When Andrew and I had our 40th birthday blowout on the occasion of a show I had in Brussels, we traveled to Amsterdam, where there was a Rembrandt/Caravaggio show at Van Gogh museum, which has had an everlasting effect on me. I realized that these masters, like Cézanne, must have set up allegorical scenes that had great meaning for them, and the in micro-managed moments, their unconscious would spill through, allowing for unconsciously realized moments of dream worlds and imagery to emerge, giving surreal life to their paintings. I wanted to micromanage even more because of this, and also to choose deeper mythological themes to ponder while painting. In this show was the famous "The Abduction of Ganymede" painting from 1635, the image of Zeus, in the form of an eagle, taking a baby (who is peeing in fear!) to Mount Olympus to be a water bearer. Like the "Love Triumphant (James Dean in a Tree)" painting in the cosmology installation (an appropriation of an idea of and image from Caravaggio), I chose a photo that emulated the scene, in this case a film still from the Thomas Edison special effect fantasy movie "Rescued from the Eagles Nest" (1907), where a animatronics taxidermy eagle is carrying a real life baby "aloft," the baby’s feet flaying as the eagle bats his wings. I love the Roland Barthes’ essay "The Third Meaning," where he discusses looking at Eisenstein film stills for their first meaning (the description of what you see), the second meaning (the symbolic meaning intended by the artist), and finally, the third meaning (the "vertical" reading—something that has to do with the emotion, the signifier without a specific signified, all the things you may bring to an image that the artist might not have intended, but which tends to give the work a transcendent "life of its’ own for the viewer"). This is so important for me in painting mostly from photos, many of which are from films.
In the great 1936 film "Rembrandt," starring Charles Laughton (who very much resembles Rembrandt), directed by Alexander Korda, there is a great scene of "Rembrandt" painting a picture (after he has exiled himself to "Rembrandt land," post-Nightwatch, after painting people too much how they "really were") where he is painting a picture of a homeless man (the only models he could afford to pose for him) dressed as King Solomon. I’m paraphrasing here, but he homeless guy says "why are you painting me, I’m just a homeless person," and Rembrandt responds "no you are dressed as King Solomon and it means this and this to me, "the vanity of vanities all is just vanities" and so on, and by the end of it, the homeless guy is crying, Tobias, posing with a lute nearby is also moved, and Rembrandt has a tear in his eye. I realized in watching this, that Rembrandt was like a method actor, that he chose allegorical scenes that meant something to him, and while he was negotiating the abstract notions of positive and negative space, form, light, and color, he was thinking about his thoughts of what it meant to him, and somehow in doing so, the real feelings of his real life came spilling into the picture, giving it life. When looking at Rembrandt, who the people may be isn’t as important as the emotions, and I feel that in a Post Post Modern scenario, you can make work that is about something, that its allegorical content can relate to the world, but also, what is so important is that the third meanings, the emotions, the things you can’t put into words can also be described. If oil painting was invented at first in part because it could make tangible and "real" objects and people within the plastic space of the picture plane, couldn’t this also happen with dreams and emotions and subconsciously derived surrealities?
Like the method actor James Dean, who wanted to be on the Mount Olympus of great artists along with Michelangelo and Picasso, I hope to make important art that matters, to be a water bearer too for the gods on Mount Olympus, and it’s a long Sisyphean battle of pushing the boulder up the mountain to do so, but hopefully one day the eagle will born me aloft to greater heights! This was a painting originally in a show called "Kings and Queens" but here hopefully not just represents Zeus, Rembrandt, and art history, but also the idea that hopes and aspirations are the things that keep us going, and also what helped to forge the great country that we can all hope to achieve our "American Dream."