The phone rang, I picked it up "Hillaiiillll?", it was my friend Sean. "Whatsup man?" I asked. He replied. "We're invited out for lunch so meet me at my studio at 12:30." When I asked him what the occasion was, he answered, "Rosie Myer wants to arrange a show for us in New York and also do a piece about the group in her magazine. We're supposed to meet at The Sweet Vidalia." Ms Meyer had been publisher and editor of The Canadian Art Rag for going on (to her credit for keeping the thing alive) twenty five years and The Sweet Vidalia was a pricey, trendy spot in one of the city's gallery areas. "Well what's the deal Sean, what's in it for her, what's her angle?" I asked. "Why do you have to be so cynical," He said. "she happens to love what our group is about and the work we do and she's bringing some hot shot art dealer from New York who wants to promote it and sell it, but never mind that shit just get over here, Bogdonovich is coming and no matter what this thing comes to, at the very least it's good for free drinks and lunch, so shut up and meet me at my place, Kagan." Easily intimidated and bullied, I got on a bus and headed for Sean's.
!2:30 pm and as per usual I was bang on time and Godfrey answered the door to Sean's studio. "Yeah c'mon in man we're all goin' for lunch... Rosie Meyer's payin'!" "That's why I'm here." I responded, "How's things Godfrey?" Meantime I'm thinking 'What the hell is he doing here?' Godfrey gave up full time painting and part time drinking for full time drinking and part time painting years ago. He answered, "Real good man, the Suffingtons commisioned a piece and Moira Goodwyn wants to give me a one man show in September." I said. "Good going Godfrey my man, where's Sean?" He said that he'd be back in a minute, that he'd just gone out to get some smokes. "You know you can't trust him dontcha?" What are you taking about Godfrey?"I asked and he answered. "I"m talkin' about Sean and all his holy and sentimental artist bullshit. How he loves his brother and sister artists with big tears welling up in his eyes." I asked him what he was getting at and he replied, "Well didn't you ever hear about Bernard Klandoff's opening where he got right down on his knees like a rabid dog and bit Bernie's ankle until he drew blood? How's that for his good will to his fellow artists?" I told him that I knew all about it as did everyone else in the city's art scene. The story had taken on legendary proportions, the event was a three man show and I happened to have been one of the three, Bernie had to be rushed to the hospital for tetanus shots and stitches. "But Sean tries to keep a lid on that side of himself... he's a good guy." I went on. "Oh, for sure I love him like a brother." Said Godfrey.
Sean returned and I asked him where Bogdonovich was and he said we were meeting him at the restaurant. We finished off a big jug of Italian white, had a few smokes and some convivial art conversation and started heading to the restaurant. While we were walking I got Sean privately and asked him why Godfrey was coming along (he was never part of our loose knit group that had shown together at various publicly funded and regional galleries). "Well he just happened to pay me a visit, what was I going to do, don't worry he doesn't want to be in the show, he's just after the drinks and lunch... what's the difference Rosie's paying, besides she writes it all off as a business expense." Well that makes sense, I thought to myself except I have never understood the whole thing about writing it off, (writing what off?) and business expenses and so on and so forth.
When we arrived Bogdonavich was already sitting with Rosie and the NY big shot at a table on the terrace. Greetings and introductions were made. The New York dealer was a great big tall guy with a huge mustache, he was wearing a white suit, a black silk shirt and what looked like some kind of giant red cape, like Batman or Superman and surprisingly he didn't speak a word of English. Apparently Jose was a famous Brazilian artist who now resided in New York. The waiter asked if we'd like anything to drink. "Scotch, make it a double." Demanded Godfrey. Rosie somehow provided translation for Jose who wanted the same, she ordered a glass of wine and the rest of us, beers. The talk that ensued mainly had to do with the famous Jose. From her briefcase Rosie produced a book, some kind of monograph written in Portuguese, all about her famous guest. Filled with pictures of him and his art, it was handed around the table, Sean and I sent each other a look... like what's this all about? Something was beginning to smell funny, meanwhile Godfrey was ordering another drink.
Now an oversized brochure was produced from Rosie's briefcase and passed around the table. "The Jose de L.............. Gallery, NYC Invite You to Exhibit at His Fabulous, Newly Renovated Downtown Manhattan Space...........(bottom line $2000 US weekly). It appears that our esteemed visitor was not only a great and famous Brazilian artist but had somehow or other acquired a neglected downtown, near to Soho, Church which judging from the pictures was badly in need of repair, although to be fair all pews, pulpits and other church furnishings had been removed and I'm fairly sure sold. At that point the waiter was at the table inquiring whether we were ready to order, Godfrey didn't hesitate. "Steak frits my good fellow!" I bent across the table. "Psst.... hey Sean you crazy bugger, you do realize we're being pitched here, are you sure she's picking up the tab?" He gave me a sheepish look that answered all, I told the waiter I wasn't quite ready to order and I excused myself and headed for the gent's room where amongst other things I intuitively transferred the $25 bucks I had in my wallet into my shoe. When I returned Godfrey was in fine form, he must have been on his fourth double and his unusually deep baritone voice was filling the room as he expounded on the failure of Abstract Expressionism to measure up to its promise.
The food arrived. Was I ready to order yet? No, and I continued to nurse my beer, Sean had done likewise as did Bogdonovich, no fool, who had cottoned on fairly quickly. Now what? Jose and Rosie whispered to each other amorously, it was apparent that Jose was an acquisition of the older Rosie, it had come up earlier during conversation that he was staying at her place. While they dug into their linguini and clams she asked if we were interested in booking the space. "Well, what about the article in Canadian Art Rag?" Sean asked. "For sure, a centre piece article," She said. "It will help publicize the show, of course we'll be looking for your group to buy a full page ad in the magazine." Now I knew that between all of our group we couldn't afford to buy lunch, never mind finance a show in New York and when I informed Rosie of that fact and also the fact that even if we were able to come up with the funds, I personally wouldn't bet a penny on my chances or the group's. After that things took a turn and became more subdued, those that were eating finished up. Rosie excused herself to go to the washroom and a little later a grinning Jose indicated he had to do likewise.
Cut to the chase, neither reappeared but the waiter did, with the bill. "The lady and the very tall man with the mustache said you gentlemen would take care of this." He said very politely as he retreated. The bill came to $150 and as I suspected everyone left at the table was completely broke except myself who, not that it would save us from our situation had $25 in my shoe. "Call Ziggy Sieglemeyer, he's got a credit card," said Sean. Sieglemeyer was a group associate and everyone knew his family provided him with his truck and just enough money to get by. He was gotten hold of, did appear and did rescue us from our embarrassing dilemma with everyone's assurance of paying him back shortly. Thereafter we all dispersed, Sean and Bogdonovich having things to do downtown and heading in that direction. Godfrey and myself going in the same direction as Ziggy, took a ride with him in his truck. Passing the beer store, Godfrey pleaded with Ziggy to stop and run on in and get us a case of 24, he was already in this far for a lunch, the day was still young and another few bucks for a few beers which of course we would pay back wouldn't mean that much to him.
Beers in tow, we headed to Sieglemeyer's studio where we supped the 24 bottles of beer, continued our conversation on art that rapidly descended into an ardent evangelical sermon by the recently born again Godfrey who had his own special take on the whole thing. The main thrust being, that all you had to do was be born again in Jesus, accept him into your heart and all your sins were forgiven, a clean slate... which was a perfect deal for Godfrey because you could wake up and be reborn in the morning, descend to sin in the afternoon, fall asleep dead drunk in the evening and be reborn once again the following morning. Later when I regained consiousness I found that Godfrey had already slipped off to wherever Godfrey went and I asked Ziggy back to mine, for the lift of course but also to repay him with dinner because I knew he'd never see a cent of the money he'd spent to bail us out from the restaurant and I also knew I had $25 in my shoe that I needed to last for the remainder of the week. We got to my place where my ever patient wife retrieved a lasagna from the freezer for her unexpected dinner guest and Ziggy and I went outside with a full bottle of scotch to await dinner. We talked about all manner of things and drank the whole bottle and ate the whole lasagna. it was at that point with all that beer and liquor in me that I began to wax on eloquently to Ziggy about what a bunch of losers and failures we artists all were and how none of it meant shit and that the biggest success in our local scene amounted to a big fat zero in the long run, I was even making myself sick. Sieglemeyer's face was becoming redder and redder, until finally he exploded with, "Well you might be a loser but I'm not, so go fuck yourself Kagan." and he stormed off.
The next day Sean called me, not to ask how I'd enjoyed my "free" lunch yesterday or anything else about the previous day's events but rather for disillusioning Ziggy who had already called him to inform on me and tell him what a downer I was. "You know," Sean said to me in a very disappointed manner, "Kagan, me and you, we're older guys who have been around the block a few times. We know what's what and we can take the truth but Ziggy's still a kid so don't destroy his aspirations." "That's fair enough Sean," I began, "but he's only a year or so younger than myself." "Yeah," said Sean, "however he's still an innocent so don't destroy his hope. Why are you so cynical?" "Beats the hell out me." I said, "You tell me...yeah, PLEASE tell me." (the end)
(A totally true artists' story, the names are fictitious. Your questions, comments or own personal artist stories are welcome.)
I’m absolutely floored by this story. And I am quite sure that this extraordinary talent for writing did not emerge over night. So there must be some drawers filled with piles of paper containing stories like this one if not more ... books perhaps. Well, that’s why I am ordering at least three copies of the book „An Artist’s Life“ and another three copies (one always need gifts you know) of „Seen Through a Bottle“ written by our astonishing author. I am very thankful to you Hillel, for opening the literary section of this website.
Thanks, Maria and Hanjo. Believe me, I'm no writer, I do however have enormous respect for those that are. People like, you'll enjoy this Hanjo, Philip Roth, that guy has quite a mind. However at my age I do have many untold stories, memories that stand out in my imagination, as I'm sure we all do. These personal stories tell as much if not more about art and the art world as as does the work we do. Really, before Art Process I never wrote anything. When I started writing about this particular memory I was quite surprised to see it take the form it did. I truly hope it will encourage others to tell their tales, it could have the effect of adding another dimension to AP beyond the usual comments of "Love your work." and "Thanks very much." that are starting to get very stale.
Well, Hillel yesterday I went crazy looking for those books in internet, I would have ordered one too if I would have found it. But I found nothing, where did he get the information? this german old fox! The titles were so convincing! Finally I found out I had been fooled by Monsieur Hanjo, who must have had a good time,laughing in his studio... I must say that I enjoyed the anecdote too, your ironic sense of humour and the natural way you write about things,makes reading very easy and amusing, you should start another career right now, who knows? maybe you even have fun... one thing is sure, you will not suffer as much as painting, and we will all buy the books!
Thanks Karen, but even though that rascal Hanjo has provided me with a couple of very good suggestions for book titles, there will be no second careers for me, I'll stick with painting. I have more than three people who collect my work now and I don't think that the sale of nine books would be sufficient to keep a publisher happy, or myself in liquor money. Any writing I do will be strictly for this site and we all know what that pays, in any case here's another true story.
PEARLS OF WISDOM
Bill was one of the elder statesmen of the Canadian art scene. Coming of age in the 1950s he was one of the young turks that shocked the very provincial art world of that time by following the lead of their contemporaries in New York. Their access to that work came mostly from magazines like Art in America, Art News and Art Forum to name a few. Bill being Bill, was a bit noisier and more flamboyant than the others, there was a bit of show biz running through his veins. Having greater ambition than is usually the case he went to live in New York and did achieve success there, finding a place with the well known and established Gallerist, Sam Kootz. His fall from grace and New York is good for another story and not my intention here. Let's just say that his return to Canada and his nationalistic spin for returning to his native land was enough to ensure his success here for years to come.
In my youth and as an art student, I would go to (the then) Art Gallery of Toronto and I loved Bill's work above the work of his peers. It wasn't until 1990 that I finally met him at his studio. He seemed to like me. Why not? I stroked his ego, told him what an important influence he had been for me and how superior he was to the rest of his gang. He agreed with everything I had to say, told me to go pick a painting and after he complimented me for my good taste because I had picked the best one, proceeded to title and sign it. My house is filled with my own work and my wife's work and a few other pieces by friends. The small painting Bill gave me is I'm sure, monetarily at least, my most valuable piece of art.
For about seven years, from 1987 to 1994 I had worked on and off, on a series of paintings that I called The Struggling Figures, a few of them are in my portfolio on this site. Although I had shown some here and there during those years, I had a full show of them in 1992 at a now defunct gallery (good for another story). Bill was invited to the opening which was a loud raucous affair, filled with a great many drunken artists including myself but of course as it was not his opening, he didn't show up. However later on during the show's run I was called upon to give a tour and speak about my work to an organized group of art enthusiasts in the evening after closing time. It was also arranged by the dealer that on the same evening, after the group had left, Bill would make an appearance and view my work. It was a known fact that Bill never gave compliments to other artists so I wasn't expecting much in that department but was interested in what he would have to say. At 9 p.m. his great hulking frame, supported by a cane in each hand entered the establishment. We shook hands and started to walk around the gallery together, all the while I couldn't help noticing that he was muttering under his breath. Eventually the mutterings began to become discernible, "Nice stuff!, Good shit!... Fuckin' good shit!" I thought it must be my imagination. Finally we came to the end of the show and the last painting, turning to me he said, right out loud, to my amazement and humility, "This is fuckin' good work, it'll make you famous. Maybe not right away, it might take ten years or so." my face was reddening and my head was spinning and then, his voice growling, he added, "Why dontcha paint these guys naked with giant sized cocks and enormous balls, that'll make you famous right now!"
In Greece, being an artist (meaning most often broke), allows you to run your business without having to pay for social security. And of course government allow themselves to cause you a lot of trouble when it comes to offer their health services.
So, please, Kagan, next time you are up to such a story, warn people it is advised not to read with a mouth full or serious chocking may be caused.
Ok, this is how it is. I shall not try to tell you what happened to me as I walked the halls of The Prado and stood in front of the great masters nor will I uncover to you the mystic spell Paula Rego cast on me. As every good Greek knows, you don’t want Apollo’s rage raised and his grace withdrawn by revealing the initiation ceremony of his Mystai in his shrine. But I can tell you of this episode that had me thinking how time goes round in circles, dragging human experience along. And as we spin on our times sometimes we get so close to other figures and consciences who spin on their own parallel circle. So close yet so far in time.
As seldom, if not hardly ever, things happen by coincidence, books and films and articles kept falling on my lap considering the ruby red, blood soaked years of Spanish history at the turn of the century Goya lived in. So, like a diner who slowly concentrates on each and every course only to postpone and thus enhance the sweetness of after dinner fine sherry, I made my way through the Prado till time was ripe to enter the gallery of “Las Pinturas Negras”. Alone. The first time. There they stood, in three rooms, rather small in relation to the ample halls where the great Velasquez hung, rather human proportioned, and rather dark; with the smell of grand mother’s curtains, always drawn to protect the antique dining room furniture from the light of the street. Or the eyes of it.
Haunted by those images and the feelings that borne them I waited three days before I practically dragged Hanjo by the arm, to go and see them. I suppose I must have ruined them for him because I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. Such was my passion and urgency to make sure that he felt what I did, that I kept “explaining” them to him. Look at the tragedy of the Duel with cudgels. How these tow men, brothers, are suspended in time and in the air, eternally exchanging bloody blows, with no legs to run, not any more, not after the madness war has inflicted on them. Can you hear the jaws crack? Can you smell the blood of the gums? Look at the land bellow The Fates turning yellow with poison as they hover over it. Yellow and black. Acid and poisoned. Do you smell it? Smell the sulphur as it burns. LOOK. Look close; hear them coming. They are close now; just behind that hill. Hear the hissing sound of their skirts. They are the Procession of the Holy Office; do you know what they do to you? What they have done? Their hissing skirts on the ground make you cold, don’t they? Poor Dog. But I stand here watching. I watch the Pilgrimage to San Isidro. I watch this human serpent of fools come advancing my way. I watch their contorted faces chanting their stupidity and madness and decay out of tune. Are they the same majas and majos of some past luminous times? How they are degraded. I watch them, after everything has been said and done, and I think all they have always been worthy of is to shrink in front of The Great he-goat. They will be forever led by him. And so I frown; and my head bends slightly downwards and my lower lip moves forward and my chin gets harder and my eyes stare under my eyebrows with severity and contempt.
And then I saw it. Behind Hanjo’s back, in a dark corner of the room I hadn’t noticed the first time, was a bust of Goya, sculpted by some 19th century artist, of some dark stone, almost black as I recall. It was looking at me straight in the eye giving me precisely that look.
Once in a while I get up the nerve to go gallery hunting, make the prerequisite phone calls and try to get an appointment to come in and see the gallery director with slides to get something going. Such was the occasion a number of years back when I managed to get permission to send packages to four galleries. Some time passed and I called the particular galleries and was told by three of them I could come in and pick my slides up, they would be at the front desk. The fourth hadn't had the chance to look at them yet and the following week she still hadn't the time to sneak a peak. The week after that when I called I was simply told, after being put on hold for a couple of minutes, to come in and pick up my package.
It was late afternoon when I shuffled into CG's gallery to redeem my property. The receptionist told me to just go on in to the back office, CG's private realm. Walking into her office the first thing I noticed was that CG was seated behind her desk with a small throng of people seated and standing about her in rapt attention to whatever it was she was talking about. She seemed to be holding court of some kind but I have no idea what it was all about or who the people were. Apprentice gallerists perhaps? Politely I stood at the doorway and waited for her to finish her sermon. When she finally did she looked up and spotted me. "Hillel Kagan." I announced. "Oh yes," she said, "I have your slides right here." As I approached her desk she offhandedly remarked to the group that, "This is a perfect example of what I"ve been speaking about". Handing me my slides she continued to expound, saying while pointing a finger at me. "Here is a very good, substantial artist who really knows what he's doing". All eyes were on me as she continued." Yet unfortunately for whatever reason, the poor fellow seems to have missed the boat... he's just too old! The ship has come and set sail and he just just wasn't aboard. Now it's simply too late!" The whole group was viewing me like some kind of exotic species at the zoo. "You do realize that I'm standing right here." I said, to absolutely no response and continued stares. Turning on my heels, my package under my arm I walked out of her office and gallery.
On my way home, I tried to figure it out. It was very embarrassing, the whole episode was atrocious, her behavior abysmal, and I was quite angry. She'd caught me unawares, I should have given her what for, but I was too stunned, I'll call her when I get home. No, I should write a letter and tell her in great and explicit detail what an asshole she is. Instead I did nothing and some eighteen years later I've come to realize just how astute she was.
NO IT HAS NOT I know how you feel about time passing and things that you longed to have happened still haven't ,and things I should have achieved I haven't been able to yet ,but I think I will go off my rocker if I for a minute think of giving up.I hope I\m reading you correctlly.You seem to be in such an inward retrospective mood and I like reading all these very bravely expressed experiences.
Well Fotini I'm glad you've responded as you have because it gives us a chance to talk about failure and that's something that most of us have to deal with. In America, as you know, success is everything and of course the success they speak of equals $. Perhaps we artists measure success differently, actually I'm sure we do. Our needs are really quite small, enough to get by to continue what we do. A place to live and work, food, a well stocked liquor cabinet (at least for half of us, marijuana for the rest). We don't covet fame but unfortunately that's how the art market works. Fame = sales. The main job of a gallery is to make their artists famous to ensure income for themselves and the artists, no fame, no name, no gain. In my experience the artists are much better at their job than the galleries are at theirs.
Just as amongst any group there are some artists (a very small minority) gifted with a natural entrepreneurial and positive go getter attitudes. The galleries love those types because it makes their job so much easier. When a person like myself walks into a gallery I'm very conscious of the fact that their (the gallerists') experienced noses smell out the stench of failure very quickly. They might not know much about art but of that particular odour they're genuine connoisseurs. After years of failure in even making the slightest dent in the commercial marketplace I began to feel a change take place in my innermost feelings, the failure and futility started to rob the art process of its fun. The general gloom turned what was once my most joyous activity into arduous labour. From time to time I could rid myself of those black, impotence causing thoughts and free myself temporarily of my paralysis and squeak out a work. More often my anger and feeling of futility created in me a rebellion to even begin to measure, a childish desire to say "I won't, it's too hard, you can't make me." thus masochistically depriving myself of my only genuine pleasure... being lost in a world of measurement and comparison where time evaporates
So how does one deal with this almost inevitable failure? As far as I'm concerned you confront it dead on. When CG said my ship had sailed there was some truth to it. Yes it was a pretty horrible way to treat another human being but I understand her perspective. She doesn't understand much about art but she does play an odds game in her business. It's not that I'm hopeless, the thing about art is it always has the capacity to surprise, nobody really knows where it's going to come from next. So I do have hope, it's just that I've learned to carry on without expectations. Mine were never that great anyway, my biggest ambition was just to be part of the dialogue in some way. I hadn't made the connection early on between fame and artistic livelihood but I did know that I had to have my own alternate strategies for dealing with that. Being older now I've gone through enough of those black periods of anxiety, melancholy, dread and yes hopelessness to know that somehow or other I always come through it, working at yet another attempt at painting my masterpiece.
Finally, thanks for your comment about being brave but bravery has nothing to with it. When one is speaking openly to one's friends bravery isn't even an issue. There's an intimacy to our experiences that I know is shared by most of us so why hide anything. The democracy of this site has at least given me the opportunity to realize one of my ambitions, it may not be the way I envisioned it but I am part of the dialogue.
I am new to this site, but I have a story which may be of interest, being as we are all artists, gathered around a virtual table, slightly drunk... Back in 1988 I was in London, Eng.,taking in the museums and gallerys and culture in general. I met a young man, a recent graduate of Goldsmith's College, who was on a similar quest for the elusive Heart of Light! His name was Damien Hirst and, tho he was much younger than I, we became good friends in a short time. we hooked up and bonded and did the Art Tour together, and drank profusely together, and pledged that whichever of us hit it big, we would share equally in each other's success. We even traveled together as far as Majorca , where we played and vacationed as good friends will. One day we discovered on the beach the carcasses of two sharks,washed up the night before. I had one taken off by the local fishermen, to be cut up into steaks, and, well...the rest is History! So... Arnold
Welcome Arnold, and thanks for a very amusing story. If you could produce a story like that while slightly intoxicated I can't wait to see what you may offer us when you're completely hammered.
Having just visited MyArtInfo where I saw some of your very exciting and original work, I encourage you to upload some additional images here. It's always great to have another drunk at our virtual table.
It has long been an ambition of mine to paint while in a complete state of drunkenness. The reason I bring this up is I noticed that j-p said something about drinking and painting, having to do with myself, in the description of his latest Studio Log "Beer Box Drawing". There does seem to be a connection between the making of art and a taste for strong drink. Personally I don't think I've ever known an artist, at least an artist who's work I like who wasn't a drinker. Pot smoking artists just don't do it for me although they do from time to time produce something of interest. Artists that mainline heroin have my respect but I've known too few of them to form a definite opinion. Artists who abstain from all drugs and liquor are of absolutely no interest. Like all people who claim that they don't need stimuli and are capable of getting high on life itself, they are not to be trusted. They live a lie and their art shows it, the need for drink and other hallucinants being natural for every being, human or animal, on this planet.
That being said I have never been able to paint in a state of complete inebriation and I consider that to be my main failing as an artist. Limiting both my output and prospects. M, one of my very best friends is a painter. He's one of those artists who cannot do without the support of a dealer or gallerist. He doesn't care how much they screw him because without them he loses motivation. For instance they might come up with a scheme for him to produce a series of limited edition prints or works on paper for a hastily put together show and larger canvases for a bigger show down the road. Sometimes there are clients that just want a piece so they can donate it later at a higher valuation from the same dealer in the near future. A win for the artist, the dealer, the buyer and presumably the receiving institution, it's what is commonly known in the business as a win-win-win-win. M needs these schemes to provide the impetus to create, otherwise he would just drink from boredom. When he has a project, like let's say the production of fifty works on paper to be done within a couple of weeks, he's happy as a lark. The dealer provides M with quality watercolour paper and more importantly with a two week supply of four litre jugs of red wine, his preferred beverage for drawings, watercolours and all works on paper. He starts working early and drinks the wine constantly all day and never seems to become intoxicated. He doesn't mind company and people come and go all day long. He goes through a jug a day until the assignment is completed.
Larger paintings are a different story and when he has a commitment, the dealer knows that as part of his investment he must provide M with all the material needed. Stretched canvases, paints, brushes, etc. But the most important provision and before any serious work can take place is the provision of a couple of cases of liquor, additional cases may be needed depending on the amount of work required. Perhaps because he sees the large paintings on canvas as being more serious he requires the hard liquor to break down his inhibitions. People are no longer welcome in his studio. He locks himself in there for as long as three months, calling only the dealer, should he need additional provisions. He doesn't answer the telephone yet it's during those times that one is likely to receive calls from M at odd times like 3 o'clock in the morning. It's a one sided conversation where he just babbles incoherently. As he'll only call back if you hang up, I've learned to just put the phone in the drawer next to my bed and let him talk to himself until he drops off. The truth is I'm in awe of his ability to work completely smashed. Please don't think I haven't tried, I've invested plenty in art material and liquor (which I am lobbying the government for to be considered a legitimate art material and tax write off) but I've never been able to pull it off. Unfortunately, unlike M, booze doesn't compel me to paint. For me it's the opposite, painting compels me to booze. This I view as just another one of my multitude of failures as a human being and artist. Try as I may, I seem to need all my faculties to proceed with my endeavors and sometimes if the work is going poorly that means succumbing to my need for alcohol very quickly. Liquor is my reward for making progress, I try to work as much as I can and if I have indeed made some progress then I am surely entitled to my drink. No progress entitles me to drinking for the sake of drowning my sorrows, as I ask such pertinent and eternal questions as, "will I ever be able to paint again, how did I ever do anything before, has it all been an illusion, have I lost my raison d'etre, etc., etc?" Such thinking necessitates the need for more and more liquor. M is my best friend for a number of reasons but I must point out that the main reason is his ability to work while imbibing. I certainly don't love him for the work he produces which at least to me, looks like the scratchings and markings of a drunken lunatic.
There are women artists out there whom I know will jump on these statements as yet another example of male artist posturing. Just some more of that machismo hard drinking artist persona that is so passe. Let me assure them, as I have others, that for me there is absolutely no sexism involved whatsoever and I have enjoyed the company of my drunken female artist friends equally to that of my drunken male artist friends. No, let me take that back, I have enjoyed the company of my drunken female artist friends infinitely more so. So please don't hold that against me as I ask you as I have myself... why can't we paint (and live) perpetually drunk?
Last Sunday was Greek Orthodox Easter. This means I closed the school from Friday to Tuesday. Which, in turn, means that I was home alone all day for four entire days. So I did nothing but walk the dog, eat and PAINT.
I have been painting for four days and nothing disrupted me. It was such an adventure… Friday work was good; Saturday went bad and I was depressed all Sunday, but I put the canvas away and started three little portraits through Monday. That felt much better. Yesterday, waiting for the portraits to dry a bit, I started painting over an old, horrible, disastrous creature and there came out this very promising figure, bathed in light, I can hardly tell where she came from. She is proceeding well and I won’t rush her. I suppose she is so light and fresh because I painted her without having great expectations. Thinking too much is such a disastrous habit. Waiting for a new canvas, I made this little preparatory drawing of a two figure composition which, I expect, will be another interesting trip that will keep me busy for at least a couple of months. I am planning to take my time with this one and force myself not to think so much while painting this time.
My only other activity these days has been reading a collection of Matisse’s sayings and writings, a gift by a student. This fellow worked day and night and these days I remembered what it feels like. I find myself thinking about painting twenty four hours a day and I feel so much at home. Next Monday life will try to take over again. Will I be able to face it?
Maria, you know I love you for your earnestness and romanticism but thinking about painting twenty four hours a day does not a great artist make. As you know, I'm a great believer in moderation and an artist must also be a well rounded person. You must learn to divide your time, at least half of which should be spent on completely debauched activities involving huge amounts of liquor (I understand that ouzo is quite inexpensive in Greece) and multiple sexual couplings and groupings. As you quite rightly say thinking too much is such a disastrous habit and what better way to start killing off those nasty brain cells than by taking my suggestion to heart. The other benefit of course, is the remorse, shame, guilt, self revulsion and suicidal thoughts the mind produces after a healthy episode of debauchery. These are all important emotions to pour into the soon to be great art you will create after the hangovers and physical sickness recede and you have a few minutes to concentrate with fewer brain cells in the studio.
Walking on the street I happened to meet an old neighbour who lived in the same building as I did close to forty years ago. Besides for that connection I remembered that he had been an associate of Jack. "How's Jack?" I asked. "We buried him a couple of weeks ago." He replied and knowing that this particular fellow works for a funeral home, I knew that when he said "we" to take it literally. It was sad news that got me thinking about Jack with whom I'd lost contact quite a few years before and who according to my old neighbour had been in a constant care facility for the past couple of years.
So who was Jack and why do I bring him up in the context of this art dialogue? Well let me put it this way, Jack was an artist and for all his obscurity and living on the margins of all society was an integral part of the art scene. Allow me to supply some personal history. Jack was familiar to me from my relatively very young years when I first started to make a study of art. He never missed an opening, as much for the dainties being served as the art being shown. His presence was always there wherever art was shown in the city. Somehow or other he became a friend to my stepmother who was herself an amateur artist, she also cooked and baked and I think that's what the real attraction for Jack was. Come holidays or celebratory events Jack was frequently in attendance with his nonstop chatter and effeminate manner. My father was relatively patient with him although he quite obviously got on his nerves. Jack was after all, one of his wife's best "girl friends".
It wasn't until I started to attend art school that I started to get to know him. He was an assistant librarian and I frequently rode the bus home from school with him. He always wore a grey suit, white shirt and bow tie and carried a black bound sketchbook. In our conversations I learned he had gone to the same school as I was attending years before and had a number of stories about certain teachers who were either his peers or already teaching when he had gone there. There was also the talk of his short lived career and why he had failed to move forward in the world of art. So and so had said what a delicate touch he had or how exquisite his watercolours were but he didn't have the ability to push himself forward. Also he had the liability of a very elderly mother to care for although I suspect that the reality was the reverse.
Over the years from time to time I would run into him at some gallery or other and like I said before he never missed an opening. When I started showing, Jack, taking our familiarity for granted started telephoning me to ferret out any interesting gossip about the dealer or other artists I was showing with. Thereafter he would call from time to time to talk about art and the local scene, he astounded me with his virtuosic knowledge of what was going on. He had met my wife at openings and getting her on the phone he would engage her for extended chitchat. Eventually my wife being a soft touch started inviting him for holiday meals just as my stepmother had. He was a queer old duck, eyes closed and mouth quivering he could talk at length about art and artists, writers and novels. But he always licked his plate clean and profusely complimented the chef, recalled his late mother's home cooking and was the last to leave the party.
He had been going blind for years but that didn't prevent him from reading with the use of a giant magnifying glass or going to galleries, and museum shows. Although I'm not exactly sure what it was that he saw, with his face pressed right up to a canvas. Yet he always had an opinion and was continuously sketching, face right down on the paper of those black bound sketchbooks. He was very worried about what would become of his art when he was gone as there were no relatives, I'd never been to his small bachelor apartment near the university campus but I imagine he had thousands of those sketchbooks. He kept pressing me to undertake the responsibility of caring for them after his demise and I kept putting him off. Just what I needed, more shit. "Leave it all to the Art Gallery of Ontario or the Library." I advised. It so happened that one evening Donna and I were strolling downtown when I noticed Jack sitting at a table in a brightly lit McDonald's, we went in, head down he was furiously working on his sketchbook. We sat down and joined him for a coffee. The usual talk ensued, his deteriorating vision, what would happen to his art when he was gone, art gossip and on and on. While he was talking which he always did with his eyes closed as if in deep concentration and continuously until you stopped him, I took the liberty of sliding his sketchbook over to me and quietly turned the pages. Page after page was filled with what at first glance looked like handwriting, densely packed and row after row but upon examination I realized it wasn't handwriting as such but squiggles, loops, dots and dashes that made no sense and the whole book which he was obviously nearing the end of was just that, I closed the cover and pushed it back to where it was, Jack was still talking.
At the end of the eighties and beginning of the nineties I started showing somewhat more frequently. Jack would call, there seemed to be a new bitterness to his tone. Well, I was only getting shown because I was tall and manly what chance did a sensitive person like himself have. "It's no big deal Jack," I would reply, "it'll all add up to a hill of beans." Thereafter I would try to move the topic to some more neutral topic, I'd been to Ottawa and saw some beautiful stuff by my hero Giacometti. "Your hero!" He spat out with derision. "You're an imbecile." Now abuse I can get anywhere, isn't that what family and loved ones are for? But I didn't love Jack although I was beginning to see in his new hostility a testament of some kind of love on his part for me. So after a few calls like that I just stopped answering the phone to him and that was the end of whatever relationship we'd had. I never saw him again except for one time a number of years later when I spotted him descending from a streetcar in front of the Art Gallery one evening, white cane in hand and I would imagine totally blind and as usual depending on the kindness of strangers for assistance, I marveled at his continuing to go to lectures and openings, he would have been in his eighties but he persisted. I didn't stop to chat.
What was he exactly? Was he an artist? Those countless filled sketchbooks that I have no doubt wound up on the trash heap, was that art? Who am I to answer that? All I know is Robert Rauschenberg, a very original and unique artist died the other day and the world mourned his loss. Jack died a few weeks ago in total obscurity. For every Robert Rauschenberg there are several hundred thousand Jacks and they're all unique.
I remember Hanjo's description, breathlessly reaching the sanctuary of AP, slamming the door behind him. I'm rather new here but I know what he's saying. Yet this is getting ridiculous. I can hear the echo of my footsteps. After posting an item, I hear the crickets chirping... I don't like to drink alone. My wife and I were recently in Chicago for the Jazz festival - good music, good wine, the whole Sinatra! We visited the Koons exhibit at the Contemporary. And Man, do I feel a good rant coming on, but...well...here's an item worth highlighting. On the day when the Stock Markets began their crash, Damien Hirst sold 200 million dollars worth of ARTWORK at Sotheby's!!! Hmmm!
I know the feeling, sorry about not responding to your comment about viewing myself as a mid-career artist capable in time of becoming a proficient colourist. Colour being something I devote very little conscious thought to I actually have very little understanding of what the term "colourist" means so I just wasn't sure how to respond although I know you were trying to be encouraging. The image you uploaded of an older painting of yours that you related to a newer work of mine made me want to comment. But as it was in the studio log section where there's no facility for response I didn't bother. So now that you've opened up the chat lines again I'll talk about it here.
Let me firstly say that from what I could make of it I like that older painting of abstracted figures on a realistic ground but as you know I'm partial to that kind of work. Actually I don't so much strive to abstract the figures and keep the background realistic. Hopefully I try to achieve a balance, figures and ground equally abstracted. It's the potential for movement that the human figure inspires that causes what appears to be a greater amount of abstraction. The settings the figures move in tend to be somewhat more still. Yet it's a conflict that still gets my main attention and I've yet to resolve it to my satisfaction.
So now about Koons and Hirst, a little while ago you brought up the topic of how visual artists will have to start perceiving the value of what they do in a different way just as musicians have had to adjust to the downloading of music on the internet, etc. and I fully agree. Yet one of the outcomes is the great cost of tickets for live musical events and in the visual arts the monetary value of an original artwork by a "star" artist has nowhere to go but up. Even if those artists operate art factories "a la Warhol" that employ hundreds and have whole PR departments devoted to promoting their fame. If someone like Koons or Hirst didn't do it for themselves, the museums might well do it for them in posterity, just take a look at what's going on at the Tate's current commemoration of Bacon and the amount of press and hyperbole being thrown about about England's, no, make that the whole world's greatest artist of the past century.
Two nights ago i sat down to have a go at Koons and ended up going off on Kagan. Just as well, as Kagan's work is more interesting. The Koon's show was fun, we had a good time and all. And we have many of the original inflatables still in our home - the lobster, the shark, the bunny - from when our daughter was 5. So we recognize the cultural affirmations and the references to collective cultural memory. But yet it's another instance of pointing up some commonplace object and sticking it in our face with a virtual exclamation point behind, which makes it Art! Heck, it gets tiresome. I appreciate the craftsmanship, the conceptual acuity, but.. well, just but. I'm coasting right now on the artistry of that last bottle of Argentinian Malbec... Sante!
Time is a relative measure and as a result so is speed. Duration, let’s say life’s, which is related to both these two measures, is relative too and so is the idea of what quantity of actions made in what amount of time can be considered satisfactory. And, of course satisfaction is such a relative feeling. Occupation of one’s mind with such thoughts is an ever successful way of becoming constantly haunted of the idea of imminent end getting closer and closer, which in turn triggers a procedure in which time is perceived in fast forward mode, with its speed rising constantly, till you move through your days in a dizzy, crazy swirl.
It is not clear when and in which particular circumstance it started but one day I realized I was ill with “overspeeding of inner time dimention”, aggravated with “incontrollable unreasonable guilt” attacks. In simple language, stress; and it can be pathological. You know you have it when you start having physical symptoms like stomach cramps, fast heart beating, insomnia, lack of patience and concentration, feeling tired all the time, getting irritated for no reason, suffering short term memory loses. Every day life becomes like one of those blurry, speedy Richter images and no matter how you shrink your sleeping and eating hours you are always one step behind. You are then stepping one step before depression.
All this of course is not real. It is a malfunctioning of the flow regulator of your inner time spring. The trick to keep your time from shrinking and extend it back to normal, is hit the brakes and slow it down. In my case I took up a patience exercise which at the beginning was also meant to work as a therapeutic illusion to convince myself that I hadn’t totally given up painting. To fight the voices in my head that were telling me that this or that work was falling behind and made it impossible for me to stay five minutes in my studio without drowning in guilt, I took a pen and a little sketch book and went out. I live in a beautiful country side which, due to plenty of rain this winter, is as green as it has never been before. There is not tall vegetation, only herb bushes, lot’s of grass and innumerable thick leaved bulbs. Of course there is the sea too; never the same colour and with an immense repertoire of moods. But the sea was not what I was looking at. Too big, too powerful for my fragile state of mind. I looked for small plants. The first that hit my eye I sat on the ground to draw with my pen on my little sketch book. I tell you this was not easy at all; plants are such complicated forms and I chose to draw mine in detail; with a pen; not a pencil, not aquarelle but a pen with ink. You can make no mistakes and you cannot rely on illusion created by incidental paint marks. Oh, it needs time and concentration. Accurate observation drove my stress demon nuts. You may think it is not an enterprise sitting still on the ground, concentrated in the shape of a weed, “using your precious time which is running out every second, doing a sketch of something so humble, so far from what an artist with such little time available should be wasting her twenty minutes with”. And the most difficult part is, when you are done, refrain from looking at your watch and go do another one! And another one.
It has been a week now. I had promised myself to do at least one drawing every day and it seems to be working. Now I draw the plants in the vases at home and the little branches I have cut here and there in neighbors’ gardens and put them in glasses with water on my table, in front of the large window, so that they grow roots. I closely observe the tiny new leaves growing next to bigger leaves; I observe the way stems grow and how they twist their little bodies stretching for light. They are simply there. Time is not an issue in this universe of green forms. They slowly suck life from the water in their glass and they quietly extend towards light and they expand their roots towards the earth in peace and silence. You can feel them celebrate the air around. Close observation can bring you into their circle of peace and each time you look you are taken deeper and deeper as you notice more tiny leaves and thin, stretching, little newborn branches you hadn’t seen at first glance.
I can now tell that the process of doing these little drawings (they are no bigger than ten to fifteen cm) has been working like a refreshing shower for my brain. It takes away the toxins of every day rat race and keeps me on the sane side of the road. I intend on carrying on with them even though something strange has happened between me and figures: I sort of feel they disturb my peace. It seems that people will have to stay out of my work until I feel better.
Thanks for taking the time to share some of your process Maria, I understand perfectly your state of mind and respect the strategy you've devised for yourself while this mood has overtaken you. I'm sure your overall work will only be enriched by your exercise which is interesting in its own right.
We all have our own methods of dealing with these altered states of mind and periodic bouts of angst and boredom we may feel for our own work. I try to drink my way through them although your approach may be more productive and healthier.
The main thing is not to go completely insane because then you could find yourself very very unhappy, lonely, anguished and a world famous artist.
This is such a beautiful text Maria, thank you for giving that to us. It reminds me of my own situation in Frankfurt some 27 years ago when I was in that rat race every day even at weekends while feeling that artist deep down in me knocking at the door all the time. But what should I do in that small time I had for my own? Just for my own sanity I had flowers in my cabin to look at and feel human. So one day I started drawing them. I thought oh my god how deep have you fell that now you draw flowers, what a kitschy subject. But after a while I had the same sensation you described with „ Close observation can bring you into their circle of peace and each time you look you are taken deeper and deeper as you notice more tiny leaves and thin, stretching, little newborn branches you hadn’t seen at first glance.“ So the beginning of my second artistic life started with drawings filled with water colours of flowers. Works I still love and which tought me to look precisely. This period was interrupted by another rat race for more than 20 years until I decided to stop all this and do nothing else than painting what finally brought poverty but satisfaction. Okay, to not tell too much I want to ask you if there will be an opportunity to have a peek into your sketch-book?
Coming just at a time when I can do nothing right, it was a real uplift to read your text Maria - thanks. Your exploration of the drawings is strong and encouraging, I hope you continue to enjoy this research, and find new channels for building upon an expanding visual vocabulary. You've quite a talent with writing too.
With all seriousness i too was impressed with Maria's lovely description of what led her to start, in her mind, her humble project. I had thought of Hanjo's flower studies, maybe I'm amongst the few who have seen some of the images. At one point I myself chose to do a series of still lifes (how boring is that?), even my series of small "Fundamentally Heads" was a similar kind of diversion.
What i've learned, if anything is that it's not the ambition of the project but the interest one has in what one is up to. Boredom sets in quickly and we can't remember what it is we set out to do or maybe the project is too hard and beyond our capabilities. Yet bored or overwhelmed we feel compelled to do something and when we stop or slow down the accusing process of time (so little left and important things to do) we tend to forgive ourselves and perhaps choose something "less ambitious". Really there is no choice, it's that or madness.
In the end, it's all the same, just an excuse to paint, draw, do. The subject's gravitas or lack of it has little meaning, only the interest the process holds for us at any given moment. It doesn't matter what that might be, as long as it sustains our interest long enough to produce something there's always something new to learn.
Maria I also have to say that I understand perfectly your circumstances, because I have a similar situation right now, but you describe it so well,.. some of you have a gift as writers too,and I've becomed accustomed to reading the texts first and then trying to guess who wrote it, usually I do identify your's, Hillel's, Hanjo's and JP's. I think when we turn to something, to look at it with time and curiosity it is because it's already inside of us. I mean, I turned to paint the sea to recuperate an atmosphere of peace I had lost a long time ago, I couldn't have done it with a landscape. Hanjo paints flowers every now and then, because he loves plants, he takes care of them like a doctor,following their growth with delicate patience, it is not a superficial choice. As it isn't when he paints himself in a cold scrutiny of every detail of his face or body. We are a constant change of moods, and sometimes we need the simple joy of sitting under the sun observing what seems to be unimportant and we usually have no time to see, but can be fascinating. I think that the subject's gravitas or lack of it as Hillel says, is not in fact in the subject, but in the way the painter lives that subject, or sees it,its "emotional charge".(think of Van Gogh's Sunflowers,Morandi's bottles,or Nolde's seascapes). Maria,I would only ask you to show your plants in a bigger format, because they cannot be appreciated in such a small size. Drawings have a very personal,spontaneous character that talk about the way a painter works or thinks his work,(have you ever seen Seurat's drawings??or Mr.Hillels drawings?) I love to see them . So I would ask you to put at least one in your gallery, so it can be enlarged and seen properly, please..And by the way Hillel, among your "fundamentally Heads" series if you refer to the Torah scholars, are some superb portraits,you are not referring to these when you mention "a similar kind of diversion" are you??
Hi Karen, it's been a while since you took a leisurely stroll down Hanjo's fabled boulevard, you've been missed. In answer to your question, yes the act of doing of those heads was a similar kind of diversion. The figures moving in some kind of (at least to me) believable space becomes just too hard a chore. So just isolating some heads and not worrying about the space they occupy and working in a very small format was a respite. I wasn't concerned about specific portraiture either, making for a much easier project.
Guys, I am in deep... stools... This new stuff I am working on is not working yet and I am trying to get a couple of painter friends to come to the studio and wake me up. Until they do, I am in a desperate situation. It is a pity I can't really ask you for help, 'cause one needs to see the thing live, but I can ask you another question. What about neon lamps? Have you any clue of which type gives the closest to daylight light? I had asked the shop and they gave me something but I still think it is too warm. Or maybe it isn't and I just have the light too close to the wall where I work. Any idea will be appreciated.
Anyway, take a look at the studio log. If you feel like throwing up let me know. Maybe I am not ready for this "work without a model of any sort" just yet.
Chains. Chains, my friends; they occupy most of my space. Have you ever felt you are trying to make your way across a room full of chains? It is like dreaming with indigestion. You make one step forward and two backwards and there is always this feeling of moving deeper towards a deadly trap. On the other side of the room there is a door open. And you can see everything you have always aspired to going past that door. So casually, so natural, so “I was born for this” kind of way. And yet there you are with your feet surrounded by chains. Sometimes I can’t tell between my heart and my stomach. It is not clear which one it is that hurts so that makes breathing hard.