopefully it’s subconsciously and unconsciously derived surreal distortion of a distorted photo of a distorted flag in a manner of thinking of appropriation of an appropriation of an appropriation of an appropriation (?!) and making something "real" and moving in an emotional way. John’s famous quote is "take and object. Do something to it. Do something else to it" which is what I hope I’ve done here.
I love the Empire State Building, and have taken many pictures and made many paintings of this iconic structure that to me stands for the power of an old New York that still holds hopefully strong for the city and the nation. For this work, I wanted to make an "ultimate" Empire painting, and chose the top edifice with its tower, projecting an "RKO Radio Pictures" type radiance into the optical black of the sky. The top of the building was to serve as a Zeppelin landing, and as ridiculous as this sounds in our contemporary times, this art-deco way of thinking, with all of its optimism projected into its architecture is something that just sends me—it’s a living history where a building that has always stood for so much continues to have relevance today. When it was first built during the Great Depression, it only took about a year for it to be built which seems incredible, and Mohawk Indians were some of the great pioneer skyscraper builders unafraid of heights who were some of its construction heroes. When it first opened, however, it wasn’t so popular, and it was King Kong that really made it iconic for the world, which is amazing to me that it was branded by a giant fictional gorilla into being. It does stand for power—and being inspired by more than just a pencil, a very phallic skyscraper that doesn’t lose its serious agency because of it. I would like that post 9-11, post recent recession, we are still a nation holding strong, and long after the Twin Towers, and not-so iconic One World Trade Center, the Empire State Building still holds strong. I always liked the Carl Andre stack of bricks in the window of the Judd Foundation downtown, however, called "Manifest Destiny" with the brand "Empire" stamped into the bricks, and like that leaning tower, also wanted to evoke that the power of the Empire building might be a nostalgic one, too, one that may not be so immortal, and that we should be careful. I’m also thinking of the 24 hour Warhol movie "Empire," and to make something of this scale as if it were a painting lasting longer than the projected image of that film, and also Monet’s Rouen Cathedrals, as I was taking images each day of the building to post on Facebook and to see the different attitudes it could project through different locations and times. Ultimately, however, it is a prayer for hope and optimism in the New York where I’m always happy and grateful to see it standing tall each day and time I see it and smile. It is our Duomo as a landmark, but also stands for peace, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—a brother to our Lady Liberty.
After years of painting from appropriated imagery, I have been more and more inspired to paint from my own pictures, wanting complete autonomy and authorship of the image, and also realizing that by painting from photos that I myself took, I have a direct connection with the image and subject matter, and somehow even more feelings and thoughts hopefully become transmuted into the painting. I was inspired by T.J. Clark’s book “The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and his Followers”: a post-Marxist critic, Clark discusses in this how the impressionists didn’t want to paint the tourist-y parts of Paris, but the sections where the gentrification of this city was affecting the people who lived there, and the transfiguration of the city itself. I wanted to paint sections of New York City that were vital to me, but perhaps forgotten or overlooked by the tourists and even current residents, and love the New Yorker Hotel, which we see all the time when we go to the movies across the street. Just down from the Empire State Building, the New Yorker hotel was built around the same time, and is an amazing art-deco masterpiece that has endured throughout the ages. One of the largest hotels in the world when it was first built in 1928, it was like a micro-city, with the “largest power plant in the United States” at the time, with the largest barber shop in the world, five restaurants (and 10 dining salons), 92 “telephone girls” and ballrooms that hosted many of the popular Big Bands, such as Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey. Spencer Tracy, Joan Crawford and Fidel Castor stayed there (as did my Uncle when he first came to New York!), and Nikola Tesla spent his last decade there. In 1971 Muhammad Ali even recouped there after his historic fight with Joe Frazier at the Garden. It closed for a while, and then was taken over by the Moonies—the Unification Church of the United States! Gradually they relinquished their claim on the property, and it became a hotel for the public again, joining the Ramada chain in 2000 and is now part of Wyndam Hotels.
For me, the building is almost like a “King Kong” of buildings of the city, reminding me of New York’s former glory, coexisting with it’s 21 century comrades of contemporary architecture, and holding its own—barely (sometimes the lights in the iconic sign are out—I always remember the Saturday Night Live guests would stay there and they would plug the hotel with a slide of the sign in the 70’s), and I often hear rumors of its closing. But like how hopefully New York still stands strong as the power center of our country, which still holds its own as the great nation of the world. I feel its symbolic of our resilience as a city and as a country to stand for the values we hold dear and to keep fighting for our strength and nation.
I have always loved early 20c paintings by American modernists of buildings and architecture, especially those of Sheeler and Demuth (and Bellows!) that seemed to be remarking on America’s growth and industry, in addition to nostalgia for bygone years soon passing in the industrial age, and the elements of abstraction that happen in the tight-lipped repressed way they painted.
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Charles Sheeler, River Rouge Plant, 1942, collection of the Whitney Museum.
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Charles Demuth, My Egypt, 1927, collection of the Whitney Museum.
In this painting I was inspired directly from the T.J. Clark book The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and his Followers who discussed how Manet and impressionists he inspired sought not to depict the Paris of the new gentrified city that we still enjoy as tourists, but the real Paris, that of the sidelines, the deserted streets, of the people who had been shunned away, the true city underneath the sheen of the newly devised city—embracing the working class and people that were denied agency and the places they inhabited. I love New York City for all that it has to offer, but like the Paris of Manet’s time, it has quickly become even more gentrified than when I first moved here in the late ’80’s, where it is difficult for the poor and small businesses to maintain residence here. Although I embrace change and many of the new "improvements," still also embrace the grit an memory of the Gotham I knew and loved growing up, romanticizing the bohemian zeal of the old New York, and the ageless quality behind the current gilding. We moved to Chelsea when it was on the brink of significant change—on the corner of 25th and 10th, just down the street from where this image was taken. There was a post-it note on the Pizza Store saying "apartment available—call Louis" with his number—I called him, whose real name was Mohammed, and he was one of the Egyptian brothers that owned the Pizza Store and the building—a real New York story! Bottino’s was already down the street, but on the north side of the block there was a Cuban restaurant, a check cashing store, and numbers guys standing outside preying on the people living in the HUD housing just up the block. The check cashing place and Cuban restaurant are long gone, the numbers guys have moved around the corner, but Nicole Kidman lives down the block, and Kate Hudson’s daughter goes to the exclusive Avenues private school that used to be a warehouse on the block across from us, and the Highline and all the fancy residence apartment complexes have made many of the smaller galleries move back to the LES, Harlem, and elsewhere. As I type this, the area around the corner of this painting is currently changing, with huge skyscrapers and big box stores opening in buildings being built right now, a new subway is opening, and we’re hoping we’ll be able to stay in our little humble abode! Looking from this corner, however, it still looks somewhat the same five years later—as Port Authority, not likely to move anywhere is in the foreground, and many of the same buildings, albeit with newer ones in the background still stand. But this is also still a slightly, for the moment, sleazy area—abandoned somewhat at night, just blocks away from Times Square but very much its destitute old world self—while not a place one might want to hang out, it still feels to me what it must have felt like in the 70’s or before, when the city was broke and punk rock and great art was happening because perhaps of this. While painting, I listened to the entire (albeit abridged!) Dante’s Divine Comedy as I felt it perfect for the subject matter. Port Authority and still that section of 42nd street and area couldn’t get much closer to one of the nine circles of hell—a real Inferno, and in the thirties, this section of west Manhattan feels a bit like Purgatory, and of course, on the highest level of skyscrapers and sky—and the beams of light they are projecting, seem like a bountiful, enviable Paradise. Painting from digital photos, printed on my good Epson printer, I’m able to get a lot of detail from the pixels, but with digital imagery, it seems different than analogue when capturing the all-overness of it, and also how it is able to capture light with a lens flare like quality. It had been a rainy night, and drops had fallen on my lens, making some of the droplets you see her, and the light filtered through the dewy-night made the lights feel even in the photo like those stars and lanterns in a Van Gogh painting, with emanata spiriting away in all directions from a light source. When painting from contemporary technology such as this I hope it contemporizes my work—these affects wouldn’t have appeared in other photo-based works of the past, a Vuillard, for instance. But working from photos post-Richter, I want to, instead of painting the surface of the photo, penetrate the surface, and move inside of it, creating windows onto other worlds within the plastic space of the oil paint, thinking my thoughts and having hopefully my unconscious also projected into the image. Hence, I like to paint all the affects of photography as if they are "real," micromanaging as much as I can with a tiny brush, really looking deep inside the nuances of the image to pull out as much information as I can, painting faithful to the image, and trusting it, to make optical space that might otherwise be unknown to us, using the affects as talisman to reach my inner mind. Looking at the lens flares, whilst at the same time listening to Dante, they seemed almost like halos, the bright lights like angels, and sometimes in the negative spaces, a kind of dream like world that could resemble a heaven or hell depending on your mood—there is stuff in there and although I know they are perhaps just merely technical distortions of the lens mixed with water, its fun to try to paint the head of pin of light to "see" all the angels dancing on the periphery of it, or the buildings "opening up" to reveal other unconscious dream like worlds. I hope that this allegorically represents New York as its own "city of lights" of illuminate and other dynamic, creative people that inhabit it, but loving the Symbolists and Impressionists, and of course Manet, who painted his real life surroundings with such a critical eye and voice, but also letting his emotions and MEMORY lead the way, is a wonderful model for making works that are content rich but also hopefully compelling formal enough to conjure real feelings in the viewer.
After I took the photo of Andrew which is next to this picture in the Whitney installation, I handed the camera to him and he took this picture of me, standing in front of a reproduction of a portrait of Proust (the original hangs in the Musee D’Orsay). This was an incredible (but small one bedroom) room above the restaurant at the Ritz, where Proust supposedly had his meals brought up to him in his private soirees. Like Proust, and his famous Madeline’s, all the images I paint from are talismans to memories and the feelings that they conjure, that, also like Proust, I string together in non-linear narratives of my installations. So truly he is one of my heroes—it goes without saying that he was also queer and “queerified” the notions of what narrative could mean, in addition to speaking allegorically about the politics and society of his times, as I would also like to do, and although I don’t think of myself as a “dandy”, think there is something transcendent about the ability of the “Bricoleur” to walk through culture as an active bystander, being able to have the artistic sense of remove to really comment upon and “see” the world as perhaps it “really is”. While painting this (as I have done with previous portraits of Proust) I listened to an (abridged—but still over 60 cds!) of an audiobook of “Remembrance of Things Past” and tried my best to concentrate upon it and really understand what was being said, whilst also interpreting it—my “left brain” was so occupied by this, my “right brain” could really concentrate on the nuance of form and light and color, and it was surprisingly relatively easy to paint, although it seemed as if the ghost of Proust was speaking into my ear, both from the painting and the reflection in the painting! I always enjoy painting aspects of photography as if they were real, and the light in the photo, and the red in my irises seemed to get through to the idea that I was painting as if looking in a mirror at my inner self. When you see people looking in mirrors in movies it usually has something to do with self-reflexivity, and in painting this, like any self portrait that hopefully is good, I was painting also aware of my self, and my past, and what notions constitute the self as self-instituting, and how, like they say in Buddhism, this is impossible, that interdependence, the balancing of identities based on memories, environment, our interactions within the world, so richly brought out in narratives such as Proust’s life work, can create a sublime feeling of the objectification of oneself as merely a being within the world.
I love this Chardin self portrait from the Louvre, and the painterly way he uses pastel in micro-managed ways like I now try to paint… And he seems in this an effete dandy, whilst at the same time masculine and strong, and one of the best painters of domestic (and symbolically political) life, and looked specifically at this portrait while painting this work.
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Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, Self portrait wearing Glasses, 1775, Louvre
My husband and I were married the first Sunday we could in California at our cabin home in Riverside CA. We first met when I was a graduate student at UC Irvine and Andrew was an undergraduate, studying comparative literature. He had taken time off, and we were the same age, and I was organizing the first Orange County LGBTQ film festival, and he was part of the LGBTQ group on campus, and friends with many of my Comp Lit friends, and we instantly hit it off. We met at initially at the Boom Boom Room, a seriously quaint gay bar in Laguna Beach where I had moved with my old college friend Tom Albrecht who was in grad school at UCI also for Comp Lit. His gay friend Rafi Simon and I joked about how we were living in the only gay section of Orange County—kind of a stretch, as this was a very conservative world, even for a beach town—and we never did anything "gay," so the first night we went to the local bar, the "Boom," I met Andrew. This place at the time had Archie Andrew cut outs on the wall, netting with fake starfish in it, and a tiny dance floor with an ancient queen dancing to disco with napkins, and in walks this gorgeous guy that kind of looked like Keanu Reeves but really had a look and charm all of his own, and it was, as they say, love at first site. He knew Rafi, and I couldn’t believe that we were instantly talking about everything, about art, life, music, romance. He left too soon, but I was invited to a party that karmically he was at too that same evening, and I’ll always remember sitting on the Laguna porch overlooking the ocean, and seeing the world in a new way as he and I talked into the night, more about art, life and culture. He loved the movie Impromptu, with the characters George Sands, Chopin, and Delacroix all hanging out at a collectors mansion, and mentioned he wanted to be George Sands laying under a Chopin’s piano, and I was all too obliged to be an artist in his constellation (he is an artist, too)! Fast-forward 23 years later we are still together and very much still in love!
When gay marriage, something we never thought we would see in our lifetime, became real in California, we jumped at the opportunity to get hitched—we knew that a window could be closing (and temporarily, it did!) so we arranged to be our cabin that weekend and become a married couple, finally. We originally thought we would have a mellow courthouse legal signing of the documents, but our parents begged us to make something more formal, which we gladly obliged. We invited just our immediate family, and my best friend Dan Knapp got the certification to marry us. We pledged to love each other through eternity, and I would like to think the ceiling bliss’s out into something like this—the abstract Iconscape that I had showed at Mary Boone seems to be swirling in agreement, as we bend to kiss one another with Dan smiling and our family taking pictures, this is from one of them. It was 120 degrees that day, and my family bought little Wal-Mart hand fans everyone was using—we made it as quick as possible and then quickly retreated to the air-conditioning of the only "fancy" restaurant nearby—an Italian place called Raviolis where we had a seven-course tasting menu that was delicious and lasted for hours in the cool AC air. It was something we will remember forever—also at the courthouse, when we signed the document, it meant so much to me—knowing the power of language, and the language of the law, to have our relationship recognized by the state (and now the country) was so moving to me I broke down in tears. But the "real" marriage of course was in front of friends and family, and I never felt a more loving world than that of this super warm wonderful summer afternoon.
In 1999 we had to opportunity to purchase my husband Andrew’s grandfather’s cabin in the unincorporated township of Meadowbrook, CA, near Lake Elsinore in Riverside California. We had a tumultuous year in New York, where our puppy had died, the mob was running a bordello underneath us (that the cops were in on), and Andrew fell into a deep depression. I had my NYC debut at Jay Gorney with roughly hewn abstract next to figurative works that was beloved by artists but misunderstood by some of the art going public, and although I was still doing well in the art world, decided, as I was becoming disillusioned with the rarified world of fine art, that I would officially "retire" from the art world, pull all my work out of the galleries, and like my heroes Arthur Rimbaud, Cézanne, Van Gogh and Gauguin, move with Andrew, saving him from his Gotham despair and paint in the provinces in our blighted Giverny. When we got to California, Andrew’s mom, who was a truant landlord of this place she won in a divorce settlement from Andrew’s deadbeat dad, hadn’t successfully been able to get the current tenants out—a single mother and her two children, who hadn’t paid rent in months, and who had literally thrown over nine tons of their garbage all around the property in years living there. It was sad, but this was a feral family in a blighted area that was the epicenter of the recession a few years later. Surrounded by trailer homes with retirees and crystal meth labs, it is also the home of some poor man’s castles, who raise ostriches, peacocks, and goats, in addition to undercover marijuana growing facilities and more. Andrew’s grandfather had the place since the ’50’s, when it was quite beautiful and remote, a village of similar homes that were weekend getaways for the working class. Andrew and his family would pack their groceries and drive in on the weekends, and he had many fond memories of his childhood visiting the monkeys that were being raised by a kind family next door, and having wonderful adventures with his siblings and cousins with their pater familias grandfather and clan, and it was always his hope to live there as an adult, so in many ways it was our escape from New York and entrance into Andrew’s dream.
There was a lot of work to be done, however. Once the mother found a job, she was able to move, and we moved in, removing all the garbage—diapers, cans, tires, and other garbage amongst half buried swing sets, an old bus—-and the son had a habit of burying all kinds of broken toys and silverware, etc., in the once beautiful landscape. We repaired broken windows and walls, repainted the place and the sturdied the roof and more, much of the work done with our own hands. I was able to get teaching at UC Irvine, where I had gone to graduate school, and we planted many trees, literally and figuratively. I began to paint en pleine air, and like Monet and my other heroes, tried to converge the works I had been creating—both abstract and figurative, into one, using the map of the vision of our place, which became quite beautiful and recovered, as a way to project my memories and feelings, while also trying to harness the complicated matter of all there was to see into painting. It was bucolic and nice, but also we realized that this was a rural, conservative area, the heart of Amendment 8 and other homophobic and otherwise conservative peoples. Andrew, who is Latino and part Native American and I don’t look like brothers, and when we went to restaurants at night, literally all would stop talking and stare. I realized that if the people at Walmart knew what we were about, they would club us or worse, and the limitations of the area culturally speaking began to unnerve me—all screens would show the same film of Deuce Bigelow, and there wasn’t much to do at night or for cultural edification, unless you wanted to drive into Los Angeles, a few hours away. We did and do love it though, but I realized that if I was "wired to do this"—to create fine art and have a career; I needed to go back to New York and begin to have a career again. The artworld wasn’t perfect, sure, but most people involved in fine art really have a passion for what it is they believe in and work for, and although it was a rarified world, it wasn’t just about "rich white people," it was about bringing up ideas aesthetically, on the highest level, in galleries that were free for all to see and to ponder, at museums that the public could hopefully visit and feel they had access to, and that I really enjoyed not just the process of creating art, but also to exhibit and express myself visually via my work to a larger public. So I came back to NYC, got my teaching back at SVA and NYU, and began the long, slow process of trying to put myself back on the map I had so intensely, in the hubris of my romantic youth, took myself off. This took years—over seven years of humbly working in our tiny place, teaching at some points at my peak of thirteen classes a week at various schools, and inviting people in to see my work with the hope that I would get a second chance. Eventually this happened, and I haven’t looked back since, and ultimately am glad we did most of what we did—I certainly am glad we got the cabin, which continues to be our "fortress of solitude" that we escape to whenever we can, and we have the long term goal of moving there eventually where I grow my beard really long and have it be once again my blighted Giverny.
For now, I have my time there when I paint, and the many pictures of our place that I have created from photos, such as this one, perhaps one of the best cabin pictures I have painted, entitled after the name we bequeathed it—"K and A Ranch." The neat thing about working from contemporary technology is in a high resolution image, there is an amazing amount of detail the camera and the printer capture, and unlike the impressionists, or even the artists like Bonnard and Vuillard that used photography as a source for their imagery, there is a lot of information to riff on. Da Vinci and many of the old masters have said if you want to do something new, "turn to nature" as it can give us more visual information that our mind can make up on its own, and its not dependent on any art historical or otherwise language when you are creating work from it. I think one’s style comes about from using reference and painting something "the best way you can." Van Gogh was of course inspired by Dutch art, Japanese woodblock prints, the impressionists and more, but at the end of the day, at the end of his life, he was just painting the land the best way he could because it rose up within him those emotions and thoughts as he was projecting onto the landscape. I think the secret of the sublime is "micromanaging to the macromanged whole" and in my old age, have begun regarding not just Van Gogh and the Impressionists but the Old Masters, who were able, in their fine rendering of things be able to recognize and cognitize each element of what they saw—for Da Vinci, he was able to paint every Golden Ratio of every leaf in every tree in every landscape and touch upon how all elements worked with and against one another to create and exciting harmony of Nature. Kant would mention that his ideal of beauty was to recreate nature, but the sublime would be something, if an artist could even approach it, the overwhelming feeling of nature—something in contemporary terms you "couldn’t put a frame around." I think when we are little, we feel these sublime moments in nature as we recognize how everything is alive and working together and against each other in a way we don’t have the necessary capabilities to filter out and focus on what is most important. For Van Gogh, in his wicker-like weave of his sinewy forms coalescing with one another I think he activates this feeling once again, for Da Vinci he also does this, but in a much more subtle matter in his sfumato. With many of these painters, like Da Vinci says, you can’t help but "paint yourself" into the picture. As you are thinking your thoughts, in the obsessive way one can paint, your conscious mind is rendering what it sees, but your unconscious mind is also wielding the brush, and the result is you paint your inner mind as well as your critical consciousness. In Cézannes, there is something I always call a "Cézanne hole" in the middle of most of his works—where it seems more recessed in the optical space where his head must have been positioned, and you can make out unconsciously realized teeth, beard, eyes, moustaches and more—his inner mind projected onto the landscape. In Van Goghs, look for his visage hidden in the cypress trees and the rocks, and you can make out his own subliminal, unconsciously realized profile embedded into the picture. The great painters usually exceed in their rendering what it is that they are painting—there is something "extra" in the mix, that gives the work life, emotion, that makes it transcendent beyond the subject matter, and time, and that is the very thing that gives them their qualities that we now recognize them for today (and for some of them, the "excesses" of their rendering, how it didn’t look "right" or like a photo, is the very thing the public of their time might have rejected them for in their day—whereas the hack artist, or the Meissonier’s of their time who received accolades because they could make things look "real," but not much more than that, seem like hacks to our contemporary eyes).
In this work, I tried my best to make it look "real," but also open my eyes to all that I was perceiving and thinking about. I thought about all the history I had with this special place, how we were able to alchemize it from a heap into something incredibly beautiful for us, and how it really represented our lives together, our souls onto one, and a place of healing, love and spirit. I found listening to Roxy Music was perfect for rendering by, as they are so perfect in their stylization, their form carries with it an incredible amount of feeling and passion with precision of their instruments and sound. Especially Avalon, one of their last great records, seemed perfect as this is Andrew and I’s Avalon. For me, my favorite passages are those that fall into abstraction, the flower beds to the left of the palm trees especially conjure into dream like flights of fancy, as the elements are so small my unconscious would take over. I loved painting this picture, which really reminds me of all we feel about the place, and hopefully transcend from a Thomas Cole-like details to something more like Monet or a more three dimensional Cézanne. If you would turn the camera to the left or to the right you might see something more of the blight I mentioned, but if you look towards this direction, or over the blight, you will see the amazing wonderland that is our home.