This is a picture of Marvin Gaye, an appropriation from the cover of his famous "What’s Going On" record that changed Motown records and made music history as being one of the most politically charged soul albums of all time. The smoky, spiritual sounds of it send me and I was obsessively listening to it while painting the "Archer Prewitt (Montgomery Clift)" painting that was also featured in the show this originated in “Rebel Angels at the End of the World” at QED Gallery in Los Angeles in 2005, and felt compelled to render the cover of Gaye’s masterpiece immediately. This album seemed more relevant than ever in those dour times as we were getting more involved in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and Gaye’s cynical, yet somehow ultimately hopeful view of humanity seems as necessary as ever. He is a transcendent figure, in a way a saint and a true rebel, one of our great artists, murdered by his own father. It is my hope to be able to make work, that like Gaye’s is able to address the culture outside of the work itself, to make work that is political and conscious of it’s place in contemporary times and also cultural history, but also to have the same work be beautifully formal, and ultimately transcendent beyond immediate context and times and meaning. Gaye began his amazing career as a Motown soul stylist, helping to forge the sound of that great studio, but as the politics of the time and the singer/songwriter movement grew to create songs of deeper meanings, Gaye fought for the right to make this and subsequent works of great meaning, and while Berry Gordy resisted this creative control, ultimately everyone realized the power of the work and it became one of the touchstone albums of all time. It’s always important to make work that is “about something”, but also, in a post Post Modern way, to make work that can also be instinctive, melodic, and ultimately sublime in transcendence beyond language. While painting this, I listened to Gaye obsessively, and tried to capture the spirit of all this while painting the cover of the album, like I used to listen to records as a kid while gazing at the cover, bringing me to another place within the music.
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Portrait of Juan Pareja, by Diego Velasquez, 1650, Metropolitan Museum.
One of my favorite portraits at the Met, and one of my favorite in the world, is this picture at the Met of Juan Pareja. In fact, the day I found out I was in the Whitney Biennial, I was on the steps of the Met when I received the email, after taking my SVA comics kids on the “kinda like comics” tour of the Met. where we look at narrative works and also seek out the people of color and respectful pictures of women throughout the museum, to give these students (many of whom aren’t regular museum goers) as sense of the history of narrative in art, and also to demystify and give access to art history, which can seem remote to them, for political reasons of class, race, and gender. I don’t want to make the same mistakes of art history, and want to people my exhibitions of all kinds of communities and histories that make up our world. The “Sister Wendy” story of this work was that Velasquez was already famous in Spain, but when he wanted commissions while visiting Italy, he had his assistant Juan Pareja hold this painting up and slowly lower it, to show how well he painted and how he was able to capture the proud dignity of the man who carried the work, who was himself an artist, who Velasquez freed from slavery, and whose work he encouraged to leave around the studio to introduce it to patrons and royalty, establishing Area as a renown artist in his own right and lifetime. I hope to bring proud agency to the people in my painted portraits, especially those like Gaye, who changed culture with his amazing work.