“Sleeper” is a portrait of my husband Andrew, from a photo I took one afternoon at our cabin in Riverside, California, through the window, with the reflection of the hill behind our home appearing simultaneously as the image through the window, in addition to the lens flare of the camera itself. “Sleeper” is not only the subject matter of the image, but also a reference to one of our favorite Arthur Rimbaud poems, called “Sleeper in the Valley”, which describes the life surrounding a dead soldier in a field. While Andrew is very much alive, the visionary aspects of the poem–which reflected upon the living agency of nature and the world transcending humans’ understanding of the normal everyday, is hopefully reflected in the reflection, and the mash-up of symbolic representation. The narcissism of our ego’s filtering out the life of how our environment can defy categorization and understanding is something I feel is the artist’s job to expose, and someone like Goya, whose book appears on the nightstand, did this in extraordinary ways, allowing his symbolic allegories to jettison his hand and mind to paint ultimately ineffable works that we feel, but can’t completely explain away. The book is next to a red plastic ball that reminds me of a clown’s nose, and I like the juxtaposition in that I feel much of my work seems like a tragic comedy, or Goya with a clown nose. Of course the American Flag appears, invoking our great country but here in the form of a towel draped across an old chair (which like much of the furniture, including Andrew’s grandparents bed and nightstand, have much history and meaning for us). In the room hang older works by me that I have given to Andrew over the years, including early framed Pinocchio drawings, and a large painting of a cat from the early ‘90’s (I’m proud to say other pet paintings of this series are owned by LACMA and SF MOMA). I hope, with the pillowcase next to Andrew, that this work (in addition to all my art) ultimately defies language, like the great paintings and art that inspire me, and enjoy how the letters on the pillow begin to break apart in their folding and eclipsing elements. Perhaps like what Andrew may be dreaming about, the reflection creates a surreal world beyond the cabin, and the light ball hovering in midrange (a reflection of the camera flash? A lense flare?) also frustrates any easy reading of representation, breaking into abstraction or like a representation of the unconscious. I enjoy painting all elements I see in photos as if “they are really there”, and see the job now, post-Richter of people that paint from photos as their source imagery, to penetrate the surface of the photo, and bring out the “third meaning” (to quote Roland Barthes’ idea), of what they as artists can bring to the photo, in not just their hand, but their conscious and unconscious minds. If oil paint can make things look more “real” than most other mediums, perhaps oil paint can make the unconscious and emotional mind “real” and concrete in the plastic space of the picture plane. Hopefully I’m doing this here, as I strive to think about all the wonderful things this picture conjured within me (most of all, my love for Andrew), when I created this painting, and hope that this all comes out in ways that, at the end, are felt but defy categorization.
In many ways, like another of my painterly hero’s Vermeer, in his “Art of Painting”, this work is an allegory of what I believe I’m about as an artist and painter, and significantly begin the allegory of the whole “My American Dream” installation at the Whitney with this image. “My American Dream” as a theme works both symbolically and literally, perhaps all the paintings in the exhibition, like the reflections presented in this picture (and the salon behind the sleeper), are elements and scenes of what Andrew may be dreaming about in the moment this picture describes.
I have always loved Hopper’s paintings, especially those inspired by films (which are many) and looking through windows, “Rear Window” style, revealing private moments.
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Edward Hopper, A Woman in the Sun, 1961, Whitney Collection.
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James Ensor, Tribulations of St. Anthony, 1887, Museum of Modern Art
One of my favorite paintings from my youth, and one that still capitivates today is the great “Tribulations of St. Anthony” by James Ensor at MOMA. When I was in college I would come and stare at the amalgamations of strange beings culled from his imagination–and seemingly rendered from unconscious swirls of paint that he brought out later, consciously, to render for others to see. Importantly for me, he was able to do this without “illustrating” them completely, like Dali might, leaving a painterly impression that creates a life and allows the figures to vacillate in the weird perspective planes that defy logic. I hope that my unconscious spills out in micro-managed moments of my painting, and especially when rendering reflections, shadows, and other forms that are difficult for my left brain to ascertain, I feel the unconscious is allowed play when navigating the optical space my inner mind “sees”.