Garden House, 2019

Garden House, 2019, Oil and acrylic on Yupo, 60" x 60"

A yellow tulip lies where it was thrown down on the table in this dim room. Someone, perhaps a gardener, has left pink jars, ochre-printed cloth, and handfuls of flowers on the table of dark wood. In this small house, the cloudy glass has a pattern of starflowers. The brown bird, whose portrait is painted on the pink jars, is a guide who says: “Things become apparent.” This bird comes from the notes of Kiki Smith, in her prose poem “The House.”

Garden House was a temporary, one-day installation in Kiki Smith’s exhibition Her Home, 2008, Museum Haus Esters, Krefeld, and 2008, Kunsthalle Nuremberg.
The small house held puppets, dolls, and wreaths.

Table with Bonnard, 2019

Table with Bonnard, 2019, Oil and acrylic on Yupo, 64.5" x 60"

In my half-imaginary studio, great works of art can loom above the table, where a dog from a Vuillard is allowed, and where the distance between near and far is a matter of scale and shape more than of color. At the edge of the table, the tonalist and the colorist touch and almost agree.

In the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth is Pierre Bonnard’s Landscape at Le Cannet, 1928. I am pretending, in my painting, that Bonnard’s grand, 109” work has come to my studio. While it is there, behind the table, I remember the Vuillard painting Studio Portrait of Pierre Bonnard, painted between 1930 and 1935. Vuillard painted his friend Bonnard standing in his studio gazing at Landscape at Le Cannet, the light behind him, and his shadow falling over his dog, who sits on a divan between Bonnard and his painting.

Shepherd Bowl, 2019

Shepherd Bowl, 2019, Oil and acrylic on Yupo, 26" x 40"

On the very large, pale terracotta bowl in the studio, the unknown ceramist has drawn, in thick gray lines, a shepherd. There is a shepherd like this by a follower of Brueghel in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He climbs up into a tangled wilderness; he looks back at his sheep grazing among the trees. Outside the bowl is the world that the shepherd could enter – the rough yellow grass, the curtain of green foliage, and the indigo sky.

Sculpture Garden with Willow, 2015

Sculpture Garden with Willow, 2015, Oil on Yupo, 26” x 40”

In a sculpture garden, one comes around a corner and discovers a surprise. This time it is a memory of a Barry Flanagan, my own version, not a real Barry Flanagan. All his hares are wildly funny and biting, partly human. I like to think that this hare’s gaze is focused on some other sculpture, around that corner, beyond the pale chocolate grotto. Or is the hare twisting toward us, wanting to see the bright willow? The young willow hunches in its yellow sweep of branches. Closer, the spreading cedar has overgrown it soft, old stone planter.

Collage: Maun Elephant, 2018

Maun Elephant, 2018, Oil paint on Yupo cut-outs, stapled, 26" x 40"

Maun Elephant

Like most of my collages, Maun Elephant is cut from Yupo and stapled to Yupo. Because glue is not as lasting as a strong pin, I hold the collages together with stainless steel staples. I’m not hiding this process; the staples are undisguised. The colors in these collages come from oil, acrylic, ink, and graphite painted on sheets that were then sacrificed to the scissors. The method of cutting has to be straightforward – continuous and usually counterclockwise around the outside edge of the form. This is drawing rather than surface molding. The open and commonplace manufacture shows. It is not my tricks in performance that matter, it is the way we read the path of the line. If the raw nature of it annoys you, that’s the beginning of enjoying it.

 

Maun Elephant is in admiration of my friend Debra Stevens and her Elephant Havens project in Botswana.

Isleta, 2016

Isleta, 2016, Oil and ink on Yupo, 26” x 80”

Isleta, 2016

 

Isleta just means little island, but the place is like a knife. The Tewa word for this open place of sun and wind is Shiewhibak. At this pueblo on the Rio Grande, on a spit of ancient lava, light bleaches the fields to dry colors. Albuquerque is shouldering in from the north. The land is both bucolic and fierce. Rabbits and cattle love this place, and, nearby, there is a casino that supports it.

Wushan and the color of the Yangtze

Wushan, 2017, Oil and ink on Yupo, 26" x 80"

Wushan

 

I was contemplating the water as we sailed on the Yangtze. I did this for hours there, and on the Li river. Every body of water has its own color. The Li seemed dark under its reflections, and the Yangtze a thick sage tea. It’s tempting to call it jade, but the Yangtze has more threat and promise than even the most beautiful stone. When we came to Wushan, the bittersweet red arc of the bridge appeared. At a distance it is fragile, nothing more than a mark. It carries a highway above the river. It seems the perfect red calligraphy commenting on the powerful hills.

What Bill Jack calls my Vexatious way of painting

Garden with Plaster Head, 2016, Oil, graphite, and ink on Yupo, 26" x 80"

Garden with Plaster Head

 

My friend, the polymath writer Bill Jack (MA, PhD, JD, MLIS), said to me recently:

“Your paintings are like Russian novels.  So much is going on but yet not going on simultaneously.  Easy things are made difficult, difficult things made easy.  The painting is vexatious, as they might say down your way but not up my way.”

No one has called my work vexatious down my way yet, but it’s time. The word is apt. It may be vexatious to see things joined visually that are not joined conventionally. Or it may be vexatious to find the materials so blatantly showing off their material natures. I want to cooperate with materials to make images. The materials, older and wiser than I am, have their own demands and beauty, beyond what I know to concoct.

Drawing and painting are holding each other tightly, constantly interfering with each other. It’s not that drawing is first and painting is last. It is not exactly that drawing is the truth and painting is the lie that we prefer. It is not at all that drawing is the outline and painting is the coloring-in. The two acts, drawing and painting get in each other’s way at every moment. My paintings are the plays that drawing and painting put on in ideas and colored mud. The animal or the field or rock, like an actor on our stage, comes down to the footlights and tells us that drawing and painting have made this happen for a reason. These paintings tell the story of their own making.

Detail from Albers House, 2014

detail from Albers House

 

Cheetah Garden, 2016, Oil and graphite on Yupo, 40" x 52”

Cheetah Garden

Normandy Again, 2018

Normandy Again, 2018, Oil, graphite, and acrylic on Yupo, 60” x 173”

Normandy Again, 2018

 

When Sofia Bastidas said “retrospective,” I saw that there might be a way to look back, even in a small space. If you see my Normandy of 1999 beside my Normandy Again of 2018, you see the time jump. Perhaps you sense the experiences between the Normandies – lines, geometry, memory, color, and materials flowing. I painted Normandy Again in the summer before the show, with its ancestor, Normandy, beside it.

Normandy, 1999

 

Normandy Again is on Yupo, 60” x 173”, in Oil, acrylic, ink and graphite.
Normandy of 1999, 52.5″ x 90″, is on paper, gessoed on both sides, Oil.

The exhibition: Emeriti: A Retrospective for Debora Hunter and Mary Vernon, Pollock Gallery, Division of Art, SMU, September 7 through October 20, 2018

Six Postcard Stories

Dust Storm, 2017, Oil on Yupo, 40” x 78”

Dust Storm, 2017

 

The Building for Archives of the United States of America is not big enough, one would think, for the archives. And so, I am sure, it is just the top four floors of a building which may be ten or twenty stories underground. This building is, then, a Roman style cornice on a rectangular, shaft-like form buried in the ground. The muzzle that protrudes from this cornice, the entrance, is a Corinthian temple of eight mighty columns. No flag is flying from the flagpole, no cars, no pedestrians nearby. Perhaps it is the set before the play of history begins.

The horses on the bluegrass farm had a way of matching their shadows to those of the oaks that dotted the land. The long nets of shadow cast by the live oaks slid around the grass in fancy patterns, sometimes resembling characters in The Yellow Submarine, sometimes the worn cloth of old flags. But the horse shadows were as varied as the shadows of puppets skilled tricksters throw on walls. The horses could make steam shovels, Giacometti Walking Men, bar graphs, and Thanksgiving turkeys. They knew it and were proud of their mastery.

Even fake moonlight is moonlight. The spattered pattern of shadow cast in a color unlike the colors of day. Light and dark within darkness make the world intimate. The United States Capitol in this moonlight is sweet as a wedding cake. On this night I am the only visitor, apparently, yet every light is on inside every window, pale yellow against the white light cast by the moon. The sounds of the night and the loneliness of seeing this ought to drive me to seek a place where other people gather. Are they all inside? But I would rather be here, in cobalt and white marble, and the moon and liberty regarding one another.

He is taller than all the distant hills, the man standing in the big freight wagon, holding the reins of the two draft horses. Far away are water towers and trees, and telegraph poles. On the short grass someone has left a white canvas folded, a blanket, a plan, a survey, a shroud, or a cowl. Are they casting fire hydrants? Or are they building the tomb of a Chinese emperor?

Like a bulky matron, sweeping along two identical daughters, the building of the Field Museum in Chicago stalks her ground. Two arms of columns reach out to end in identical pavilions. It is most like a Russian creation aping a French creation aping a Roman creation aping a Persian creation via the tutorial of the Greeks. It is grand lace with a freight of meaning. And the meaning is power. The power is real, no matter how idiotic it is by this late date.

Three beautiful young women were staying at the Bangor Lodge that summer, two brunettes and a blonde. The woods around the lake richly shadowed them in green. The women came down the hill from the lodge, whose awnings were striped in green and white. They sat on the beach on wooden chairs. It was their vacation. All the trees leaned in one direction — to the right.