They say seek forgiveness, not permission, if you’re bold. I make bold here to respond publicly to a fellow blogger with whom I am enjoying a rewarding exchange of views — one of several bloggers who kindly respond to me with discriminating and sensitive comments, and I thank you all. He’s an artist and writer, and here I talk to him pell-mell (I hope to cite his blog soon, but I’m uncertain of the protocols for that at present, and would like to consult him first):
I’ve read all your latest comments and they’re echoing for me as I write this. Your remarks just keep on ringing bells. It’s so stimulating to talk about art with you. When I say something like “don’t-give-a-shit” painting, after feeling clever for a moment I regress to “uh-oh, that sounds cocky and glib.” I’ve said before that I’m a passive-aggressive expressionist. I’m torn between bold sallies and remorseful retrenchings — whatever that means. In fencing you thrust and you parry. And I think you “lunge.” What’s it called when you back up like hell? “Retreat” sounds a little wussy! Yes I’m a wuss.
I admire painting that’s… daring. Your work is daring. It springs from elsewhere, the haunted imagination lassoed with fiery technique. I’ve always wanted to live “elsewhere.” One of the many Waterloos in my life is that I will die in Texas, whence I came. I “fondly” call it a buttcrack state, along with its southern sisters whose glutes sandwich the Mississippi. I would like to have expired at a remote time in the future near Colby College, for example. Or Bard. Or Salamanca or Soria in Castilla la Vieja. As it stands, I’ll just tell my son to scatter my ashes somewhere in the yard where they don’t blow back into the house.
Your remark on “trained” eye is insightful. “Seasoned” eye would have been good. I’ve internalized the shibboleth that says true artists earn the right to paint unconventionally (daringly) by having traversed the rungs of rigorous academic training first. Like all received wisdom I’m sure it’s rife with exceptions (is Basquiat one?), but you show the marks of having mastered much craft. As you say, you’ve gained your eye with much looking. And your ear for music with much listening! — another thing I admire.
I spent most of a summer in Paris once and hung out at the Louvre. One day I was staring at a painting — I wish I could remember the picture precisely. Its title was something like “Tâche violet” (or “violette”? — I’m not sure of the gender). A lady came up beside me, looked for a moment, then turned and said in French, “What is it?” I answered, “Madame, it’s a ‘Purple Splotch,’ ” simply quoting the label. I thought I was so smart and hip. “What you see is what you see.” (I know “violet” is a closer match, but I like “purple” for the story!)
To give you an example, I have a book of Milton Avery’s work, and I like his work. It has something of the feel I noticed in Henry Taylor, sort of a willed coarseness (?) — a terrible word, I’m really going out on a limb which will probably break off as soon as you blow on it, but it feels good to ramble. In much of my writing I edit my stuff until it’s terse and clenched to a fault. But do you recall the literally *white* face on the horseback guy in Taylor’s painting? It’s stark and startling. Some of his portraits look like he has literally shit pigment on the canvas. The eyes have no nuance whatsoever. Yet those paintings grab me. I didn’t post a couple of his pictures that are truly wrenching. I’m loath to court controversy on my shingle, and we’re all full up with arguments anyway.
Painting like Taylor’s and Avery’s gives me a feeling not so much of “I could have done that” but rather “I should have done that.” How dare they thwart my expectations so seductively! As a hobbyist I labor to model plausible representations in the oils my dad left behind. I’m OK with that, I didn’t make the sacrifices necessary to be an artist, but as a viewer I’ve been a fan of painters like Kandinsky and Mondrian. Degas was my early idol. I have half-sleeping in my brain a moonscape by Albert Ryder. Was it “Albert”? I haven’t thought of him in years. I liked the so-called Ashcan painters. The gritty urban scene was exotic to a country boy longing for escape. Eliot wrote of the poet’s duty to find beauty in the not-beautiful — I paraphrase him drastically and from memory. It reminds me of a phrase by a friend who is a “Texas poet.” He speaks of the “bluebonnet plague” that swamps our Sunday landscape painters. Ouch, I think I’m one of the pack, though my landscapes usually try to be faces. And I paint during the week. At least not sunsets though. Yet! (But they *are* so pretty.)
Copyright (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.