Because I write about, and make, art, people often assume that writing about my own work is natural. This is hardly the case…and it’s actually become more tedious over the years.
The only therapy for the non-genius is to not keep telling the same story over and over again.
The reason for the increasing tedium relates to something I realized after awaking on my studio floor one morning at the Pratt Institute, where I went to graduate school. I painted late into the night and was too exhausted to gamble on an unreliable G Train to get me back to Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I woke up with the sun shining through my curtain-less windows, and turned on an old rabbit ears television to animate my dank, beery studio. On one of the network morning shows Katie Couric was interviewing Liam Neeson about a movie called Love Actually. My over-tiredness mixed with the residue of Roland Barthes from art criticism class brought me to a realization: All of Liam’s answers were rehearsed, and probably scripted. He peeled through Couric’s softball questions with an ease that approximated meaningful insight, but in the end was nothing of the sort. This seems obvious in hindsight, but there has to be a moment when each of us sees the wizard behind the curtain, and that was mine.
I, like Liam, fall prey to the natural tendency to polish accounts of my process along with the “meaning” of my work. Everyone does. This is why so many visiting artist talks feel canned. And the only therapy for the non-genius is to not keep telling the same story over and over again.
My thoughts on describing my work also relate to Dave Hickey’s ideas about writing music criticism, that at its very best, writing will still take a fan further away from music rather than deeper into it. But music and literature will only ever connect through metaphor because they employ different senses to communicate. Similarly, when writing about the meaning of my work, the writing gets continually better as writing, but not necessarily any better at penetrating the experience of my work.
So I’ll take a different tack this time and describe simply what I’d consider my ultimate studio bliss out. I actually roll these factors around my head in real life and score my art-making scenarios as if it were Olympic speed skating. Like, I walk down the street and say to myself, “tonight’s an 8.7…no an 8.9.”
Here’s a 10.0
It’s late afternoon on a 75-degree Friday in May. I walk under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway to my local Staples. If I’m in my Wisconsin studio the same would apply, but I’d be driving to Office Max instead. I’d purchase every different type of ball point pen in stock. Back at the studio I would sort them out and prepare them for experiments.
Generally, I do prep work during the day and experiment at night, so when 5 o’clock hits, all my gessoed panels would be lined up and ready to go.
When I go office supply shopping, I also like to buy one item that I’ve never worked with and use it for a crude experiment. So I might buy a dozen packs of fluorescent highlighters and brew their felt ink cartridges in a coffee percolator to see what it does. (This doesn’t work very well, by the way.)
So I might buy a dozen packs of fluorescent highlighters and brew their felt ink cartridges in a coffee percolator to see what it does.
I return to my studio at 5 p.m. and turn on All Things Considered and a contraption that heats epoxy resin up to about 160 degrees. I check on some material experiments that are already cooking in the back of my space: currently pieces of paper soaking in a mixture of alcohol and permanent markers, which I eventually plan to work back into with chlorine bleach.
I do ink and resin experiments on prepped panels until the early hours of the morning. The experiments proceed through something like a Richard Serra “Verb List,” where various procedures are applied to a given material in order to tease form and structure out of them.
After working into the early morning, I will come back the next day to see how the panels developed overnight and start considering how to work back into them. This is my orgiastic moment: contemplating how to combine the abstract process elements with other images. Either from my photo library or sketchbook. I might plan a photo or sketch trip somewhere if the paintings call for it.
I usually have a general idea about where the body of work is going, and this informs both the material experimentation and the reworking. This can be a long process that could involve months of preparation and painting.
Bliss out studio session number two is a rainy November day in which I paint meteorites back into those abstractions I did in May for 16 hours while I listen to a Radiolab marathon…my wife and daughter visit me throughout the day to see how things are going.
Nerdy, but that’s a 10.0.