Paintings are glimpsed in the midst of life, they are caught by the eye living. It is the quality of a kind of frozen flux, what stays ever in place, unmoving, yet is turbulent beneath the surface with life. Those paintings that possess the throb of life are better than those that don’t. What distinguishes good paintings from great ones is the degree to which that throb of life is felt or perceived by the viewer— Actually, no. What distinguishes good paintings from great ones has nothing to do with the viewer, the viewer is passive, except insofar as receptivity is a positive action. (That statement disavows years of my insisting on the collusive act between artist and audience—years of insistence! But I am in the mood to disavow much that has come before today! Therefore, my first disavowal: The viewer of a painting is a passive actor! [Except insofar blah blah blah...]). What distinguishes good paintings from great ones begins and ends with the painting itself. How much life does it possess? How clearly does it communicate the quality of its liveliness, how forcefully does it push it forward into the skin of the world, how spirited is it, how unignorable? Have we caught it mid-stride, as it were, in the midst, as I say, of living? Can we feel its breath on us, the heat of its exertion of existence? I have in my studio many paintings. I create these paintings, I live with them and they with me, we are one life. I do not know whether they have discussions among themselves regarding the quality of liveliness within me (I would not fare well in anybody’s judgement of that!), but I am easily able to discern that quality within them. I have been looking at this question for several days now, due to the side-by-side placement of two paintings, both figurative. I would say they are both great paintings, but one of them has something more, something indefinable by nature. Both have soul, both have spirit, both have life, both are caught in the flux of living, they are glimpsed as they breathe. And yet, and yet the one communicates itself out of a deeper reservoir—but what is in this deeper reservoir, is it emotion? Is it heart? Is it history? It is all these things and more, I am sure. It is the great mystery, it is the greatest of mysteries what makes a thing transcend the coarse materials it is made from, what makes it reach for God. But there it is, a thing born out of and/or into the Spiritus Mundi, a thing in possession of its own vibratory songful life, a thing that stays in place and doesn’t move—it is, after all, a painting, it does not bestir itself and walk around the studio—yet confronts you every time with a vitality so pure and forceful that it steals your breath and shifts the rhythm of your blood.
One of the saddest mistakes a painter makes (this painter makes) is to overwork a passage that is already good, that is already finished and will not be improved by continued work. I have made that mistake, I made it yesterday, and it brings sadness to my heart to look on it. Today I will have to fix that mistake, but I cannot expunge it. Nothing in painting ever gets expunged. Things get buried and blurred, but nothing ever goes away. That is the remarkable thing about paintings, they bear their life, they carry the full history of themselves within themselves, which is what we as humans do too (and what writing does not do). I am comprised of a lot of mistakes! They are all within me, as are the things I got right along the way. These histories will only go away when my body perishes—and even then, perhaps not, perhaps not! When a painting is finished, it appears to be the thing it is meant to be. A successful painting will appear inevitable. But peel away the surface, and you will find how rickety the idea of inevitability really is, it is hung on flimsy scaffolding! Underneath a painting's inevitable-seeming surface are structures going every which way, thrown together incompatibly, a riotous criss-crossing of ill-conceived brushstrokes and extemporaneous passages of paint. Painting is trickery and painters are tricksters. Today I will take a pot of paint, I do not know whether this pot will contain red paint or black paint or blue paint or green paint—I will know it when my hand reaches for it—I do not know the specifics of what I will do, but I will take a pot of paint, I will take a brush, I do not know how big, and I will put that brush into the pot of paint, and I will make some instinct-driven, blind, broad strokes that will, if all goes well, turn my overworking into an inevitable penultimate phase of an inevitable result, and in this way, I will trick you into thinking I knew all along what I was doing and that never for a moment did I have sadness in my heart.
I know there's a romance associated with being a painter, but let me tell you something about the other part of it. Sometimes it is like brick laying. I don't mean sometimes so much as most of the time. Most of the time it is a lot like brick laying, or mason work, or any number of jobs that involve the sequence-oriented work of building something. Step by boring step. And that's to say nothing of the work that goes into preparing canvasses, et cetera. I'm telling you this because I started a new painting a couple days ago, and yesterday, as I was at the easel applying a necessary layer of paint to it, I thought to myself—well, I don't remember what I thought, but the idea was, Boy, this is boring, and it's the greater portion of what I do, and with every painting, I know I have to do it, and I do it anyway. I eagerly set out as though it were the most exciting thing I'll ever do, lay this brick upon this brick upon this brick upon this brick upon this brick. It will be days before I get to the romantic part, the part of wild-armed flourishes and deliberate fuck-ups that are meant to kill the lesser painting in the blind hope that a greater one exists in the reparation of those fuck-ups—sometimes wholesale expunging of giant passages, anything to reach a better painting than a mediocre one. There is romance in this part because it's untamed and intuitive, because it is quite literally at times a dance, because it brings misery and elation, each chasing the other in turn, and because it requires fearlessness and the willingness to destroy even as one creates. It's even more romantic (to the outsider) if you have to grab onto a bottle in order to endure it. I do not. In fact, I can't imagine facing the demon of painting without my full clear faculties. We are not warriors when we are drunk! Painting is war! Except when it's not, when it's brick-laying, which is most of the time.
Here is an untitled subject: the things I never was, nor ever will be, they are two vocations I would have liked to have practiced had I not been what I am, which is a deeply solitary thing-that-I-now-am and thing-that-I-was. The first fantasy vocation corresponds to the thing that I was (in the first half of my life), which was a poet, and the second to the thing that I am (in the second half) (those measurements are entirely accurate), which is a painter. I wanted very much in my former life as a poet to be a parish priest. My job would have had to have been in the English countryside, I was an Anglican, for this to have worked for me, I did not want to be a parish priest in, say, Ohio. I wanted my church to be made of stone dating back to the middle ages, maybe even with a foundation dating back to Roman times. Maybe the church was on the site of an ancient henge! Of course the bones of our ancestors went down very very very deep, and they were my ancestors too, none of this across-the-ocean who-knows-where-they-are shit. My house would have had low ceilings and little rooms, and it was just a little walk from house to church, I could have carried my coffee with me in the morning as I traipsed across the dewy grass. (I was never clear exactly what gender I was in this fantasy.) Poetry is a holy and sacred undertaking. It is twin to Godliness (the job), despite the vulgarity and base earthiness of its practitioners. Poets are priests of sorts. It was natural that I would want to be a parish priest! I would write sermons, they would be poetic, I would preach them, people would listen! I could counsel the troubled! I'd have polite teas in the afternoons with my parishioners! I would make sense of death for them! All the many rituals would be in service to the same thing I was already in service to, with my private rituals: the ineffable, the eternal, the music of the spheres, the story of life and life everlasting. I would also, incidentally, slyly reintroduce the Goddess to their worship, thereby doing my very small part to help heal the world, for without her, we will surely die in terrible ways, you can see how it is happening already. (For this reason, I would sometimes be accused of being a secret Papist. My argument would be: "I'm no Papist, but I might be a Marist.") Onto Job Two! Now I am a painter, I do not write poems anymore, it is not that I am against writing poetry, it is that poetry, strictly speaking, has left me, while painting has jammed its way into my life and merged with me in such a way that we are now indistinguishable from one another. I no longer dream of being a parish priest, beautiful as that dream was. Now my fantasy job is being a scientist in a lab. You can see how this is very much like being a painter, for painting is all about experimentation, using various materials and tools in various ways, in search of hoped-for or anticipated results that don't always come, while happy accidents will sometimes (most times) lead to even greater and more surprising results. I could go every day to a lab, in pursuit of an end I can't yet fully characterize! I could be driven by my curiosity, obsessed with finding what I can't yet find! I could live the life of the chase! I would get my coffee every morning in the lab itself. I would have people I worked with in the lab, we would all be obsessed and joined by our obsession, swimming every day in the waters of the ineffable, taking measure of the music of the spheres! And yet, it would be quiet, solitary work as well, a methodical and careful kind of work that sometimes had me silent all day long. But it would not be the lonely life of the painter, it would be a kind of guild, a guild of experimental scientists in pursuit of the glory of answers!
The slide between abstraction and figuration—sliding again toward abstraction and away from my panel paintings, but I don't know whether this is a slide of my own volition of if someone subtly pushed me. My feelings about abstraction are complex; my feelings about figuration are also complex, but not as complex; I think it's fair to say that I like figuration in my own work better because they are pictures I love looking at once I am their audience and because I like telling stories, I am a storyteller. (The reason there is no verve in this writing is not because, as with yesterday, I am clipped with disappointment, it is because I have told you all of this before, I am repeating myself, so it is more rote than heart-driven.) I am (I have said it before) far more challenged by abstraction, and I dislike not being challenged in my work, and so for that reason, I will never turn abstraction away. But because there are no roadmaps in abstraction, at least for me (I need to find a better, nonlazy metaphor, "roadmap" is almost entirely inaccurate), and because by its nature there's no possibility of relying on anything identifiably known in order to either enter or remain with a painting (as its being painted), it's extremely mentally difficult work, like logic problems. Here is this particular logic problem, it is my logic problem of abstract painting (the act, not the result): Abstraction, according to my own rules, requires a total absence of visual signifiers—it must be pure abstraction. But in such an austere, figureless world, mark-making becomes all-powerful and the line asserts itself over the chaos and calls itself Something. In doing so, that Something at once becomes object, and then we are back in the world of objective painting. How, then, is abstraction even possible? That is what I am faced with when I am faced with what I am faced with today and every day in which abstraction knocks on my door to play, and I say, warily, "Yes, come in. Let's play." I have a feeling that the answer to this particular logic problem lies in making abstracted figurative work, that will probably—no! I had better say possibly—become the answer to my problem, once I reach it, and I think it's possible that with this new work, I will at least be reaching for it. I don't say that's a probability, only a possibility. There is no such thing as probability in painting, at least in the way it's used in the penultimate sentence of this paragraph, which happens, paradoxically, also to be the last sentence.
It staggers me to think of all I could reveal to you in here! I could give you directions to the map to the keys to the kingdom, and the kingdom would be in no danger of being sacked. I could give you the spell that would transform your enemies into scaly creatures, and your enemies would stay beautiful and keep their power over you. I could tell you the secret love spell that would give you ownership of the charismatic's heart, and that heart would never make its way into your hands. I could reveal the unsaid alphabet and give you its arrangements for songs that summoned wealth and sunward talent, and you would remain poor and chained to the earth. Here, here, my friend, is where you'll find the Holy Grail, and here is the way to untie the Gordian knot, here are the answers to Why and Who and How, and the name of God is composed on your tongue in such and such a way, I could tell you all these things and so much more besides, and you would never know, you would never know! But these are not my secrets to reveal, and I do not wish to be given some eternal repetitive punishing task, so even if they were my secrets to reveal, and even if I knew a single one of them, I would not reveal them, I would never reveal them. So you are right to not seek answers here, you are correct to be incurious. It is I who am ignorant, you who are wise, for you know where not to come in order to give your incuriosity its full meal.
It is my belief that I have made a painting that goes beyond anything I have done before. There, I have said it. I believe this painting waits for us in the future, we must catch up to it. There, I have said that too. And now my appeasement for the hubris-hating throngs of greater and lesser gods: I could be wrong. I could of course be wrong. I could even come to believe that I am wrong sooner rather than later—this has happened before, I have heralded the arrival of something entirely new (and great) only to come to see it as not so much "new" as simply bad. These are all caveats. This new painting is easy to look at, but hard to see. An accompanying note to myself reads, "—." I guess that's private. There are, believe it or not, some things I judge as private. Actually, if you were a close reader of my writing (which of course you are not, you do not even exist!), you would see that I consider almost everything to be private, you would see how very little I actually tell you, despite the swarms of words I surround myself with. As with my life, my writing is the art of hide and seek. I have decided I will not whore this painting out to social media, I will not let everyone's indifference and lack of true attention (which is a symptom of the medium) come anywhere near it, I am tired of whoring out my work to satisfy my desire for some little bit of recognition—I despise social media, I have said that before, I believe its costs far outweigh its benefits, the costs to the artist and her nascent art are huge, they are sometimes even deadly, I will therefore keep this painting away from that vacuous arena. It will therefore just be it and I, we will eye each other warily, sizing each other up hour after hour after hour, day after day, I will come to be certain in my beliefs, or I will come to look at it askance, with doubting eyes and then with disappointed and/or hateful eyes. At which point, perhaps I'll whore it out, as I have whored out every other painting because eventually, it hurts to be unseen.
It comes to pass in the experience of a painter that— Well, many things come to pass. It comes to pass, it all comes to pass, elation, despair, mundanity. Those are the three experiences that are equal to all experiences that come to pass for painters. That is all I will say, for I have just remembered the one thing I never forget, that all things are changed when words give shape to them, for then the hunter gods know where to strike. It comes to pass that we are felled.
You are still nothing to me, you are still no one. I am not denigrating you. I am only stating a fact. You do not exist. Therefore you are nothing to me, you are no one. But I have my stories to tell anyway, they are spoken into the void, as stories sometimes are. After all, is this not how we send ourselves to sleep, by telling our stories into the void, is this not where we spend our time in our sleep, in the storyful void? In last night's storyful void, I made an owl out of wire, I used wire cutters to cut off its too-long appendages. It was an owl dense with wire, it was the wire I use to hang my paintings, it was not a hollow owl. Now, there, there is an interesting pairing of words! Hollow owl. It is nearly impossible to say, as it should be, for no owl should be hollow, they are sacred animals, full of warning and protection. If you come across a hollow owl, you have come across a false thing. Perhaps you could set up your home there, you who are no one, you are nothing, you who need neither warning nor protection?
I am well aware that no one reads this, that the "you" I often refer to is none other than the "no one" who reads this. I blame this, of course, mostly on you because I do not think you read. Of course, I also know that what I have to say in here is of no interest to you, which is to say, it is of interest to no one. I am long seasoned in making work that no one cares about, so we—rather, I—am in a familiar world whose contours my hands have walked along for many years. I am a writer without an audience. I have always been that. Remarkably, I have also always been a writer. An audience would not complete this, as with, say, a play. I am a little angry with you this morning, so I am basically dismissing you altogether. You aren't needed here. I do this for myself, for the sheer pleasure I take in writing. It is the way and the why I have always written, for myself, because I love it and because I am compelled beyond resistance to do so. I write because I must. Yes, I have grown strong wings, yes, I grew the strong wings of ambition, only to have them atrophy, but I can still put my words together with atrophied wings and no other eyes to read them but mine. A person who is born a writer will die a writer, the act of writing exists independent of any subsequent act of reading. But as I am a writer, I am also a reader, so there is completion in that. I am telling a story, that story is a very large story, only the future is large enough to contain it. So your absence does not concern me, you do not have big enough eyes to see the future, where the large stories live. Perhaps on another morning, I will not be angry with you, and I will once again believe in you, but on this morning, on this morning I do not. It is good that you do not exist, you cannot therefore feel my wrath—it is a soft wrath, but it is wrath nonetheless. But that means also—I am happy to report this loss to you—that you cannot feel my love when I am loving you, which I experience as strong and burdensome.
I have now written two long paragraphs which I've decided not to publish, they are two mornings wasted on work I do not wish to show. One of these paragraphs was about some new work I am doing and how this work involves sewing large swaths of canvas together and how I don't like sewing, but then I ultimately concluded that I do sort of like it because I don't have to think while I am doing it, and I don't have to be at the easel where either bloodshed or boredom occur, but it (sewing) is work nonetheless and I like working. It was, for the most part, a confused piece of writing, and that is why I chose not to show it to you. My writing has seen its fair share of contradictory conclusions; in fact, there are many and many times in which the very point of my writing is to contradict what came before it—I love circles, I think god is circular, I think our lives are circular, etc., but this particular paragraph was self-contradictory without in any way being circular, it was therefore incomplete, lacking cohesion and, as I say, confused. The true circular thought or piece of writing is ouroboric, it swallows itself and disappears, it tells everything that turns into nothing at the end, just like us, just like our lives, I call this zero space. (Now you see it, now you don't.) (That is not a description of zero space.) The second one, which I just deleted, was about how most abstract work seems to be derivative, and how a thing is not worth doing if it's going to be derivative. The reason I deleted this one is because the more I uncovered it, the more I realized that perhaps my thesis was wrong, perhaps most abstract work is not derivative—this was a long paragraph about how derivative most abstract painting is, but then I realized that that probably isn't true. It was not an easy fix, I could not just go back and change a few sentences to fix my thesis, the entire structure crumbled if the thesis wasn't true, so I just bulldozed the entire thing. Now, let me say this, because it's still on my mind: A lot of abstract painting is derivative—it is hard to make abstract paintings that are not derivative, I think. There are only so many ways you can get paint onto canvas—wait! Getting paint onto canvas is an action, not a result. There are only so many ways paint can lie on canvas in an abstract way. But, see, there I go again with the same failed thesis! I can have these surface thoughts, but the minute I take my chisel to them to reveal their inner geography, I see how wrong I am. So never mind. Because I think even I, who am not naturally an abstract painter, who is not at home in chaos, who uses narrative to give order and meaning to her life, even I was reaching for and even perhaps came close to arriving at, or perhaps even arrived at, briefly, non-derivative abstract work, so not only was the entire paragraph misleading and untrue, built on a false thesis, why do I even have these thoughts, they are not even my personal experience? (Gone from all of this is the important distinction I also made in the bulldozed paragraph between derivative and influenced by, which is perhaps a topic I'll take up tomorrow.) (Because of these two parenthetical sentences, I have taken this extant circular-enough paragraph and opened it, and now its guts are spilling out.) (I am acting rather violently toward my writing these few mornings.)
When I considered, as I did extensively, why I was having my red dreams, these were dreams I had nearly every night for several years, they featured redheaded men and women, red dogs who protected and took care of me, they were red shoes and red hats, red wigs and polished red fingernails, these dreams persisted night after night after night, and I could never understand, why, why was I having these red dreams? I took them to Jungians—what is the meaning of these dreams?! The second Jungian posited that it signified the third phase of the great work, the red phase, or rubedo. I listened, but I didn't follow. It is not news I would have been unhappy to hear, and I am certainly someone who believes that the work of our life is alchemical in nature, we are ever purifying our spirits for divine integration, et cetera, et cetera, but it didn't punch me in the gut, as it would have had it been the One True Answer. Later, of course, when I came to red, when I arrived at cadmium red (in conjunction with, but prior to, my life-altering meeting with LB), I began to think the dreams had been both prophetic and suggestive (naggingly suggestive), without feeling as though I had hit the nail exactly on its (red) head. There was more to the red story to come, I felt certain. Rather, I will write it this way: There is more to the red story to come, I feel certain. For that is where I am right now, that is where I am currently situated in this red story, with much of it behind me, but with the certitude that some of it is still ahead of me. It is a long unfolding story! Last night I dreamed of red. But it was a red that frightens me! I was walking with some man through a Los Angeles that was on fire—everywhere, fire! I do not want this to be the meaning of the red dreams, that the city I love will die by fire! When I examined and interpreted the red dreams in the past, of course I considered fire, fire was always in the forefront of my thinking about these red dreams, I was, of course! (?) on fire, but only metaphorically, I do not actually want to be on fire. Yet there is this as well: In the past week, I have been working on a painting of a woman holding a lit match whose flame reaches for her hair. I see it now as reckless, I see it as dangerous! I do not mean to invite real fire, only metaphorical fire—but I do not wish to invite anything, it was commentary, not invocation! I was making my obscure commentary, I was saying that I think the gods were mean to Prometheus! That is all, that they were mean to him, because who wouldn't take fire wherever they can find it, that was my meaning, and it was not real fire I was talking about—we have had that for millennia—I was talking about inspiration and its passions. But the gods are mean, and now I worry. Now I worry. How do we make our sacrifices so they will spare us more (real) fire?
I still have things I want to tell you about mark-making, but I can't today, because I need to tell you about correspondence, and how it is a thing that sometimes drives me mad—not a thing so much as an idea. (I will make my attempts not to try your patience.) I am inclined to see correspondence in everything: this relates to that, that directly corresponds to this, through space, through time, along the unseen and unmeasured channels these things course through. It is a similar, though not identical, inclination that once caused my mother, not terribly long ago, to say to me, "You live in a dream world." Well, yes, I do. Witness what I do. I make that dream world manifest, and so I must live there, otherwise, I would have to find something else to do, and believe me when I tell you, there is nothing else I could do, I could not be anything other than what I am, I could not even be a forest path-clearer! This tendency to see correspondence in (perceptually) unrelated things can sometimes drive me crazy, and there are times when I must say to myself, aloud (as I did last night), "Not everything is correspondent!" I must talk myself down from the correspondence tree, I must coax myself back to earth—but I don't coax myself, ever. I order; I demand. I become a humorless matron in her stiff shoes: "Not everything is correspondent. Don't be so ridiculous." I should provide you with a telling of the event that caused me to say this, but I will not. I will tell you, rather, that I believe in tarot cards, and I have numberless good reasons to. I will tell you that I have seen things that do not exist come into existence not long after seeing them. I have spoken words that had no a priori thought which were words that foretold what was on a breath's brink of occurring, and they were truthful words. I will tell you, also, that my work corresponds with the future oftentimes much more than it does with the present, it takes only my arriving at the future to apprehend it. (That is the closest explanation of what happened last night, I am not attaching specifics to this.) This is what I mean by correspondence. Jung called it synchronicity, of course, but for some reason, that term feels as dated as my college days, when "synchronicity" was on my tongue as much as wine, which brings, suddenly!, to mind a dream I had last night. It was graduation night. School was over. I wept, for I loved school so much. This is a recurring dream, that I am weeping for the end of school. I have not had this dream in a while, nor have I had my dreams of redheaded men and women, I think because I am using so much red in my work, I do not need to tell myself through my dreams to be with red—I am with red. Mostly, I think it would be unwise to ignore what I see as correspondent—obviously, for it is the gods' way of speaking to us! We ignore those voices at our peril!—but sometimes it is necessary for me to consider, as it was last night, that what might seem correspondent, what might seem to my hypersensitivities to be related, though they bear no actual attributes of relationship or—is this a word?—relationality, might just as likely be coincidence, and in this way, in this way of seeing some events as merely coincidental am I able to take some much needed time away from myself, although I would never truly believe myself if I said "just as likely."
For me, it is like going up to a table that is covered with dishes of food, all of it is very appetizing, it is all food I would like to eat, but I am not much of an eater so I cannot eat all of the food I am presented with, I can only choose one or two things. For you, it is like being given a single dish to eat, you are not given the choices I am given, and this food that you must eat, more often than not, it is a stew confused with too many flavors and a few incompatible textures. And here is where my metaphor reaches its terminus, let us say goodbye to it, goodbye, metaphor! There are just so many things to tell you, so many things to choose from to tell you! Here is how it goes: I wake up very early, I make coffee, I sit in a chair that needs to be euthanized but I cannot find a new one I like, so I sit in this same elderly chair people have been sitting in for years, I read, and then I put down the book I am reading, still with my coffee, and I look to the middle distance behind my eyes that is the same middle distance in front of them, and this is where all the little phantom subjects gather, and it is where I think I am choosing my day's subject to give to you, but the real choice comes when I set fingers to keyboard and begin typing. It is often that I do this: I arrive at my task with a preferred subject, then set it aside in favor of the metadata surrounding that subject. What I arrived here with this morning was, among other things, the desire to tell you about how uncanny and strange the creative process is, that was the most salient creamy thing I had to say, and so now I will say it, even though I've already taxed your patience, I just know I have. But the weird, uncanny process of creation! Here is how that sometimes happens (prosaically—there is nothing, however, prosaic about what am describing, only how I am describing it): You'll be going along with your work in your yeoman way, mixing this pot of paint with that pot of paint in order to get the color you like, you'll be jamming your brushes into pots of paint, you'll be violating pictures with your profligate, dumb mark-making (that's another subject I need to talk about! [But not today]), you'll be cutting canvas, et cetera, et cetera, you'll be going about your everyday business of doing these things (and more besides), when suddenly, out of the thin air of no expectations, there will be, in the close distance of your clear-seeing eyes, something entirely new, fashioned out of—out of what ideas, exactly? What, again, were the series of impulses that led to this, this thing that is entirely unexpected, entirely new, entirely full of vitality and engorged with its own future? How again did this come to be? Whereas surely I was present in the making of it—surely! There was no one else in studio!—and whereas surely they were my hands that did X number of things that resulted in the unanticipated, surely they were not my hands, for I do not know how I got here, it was not intentional! (I cannot say poetry would have been a better way to describe this, I cannot say that because poetry is sister to the thing I am describing, it is too fine a thing to bear the mulish weight of description. And the thing itself, the thing itself: too fine! I have failed you, I am sorry.)
I do not like it when paintings are too easy, when they arrive without much effort. I have told you that before, I have said it many times, and I have always attached the word facile to the subject of paintings (and, before that, poems) that come too easily, and I have gone on to tell you that I distrust not facility, for that would be ridiculous, but the facile in my work—there is a difference, is there not? However, in a recent case (it is still warm from the oven!), I made a painting that came so easily, I knocked about my studio with very little to do, it was boring! I envisioned it (in my sleep—I did not even have to work to do that!), I painted it, and it was finished. It was finished on the first day, but I found ways to stretch that one day into two, for I will not submit to making a painting in a single day! It is why I have liked making the panel paintings as much as I have, these are called panel paintings, you will not know what I am talking about, so I will tell you that these are the paintings with various numbers of "panels" in them, each portraying its own separate scene. Taken together, these scenes create their stories, however you read them, they are your stories, I am only providing the elements, it is up to you to put the stories together. I have liked them because they have taken time, they have taken time to make, for not only must I create a separate painting for every panel, I must also make a cohesive single painting from the separate panels. Although they appear simple, they are in fact rather complex. But I am sure you would look at them and say that they are simple paintings. I do not mind; you can say what you like. I do not have to kill myself stretching canvases day after day when I am making the panel paintings, because I can spend a week on a single painting—a whole week! That is long for me. Believe me, I would like to be the sort of painter who takes months over a single piece—no, I do not think that is true. Strike that—do not believe me. I am too restless for that. But a week is good! A day is bad. I do not wish to return to those days when I made paintings—good paintings!—in a day! I do not think the painting that is still warm from the oven (as it were—I don't, in fact, bake my paintings), is a facile painting. That is the thing, that is the point I am making, that although it came swiftly, it is not really facile, I do not perceive it as facile, though it's in my makeup to, because I distrust it so, I have always distrusted those things which come too easily, and then I call them facile, and then I hate them. I do not hate this painting. I am looking at it gimlet-eyed, however, because I am faced—it is morning time, and I am faced with the workday ahead of me, deciding what I must do—I am faced, as I say, with the choice of doing another one or moving on or away from it. It was a painting I saw in a dream, and so I painted it! Does a dream painting need to propagate? That will be the question I take away with me, when I do this:
Now I will tell you other things. I think. It is nascent and therefore uncertain, all new projects are like that, they stand on their skinny foal legs, and we do not know—even they do not know!—whether they will bolt forward and gulp down the world, things of beauty and grace, or fall to their knees, unviable, stuffing their nose with dirt. That is how it is, it is one or the other. Fly or fall—no other outcome but that. I know this because I am trailing both, in multitudes. I am trailing a multitude of corpses of outcomes. I am trailing a multitude of graceful outcomes. I am trailing these multitudes because I have spent the larger portion of my life, which is to say the entire portion of my life (with the exception of the first six years, in which I was learning the basics) creating things, putting words together, mostly, to make stories, and now of course using paint to do the same. But it is more than that. I also use those stories I tell to make more stories. But that is inaccurate. I detest inaccuracies! But perhaps it is not inaccurate so much as mushy. Let me present you with something firmer, it reads as follows: I take the act of storytelling (or, if you prefer, creation) and turn it into more storytelling. Here is where I am doing that. I am doing it elsewhere too, I am like a cat in heat, but here is where you are finding it. Previously, between my last “On Painting” paragraph and this paragraph, I did it in a book, a physical book, an A4 Moleskin sketchbook, to be precise, which I handwrote and illustrated (badly, I am not an illustrator!), it was a discipline I forced on myself, I am not diminished by having done so, we are rarely diminished by discipline. Lately, I have been wrestling the little black bearcub of another book, but it is not going well. For one thing, I injured myself making the first one, this is true, not false. I forgot to move, you see, while I was writing it, I forgot to not sit on my leg for hours at a time when I was writing it, and I am no longer, evidently, elastic, and now I walk with a limp. And so I think I’ll let the bearcub rest. I, however, cannot rest, for there is too much to tell, every moment carries a thousand jewels, each with their facets who love light beyond reason. I am sure that if this foal takes flight, if it is nourished well and grows strong, it will also be on painting. Of course it will. What in God’s name else do I talk about? And now I will tell you something about painting! It is by way of telling you why I am starting another “blog”—surely there is a better word for this! This horrible word, blog, it is a word that defiles the sacred act of putting words together in order to make sense of God and to recommend ourselves to God!—and once I have told you why I am doing this, then, well, I will have fulfilled my duty to you, for now. Lately—this is a lately-ness stretching back months, I will say it is a lately-ness that is equal to four months, I will just assign that arbitrary number to lately-ness—I have been completely in the ring with figuration, we have been dancing around each other lightly, taking our light jabs, we have been light on our feet, sometimes we have hung upon each other tiredly, but there has not been much struggle, there have been no gut punches or knockdowns, I have not been pulling at my hair asking why and what for, I have not been driving for something I cannot see, I have only been painting, and only painting hardly merits mention (which does not explain why I spent so much disfiguring time with the first bearcub—I will tell you only that that bearcub absorbed a lot of writing about art-making when it was going exceptionally well, it was a happy thing—no, it wasn’t! I was sleepless and driven mad by my obsessions! but I was making good work I was entirely happy with, even stunned by, and that is what I mean by “a happy thing.” But I have decided…I don’t really know that I’ve decided anything, except that I am doing this again. I am doing it because…because I must!