Paint What You Fear

Vija Celmins, “Gun with Hand #1” (1964), oil on canvas. Credit… via Museum of Modern Art. Gift of Edward R. Broida in honor of John Elderfield.

When my dad died in 2013, his shed (now mine) was full of guns. I inherited his art supplies, so I took up painting again after a long hiatus. My subjects came to be things I was afraid of. The shed started filling up with paintings that had guns in them. Also, men wearing cowboy hats, a source of dread since childhood. In 2016, paintings of Trump joined the flow. I think the exorcistic daubing helped; I’m purged of those subjects now, if not of the fear.

I was intrigued to discover that Vija Celmins also painted guns. One of them appeared in an October exhibition of the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles commemorating Joan Didion, dead at 87 in 2021. Hilton Als, a longtime friend of Didion’s, was co-curator of the show.

Als used a Vija Celmins painting depicting a disembodied hand firing off a gun into a vast expanse — “Gun With Hand #1” from 1964 — in a part of the exhibition that covers the ecstatic review in The New York Times of “The Executioner’s Song,” the book by Norman Mailer about the execution of Gary Gilmore. “She talks about the weird, inarticulate nature of the West and the sky,” Als said of the review. “And I immediately thought of Vija Celmins. And then when I was going through Vija’s work there was a gun — someone shooting a gun in the kind of space Didion was describing.”

(Adam Nagourney, “Joan Didion and the Western Spirit,” New York Times, 10-6-22)

(c) 2022 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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