Jan 15, 2011

all is all



This poster is for Brian Pera's new film that he shot here in Memphis.  He and I met just out of high school and then got reacquainted again about fifteen years ago.  When it comes to creative matters, we turn to one another for support, honesty, and direction.  Long stretches can slip by before we seek each other out, but when it happens it's as though no time has passed between us.   He came to my opening last Friday and the next day he wrote about the work on his blog Intermittent Movement.  Thank you.




In my studio notebook I have some email correspondences between us from 2004.  It was at this point I decided to work solely in abstraction and take my work in a completely different direction.  Once a week for about six weeks Brian and I met in his bright breakfast nook over coffee, talking about stuff I'd been working on in the studio. He acted as a muse, but he was also was like a creative therapist. I would describe how the new work was going, what I was reading, or films I was watching.  Sometimes he'd simply pick up the pom poms and shake them with encouragement. Other times he'd write to me the most thoughtful observations on painting and the visual arts in general. He looks very closely. 

We wrote the exchange below after I had just come back from a trip to New York.  It's six years later and I'm still working through so many of these same issues in the studio now as I was then.  When I'm 75 I'll laugh at this notion of time and will probably say, "six years....that's just a blink of an eye in studio time!".


Me:  I’d like to write some feelings I had about the work I saw in New York.  There was a lot of freedom with line and color.  After making work in my studio solidly for a few weeks now, and seeing so much in New York, I realize the mental constraints I put on myself.   “Don’t use that green because you’re using it too much”, or “here we go with that shape again”.  Who cares!  I could do it all a thousand times and it would be ok.  I saw art that was very repetitive and I liked that.  Also, I want to spend a lot of time drawing and experimenting with patterns on a small scale so I can use them in larger paintings.  I have this bizarre separation between painting and drawing - that somehow a drawing doesn’t hold the weight a painting does, or it is less ‘sacred’.  I saw lots of drawing in New York that knocked me over and made me realize that I am able to make  strong work with a little watercolor and graphite.   I want to stop thinking of my work in a linear way.  Everything isn’t a means to an end.  There is no end.  Every time we sit to work it’s a beginning.

Brian:  I just got to the notes you sent about NY...

I'm glad you went to shows and that some of them impacted you.  What's weird about a place like NY, Chelsea especially, is the way you can walk from gallery to gallery as if entering and exiting people's heads. All is permissible, which you start to see when you get exposed to that kind of profusion again.  You've got to keep that alive in your own head, because you do have a tendency to second guess and instruct yourself out of or away from your instincts, and sometimes too your fears disguise themselves as instincts, like wolves in sheep's clothing.

I think one of the biggest fears is the impulse to rush.  This is the feeling I have waking up in the middle of the night in a panic.  The truth is, you're right: show or no show, an artist keeps going.  And small gets too big eventually, if only accumulatively.

I was flipping through a Basquiat book last night.  I'd forgotten how good he was, how riotous, jumbled like jazz.  Interesting too these distinctions you were making, separating drawings from paintings, because I have two books on Basquiat, paintings and drawings, and I noticed that in the beginning his drawings were more spare, as if throwaways, like he regarded them as sketches for an eventual, larger work.  In the last few years of his life something clicked in his head.  You can see it in the work, which loses a lot of the former distinctions between drawing and painting.  What makes the difference?, he must have finally thought.  All is all, really.  He was using the same materials for both.  Once he makes that jump in his head he makes it in his work, too, and the drawings even make their way into the paintings and vice versa, with collage and so forth.  You can tell that it totally freed up his practice.  He started constructing paintings, not just with drawings and paint but with blocks, found objects, etc.  It's interesting too that you bring up journaling, because I'd been thinking about that too.  Basquiat initially wrote single words and sentences in his work.  When the shift happened and he seemed to realize he could do anything, he started writing all over them, a jumble of thoughts and fragments, from newspaper articles, old sayings, journals, inner thoughts.  I thought, I wish Melissa would experiment with word and fabric and everything else she does in her life.  I wish she'd bring it all in.  Why not collage, why not sew onto canvas, why not construct paintings like collages themselves?  Why make simple distinctions between big and small canvases, as if one is logically the natural progression from the other, when you have the foresight to see that drawings needn't be any less significant than paintings?  Why think of the dozens of tiny wallpaper pattern paintings you plan to do as separate entities?  The entire creative process is built on collation and editorial decisions, deciding what goes where.

I've also been reading a biography on Joseph Cornell, who of course only ever made shadow boxes and paper collage.  The man never drew in his life.  Never painted.  Is there some sort of useful distinction between shadow boxes and paintings, in the sense that one is more officially art than the other?  How can that distinction be useful when it's Cornell we're talking about?  I mean, who is the painter?  Doesn't it all depend?  Basquiat made dozens and dozens of paintings in his brief career, working quickly.  Cornell worked painstakingly.  One was small scale, one large.  I remember seeing Basquiat in NY once.  I'd only seen him on paper.  All work is democratic in print, all reduced to the same size.  In terms of size, a Rothko is a Warhol is a Bourgeois, in print.  Seeing him in person was something else, of course, but I'd felt him EITHER WAY.  Size is for size queens.  As for medium, don't you realize that you would be drawing on cans if that's all you had access to, and the question, these sometimes torturous distinctions would never be an issue.

We're having important conversations, and things are going at the rate they should.  

1 comment:

  1. Laura Helper-FerrisJanuary 18, 2011 at 9:04 PM

    (apologies if this posts twice - I think I missed a step.) What an amazing friend and interlocutor. So interesting to see the theme of permission resonating back through the years. "All is all" is my new favorite motto, right up there with "you will find that nothing you have done is ever lost", from a magic interlocutor of my own. Dig the Joseph Cornell ref too. Right on.

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