During the Charlottesville events of the Alt Right and the Neo Nazi’s, I made this work for lack of any alternate means of rightly expressing myself—the idea of making figurative work that could be allegorical or even a representation of the events seemed shrill to me, or not enough, and I went back into my Iconscapes, where I’m trying to cull the figures and forms from my unconscious, automatically painting and deciding what colors and what moves to make based on my instincts. I’ve been making these works since college, loving Pollock, the AbEx artists, and being a son of a psychoanalyst I have a belief and our dreams and the unconscious having power in and transcendent of our lives. Painted on wood, which for me always brings about in itself human, or life agency, as wood of course comes from trees that of course were alive. Also, much of painting predating the Renaissance is on panel, many of those Western works were religious icons, like painting a face on the shroud of Turin, making sacred images on elements of nature makes sense to me, like painting closer to God.
The egregious nature of the events of Charlottesville is frightening, all those who had their hoods on and hid in the corners of society came out, the bathetic banality of their Abercrombie and Fitch khakis and Bed Bath and Beyond Tiki Torches chanting Nazi slogans made the mendacity of evil all the more menacing—the guy with lawnmower in his garage down the street from you could stand for everything you hate, and could hate you if you were a Jew, a POC, people from the LGBTQ community, or a woman. As disgusting and horrific the weekend was, there was something to be gleamed from the pushback, those rising against the Nazis, those who began pulling down and discriminating against the lynching posts disguised as monuments, and the peaceful–and truly spiritual–rising of good over evil. As I was painting this, the culminating event happened in the murder of Heather D. Heyer, as the Dodge charged through a crowd of people and pulled back.
Art is necessarily therapy, but I think all artists, at least the good ones, are working through something—if not emotional, intellectual, conceptual, or otherwise—while they are making work. Especially when you are rendering—painting or drawing—this can be a form of analytical meditation, where the image you are creating is a talisman for how you are thinking and feeling, helping to focus your meditation, with each stroke of your pen or brush-like a Harry Potter pensieve—drawing out thoughts and putting them down on your surface, so you can understand, estimate, and move forward. Sometimes the finishing the painting for me is like the end of a long dream, and like, if a dream is about in part working out issues of your waking life in your subconscious to come to epiphanies, I can finish with a feeling of resolution both in the painting and for what the ideas were that were conjured and focused upon while painting. Sometimes, after coming out of a right-brain like scenario while working, you realize that while rendering, you mind and body were working instinctively, and the work that has been created seems almost foreign to you, but satisfying. Your instinct is smart, it just works faster than you consciousness can allow, and (like when you are dancing the worst thing you can do is look at your feet rather than move to the music) when painting, all the history of painting and your practice comes into focus while rendering–the good news is that you have hopefully the facility, the memory, the ideas that support being able to (like when a method actor is having a pure moment or when skiing on a great day) “let go” and have your instinctive hand brush and movement drive the machinations of painting production.
On bad days, like those of Charlottesville, where life isn’t a dream but a nightmare, the very conscious production of a painting like this offers some reprieve, but also hopefully the transmutation of the horror into something else. I love Dante and his Divine Comedy, the best book of which for me is his Paradiso, with the ecstatic writings about the angels, the seraphim, and the light of what the heavens might look like if there is a god. I would like to think, if it exists on some plane, that Heather D. Heyer would be in heaven if there is one–and if there are angels, that they would be praying for us and all those who rise against evil, having empathy and compassion for all and we all together moving the world to a better place.