Counterfeit Commonality

1. Wonder and Awe

2. Doubt

3. Forsakenness; retreat to self.

Karl Jaspers talked at me about this.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Past is still the Past

The past seven months have forced me to process a lot of major changes in my life. For a short time I was able to afford my own apartment in which I was also able to keep a studio space. However, the work always felt a little stunted, and ultimately I had to relinquish this space due to financial duress.

Shifts such as these often come into my life seemingly of their own will, and they are almost always for the better. Conscious choices don't seem to be my strong suit. But, hell, I've always wrestled with the issue of a deterministic universe anyway.

I've relocated my studio into a beautiful space in the ||Brew House| on the south side of Pittsburgh. I was also here last winter and spring. At that time it proved to be the most significant factor in making a leap to the next level in terms of my output and craftsmanship. I'm hoping to move above and beyond this new personal standard once again.

My new living situation also finds me in a better place. I was simply wrong about thinking I wanted to live alone, and having loved ones nearby is a welcome change.

Currently I am laying the foundation for a body of work, part of which will be on display in ||Modern Formations Gallery| this spring along with fellow Pittsburgh artists ||Jamie Adams| and ||Rob Katkowski|.

I've had good news. ||New American Paintings| has decided to include me in issue #81 due for publication in April. Some of my friends roll their eyes when I tell them, but not from simple snobbery. They just know I've talked a lot of shit on many of those included in the past. Was it jealousy? A bit of snobbery on my part? Probably at least a little of both, but recognition feels good.
New Year's Eve was timed perfectly this time around. Rewarding myself with alcohol and antics is not unusual. Everyone else partying just made the atmosphere that much more celebratory. Is it so wrong to occasionally pretend it's for me and my small success? Why waste time considering such things when there is bourbon to drink?
But this year tequilla was my dark angel. A flask full got me through a brief gallery crawl with Rob and Jen. Two dogfishheads later I realized it was 11:45 and I got it in my head that I needed to be at Remedy a mile away by midnight.
I had one fall while sober already, and now I'm running down the hill from Penn Ave to Butler in cowboy boots on ice. Drunk. Losing my front teeth on a fire hydrant might make me more successful later when I have to use creative methods to make rent, but I'd rather put that off for as long as possible.
How I didn't fall I don't know. The sheer volume of boot on pavement is astounding. It must have sounded like a cross dresser in plus size heals was late for something. Easter has the rabbit, Xmas has Santa. New Year's should have the fashionably late man-gina in a miniskirt.
It was a great time, and a much needed one at that. I don't know the last time I was up until four in the morning OR able to function so well after being thoroughly saturated with tequila and beer. I bit it big time in a brick alley on the way home. If Drunken Master taught me anything it's that taking a fall or a punch when you're shitfaced is easy. Even funny. Unfortunately my coccyx smashed my phone. But that's still a lot better than wearing a cement diaper for six months.
My strange silence about my work seems to be ending abruptly. I talked briefly with a friend about it. The studio feels like home again, a perfect combination of visceral intellectual pursuit and sex. Painting never abuses me, never leaves me, never fails me. The opposite is nearly always true.

I become a bitch when I don't so something visually stimulating for any period of time. My business sense is deplorably underdeveloped. This makes gathering the required information for New American Paintings somewhat frustrating and laborious. It's not unknown to see me squander opportunities or just plain fuck up.
An embarrassing admission: I have been somewhat religiously reading my horoscope in Pittsburgh's City Paper for some months now. All of that nonsense, it never interested me in the least in the past, but now it can feel like encouraging advice. When it comes to such a tempestuous ego I feed on whatever source can offer me sustenance no matter how seemingly juvenile or shallow.
The studio has been vacant for days. I've had to divide my time between house/dog sitting for a friend and my day job. I wash dishes. My hands remind me of my accelerating carpal tunnel syndrome on a daily basis now. I see that photo of Renoir in a wheelchair with crumpled, claw-like hands. I tell myself it won't be all bad so long as I'm making work. The future holds fortunes close to its chest and advertises all the hardship we'll someday endure.
Reviewing my resume has left me feeling somewhat inadequate. No solo shows. What the hell is "professional experience" anyway? I pace around a cluttered and toxic space staring maliciously at a piece of cloth with pigment smeared on it for hours on end, day after day, bristling and grimmacing at my own doubt, discovering small moments of revelation. Viola: Professional Experience.
There is constant vacillation between a staunch belief in what I'm doing and a crushing self-loathing that I've somehow missed the boat. The former occurs when I'm painting, the latter when I'm washing dishes. The indications seem pretty obvious, but it never seems to get any easier to understand.

I haven't been ill in years. Literally years. I've had strange 24 hour bouts and perhaps food poisoning. Now, I'm a little under the weather. A dense piece of phlegm just nonchalantly fell out of my open mouth at the bus stop this morning. It looked as though I had just shed a horrid yellow tooth. I think the man standing next to me gagged.
Hot totties and soup. "Old medicine" is what my old man calls it. I think my mother thinks of it as northern aggression. Southern girls just can't let it go.

I watched the episode of Art 21 featuring Barry McGee and another street artist. I don't know what to make of the ephemeral aspect of so much contemporary work. I think he was arguing that exposing every day people to visually sophisticated work on the street makes the work live in their daily lives and in their memories. Some of that seems viable, but adding to the visual muddle of an urban epicenter or urban decay seems like an act of bitter retreat. It seems like a message posted on a bumper for lack of conviction.
Some of it has something. Some of it seems like an organ thriving in the visual structure of the city and in the pulse of it's people. But very little I've seen. I concede also that I live in a city without much in the way of flourishing street art.

Still sick. Already bedridden for two days. Now a third.

Andrew Wyeth passed away yesterday morning. I don't think yesterday could have been more depressing.
Mr. Wyeth was and continues to be one of the reasons I feel as passionately as I do about making paintings. For those of you familiar with his work I admit it seems a strange and distant connection. If anything I hope to emulate the tone of his pieces in my own way.
At any rate, it's an occasion for pause. He is someone I've long admired. The world feels more empty.
This past year I've lost three instructors; two I knew and talked with, and, in regard to Mr. Wyeth, one with whom I always felt kith and kin. He pulled that quiet and anxious melancholy from the Pennsylvania and Maine landscape and put it in all of his paintings. His figures as well. I suspect that a lot of young artists don't even know what they've lost
The Helga collection alone is a solid testament to the staggering discipline and focus of a poet. His work reminds me that it is death that pets my hair and lulls me to sleep as much as life and light make me laugh from the gut. That, maddeningly, there is always some nagging and illusive nature to the world.

Paint is moving again. Life still needs to be arranaged around the studio though.
Started looking at George Condo after finding a discounted book on his "Imaginary Portraits" at a store in the strip. I've been aware of his work, but only to a surface-oriented extent. It's exciting. Is it just exciting to see someone painting who makes no apologies about being an extension from the Modernist era? I don't know. Dana Schutz is gets a lot of attention, but George Condo's work (even in the 80's) has more depth and complexity. And it's more efficient. And he's fucking weird. He never paints things the same way even if it's composed the same way. His curiousity about paint is like Picasso's; new and refreshing techniques are employed to keep it vital. What if it's painted this way? What if I draw with the paint? How can I use softness?
David Sylvester's short writings have been inspirational and enlightening lately as well. No one really has much to say about Chaim Soutine, but Sylvester's passages about painters of sensations versus painters of things is enthralling.
Just when I think I'm dead paint comes back. These figures I'm wrestling with, I don't know what to do with them yet. It's coming around though.

The momentum of the work finally feels good. It's been months. Jesus.
I pulled a book off of the shelf and finally started reading it last night. It's a presentation of Sigmund Freud's athiestic worldview coupled with the writings of one of the people he influenced but who later became a devout theist, C.S. Lewis. So far the background information and the hinted conflicts seem to be a major impetus for my work. Oddly, they always have been; the anxiety over whether there is a God. It's the same vacillation bewtween life and death that I love about Robert Frost.
The Modern Formation show is coming up quickly. I wish I had settled into this studio four months ago so the work could percolate more. But these are things that cannot be changed.

Issue 81 of New American Paintings hits the stands in places such as Barnes and Noble and Borders in a few days. Maybe a week. It's exciting, but I had hoped to be more prepared.
I've been absorbed in a new body of work. Probably the best and most personal I've made. It feels somehow so risky and so sure-footed at the same time. I'm happy with the work included in the issue of NAP, but it, like so much work, now feels preparatory. I hope that never goes away.

I was in New York for the weekend. It's incredible how serious that city is.
Hit the Chelsea galleries when I first arrived. Good Michael Readecker paintings. Weak Dana Schutz. A lot of forgettable clutter. Gagaosian's Picasso show is great. There is a corner of some pretty erotic images, one of which makes accessible the two orifices of the female body to the viewer. An older lady and I stared at it for a time. She had a hand to her chin in that all-to-often purchased-sophistication gesture that says "I am getting so much of what the artist intended out of this." I wanted to walk up to it and tickle the anus while looking her in the eye.
The Bonnard late intereriors at the Met were great too, but I loved the two I saw upstairs a lot more. Incredible little 1895 piece of two women feeding two children at a table in dim room.

Getting to work back in the studio was incredibly difficult. There was just so much to digest from visiting New York. It was a scalding reminder of how too much of my technique is still flimsy. But, I have launched headlong into the largest canvas I've attempted to date with surprising results. Sometimes pieces take a year to finish. Sometimes it's as though they paint themselves. I feel that the newest work displays the most of myself without hindrance of surface gallantry. Normally I would never even consider letting such a large piece start so close to a show (Modern Formations Gallery in May), but it had to happen. I've been floundering far too long this past year.

Three policemen were murdered here in Pittsburgh a few days ago. A funeral for one of them took place at the church just up the street. It was heartbreaking. Particularly when the slain officer's young niece and nephew spoke inside the church. It was broadcast on speakers outside in the street. People's faces fell. It was as though we were all ashamed of ourselves.

Nuance, then brash recklessness, then nuance tries to talk sense into it, some form of lashing out (to varying degrees), nuance lulls it to sleep/saws off its arrogant head.

Where's that fucking magazine?

Mine, Jamie and Rob's show is opening this Friday. It's exciting. I honestly feel like this is the most sincere work I've ever made. It's very close to the chest, but it's still not close enough.
At my lowest lows of late I've felt horribly alone. But when I'm alright I feel unrestrained instead, I feel a new capacity to recognize and better understand my identity. And not so much drinking.

Jen at Modern Formations Gallery is amazing. If you're looking for a streetwise and smart space that has been a staple of Pittsburgh's art and music culture, look no further.
Our opening reception went well. I thought it would be more crowded, but I am thankful that it wasn't. People actually seemed to be looking at the work. Four cases of beer vanished in two hours. I saw a douche bag with two pairs of pants on stuffing several bottles into various pockets before walking out the door. I've never seen Jamie so overworked since I've known him. He absolutely never stops.
I watched 9 1/2 weeks last night for the first time. Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger. It had more than a few gestures of the celebratory luxuriousness of 80's economic boom. Wow, did that tape flip itself at the push of a button?! That was amazing! Kim Basinger's character works for an art gallery. She breaks down in a secluded corner one night while the gallery is hosting an opening reception for an older artist whom is very out of touch with the throngs of fashionistas, punk rockers, and art star hangers-on slithering through the place. She has a lot of these slightly strange and unexplained emotional moments, but I assume it meant that her heart ached for the poor old man who lived alone, loved to paint and fish, and whose mind was clearly exiting stage left in advanced age.
Before I even saw a copy of the New American Paintings #81 in which I was included I received a phone call from a man in Puerto Rico who has graciously expressed interest in my work. One never knows from whence fortune and gratitude will come forth.

No more drinking for now. Maybe some wine now and then. I'm just useless when I drink. I haven't had one since the opening last Friday, but I had enough then to see a group of people several days dizzy.

Advice to fellow struggling (to be read "totally obscure") artists: When all the running about is done, all the labels look professional but not pretentious, all the box wine is bought and transferred into recycled empty bottles of better quality wine (mmm... card-Bordeaux ), when all your friends have been e-blasted and all the local power-tripping critics have been bribed, when all the coffee shops and liberal arts campuses have been canvased with show cards, all the overnight framing has been torn through, and the opening has gone off without notable incident and you find yourself in the throes of postpartum depression try, as difficult as it might be, to monitor and control the frequency of your masturbatory activities.

I need my generation to believe in something. Where did all the cowardice come from?

The Modern Formations show is almost over. I have to wonder how many people actually saw it. It was sparse this year. It's usually about this time of a show's run when I begin to ask myself "Why did I bother doing this?" It's expensive, stressful and time consuming to set up for exhibitions. Then scarcely anyone really sees the goddamn thing.
Jamie sold two pieces the night of the opening. It's about time more attention was paid to his work. It's drawn from the still images of (usually) kitschy sci-fi films cranked out all those years ago. Male guilt and shame, homo-eroticism. It's great stuff. His delivery of the concepts can easily trek from one foothold to another through different mediums. That's because his ideas are so rich. He printed some of these astonaut images very sparingly on shiny metal aluminum for a solo show at Gallery Chiz. They're some of my favorite because they look like plaques honoring some vague deed, the virtue of which seems lost or skewed by the equally lost and skewed figures featured.

Always look for things to steal. You're nothing without your predecessors and little without your peers.

Here we are again. Everything feels useless. Futile. I am the walking talking dead. Or, rather, the singing, dancing in utero facsimile of me. A facile cocoon. Needs, needs, needs. Rob and I decided that we're fucked until we're 50. It doesn't need to be looked at that way necessarily. AMC told me tonight that "you can't fight an enemy that doesn't care if he lives or dies." I don't care if I die, but I had better be living. I think no one hangs around very long because my M.O. offers no clear and distinct prize.
"If the road you were on led you to this point, then what good was the road?" That's McCarthy. Sort of. I keep reading my horoscope. It's... encouraging I suppose. The absolute absurdity of what I've dedicated so much time and energy to is an echo of that absurdity.
It has to remain exciting. Honesty is exciting. Excruciating so much of the time, too. Paint is a powerful lie or a brittle plea. Which one? Both?
I'm having a very difficult time dealing with the idea of sacks of meat and bone walking around with ideas and sense. Rights and wrongs and arguments and such. Logic in the gaping maw of the unknowable. That is what is truly insane. Keeping it together for an entire life knowing that it will end. Insane people are boring.

Tender nuance and brutality of fact: Flow and ache: Light as a physical presence, a physician.
Every time I need to get going... well, not every time, but many times I look at some Picasso. It's astounding. Just the inventiveness. I read an interview with a painter recently who said that she likes when things are "weird." I agree. I noted years ago that I can only tell when I'm getting somewhere when some form or element comes from my body without a discernable logic that catalyzed it. Some people would say that the "spirit moves you", but I don't know anything for sure about that.
I have been reading a little of Rilke's poetry though. He talks a lot about a very benevolent presence stirring in the dark beside him. It seems about right.

Friends coming to town means that you go to the places to which you've intended for too long. The Mattress Factory is a curious place. It's like the young want-to-be hip sibling of the Warhol Museum.
A fine sculptor named Thaddeus Mosley has an exhibition/retrospective of his wood-carved pieces on the 4th floor. It's arranged rather badly. It's very crowded in every room. Some pieces are mere inches from one another. Without having read anything much about the display I assume the only motivational aesthetic at work is trying to make a dialogue (or force it) between the pieces. Or maybe the studio working space is meant to be reinforced? That comes through in the scent; a sweet-pungent fragrance of an obviously barn-like structure. I grew up around a lot of stables and large animal stalls, I know that smell. It was endearing and intoxicating. It was obviously embued in the grain of each abstracted tendril and whittled down trunk, so credit goes more to the artist than the curator. It seemed to bring the work to a much more human level. Being crowded together only seems to have detracted from the nuance and subtle line at work.
The James Turrell permanent pieces are quite moving. They have a combined stoicism and playfulness that results in the kind of power and respectability that so many artists today seem wont to cowardly eschew. They are very minimal, obviously, but also, almost unexpectedly, they make me aware of my physical body, and leaving it, and returned to it again as though I were jettisoned and then re-entered through the pores. My eyes' physical flaws integrated into the sophisticated light play. There it was, my heart beat bending the light and the lines created in front of and behind my eyes. My endocrine system suddenly a distinct current when I am quiet.
One room suffers greatly from general visitors' chronically bad attention spans. The near pitch-black balcony. It's a shame, too. Once you settle in some real cinema a la Kubrick starts to happen. That's if everyone can shut up. Which they can't. Or won't.

I've moved into a larger space upstairs at the Brew House. It's great, and won't cost much more, but now, of course, the work is on hold. I feel like I'm ready to spit acid. Fucking flat tires on the bike. Fucking broke. Working fucking 14 days in a row at my day job.
It's all worth it. Things boil over now and again, less frequently and with much less ridiculousness than in years previous. I know how to save what counts for the work. That's about all that anybody really learns outside of technical prowess. It can be so thoroughly absurd and inescapable. And everyone thinks you're fucking stupid or crazy. Some people even think that it's pure fun. It's neither pure nor fun. It just vacillates from ecstasy to agony and back and forth.

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