Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In


Art Vent Letting the Fresh Air In

September 28, 2007
The painting is slowly, painfully, improving, but it’s still GREEN—even though I’ve spent all day adding lots of other colors to it. That’s because green swallows every color that touches it. Painters, take a look at your once-white bristle brushes. Have you ever noticed that they’re all GREEN? If they aren’t, it’s only because you were smart enough never to use green in the first place.
September 27, 2007
I got up this morning and the painting didn’t look so bad, although it was still green.

A friend, a personal trainer by profession, wanted to know what it meant to have a “bad studio day” and I found it hard to explain, which got me wondering if there’s any other field where you can so often feel as if you’ve never done this thing before. I asked Scott, who's both an artist and chef, if he’s ever experienced it in the kitchen, and he said, “No.” Do trial lawyers ever suddenly feel as if they’ve never been in a courtroom? I doubt it. Roberto describes it as one of those moments when he begins to wonder, “How did I get this job, anyway?”

So there you are and you know nothing. And even though other artists are aware of how profoundly depressing it is, they’ll gleefully tell you—and you’ll tell everyone else as long as you’re not going through it—that it’s an exciting place to be and means your art isn’t stagnant, but growing and developing. Thanks a bunch.

So Richard came over and declared the painting “a good beginning” and pointed out where it “needs work”—i.e. most of it—although, of course, he couldn’t be specific as to what that work would look like. He described painting as “an accumulation of accidents,” and suggested that whether they turn out to be happy ones or not is sometimes just a matter of luck. I still think it's all about degree of interest, of how invested I am in seeing the final image, but now that it's become a challenge, I'm getting more interested.
September 26, 2007
This latest painting is just bad, a mishmash. I was on such a roll, now sent to the depths. I think it’s because I started it before the last one was finished. There was just picky stuff to do, with lots of drying time in-between, so I thought, start another one, why not? Except that for me, good paintings come from wanting to see something realized so badly that I’ll do whatever it takes. To start one too soon is like starting a new love affair before the old one is finished.

Richard, who I went to see to console myself, said—without having seen it—that the problem with this painting is that it’s green. He’s right. How often do you see a good green painting?
August 12, 2007
A month or so ago I was painting in the manner of Gerhard Richter. Now I find myself laboriously drawing a Frank Stella as the basis for a painting. I’m surprised at this recent tendency of mine, because I’ve always loathed art about art, thinking it was way too art world-y self-referential in the most pretentious way (as if being art world-y self-referential could be anything but pretentious). Besides, if you’re an artist and your work is better than the artist you’re referencing you’re dragging yourself down, and if that artist’s work is better than yours (think David Salle aping Chardin) the result will be an unfavorable comparison. Also I’m always ranting about wanting to see original—as in “not borrowed”—imagery in art. Nevertheless, I’m having fun—I think of it as collaborating with Frank—although I’m sure it’s taking me much longer to do this drawing than it did for Stella to make the sculpture. And I suppose if Stella can base a part of his oeuvre on a dog toy (see Does Frank Stella have a dog? May), I can base a painting on a Stella that’s based on a dog toy. We’re getting very derivative here.
July 29, 2007
At dinner the other night, two very accomplished painters who work with acrylic paint were discussing my use of oil as if it were some weird, cultish activity (which is pretty much how I feel about watercolor).

The properties of oil paint are both overrated and underrated. Overrated by the well-meaning people you meet at parties who, wanting to make small talk and having just learned that you're an artist, ask if you use "oils" before wanting to know if you do landscapes, portraits, or “abstracts” – to which I could answer “yes” to all.

It's indeed challenging to work in a medium where every color has its own texture, opacity, sheen, and drying time (all of which differ from brand to brand, and the drying time from day to day)—but equally challenging to achieve nuance in acrylic, which dries in a flash and where the colors are uniform.

The problem is not with either medium, but with trying to make oils do what acrylics do (thereby creating mud), or trying to make acrylics do what oil does so much better (which results in a dead flatness).

I’ve always used oil paint but now, newly engaged in the process of rendering recognizable images, I’m fascinated with how much it allows me to get away with (a lot, sometimes) and how little I can get away with (not much, sometimes). It’s like some wildly inconsistent parent—one day I can do no wrong and the next day, nothing right.

Today it slapped my hand and told me to go write on my blog.
June 14, 2007
I found myself avoiding the studio for a couple of days and then realized it was because I didn’t know how I was going to paint this next thing. I forgot that, until I do it, I never know how I’m going to paint anything.
May 24, 2007
I’ve developed a new painting format within which I can try on different kinds of figurative painting. It's a challenge (and possibly stupid) because I’ve been an abstract painter all my life, but engrossing because I’m learning stuff. Or rather figuring it out as I go. Anyway, this week I’m Gerhard Richter. Or I’m trying to be Gerhard Richter. Funny how you get a picture in your mind of what something you’re making will look like, and when it’s done—even though you’re trying to be Gerhard Richter—it looks so disappointingly yours. This may be the idiosyncratic stamp that (hopefully) makes our work compelling to other people, but for the person who lives inside us it’s, “Oh shit, me again.”