Sunday, January 6, 2013

Highest Definition

I recently saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), by Peter Jackson, who shot the movie at 48 frames per second rather than the typical 24.

High Definition. Crystal Clear.  Focus so sharp, it cuts.

It seems that more and more, the public is wanting to view movies, television, and video in the highest definition possible.

We gain a lot by viewing things in HD: vibrancy, clarity, beauty.

But there is something in me that is bothered by this idea that cleaner and clearer is automatically better.

I want to know what it was like before eyeglasses were invented, when you had to do the best you could with the eyes you had.  How much ambiguity was in the world back then?

Our eyes are limited in the kind of information they can provide us.

But isn't that what makes us human? Limitations?

I question how far we should go to make our art transcend the human body it originates from.

When I go to a movie, I want to be enveloped in the story like I was there with the characters when it was shot.  I want to have a shared experience with the film.

If the film looks better than how I see things in the real world, there is a disconnect.

Is it possible for a picture to be too perfect, too slick, overproduced?

When I paint, sometimes I want to hide the brushstrokes.  To make it smooth.  Then I realize that if I don't want to see brushstrokes, I shouldn't be painting with a brush.

Our hands can only do so much with the tools they are given. 

But isn't that what makes us human?


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Thoughts on Violence

"Wrestlers," oil on paper, 4" x 6", 2012

i painted these wrestlers after
the sandy hook shooting because
i liked their faces and the way
they held each other up. i painted
from a picture i took with my phone
during a movie. in the movie they
were brothers but they had to fight
each other for some stupid reason.
they pounded each other's faces into
the ground and cried. 
roland barthes says that wrestling
is not a sadistic spectacle, it is 
an intelligible spectacle. we don't just want
to see pain, we want to see why pain
happens, the whole equation laid out.
i see one brother holding the other brother's 
arm behind his back in a terrible
bone-twisting way and my body thinks
about what i could do to my own
brother, and under what circumstances.
could i twist his arm like that? could i let go?
what would it feel like to be hit there,
and with that hand?
his suffering is open and i can enter it.
we can collaborate.
like falling in love with you so deeply that
i fall in love with your love for another. 
someone at work after sandy hook
said, "i'm not surprised," 
and i thought, no, we are always
surprised by pain. the next wave
feels the same as the last 
but is brand new. 
i have a lot of dreams
about people i love dying
and they always make me cry
but i feel them so deeply that they must
be more good than bad when all things
are finished.
last week i painted a sad old woman in a 
rocking chair. she didn't want to be happy.
i gave her the love of my labor.
when i painted the wrestlers i almost fixed
their bloody faces with my brush. 
but all of us knew 
it was not my place.

"Wrestlers," detail

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Eternal Feminine by Katelyn Eichwald

Paul Cézanne, The Eternal Feminine, 1877.Oil on canvas. 17 x 20 7/8 in.  (Credit: J. Paul Getty Museum)

In Paul Cézanne's The Eternal Feminine, men from different occupations (musicians, painters, a bishop) surround a female nude. Although The Eternal Feminine relates to much of Katelyn Eichwald's work, where women are painted in vulnerable situations and/or as a mere object to the male mythology, Eichwald appropriated Paul Cézanne's painting including it within the context of her body of work.

The context in which Eichwald presents the painting is very distant from the Cézanne piece. 
The Eternal Feminine by Cézanne was painted in 1877. The painting is part of the J. Paul Getty Museum collection and is seen by thousands of people daily. Eichwald's The Eternal Feminine, on the other hand, was painted in 2012. The painting lives in her one-bedroom apartment in Chicago and the only person who has seen Eichwald's The Eternal Feminine in person (other than herself) is her boyfriend Michael. 

The distant history of both objects does not stop there. In 1954, the female nude in Cézanne's The Eternal Feminine was given a retouch to make her look less disturbing and more feminine. Only in 1991, Cézanne's The Eternal Feminine was restored to its "original." Eichwald's The Eternal Feminine female nude always had her red socket eyes.

While in most interpretations of Cézanne's The Eternal Feminine, a bald figure admiring the female nude might be Cézanne, in Eichwald's The Eternal Feminine, the bald figure is Cézanne. Also, in Eichwald's The Eternal Feminine, the female nude might be Eichwald herself (with her long golden hair). 

The Eternal Feminine has been known by many other titles such as The Golden Calf, The Triumph of
Woman, Apotheosis of Woman, La Belle Impéria, and The Whore of Babylon, while Eichwald's painting is only known by The Eternal Feminine. 

Paul Cézanne, The Eternal Feminine, 1877. (Picture between 1954-1991/ Without red eye sockets). (Credit: J. Paul Getty Museum) 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Thoughts on Productivity

A telegram from Dorothy Parker to her editor, 1945

"I don't believe that we are what we do although many thinkers argue otherwise. I believe that what we do is, very often, a poor approximation of what we are -- an imperfect manifestation of a much better totality. Even the best of us sometimes bite off, as it were, less than we can chew. When Natasha bites William she's saying only part of what she wants to say to him. She's saying, William! Wake up! Remember! But that gets lost in a haze of pain, his."

-- Donald Barthelme, "Jaws"

new, terrible obstacles seem unsurmountable 
when rising up
but then, after showing teeth, fall back 
and circle, distracted.
on days when i cannot paint am i still 
a painter?
on days when i do not make anything 
am i still one of the good ones
leaning imperceptibly into the green?
my identity as a maker grids everything, 
allows for the job,
the sadness. makes poverty bearable, 
though it still hurts.
everything hurts but not as much as we 
think it will. a little less.
or, if two things hurt, the relief of one, 
especially before relief was expected,
feels better than anything.
the gods which guide my happiness are 
carved from rock and far away, 
faceless walls of sediment shifting 
in their beds, drybrushed.
sleeping on the couch does not 
make it easier.
sometimes i think that because i have
not yet done all that i am capable of
i am nothing. this is the kind of shit that 
gets me into trouble. 
but you see where it comes from. if we are
makers above all (are we?)
and we do not make, or do not make
the best we can make, 
then all of our losses lose their reasons.
we want to feel like this is worth it. 
but that's only if you 
think of a loss as one half of a ratio, 
when really it's more like 
the animals we sleep with, 
who have no reasons for being born 
but still give us comfort and 
companionship in the night. we love them
for being with us.
we can love our losses in this way too.
i believe i am worth the same no matter 
what i do. a steady line. 
i learned that in a self-help book but it's true. 
there is more in what i paint than my life
as a painter and i pray for the day 
i lose track of my hands like i've always 
dreamed of. 
then i will be, not new to myself, but old 
like a god, like a huge forever iceberg in antarctica,
and i will navigate around myself like an 
off-course fishing boat, 
big men standing on the deck, looking up
and then, slowly, down.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Two Calls, Two Painters, Two Reasons

Philip Guston, The Line, 1978. 

1st Call

I called a friend and fellow painter whose New York gallery was greatly affected by Hurricane Sandy. He had just received over 30 images of his damaged paintings. As he narrated the scene in which the paintings were found, and described the paintings' conditions (as it was narrated to him), I imagined the paintings as dead animals. 

He told me these losses made him think about the countless summers in his studio, painting his life away.  "And when I realized it was October," he said.  

Without those paintings, what value do those summers have? 

2nd Call

I received an unexpected call from a painter who left our graduate program after a year. I remember our constant complaining about how we felt like we had to explain everything we painted. She told me about her married life and how she didn't have "a love affair" with NYC--her new place of residence. 

She also told me she went to museums and she wanted to get back to painting. She said, "One day, I told myself, I am going to Michael's and get some supplies and then I will go to Trader Joe's and buy a flower to paint a still life...but then I started to think about what it meant to do that." After a brief pause she continued, "But I don't have to explain what my paintings are about. I can just make them." 

Saturday, December 8, 2012


A watercolor landscape by John D. McClanahan.

Single images have a funny way of sticking in my mind.  In order to cultivate a sense of composure, my brain tends to condense long periods of time, normally filled with endless chaotic details, into just one idealized moment, one blurry freeze-frame to file away into my memory.  

I am then free to pull certain details from any one of these flashcard moments: a texture, a feeling, a color, a mood, a shape.

The few times that I have journeyed across the country by car, I have been struck by the long stretches of landscape zooming past outside my window.  And how much untouched land still lies between the coasts.  As I am about to embark on such a trip next week, I am mentally preparing myself for what could be a tedious drive.  Instead, I am going to try to focus on the landscapes reaching around me, pulling me forward, slowly evolving from farmland to desert and back again to green hillsides.  

Maybe by the time I reach my destination, I will have one of these ideal images in my mind, condensed and perfected and ripe for the picking.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Exhibition: About Face at ACME.

Scott Grodesky, Ilona, 2012. Mixed media on linen on panel, 22" x 16"

This is the first time I felt like being at an opening was a better experience than going some other day. The exhibition at ACME called About Face—curated by Daniel Weinberg—was a group of fifty paintings that explored the theme of portraiture. The paintings were hung either in groups, in salon style, or alone. Because the exhibition design mirrored my body's relationship to other bodies (at times alone, at other times in groups, at times shorter, and at other times taller), I imagined these painted faces conversing with one another.

Faces created by renowned artists like Jim Nut, Eddie Martinez, and Brian Calvin met faces created by emerging artists like as Neal Tait, Scott Grodesky, and Helen Rae while also meeting with some artists' actual faces like Allison Schulnik's and Kristin Calabrese's. While I stood there, in that crowd of faces, I imagined what all those faces, human and painted, were talking about--painting, faces, surfaces, portraitures, etc.

I felt I was looking just as much as I was being looked at. Even the paintings that seem to be less figurative transform themselves into eyes that stared back at me. We, the human and the painted, the human and the human, the painted and the painted, acknowledged each other. The faces of humans and the painted faces became completely blended on my mind.

ACME, About Face Exhibition, Installation View. (December 2012)