Artist Statement – 2009
As with nearly every other form of human expression, the work in What I Did Last Summer functions on several levels. For me, in art/painting parlance, the least of these is the conceptual. The obvious, and often asked, question is some version of “Why the single breast?” As a writer and a visual artist, I figured out a long time ago that exploring the why of an idea was counterproductive as a first (or next, or eventual?) step. I make much more work when, instead of why I ask myself what next. As a painter, I’d rather spend my energy painting and occasionally looking back at the continuum of work in a pseudo-anthropological light. For me, giggling all the way, it’s sufficient to chase the imagery (and my own personal demons and angels) as it careens through (sometimes blatant) psycho-socio-sexual realms. That said, as a fiction writer, keenly interested in all the ways humans/characters profess and confess, I’m always intrigued by a viewer’s notions of why I did what I did.
In these paintings I am motivated by the aesthetics of this project rather than concepts. Each step of the process is satisfying in its own way. I work on all the paintings at once. (20 this summer, 11 the previous, 35 drawings ready to go) I cut the boards to size, nail them to the inner frames, then roughly and hurriedly knife gesso onto the panels. Initially, I spend months gathering pictures, pieces of pictures, and ideas for pictures from which to compose the paintings. I pin them all to my studio walls, then begin to whittle the mass down, selecting and combining, building my compositions. One by one, I draw the preliminary sketches (wholeheartedly embracing technology) then hang all the drawings so that the walls of my studio are mostly white-space. The next step is to paint the visible flesh on all the figures. Then some substantial color in the background, then an article of clothing, and so on. Piece by piece the paintings march toward completion. Color takes over the white space of my studio walls. The last stages involve final color choices and objects or details that I hope enrich the potentials in each picture.
I am primarily a writer, a novelist. I love narrative, the potential for stories in every interaction. And in these paintings I have placed people in odd, questionable circumstances, knowing full well the possibilities for suggested narratives. I spent months, day after day, with the characters in the paintings, so in some ways I become as familiar with them as with the fictive characters I create in my books. But one thing I love most about making visual art is the absence of words. When I write, I strive for a seamless narrative, a solidity and tangible quality to the world I create on the page. When I write, I need complete silence in order to make sense of all the words storming around in my head. When painting, even figurative, narrative pieces, I turn up the stereo, and am content to merely suggest the stories and characters. I don’t hear dialogue. I don’t follow the characters out of the picture frame.
As a viewer, my own tastes run the gamut. I am equally drawn to a DeKooning, a Lucian Freud, a Tony Ossler, a Ron Mueck, etc. The paintings in What I Did Last Summer are representational, figurative to be specific. But much of my pleasure derives from manipulating color and from creating various surface textures. I am a self taught painter and may or may not fit into the Outsider, Naïve, Folk category of artists whose work I have been as profoundly influenced by as any other genre. For the true Outsider/Naïve artist the need, the drive to make the work often overshadows everything, including some objective “quality” of the finished product. This attribute, the diminished significance of the finished work, is sometimes shared by conceptual artists. I am truly proud of how these paintings turned out. But the truth is that the experience of being in my studio, free from language, focused, fully immersed in my imagination, capturing what I find there, is enough.