Art Vent Letting the Fresh Air In
April 20, 2013
Duane Michals, Rigamarole, 2012, Tintype with hand-applied oil paint, 14 x 10 inches (Fred is the name of his partner of 53 years)
In addition to Gerhard Richter and Leonard Cohen, I can add photographer, poet, and painter Duane Michals, now 81, to the list of artists I want to be like in later life who, rich with years of accumulated experience, are now better at their craft than ever and still growing. Duane, whose exhibition of painted photographs is on view at D.C. Moore Gallerythrough April 27th, was one of my earliest influences. In the early 70s, when I was just beginning to paint, I saw his work in books at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and was struck by their peculiarity, inventiveness, and tender emotion. These were stories told with staged photographs, later underscored with enigmatic handwritten notes, and even later, painted embellishments. (He was also unafraid to depict a sweet, unabashed homosexuality that was ahead of its time.) I was then so careful and self-conscious about everything I did, it impressed me that he was willing to scrawl on his photographs with such an unaffected hand. Along with the paintings of Joan Snyder, which I discovered around the same time, they inspired me, in 1976, to begin incorporating words into my work. After I came to New York we were involved with the same gallery, Sidney Janis, and collaborated on projects for Art & Antiques (then a truly literary magazine, whose editors encouraged me to invent stories around ideas rather than events), for which Duane photographed Nam June Paik, George Segal, Louise Nevelson, and James Rosenquist.
At his interview and book-signing Thursday at the gallery, Duane admitted that his theme is love, and said that he didn't think he'd captured it yet. I don’t think of myself as particularly emotional, but when I stood to mention the early piece I feel perfectly embodies that sentiment, This photograph is my proof (1974), I surprised myself by getting all choked up. I can’t think of another work of art (outside of Cat Stevens’ song, “Wild World,” which just has too many personal associations) that could affect me like that.
Random notes from the evening:
Poetry is the courage to speak out loud.
Creative people never solve their problem; it's like an itch you can't scratch.
When you get older you should be completely silly.
The old fool does something because it's real and true.
I never learned the limits of photography because I didn't go to photography school and had nothing to unlearn.
Poetry is only a suggestion, a hint, a simulacra.
Facts lie more than poets, and poets lie all the time.
On his own poetry: I was forced to write about what you couldn’t see in the photograph.
You always have to be on the edge of failure, teetering on disaster.
When painters get involved in photography, it's like slumming.
Before the Cubists, there were no Cubists.
There was no precedent for Cubism, and it still reverberates.
I don't like art where I have to participate—participation is the last refuge of the scoundrel.
You can't be too rich, too thin, or have too many idiosyncrasies.
Art is all about freeing yourself, and becoming vulnerable.
Your poetry lies in your failure and vulnerability—otherwise you're not a poet.
Schedule? I can only write when I'm moved to write, paint when I’m moved to paint.
I recommend becoming an old person.
"This photograph is my proof. There was that afternoon when things were still good between us, and she embraced me, and we were so happy. It did happen. She did love me. Look see for yourself!" Duane Michals, 1974.
A description of the exhibition from The New Yorker here.
An unattributed profile from the current permutation of Art & Antiques here.
February 26, 2012
James Rosenquist, I Love You with My Ford, 1961. Oil on canvas, 6 feet 10 3/4 inches x 7 feet 9 1/2 inches. Moderna Museet, Stockholm. © James Rosenquist/Licensed by VAGA, New York.
A friend, who had just sold some work, called from Europe the other day to ask me which mind-bogglingly expensive camera she should buy. She’s not a photographer, per se, but a conceptual artist who uses photography, and the question was—digital or analog? You may be wondering why she’d seek advice from me, who knows squat about photography, but she knew that wouldn’t keep me from having an opinion—which, of course, I did. I asked her to describe the qualities of each, and when she was finished, told her unequivocally that she should buy the analog Hasselblad. It was easy. Describing the Hasselblad she was animated, talking about dense blacks and whites, crispness, and Ansel Adams; when it came to digital not only was her voice flat, she even said, “I hate digital images.” But, she told me, everyone else—artists and professional photographers alike—had weighed in on the side of digital, saying that printing would be expensive and difficult with analog, and besides, no one uses it anymore. “So what?” I said, “It’s clear you want the Hasselblad, and you can only make great art if you love your instrument and are excited about what you can do with it.”
Meanwhile another friend, a student at a high-profile art college, reports being pushed toward installation, video, and performance, when all he wants to do is paint.
The problem with gearing everything toward what’s hot, what’s happening NOW, is that it’s NOW—when, hopefully, we’re making the art of the future. And while we can’t predict the future, we do know one thing: it won’t be anything like NOW.
So what do we have to go on? Fortunately, we’ve been created with the perfect internal barometer: our gut. Are we excited? Are we not excited? It will always tell us—unless, of course, we’ve been programmed to let our heads overrule its messages.
I interviewed James Rosenquist many years ago, who told me that when he was coming up it was all about Abstract Expressionism, and he could see that by the time he got good at it, it would be over. So he turned to what he knew best: sign painting. Was anyone else doing sign painting? No. Did he have any idea that anyone would be interested? No. But he was, and that was key.
Well, right now, THE THING is information-based art. Coupled with a sneering disdain for the visual, it’s been THE THING with curators and academicians for many years—at least as pervasive as AbEx was in Rosenquist’s student days. And while I don’t know that the next THING will be painting or analog photography, I don’t know that it won’t be, either.
However I DO know that in the hands of my two friends, painting and analog photography won't look anything like they did back in the day.
Today I got an email from my friend with the subject “No words.” The message:
Got it yesterday as planned!
She also send the link to this, from 2001, which I’d never seen, a French production by Ola Simonsson and Johannes Stjärne Nilsson: