Friday, March 25, 2011

New Direction

The first picture is by Max Ernst.

The second picture is by William de Kooning.

I think both pictures are fabulous.

Just put a wet oil painting to bed. It has to dry completely before I can work on it any more. Since I used white oil paint in thick quantities, this means probably two weeks. The white won't remain, I have plans to paint over it all using transparent paints. I have a high shelf that the cats can't leap upon, I put the painting there. In this household there is always the problem of an animal knocking something over or treading through it with their wonderful paws.

I'm using my brush in new and unusual ways and find myself lifting paint up with turpenoid and/or tissue, its a process of putting paint down and then taking it up again with just a faint residue remaining. There is a pull and push, you paint, you lift, you paint again, and then you wait for everything to dry so that you load more glazes of color on top of everything that you've done. As the painting stands now, only about 15% of the surface will remain untouched and be on view in the final product, a full 85% will get one or more layers of paint put over it. All I've got is a foundation. Much alteration in it's look will progress, that's why I don't bother taking a picture of it and publishing it here and now. You can't imagine the direction I mean to go. I will take a picture once its dry, before I work on it again, so that when its finished I can put on my blog a "before and after" sort of comparison.

I'm looking to put some mystery into my "croc monster" painting. I can't make myself alter the main figure much, I'm afraid to distort too much, but the background seems to be open season. I've done this before, painting an abstract painting behind the tightly wound depiction of a humanoid figure, and on one panel it worked and my father immediately bought it for $200 (the only time he's ever bought anything, he said he just had to have it) and on the other panel it was a disaster. So dabbling with the application of paint in an abstract way while you are trying to maintain a recognizable reality is not for the faint of heart. You can ruin a picture with over zealous creativity and invention - really I must remain clear eyed toward the final product and steadfast even as I am putting down strokes that have no meaning other than adding energy, direction, and mystery. This painting is rather small, and I want to try to get as much color and variety into it as possible, painting all over, the goal is to have in every corner something new and different. The last time I did this experiment the painting was 5x7, now the painting is 8x10. So I'm getting my courage up by working larger scale. It does take something like courage to go outside your comfort zone and try something that may or may not be a success. But I've got to grow. I see what I'm doing as growth. One can't get any tighter, any more anal, than the last painting I did, "Catfight". Ideally I want some areas of the canvass tight, with tiny invisible brushstrokes, and part of the canvass showing the touch of the brush, right down to the bristle lines. I've bought pallet knives but I don't have the courage yet to use them.

I watched a documentary yesterday about Max Ernst and it put me in a terrible mood. I love his work. But he is so much more creative than me. His drawing and painting skills are far superior. I'm aghast at what a fumbling primitive I am. And because of my illness, my work comes out in a tiny trickle, with Ernst it was a powerful river. There's a lot you can do when you can paint the whole day or night away.

Enough self disparaging remarks. At least I'm being creative most days. I've been skipping church and painting instead. I can't do both. Both activities are in the morning, prime creative time. And church, being social, takes so much out of me.

I've just finished reading a book about William de Kooning. It's called "de Kooning An American Master" by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan and it won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. De Kooning dedicated his life to making art and endured crushing poverty. And just about when he started getting noticed, and making money, he developed a big, bad drinking problem. It seems odd to become an alcoholic late in life. Makes one look for a trigger. Is fame really so bad?

I'll share some of De Kooning's point of view. It is the view point of an abstract painter, a man who has committed himself totally to painting and knows what it is like to mentally be inside of a painting. This made an impression on me.

"........drinking also created moments of strange beauty. In one story from the period, told in several different versions, de Kooning and a group of friends spilled into the street to get some coffee after a night in a bar. A bum approached asking for spare change. Someone gave the bum a quarter, which he then dropped. The quarter rolled slowly onto the avenue and into the oncoming traffic with the bum staggering after it, dodging the cars as they zipped around him. De Kooning, watching said, 'That's my kind of space.'"

I love the element of danger and desperation. Pathos, desire, drunken madness, the story of the bum and his quarter has it all. I want too not to be safe with my artwork. But this is so far from my personality, which is above all controlled and careful.

De Kooning gave a speech, or wrote a paper titled "What Abstract Art Means to Me" and it ended with a parable about abstraction. These are his own words.

"About twenty-four years ago, I knew a man in Hoboken, a German who used to visit us in the Dutch Seaman's Home. As far as he could remember, he was always hungry in Europe. He found a place in Hoboken where bread was sold a few days old - all kinds of bread: French bread, German bread, Italian bread, Dutch bread, Greek bread, American bread and particularly Russian black bread. He bought big stacks of it for very little money, and let it get good and hard and then he crumpled it and spread it on the floor in his flat and walked on it as on a soft carpet. I lost sight of him, but found out many years later that one of the other fellows met him again around 86th street. He had become some kind of a Jugend Bund leader and took boys and girls to Bear Mountain on Sundays He is still alive but quite old and is now a Communist. I could never figure him out, but now when I think of him, all that i can remember is that he had a very abstract look on his face."

Again, this story bumps into the realm of madness. The man from Hoboken is strange, maybe crazy, and de Kooning implies that the expression on his face has a quality that painters are looking for in their abstract paintings. Of course its one thing to be mentally ill, but I can assure you that neither de Kooning nor Max Ernst were mentally ill. Yet their art has sparks of madness in it. Is this what people are searching for when they say, "I want to do something creative in my life. My life is so predictable, house chores, a 9 to 5 job, weekends visiting friends, none of it lifts me up. I'm looking to do something creative to lift me up." I heard a woman recently speak these words. She was thinking about taking a photography or poetry course. Of course rather than madness, she may be searching for beauty, since the photography that she showed me were up close pictures of flowers. Earlier in this essay I spoke about wanting to give my current painting "mystery" - but the mystery of the two paintings that started this essay both are rich with madness. Every trait of madness - unpredictability, unreasonablness, the fantastic, extremes of energy, flight of the imagination, monstrosity, the presence of a forceful ego - all these attributes I see in the master's paintings. And all this I remember from long ago when I was psychotic at the beginning of my illness.

I'm as sane as I've ever been, now, stabilized on medication and having a stable lifestyle and home. And yet, in my art, I'm trying to break through a wall and paint more and more by instinct. And I'm hoping that my instinct has traits of madness in it, because this I know will capture mystery and energy.

Truly crazy schizophrenics I think produce very little. But if you're stabilized on medication you have a chance. Manic bi-polar people are a whole different kettle of fish. I think mania does give a boost to creativity. But psychosis in someone who has schizophrenia?

Psychotic thoughts are too much of a distraction for most artists. Psychotic thoughts feel very creative, but what actually matters is what you manage to get out of your head and put down on paper or canvass. And the process to a quality art product can be long and many stepped.

About the only thing I could do while I was psychotic was to go for very long walks that took me through several towns, while I looked at the spectacular breathtaking trees, because with my psychotic enhanced eyesight I had a crisp view of every leaf and I was able to hear every birdsong, and meanwhile, for psychotic reasons of my own, I was wearing no underwear.

So I walked and walked and walked, never tiring, and my boobs jiggled. That's my memory of madness.

1 comment:

  1. When I saw the Max Ernst painting I said "Yes!!" out loud. I love that painting and I wrote about it for an English class when I went to NYU for a year when I was around 20 years old. It makes so much sense that you should admire Ernst. Fabulous, magical, rich and yet also perverse, slightly threatening. Great artists do strive towards upsetting the status quo and go deeply into the unknown with precision, so I think you are going in a good direction. The De Kooning is harder for me to judge, but there is that wonderful crossover between abstraction and representation and a lot of energy to it.

    I am looking forward to seeing the before and after photographs of your latest painting. I enjoy hearing about your painting process and about what artists are influencing you presently. I admire that you are trying to bring the edge of madness into your work because there is great challenge to that. My portraits have a somewhat saccharine sweetness to them which might be a reaction to wanting to move away from psychosis. When I was very ill I couldn't watch most movies and turned to animated Disney films for comfort. You challenge me and I value that.

    Love, Kate : )


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