Good Rockin’ Tonight, 2005 Oil on Linen 46 × 64 inches
Good Rockin’ Tonight, 2005
Oil on Linen 46 × 64 inches

We had a great friend of ours pass away in the fall. Our friend Alicia. She was Andrew’s, my boyfriend, best friend growing up. And she got sick and died at age 38. And she went to the hospital, and they were like, "not only do you have pneumonia, but you have full-blown AIDS," and she died within a week. And so it was this horrible tragedy, and it totally upset us. Isn’t that horrible? But she lived in Orange County, they just don’t’ have the information out there. People with AIDS are treated a little bit like lepers. And it’s horrible. She didn’t have good models. We tried to help her. She was always a high-strung character. And she was pretty wild. In Orange County there are a people are sort of in a somnolescent sleep and it’s sad. It’s not about critical thinking. I think that’s why art is important, hopefully it induces people to think for themselves.

One way that I really understood portraiture was the movie Rembrandt, with Charles Laughton as Rembrandt. It was this great black and white movie, from I think 1936, or something like that, and it has all these guys with moustaches out to here, and they’re walking across these snowy-white landscapes with windmills, a beautiful movie. But after Rembrandt is exiled out to Rembrandt land, because he was painting people too realistically, or he did the Night Watch, which challenges composition and so on, there’s this great scene in the movie where he hires a bum to paint him because he couldn’t afford real models. And the bum is dressed as Kind Sol, or King Solomon in this scene, and he turns to Rembrandt, or Charles Laughton dressed as Rembrandt, and he says "why are you painting me, I’m just a bum!" And Charles Laughton says, "you’re not a bum, you’re dressed as King Sol, and this is what it means to me…" And then he goes on this whole teary-eyed soliloquy of "Vanity of vanities, everything is vanity, " all this stuff, that he says. And I realized, "Oh my gosh! Really good portraiture, or figurative painting, is like method acting in a way… That he set up an allegorical situation that means something to him that he thinks about it while he’s painting it. And even though we don’t really understand who those characters are or those people who he painted—we don’t know who they are—we still care about the figures in the work, and the synaesthetic feeling that the real Rembrandt is bringing to the portrait in his painting. You feel it. You feel the emotion. You feel the care. You feel the pathos. Maybe the ineffable thing that you can’t put into words.

If I stand in front of Rembrandt or a Vermeer or an El Greco or a Velázquez, I don’t really care about who the people are in the paintings… When you find out more, it informs your ideas about the pictures, but ultimately its really about you having an experience in front of this thing and it moves you, maybe, hopefully, in a way you can’t put into words. And maybe, if you’re really lucky, it gives you an epiphany about life., or yourself, or your being within the world. I don’t’ know for my work, but this is something to aspire for…

Post-modernism is important as a movement because it made you step away from the work of art seeing how it operated in a larger system… It was all about looking as a language, and the received way of looking at things as constructed by ideology… You can’t control the way a viewer will receive a work…That the key is that you are always stepping back from the work of art, you’re stepping back from how we see things so you can see something that’s new! To hopefully, make changes, or to make progress, or to keep the discourse going, or to essentialize what is happening…

Modernism for me in a nutshell is that "It’s not the subject matter that’s important its what you bring to the subject matter that’s important." When Van Gogh paints the flowers, its not the flowers is about how he paints the flowers… For Cézanne, obviously, it’s not about the landscape, it’s about what he perceives, or maps onto that landscape. For me, Post-modernism is stepping back from a work of art and seeing how it operates in a larger system. There’s not one truth, there’s a multiplicity of truths, and there are no hierarchy’s, everything is subjective…

I think you can have your cake and it, too… I think a lot of post-modernism broke down the aesthetic nature of things. Or took away beauty. They want to take all the seductive agents, especially with painting away so you can get to the "core," as a philosophical, and political action. I want to make work that relates to the world outside of itself, but also have an inner emotion and ineffable "life of its own."

When I do Elvis, I play Elvis all the time, or watch Elvis movies. When I painted this work, I was thinking of him, how he moved, how he helped to change music, but I was also thinking about our friend Alicia, and trying to paint through those emotions for release from our anguish. Picasso said a painter paints to unload themselves—when they go to the forest of Fontainebleau and get filled with a green feeling then go back and spill out the green into their canvas. I was listening and trying to channel Elvis, but also spill out what I felt about Alicia, and all the emotions surrounding her death, to achieve a sort of catharsis. I was projecting onto the icon of Elvis, sort of suturing into him, while at the same time using him as a vehicle for these very personal emotions, to help me through this period, but also to make a work that was relevant not only to me but for the world.
(excerpted from an interview with Ross Bleckner for show catalog, 2006)