A few days ago I was cranky and didn’t know why. Then, during an impromptu Skype studio visit with Terry in England, he observed that the structure in my paintings is fading into the background and the gesture is becoming dominant. How scary is that? Very scary, it turns out. I realize that I always trusted the structure to carry the “meaning” in my intentionally “meaningless” work (are you still with me?) and the gesture was the lively little cheerleading team that gave it edge and life. Thirty years pass this way—happily, I might add—until I wake up to find that the gesture is parading about as the main character and, to make it worse, I’m all too aware that “gesture” is simply a euphemism for “scribbles.” Now I happen to love my scribbles; I think they’re some of the best scribbles out there. But they’re scribbles. Is it possible that anyone else could love them as much as I do?
About the same time I run into Molly Howitt in the parking lot at the Co-op. Molly was a ceramics student when I was teaching painting at Bennington, and I made it a point to collect as much of her output as possible—paying her for some, but not being above poking around in the reject pile outside the studio for others. I remember once fighting with another faculty member over who was going to buy the bowl we were supposed to be critiquing—I won, and still love it. Molly has been doing a million other things since, all worthy, but no ceramics. When I bring this up for the 100th time (I can be annoying), Molly says, “I loved the process, it’s just that I wasn’t doing anything special.”
And true; her work was very simple. However it had an elegance that distinguished it from all other handmade pots, most of which look, to me (apologies, ceramicists out there!) excruciatingly alike. Molly brightened when I told her this; maybe she’ll actually do it.
Then I went home to my scribbles, appreciating for the first time, how much courage it must have taken to be Cy Twombly.
Carol Diehl, Althaea, 2012, ink & pencil on panel, 12" x 14"