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.

In Storr

A few not-so-random quotes from Anthony Storr's book "Solitude":
"Can you imagine what it is like being a prisoner for life, your dreams turn into nightmares and your castles to ashes, all you think about is fantasy and in the end you turn your back on reality and live in a contorted world of make-believe, you refuse to accept the rules of fellow-mortals and make ones that will fit in with your own little world, there is no daylight in this world of the 'lifer', it is all darkness, and it is in this darkness that we find peace and the ability to live in a world of our own, a world of make-believe."  (Storr, p. 56, quote by a prisoner interviewed by Stanley Cohen and Laurie Taylor for their book Psychological Survival)
"...that hunger of imagination which preys incessantly upon life, and must be always appeased by some enjoyment. Those who have already all that they can enjoy must enlarge their desires." (Storr, p. 63, quote by Samuel Johnson)
"To allow his genius to become apparent to himself it was necessary that he should dare to give up aiming to please. Cut off from everyone by deafness he discovered the vulnerability of the spectator, he realized that the painter has only to struggle with himself and he will come, sooner or later, the conqueror of all."  (Storr, p. 53, quote by André Malraux regarding Goya)

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."

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.

Such A Dirty Mind

On Friday, Nitasha and I ventured out to Chelsea to see if there was anything worthwhile. I always find it's pretty hit-and-miss in the Chelsea galleries, and I wasn't optimistic for the August shows (New York is deserted in August). Generally, I would say there were mostly misses this time, but there were a few great things.

One of the highlights was a Cecily Brown painting from 1999 ("Boy Trouble" - left image) that was hung in a group show called "Naked" - a collection of almost 50 figurative paintings from as early as the 1800's to today. The Cecily Brown painting was one of the best I've seen of her work (I saw the Oct 2008 show at Gagosian and had mixed feelings about it) and it was definitely the best piece in the show. The paint handling was a tour de force - varied and exciting. While the style was loose and gestural, there was a great sense of editing, just enough control that every smear and mark oozed with intention. I thought it was a much more powerful piece than those from 2008. The newer work is much more chaotic, full of anxiety and a hyper-kinetic energy - the initial confrontation with it is impressive, but with a longer look, the paint overwhelms every representational reference, making the experience more of an adventure in painterly abstraction than anything else. But in this 1999 painting, the energy seemed to emanate from within the figure itself - a man with a huge erection dominating the canvas.

But since I've always considered myself an abstract painter, it makes me wonder why I wouldn't prefer Brown's 2008 paintings that have been obliterated into abstraction? When did I cross the line from abstract painter to conceptual painter to (gasp!) FIGURE PAINTER?? While I have been using the figure in my work, I wouldn't say my work has been ABOUT the figure. But maybe it should be. Maybe I want it to be. Maybe it already is. Dear God.

And then there's that huge erection. Really? I'm certainly no prude (and I love this particular painting), but I don't understand why so much of the figure painting in contemporary art (that gets any international attention) seems to be either graphically violent or pornographic. It's just so OBVIOUS. Are there not more subtleties to be explored in the human condition? And even if sex and violence are so fundamental to human nature that any image of the figure cannot avoid them, are there not more interesting and complex ways to address them? In Camera Lucida, Barthes talks about how some photographs are endowed with a "blind field" - that the punctum of the photograph (discussed in my posting yesterday) implies a broader image/context than the photograph explicitly shows, which the viewer makes seen through his own assumptions/imagination/input. That seems much more interesting to me. Why do these artists feel compelled to display the contents of their own dirty mind, when it seems much more confrontational and provocative (and ultimately more effecting) to create an image that forces the viewer to delve into the contents of their own dirty mind. I think Kara Walker is one artist who does this particularly well - the disturbing implications of her work come from the viewer making the final connections in the images she creates, a much more potent and shocking experience for the viewer - although a lot of Walker's work is still pretty graphic, I think her more ambiguous images are much intriguing and arresting.

Speaking of the erotic image, Barthes writes:
"it takes the spectator outside its frame, and it is there that I animate the photograph and that it animates me. The punctum, then, is a kind of subtle beyond - as if the image launched desire beyond what it permits us to see: not only toward "the rest" of the nakedness, not only toward the fantasy of a praxis, but toward the absolute excellence of a being, body and soul together." (p.59)
Admittedly, it's much harder for the artist to involve the viewer in the completion of an image, but as Barthes argues, those are the images that the viewer retains in his/her memory - when the image is completed by SHUTTING the eyes.

My fascination with these issues may mean my work is heading somewhere new - sensuality, eroticism, seduction...more subtlety and may be a whole new world.