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.
April 15, 2012
At first I wasn’t going to write this post because it seemed too personal. But then I couldn’t justify the difference between reading my poetry to 150 people at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, as I used to, and putting it on the Web. Anyway, this came up because of the week-long kundalini yoga workshop I just finished at Kripalu, along with another 3-day course just a couple of weeks ago. I love kundalini because it works on energetic alignment as well as physical; when I do it, I feel as if I’m straightening out my brain.
In the workshop our teacher showed the TED video by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, describing her stroke and the experience of coming close to death (note: it’s inspiring, not depressing, otherwise I wouldn’t share it; I’m not into depressing). I had a similar experience—without the stroke part—and hearing it so aptly described and close to my own, was startling. I’d also never heard right and left brain function defined precisely this way: that the right brain thinks in pictures and is about the collective, while the left brain is linear, wants to name things, and is concerned with establishing an individual sense of self. I used to owe it to my lack of formal higher education—and that could be part of it—but now I also understand that from going to the other side and coming back, where everything is new again, I developed the peculiar ability (which both helps and hinders me) to stand outside a thing or situation and see it without the names or the layers of meaning society has given it. I can still often look at humans and view them as an alien might coming across them for the first time—and believe me, compared to other animals (I think it’s the lack of body hair with the thatch on top), they ‘re completely weird and funky-looking.
I also realize now why I’m so ardent about letting art speak for itself, about allowing for the possibility of emotional response rather than always having to define it or give information that makes it seem rational. This is why I rail against the museum wall texts and idiotic artist’s statements that become the lenses through which art is viewed. Art, like music, is a language without words, and the way it invokes sensation is mysterious and inscrutable. I’ve chosen to be an abstract artist because it’s an investigation into making something that’s essentially unknowable, where the possibilities of interpretation are boundless.
But then I’m also a writer, which gives the lie to it all, as I go about creating defined situations in order to promote undefined ones. Life is a paradox.
WRITE ABOUT WHAT YOU KNOW
They say write about what you know
Well I know
I have felt death’s
creeping up my legs
toward my heart
I have seen faces
hovering over me
as I am pumped full
I have felt my body
into a pillar of
Don’t scream, the doctor said
I have wished for death and prayed for life
to a god I didn’t believe in
If I lived
I have known an aloneness beyond description
into unpeopled blackness
And I have wakened
to the cruel bright whiteness
of a recovery room
too loud, too alive
the clatter of metal against metal
My husband, noting I am conscious
fills me in on current events
He and Willy had been talking about it
In the car on the way to the hospital
and now he is giving me
And I’m feeling guilty
because I’m alive
and I don’t believe
After two weeks I go home
everything is strange
I feel like an immigrant
who happens to speak the language
but doesn’t know the customs
and no one I meet
has been where I’m from
So now I know about death
but I’m no longer afraid
I believe in a god
And I’m not married anymore.
Copyright © 1994, Carol Diehl
Copyright © 1994, Carol Diehl
March 2, 2012
In the interest of raising the bar on artists statements, I've decided to post all I come across that fulfill my basic parameters, which you will remember are:
An artist’s statement should be fun to read, and shed no light whatsoever on the intention, content, or experience of the work.
Therefore this from Barbara Barg, who I know from the poetry world:
Barg was the first being born out of formless chaos. For billions of years, Barg grew in a cosmic egg, working ceaselessly to create order by separating her clear yang from her turbid yin. The clear became the egg white, the turbid the yolk. After incubating for billions of years, Barg hatched from the egg and laid down to rest. Her breath became the wind, her voice the thunder. Her left eye became the sun, her right eye the moon. Her limbs and trunk became the mountain ranges. Her blood became the rivers, her flesh the fertile soil. Her hair became the stars and the Milky Way, her fur the trees and forests. Her teeth and bones became metals and minerals. The marrow of her bones became jade and pearls. Her sweat became the rain and the dew. And when the wind blew, the fleas on her fur became fish and animals. Then, feeling well-rested, she got up and wrote some poems.
So now that we’ve gotten artist’s statements out of the way, let me vent a bit on another prose genre—the interview—which I’ve always considered a low form of journalism. Andy Warhol made interviews famous, but he loved vacuity, and that’s fine when one celeb is asking questions of another and no one is pretending to be a writer or even serious. In art magazines, however, interviews often come across as a legitimized excuse for the writer to get out of actually writing something, or even doing their homework (“Where did you grow up?”), with little more insight than we’d get from a press release. I remember starting to read one interview with an artist whose work I was not familiar with, where the first question was, “How does it feel to be back in New York?” Needless to say, I turned the page.
August 3, 2011