I’ve got this painting currently hanging in my studio. I made it in 2012 in a season when I was very much not painting. I had just completed an MFA full of conceptual, performative, and site-specific work. I underwent this study for a lot of reasons – but mainly, I was seeking alignment.
Art has always been for me a device for truth-telling, or truth-seeking, at least when I’d done it well enough. When I went into my MFA study, I had felt my work had veered way off track from this truth-seeking. That is, the work I was making was not telling the truth within me. I was seeking alignment – to align what was being made to what was in my heart.And so like a piece of metal being bent into shape, I allowed the processes of research and critique and iterating and making and remaking to bang and hammer me into whatever artist I was supposed to be. I loved doing it, and I look back on that season with gratitude for having gone through its rigors.
But like that piece of rebar straightened with a hammer, it’s never perfect – rather it’s a semi-flattened shape full of dents and curves and bruises. Like a line drawn with a very shaky hand.If I went in to my MFA desiring for my work to align with my truth, I came out instead wrestling with the misalignment of the truths within me. Though that season of study fixed the problem of the work, it revealed the real problem – within me.
I am hungry for truth, and I am always dissatisfied with answers.
Making this painting was, I suppose, like taking a vacation from worrying about any of that. I loved making it, in that it was fun for me to do it. I love its appearance of form and shape and contrast. I love the color, both muted and vibrant. I love the texture of the surface, paint layered through scraping and impasto brushwork.
But like it is when going on a vacation, eventually you have to return home. The painting has within it, I realize, a sense of my ‘home’ – or more accurately, my homelessness.
What is the content? Its a figure, modeled after myself, in an uncomfortable pose. This pose is interesting itself to me, sprawled with its limbs jutting out and bent at severe angles. This figure in 2012 felt stretched and fragmented, pulled into the crosswalk of the city street, not apart from it but a part of it. I’ve filled my life in pursuit of art, philosophy, ideology, religion, economics, politics, and ultimately, understanding. What is ultimately true?
I was finding that there is no correct understanding of things, or that there are many opposing, and sometimes enticing, understandings. All of these various truths were stretching me like putty stretched into several limp threads that finally come unraveled.
I became fragmented. Divided. Pieces of unraveled putty. I didn’t know where I stood. Both inside and outside, enmeshed in the divisions and intersections of the marketplace of ideas that name both goodness and evil, from which one cannot exist outside of. We do not choose truth, we live it. Both good and evil, embedded in the city street and the property lines and in our relationships and in our very bodies. Grace may be the only possible posture in light of this.
Today, in 2020, it goes without saying, but many more of us are feeling stretched, fragmented, divided. We are overwhelmed, and we can’t make it all fit.
We want everything to fit, but it doesn’t.
The painting on the wall today is turned 90 degrees counter-clockwise. As I look at it now, it’s like the figure is attempting a head-stand, and toppling over.A change of perspective makes the figure look a bit absurd. He’s trying to show off, hold a pose, and can’t do it. And the action of the image has everything to do with falling. He’s a clown.I hadn’t seen it that way before.So today, things seem dark and we feel we are falling apart. In darkness though, is also silence.
And I can be grateful for the silence, and even darkness, that ingests both my uncertainty and my certainty.
And holds me, pieces of me, tumbling in the dark.
I now notice that the figure is isolated and alone in this painting. In retrospect, I think this is a flaw.