Every artwork should have a certain “hand” that reaches out for the audience, but the physical experience is completely beyond what you can explain on the phone. You can almost explain Donald Judd or Bruce Nauman over the phone. But when you see the pieces, they work on you in a different way. I want there to be normal things in my paintings that everybody can pick up, but when you stand in front of them you get insecure about what you’re watching. It’s like getting the viewer to the dance floor with a very cheesy pop song. If you ask people, they won’t admit that they like the song, but when they hear it, they move. Or like when you put french fries on the table. People will say, “No, I don’t like french fries.” But then everybody’s picking at the french fries. That’s how the painting should work. –Tal R
What’s a love song look like as a painting?
“But I always think the best way to know God is to love many things.” (V.VanGogh)
Another opening or a tear. (An opening is designed to gape, while a tear is a minor tragedy.) The life that we longed for sags with the weight of its own losses. It’s a sling of paper, wet until it gives. And here we are, after all, breathers on this side of death, with meaty arms and quiet shoulders where the wind blows in the evening and street lights make oases between gravelly dirt. The street lights make the night more alien, but you take my hand in yours. And the cars growl by, and the planes blink silently far above, just like rhythmic planets, just like punctuated shooting stars. You are my beau, you know, and there will never be another. The traveller that sides with me. Under our feet is grass and under the grass is dirt, where worms and untold hordes of insects march their dignified lives on. A slug is a friend and he is part of me and is my other. When he mates, his sliminess flanges out into a wide petalled flower. He is as beautiful as any one of us and more because of his direct actions. He trails the sea with him. His skin is the carrying of the sea. Let me carry the sea with me– the salty water of my blood is enough. Come swim in me as I swim in you. The ocean is the most foreign thing I know and everything that holds me.
I was a painter in the Midwest in the early 2000s. I listened to gritty music in gritty venues, and made work that was a study in browns, rubbed and stained and scratched back. Looking at the wide expanses of empty farm fields during the long winters, observed, as they were, by a high gray sky, and bordered by thin leafless tree-lines, I painted big dirty landscapes with seeds under the surface. I painted ripples and riffles in the sky– diagrams and flocks of harmonizing birds. Among other things. But at that moment, right after graduate school, color was a secondary concern. Zack and I were married, then, without children, and we took a vacation trip to San Francisco. There, I was totally romanced– swept off my feet– by the brash use of color. I saw lots of things, but especially memorable was a show by Chris Johanson:
From that trip on, I have not left color behind. I’m rereading Kandinsky’s “Concerning the Spiritual in Art,” in which he declares,
“Color directly influences the soul. Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another purposively, to cause vibrations in the soul.”
Kandinsky’s view of color and especially synesthesia are idiosyncratic, but I completely relate to that sensitivity. Color has such a pull on me that it is almost ecstatic sometimes, almost nauseating other times. Color is, to put it dramatically, one of my favorite things on earth. But those two paintings above… those were, if you can believe this, a big leap. I’m in the Northwest, after all, not the relatively-speaking sunny coast cities of California, where houses are painted pink or teal on every block. For the last few years, I’ve been inviting color into my paintings in discreet geometries stretched over neutral washes, conjoining vivid hues to staid gray graphite, keeping color in its place. So. These strong handed greens and pinks were a departure for me, and a really satisfying one.
I was scrolling back through last year’s posts and realize that the holidays and whatever-else bowled me right through the year-change and the last solo show without a reflection here on my blog. As I find myself elbow deep in a new set of pieces, it’s helpful to look back and see what happened in “The Ether and the Mantle,” which was shown at G.Gibson Gallery last Fall. I’m going to devote some time to looking at some of the work that has what I think of as the loose threads that I’d like to pick up and continue weaving.
This piece had its first incarnation as part of an installed set of drawings at Vignettes; the show was a visual response to the poetry of Heather Christle. I chose Aqualung:
what I like likes me back I like the sky and
information I walk around everything bounces
off the world and sticks to me and it is called a
system the red light on my chest is a symptom
of I am about to be shot or else I am going to
be mentioned in a short presentation on love
and deep misgivings like how today I was
exploring the pink coral reef my body slipped
out and stood beside me we could not see each
other and assembled our two visions into one
the world was different because it looked
different and it still likes us but we don’t like it
I especially loved the body double aspect of this poem, and its wry humor (an element in a lot of Heather Christle’s poetry). For years, I have been thinking about reflections, echoes and mirrors. So much of the symmetry of the world is a bounce-back, an endless recording with variations. Having been at the chemical level lately as I learn about biochemical actions and reactions, it has become apparent that the act of mirroring and recording is ridiculously central to life, especially at that scale. But then the small adjustments and accidents and body doubles of the chemical world are the shifts that cause the astounding variety we see in the natural world. Practicing this process as I draw and paint– echoing but allowing variations to spin out, is a satisfying meditation. It makes sense to me in a very visceral way that my intuitive attraction to geometries that spin inside and out of looser forms is a formal portrait of the mathematical connections of atomic charge. (And, again, in my studio it is not an accurate or pragmatic illustration of these forces, but a lyrical response to them). There are webs of geometric electrical arrangements that hold our bodies and matter itself together. Mind blowing.