I am not crazy.

Amanda Clyne, oil sketch on board, 8" x 10", 2013

Amanda Clyne, oil sketch on board, 8" x 10", 2013

“The only difference between an artist and a lunatic is, perhaps, that the artist has the restraint or courtesy to conceal the intensity of his obsession from all except those similarly afflicted.

— Osbert Sitwell

I am not crazy.  It is a mantra I repeat regularly to reassure myself.

I am not crazy. It is easier to believe some days more than others.

When I am not immersed in my own studio obsessions, I am obsessing about breaking free of my own singular voice. I imagine running away from all professional desires, responsibilities and expectations to adopt new eyes and hands, to paint every possible subject in every imaginable way.

One day I would run away to the French countryside and paint en plein air like Van Gogh or Monet.

Vincent Van Gogh

Claude Monet

The next day I'd lock myself in the studio to attempt painterly constructions like Sasha Pierce or Mark Grotjahn.

Sasha Pierce (detail)

Mark Grotjahn (detail)

Maybe I'd travel back to China to study the elegant simplicity of brush and ink, channeling my most ardent Brice Marden and Julie Mehretu.

Brice Marden

Julie Mehretu

Perhaps I'd catapult myself to Berlin to lose my mind in the chaotic ways of Jonathan Meese and Daniel Richter.

Jonathan Meese

Daniel Richter

After that, I might try to rehabilitate reason by immersing myself in the geometric journeys of Tomma Abts or Paul Klee.

Tomma Abts

Paul Klee

And that would just be the beginning. I want to paint it all. I want to try it ALL.

I don't want to copy these artists and their work, don't get me wrong. What I want is to adopt a thousand different mindsets, a million different sensibilities and see what it's like to experience the world in each manner of re-making. I want to see more and more of the world through an endless stream of wondrous and alien eyes. But I don't want to just look. I want to touch and make and think and process all these perspectives through the endless creation of endless kinds of art. I know it might sound crazy.

It is not that I have no vision of my own or no desire to hone it on my own terms. Of course I do. But I must confess to this other deep and insatiable curiosity. Expressing just one singular perspective seems woefully inadequate as a means of grappling with and reveling in the world around me. I am reminded of this quote by Marcel Proust:

"The only true voyage, the only bath in the Fountain of Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to see the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to see the hundred universes that each of them sees, that each of them is..."

Indeed. How many lifetimes would I need to paint each one? Faced with the remains of this one short life, I have begun to feed this obsession quietly on my own. My regular studio practice continues, but patiently, privately, with work I will never show, I have begun to play -- play with new materials, new subjects, play for the pure joyous escape of temporarily abandoning my daily studio obsessions and finding the million other universes that lie within me. I'm sure these playful wanderings will feed my "work", but that is not their purpose. Their power lies in allowing me to roam, untethered to anything I have done before or anything I might do in the future. It reminds me to not get bogged down in the professional trappings of being an Artist, and to savor the solitary revelry of being an artist.

Sheer Possibility

Here is a sneak peak of my new painting in the studio. It's a diptych. I'm still working on the second panel (cropped out of the photo). For some reason a couple of the fragments have been painfully slow to dry, so it's taking a little longer to finish than I had hoped. It will be exhibited at the big 60 Painters show that is opening in two weeks.

The painting is a subtle shift from my previous work, but I'm excited by the possibilities. In my last show, one of my favorite works was "Veiled", an image that seemed to be dissolving into white. I liked the ethereal quality of the work, and I've been wanting to paint a new series with a similar quality -- sophisticated greys (Morandi is one of my painting heroes), and an image that is more haunting than bold. The greyed palette that I've used here with subtle bleeds of color, along with the almost vibrating transparencies give this painting a whole new dimension. It was good to try this idea first with a more minimal source image, but I'm intrigued by what I might concoct with more extravagant source material. I have this idea that I want my work to express a form of Baroque Minimalism -- an oxymoron, I know, but it doesn't mean it's not possible. In fact, I'm quite certain that it is.

Passion as Purpose

"...having passion is just understanding what your purpose in life is." 
-- Dan McLaughlin

I came across this video today about this guy Dan who quit his job to prove that one can master any skill if they put in the requisite time, ie. 10,000 hours.  I remember reading about this 10,000 hour milestone to mastery in Malcolm Gladwell's book "Outliers", and I remember finding the idea reassuring after I crazily quit my lucrative job as a lawyer to try to be an artist.  If I just put in the time, it must be possible.  10,000 hours?  Then here goes nothing.

Well, it appears this guy Dan is documenting every hour of his efforts to master golf in a project called "The Dan Plan".  Perhaps I should have had more foresight and documented "The Amanda Plan" back at the beginning when I first quit my job.  And isn't the progression of learning art more interesting than learning golf?  I'm just saying.  Anyway, I relate to his story a lot, and I hope that his hypothesis that anyone can do anything if they just put in the time is true (for him as well as for me).  Although I sense a few glitches in his theory (everything doesn't just boil down to skill, does it?).

At the end of this video, the interviewer asks Dan whether the passion required to be so driven and focused so as to spend 10,000 hours on one endeavor might just be genetic.  I love his response:  
"How do you prove whether or not someone is born with passion?  I mean is that an innate ability or something that's actually, just for some unknown reason, some people are born with passion and some people are just passionless?  I don't really agree with that.  I think that as long as anybody finds whatever it is in life that they really love then they'll become obsessed and they'll just want to do that and nothing will get in their way.  So, perhaps having passion is just understanding what your purpose in life is."

Beyond the Dress

Installation of Alexander McQueen at Metropolitan Museum of Art

High expectations can be a dangerous thing. Once you expect something to be amazing, it is far too likely that you'll end up disappointed, or worse, that the truly amazing will no longer be able to actually amaze you. But the much-hyped Alexander McQueen show "Savage Beauty", which I saw at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York this week, easily surpassed every sky-high expectation I had.

There are enough reviews of the show that I don't think it's necessary for me to repeat all the accolades again, but I'd like to share a few thoughts I had about the show:

Art, Not Fashion

When I first arrived at the museum and saw the throngs of people waiting to enter the show, I admit I felt a little jealous that a fashion designer was able to draw a larger, more excited crowd to the museum than any art exhibition I had ever seen. Inside the exhibition, as each viewer stood in awe, patiently soaking in the exquisite nature of each McQueen dress, jacket and pair of shoes, I was a little hurt that I so rarely see such attention being paid to the artworks of the greatest painters and sculptors.

But then I realized that we had all been duped. While I'm sure many, if not most of the visitors had come to the show because of their interest in fashion, Alexander McQueen (and the absolutely brilliant curatorial team at the Met's Costume Institute) made sure that we were not looking at just clothes and accessories, but at a fully realized artistic vision, one that incorporated sculpture, painting, performance, installation and new media, all under the guise of fashion. I remember years ago seeing the Armani exhibit at the Guggenheim. I loved the show but the dresses and suits were - let's be real - just dresses and suits. But the McQueen show was so, so much more. It was art in its most masterful, dark, and poetic form of expression. When I left the show, the world looked different. McQueen had undeniably infiltrated my vision.

A Second Skin

I love the abstract nature of fashion and how it plays with form, movement, color and texture. When I look at fashion, I see abstract paintings. One day, I plan to paint them. Throughout the McQueen show, there was certainly no shortage of extraordinary sensations. My favorite was an organza dress, so intricately layered that it created the impression it was made entirely of smoke, the floor-length skirt appearing to rise from the floor like dry ice. But from the very beginning of the show, it was clear to me that McQueen's works were impervious to abstraction. The garments and accessories are so thoroughly steeped in narrative, that the body itself becomes an inextricable element of his design. Some garments seem to attack the body, while others seem to have instigated an irrevocable process of metamorphosis in which the woman is in the midst of transforming into a hybrid being, morphing with creatures that offer her new forms of protection and defense. And a few garments violently suggest the aftermath from some sort of dehumanizing body-snatching invasion. With each garment, the dress covers the body not as a decorative article of clothing, but as a second skin, as if it were a kind of natural outgrowth from our dark, mutating, genetic make-up.

The Perfect Eulogy

At about the half-way point in the show, my eyes welled up with tears, and I spent the rest of the show fighting them back with only moderate success. It was all so overwhelming, so haunting, so brilliant. By the end, I felt like my heart and head would explode from a potent mix of ecstasy, emotion, and inspiration. The metamorphosis suggested in his garments seemed to be taking place inside me. But there was still another show I wanted to see -- the Richard Serra drawing exhibit. At first, I wasn't sure that I could absorb another visual onslaught, and when I first entered the Serra exhibit, the weighty, spare, geometric drawings seemed better suited for another day. But as I began to wander through the exhibit, I began to see Serra's drawings as the perfect eulogy for Alexander McQueen himself. Confronted with one of Serra's large towering black squares, the entire surface immersed in the heavy scrawls of rich, caked-on paint stick, I saw the roughly textured surface transform into the delicate ruffles and decaying lace of McQueen's creations. Standing back to take in the drawing's impenetrable blackness, grand scale and stark form, I experienced a dark, monumental silence. It seemed the most fitting conclusion to McQueen's truly epic exhibition, and the most eloquent representation of the lingering, tragic void left by his senseless death.

Richard Serra (detail of drawing)
Richard Serra at Metropolitan Museum of Art

Too Much

I have too much to say. Way too much. So much that I have found myself unable to say anything at all. I've written countless unfinished blog entries, all of them totally inadequate ramblings. I have so many ideas lately, inspired by so many disparate things, I can't find the time to sort through them and articulate what it all means for me and my work. As the ideas pile up, I don't want to post my latest finding without catching up on the older ones first, but I can't seem to find the time to catch up, so the ideas pile up and pile up. I no longer know where to begin. The longer I leave it, the more the ideas shift and move, overlapping and looping around each other. They feed off each other, growing bigger and more complicated, becoming so thoroughly intertwined that I can no longer find a way to disentangle them into neat, compartmentalized postings.

I know the ideas are working their way through my paintings. I can see the influence in my latest compositions. But I continue to experience an unshakable anxiety that if I do not find the time to sort through, synthesize and articulate my responses, the ideas will start to lose their potency and will begin to suffocate within the tangled mess of incomplete arguments, fragmented thoughts and forgotten connections.

I've had strep throat this week, so my mind is fuzzy and my body aches. I'm exhausted with illness but wired from boredom, and the combination is pushing me perilously to the edge. More often than not (and especially at times like this when I'm sick), I find myself frustrated by the gap I experience between the possibilities I see in my mind and my ability to execute them in a sufficient time such that the products of my efforts don't feel like old news when they are finally complete. The speed of my body can't seem to keep up with the speed of my mind. I recently read a book about the California artist Robert Irwin (a goldmine of inspiration that I have been working through in my recent series of unpublished and unresolved blogs) in which he laments our culture's emphasis on performance:
"We are past-minded, in the sense that all of our systems of measure are developed and in a sense dependent upon a kind of physical resolution. We tag our renaissances at the highest level of performance, where it's really clear to me that once the question is raised, the performance is somewhat inevitable, almost just a mopping-up operation, merely a matter of time. " (from Lawrence Weschler's "Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees", page 90.)
I so get that! In the last couple of months, I feel myself caught in a deluge of questions that my work just can't keep up with. I know I must accept temporary resolutions, whether in order to complete a painting, post a blog entry, or write an artist statement. But be forewarned: these works are not definitive statements, they are merely a series of still inadequate working hypotheses.

It makes me return to my favorite quote that I posted on August 1, 2010 by Arnold Glimcher about how artworks are but a series of clues to the art that ultimately resides in the mind of the artist. But even that assumes that the art is fully formed in the artist's mind, and I'm not convinced that this is always so. I certainly love the idea that the art is already there, somewhere inside me, and that all I need to do is sort through the mess, excavate through the comfortable and the obvious, and free it from deep within. In fact, in moments of inspiration, like when I was reading Weschler's book on Irwin, the ideas strike me not as foreign entities, entering my consciousness from somewhere unknown and external, but much more like liberated P.O.W.s, at long last released into my thought processes from that dark, secluded place inside my mind that is otherwise inaccessible to my available modes of expression. I love that art can be the source of such liberation.

I could go on and on. There's so much more to say. I feel like I should end with some definitive conclusion to all this. But alas, I have none.

Bellowing Desire

An extended passage from Lee Siegel's collection of essays entitled "Falling Upwards" - this passage is from an essay reflecting on the work of novelist Saul Bellow (but I'm not posting this because of an interest in Saul Bellow...):
"The world's siren song, its sweetness and strangeness, is the ordeal of Bellow's heroes. Life fills them with such a sense of promise and beauty that, in the end, they turn inward as a way to escape the inevitable disappointments that plague passionately receptive natures.
Men of most powerful appetite have always been the ones to doubt reality the most" says the African King Dahfu to Henderson in Henderson the Rain King. These life-famished figures are contemporary; they cannot, Dahfu continues "bear that hopes should turn to misery, and loves to hatreds and deaths and silences, and so on." They are contemporary in precisely this sense: the more their desires expand, the further reality recedes.
So Bellow's heroes leap away from disappointing reality into ideas, and then away from insufficient ideas into sex, and away from sex into fantasy, and back to culture, and then back to experience - and on and on, in an infinite regression of distancing from the episodes in life that fall short of life's promise. They must protect their psyches from the insult of inadequate conditions. This psychoacrobatic motion is anarchic, like laughter; and it reproduces the odyssey of Mozart's music, which modulates from earthy to sky to the far end of heaven and back to earth.
Bellow's heroes are in flight from reality to the heart of existence. They flee from life for love of life. Henderson is both strengthened and harried by a small persistent voice deep inside him that repeats, "I want I want I want." There is something terrible about these protagonists who are so consumed with desire. They burn life away with the intensity of their wanting, feeling, thinking, and almost always find themselves alone, barely alive, far away from other people. It is as if their defeat by desire were also the fulfillment of their desire. A wish for deprivation lurks in the depths of their voracity."

A Sign of Intimacy

In my Collins English Dictionary, the word "intimate" is defined, in part, as:
deeply personal, private, secret
having a deep or unusual knowledge
of or relating to the essential part or nature of something; intrinsic
For me, there is no question that painting has a distinct capacity to express intimacy. I would argue that at its best, painting always does. Which is not to say that all paintings are intimate expressions. Many (too many?) are not. Which means it cannot just be the medium itself that evokes a sense of intimacy. There must be more to it than just paint. But what exactly?

What role does the iconography of the painting play - can a still life, a sprawling urban landscape, a figurative portrait, a graphic abstraction, each convey an "equal" (not necessarily similar) sense of intimacy? My initial instinct would be to argue no, that the human body/face has an unfair advantage. It must be easier to feel intimate toward a person than a pear, a building or a shape. But there are simply too many examples (innumerable, really) of painted objects, views and blobs, that, through the eyes of many viewers, evoke as much (if not more) intimacy as peering into the face of a stranger. And if that is true, then perhaps it is not what is painted, but how it is painted.

So then is it the artist's touch that humanizes the surface into a sensual being? If so, is any touch sufficient or do we all have to be de Kooning? Chuck Close used an airbrush in his early work to remove the baggage that comes with a strong gestural imprint, but when face to face with the real paintings, the surface cannot be said to read as mechanical. In contrast, Richter's blurred photo paintings are clearly of the hand and brush, but I can't say I would describe my encounter with these works as one of intimacy.

Does the size of the painting matter? Can an enormous painting be as intimate an experience as a miniature? The immersive experience offered by a large canvas can swallow the viewer into its vision, but is that really what we would describe as intimate? But if the canvas is too small, does the viewer dominate it like a giant to a child, keeping the viewer at a remote distance like a photographer looking through a viewfinder. De Kooning spoke of sizing his works to relate to the scale of the human body. I like this approach, and have been adopting it as of late, but I know this cannot be the only viable option to creating an intimate relationship between painting and viewer.

Color must play a role in it somehow too. In my own work, I have found using too much of the synthetic pigments that have no real existence beyond the chemical usually severs the intimate possibilities in a work. But is that to say that must always be the case?

Of course I am sure there is no definitive rule to be discovered. In the video of Chuck Close that I posted yesterday, Close wisely states, "Problem solving is way too over-rated. Problem creation is much more interesting." So the problem I have created for myself is to grapple with the question of intimacy, to strive to create paintings that engage the viewer in an intimate confrontation. As Jonathon Lasker wrote in his essay "Paint's Body" (and one of my favorite quotes about oil painting):
"We are all at present, more divided, less empowered, and certainly far less connected to the effects of our world than we should be. It is for this reason that I am deeply involved with the textures of a medium capable of universalizing so much lost intimacy."

Beauty in Disguise

If you could see me, you wouldn't describe me as beautiful. I'm pretty enough, and I can feel pretty good about myself on a good hair day with a flattering outfit. But I'm not beautiful. Enough men have hit on me that I assume some would say I can be sexy, or hot, or however men describe it outside the company of women. But it's not beauty. I think it would be fair to say that I have a fascination with the fantasy of being beautiful. For me, the fantasy is not about gaining the approval or love or admiration of others. It's something I assume I would feel inside myself - not just a confidence, but perhaps a freedom, the kind of freedom that comes with donning a perfect disguise.

I generally don't talk about the role of beauty in my work. I'm comfortable discussing the theoretical debates surrounding the idea of beauty in contemporary culture, but to declare my work to be a meditation on beauty, I don't think I'm ready for that yet. It closes off the possibilities. It sounds trite.

Someone recently said to me that they were tired of the idea that people thought art had to be deciphered, that art was somehow a means to hide something obvious that the viewer just had to find. I agree with that, but I don't think it applies just to viewers. I think artists too, now faced with the pressures of insightful and theoretically rigorous artist statements, can find themselves trying to define and clarify and explore ideas without even making the work. But the more work I make, the more I continue to be surprised by the themes and ideas that reveal themselves to me in the process of making and in the completed pieces.

My private relationship to beauty is slowly revealing itself. People have been telling me so. But that doesn't mean that is what the work is about, or what I intend it to be about, or what I hope it to be about. But it is there nonetheless.


Sometimes I get a little over-zealous. I admit it. In my crazed efforts to create months-worth of new compositions to paint, this week I have overwhelmed myself with possibilities, printing more and more source materials and photographing more and more ink prints. I was just beginning to lose all perspective, drowning in liquid images, when this afternoon I decided to stop. I picked a few sets of ink prints and started composing. It made me feel like I was moving forward, although I can't say I was coming up with anything that was that earth-shattering. Until I started to work with one image that I have completely fallen in love with.

It is reminiscent of Fragonard's paintings (like the ones I've posted here from the Metropolitan Museum's collection in New York). I know, Fragonard is not exactly Velasquez, but personally I think Fragonard is highly underrated. In person, the paintings are lusciously painted, and while most people just see his images as over-romanticized cheese, they are so visually seductive, so totally over-the-top, they actually remind me of the visual excess in today's celebrity and fashion culture. To me, he seems more relevant today than ever. And now I'm dying to paint.