From 2005 when I first painted this picture:
This is from an outtake from the filming of Giant, when Dean has had his makeup applied for the scene when he finally strikes (and becomes covered in) oil, both bringing on his financial success and his spiritual demise. I was listening to the liberal talk radio “Air America” through the painting of this and many of the other images in the show, and feel this is a commentary on Iraq, and subsequently, all other decisions by the Bush administration to prioritize oil and profit over humanity. This is “blood for oil” with a lusty relish, “God” is in his pocket (with his emblematic chain), as the “Good Old Boys” in the background look on…
In the slippery slope of allegory, however, I feel this has more than one meaning… Like most of the other images from the show in which I first exhibited this painting (Rebel Angels at the End of the World, QED Gallery, LA, 2005), this was derived from a black and white (and fuzzy!) image, and I part of the artistry of painting these images comes from projecting onto them not only emotionally and thematically, but also formally, creating color interpretations for values that I see, and hopefully creating synaesthetic worlds from those interpretations. I love painting, and quite frankly, really enjoyed painting this (as with all the works in that show!) and feel that my love for OIL (painting, that is!) is hopefully conveyed in this work (in addition to all the other layers on interpretation)…
Velazquez, Pope Innocent X, 1650 and Francis Bacon, Study After Pope Innocent X, 1953
Of course the Francis Bacon painting after the Velazquez portrait of Pope Innocent X is intense and great, and well-earned in its legend. But of course the original Velazquez is hard to beat, as it’s a master painting by the master! Bacon, as amazing as he is I feel tires after a while—he usually feng-shui’s the figure as if it got lost in a psychological photoshop, in a distilled, Matissian-color field background, with pathos, over and over again—not exactly formula—but seeing his retrospective, I wonder if it was almost like listening to Joy Division every day without a break—even the Smiths had more of a sense of humor and balance, and couldn’t a gay guy like Bacon get a break (although who am I to belittle a contemporary master like Bacon, and I do get a more Picasso-esque interiority and nuance of being in his work when I want)… But Velazquez, kind of like Lucian Freud, I think does a thing harder—instead of people screaming in boxes to have emotive effect, I think its in the layering of the skins of paint, the micro-managed moments, that have a wonderful range of intensity and personality in his sitters. Can you have your cake and eat it, too, exaggerating some of the moments, but also embed them in figurative representation closer to life?
Willem de Kooning, Woman, 1950
Another contemporary Master, de Kooning, recognized the power of talismans to riff off into a spasm of emotional abstraction—his epiphany was the weirdness of objectifying the orifice of the mouth, spurring on his imagination to create his powerful Woman series—not to get into the complicated politics of this, and loving his ability to slide from representational into the abstract, but could you bring the mouth back to the figure and also have it reside in plastic space that adheres to form and still have the intensity, and abstraction in micro-managed moments like the old masters?