One of my many methods for cooking things up is to let partial concepts swirl in my mind, until they link up with other partials, and eventually there is a whole thing - a makable thing.
Let me lead you on a path through some partials, and we will see what it summed up to:
Partial 1: Hypercolor
This is a painting I did late in 2010. It currently lives at Hilliard Gallery in Missouri, whither I encourage you to run and buy it:
La Mémoire, 2010, oil on canvas, 18"x14"
"Sangre de dios, Maidman, this is not your usual style at all!" quoth you. True. Let me explain. Ordinarily, the way I paint something is I draw a fussy underdrawing, as you can see here, because I hate to try to put things in the right place at the same time that I'm dealing with color and value. Then, I choose an undercoat color which I spread over the canvas by means of some turpenoid and a cloth. Then I paint into this undercoat while it is wet.
In this instance, I did the underdrawing and the undercoat, then took a step back and said, "You know what, I like this a lot. I think I'll leave it like it is."
This idiom gnawed at me; I wanted to do more paintings in the same mode. In fact, I tried it twice, with distinctly mixed results:
The Prayer, 2010-11, oil on canvas, 14"x18"
Nursing, 2010, oil on canvas, 24"x18"
These are OK, I think, but what's missing from them is the accidental quality of the first one. I meant to do these as they are.
After the third one, I decided to leave it alone for a while, because clearly I had no idea what to do or how to do it. But something important about it struck me: it is the first idiom I've discovered in which I could consider doing a narrative painting, with a story and characters and everything. You can see this emerging in the third painting.
If you've been following my work, you may have noticed that I have been moving toward greater simplicity, and farther from narrative. I cannot support narrative, with sincerity, in my work - except in this idiom. In this one idiom, I can easily picture it.
Call the idiom hypercolor.
Partial 2: Frankenthaler
With hypercolor running in my mental background, my mind eventually drifted to one of the abstract expressionists I hate least, color field painter Helen Frankenthaler.
Helen Frankenthaler, Mountain Pool, 1963, acrylic on canvas, 48"x78"
It's not even so much that I dig Frankenthaler's work. I dig it in flashes, but mostly, I dig the idea of her work - the large, irregular zones of color, placed with an eye to the elements of design such that, somehow, they work.
(As an aside, I think this mode of appreciation of the work shades into what the conceptual artists get at, that the work itself is detritus, vanishable, a codec of an idea: the artist compresses the idea, and the viewer decompresses it, so that the true art exists in the mind on either side, and the quality of the work as a disposable transmission medium is foregrounded. I find the idea of Frankenthaler delicious, but the fact of Frankenthaler somewhat tedious. I cannot bind strongly to this mechanism, so in my own work, I will continue pursuing the painting in and of itself as the incarnation of a sensual phenomenon.)
Doing a little research now, I find that Frankenthaler's method of application is frequently the same as the one I stumbled on with the hypercolor partial - non-brush application of oil paint, heavily thinned with turpentine. Of course, she didn't prime her canvases, so they have a grossly finite lifespan. But still, I know where she's coming from in terms of the physical question of moving paint to surface.
What I learn from Frankenthaler is the possibility of integrating a large canvas area into a single composition using the general category of color shapes I ran into with the hypercolor paintings. Do you see why this is important? Consider Rauschenberg:
Robert Rauschenberg, Charlene, 1953-4 (4 panels, multiple materials, 89" x 112")
Rauschenberg also demonstrates that a large picture space can be compositionally unified, but he uses so many elements that the fact that he's not actually making a representational image reflects more that he's a prick than any formal consideration.
not a Rauschenberg, but not fundamentally different from a Rauschenberg either
Now consider Frankenthaler again:
Helen Frankenthaler, Flood, 1967, synthetic polymer on canvas, 124" x 140"
This painting is enormous, nor is it busy, but it holds together, and it holds together using an array of elements more in line with what I'm interested in.
So I added Frankenthalerian composition to hypercolor technique in the swirl of elements building toward a project in my mind.
Partial 3: Cassandra
I always try to match the project to the model, and the model to the project. And as this project germinated, it occurred to me that it suited Cassandra, an absolutely stellar model whom I've been drawing for a little more than ten years now. I used to draw her in Los Angeles, and we moved to New York around the same time, and I've drawn and painted her here. This is a painting of Cassandra:
Merops Iphikrates, 2009, oil on canvas, 60"x36"
This is another:
The Sister of the Storm, 2010, oil on canvas, 60"x36"
Something you would only vaguely figure out from looking at this work is that Cassandra is a dancer with a flair for costume...
...and a taste for the alchemical:
Cassandra's performances are riotously fun to attend, and painting her is one of the great pleasures of my life as an artist.
When I hit on making large paintings of Cassandra, using the hypercolor combination of refined underdrawings and washy color fields, and the Frankenthalerian integration of the picture space, I thought I had completed assembly of partials into a project, and I was excited to start...
But no ideas came to me. I doodled a couple possibilities, but "random naked chick + color" wasn't cutting it for me. Grumbling, I had to move the project from "active" back to "pending," and wait for further inspiration to strike.
Partial 4: Inanna
I'm not sure how this idea emerged. It's probably just a synthesis of a few things - that Cassandra casts a mythogenic field around her, that I'm interested in the harrowing in hell to begin with - but I eventually thought again about the Sumerian goddess Inanna, and from there came to the strange story of her descent into the underworld.
Inanna is a goddess of war and unlawful carnal knowledge. Also a virgin goddess. And one time she pulled a Prometheus and proliferated technology to the people of Uruk. Nobody's going to accuse the Sumerians of theological consistency.
Be that as it may, Inanna, for reasons not entirely explicit, decided to go down into the underworld and have it out with her older sister Ereshkigal, who ruled there.
It turned out hell had seven gates, at each of which a gatekeeper demanded one of Inanna's garments, which also functioned as instruments of her powers. You could call this part of the story The Deadliest Striptease. Inanna entered the underworld naked, which comports with my motto, "It is only naked you will enter into the house of the truth," as well as with Cassandra's talent for burlesque.
When Inanna met up with Ereshkigal, she died, and Ereshkigal hanged her on a hook. She hanged dead for three days before Father Enki's minions showed up, applied the life-giving plant and the life-giving water, and busted her on outta there.
Maybe she gained the power of life and death. It's not clear. Sumerians.
Now, this story motivates some nudes (you may have noticed I'm not averse to nudes). It provides a character Cassandra can play to a T, a narrative to match the hypercolor idiom, and a mythological context complimentary to the Frankenthaler landscape. But more than that, it is a story I find personally moving.
I do believe that we must all be harrowed in hell - that we are all Dante, and we will never leave our dark forest except if we go downward. I do believe that we must die and be born again. I believe we must stake our souls, going naked into the house of the truth, if we are to be saved. I believe we must abandon every hope, even the hope of salvation, before salvation will come down to us, and we will emerge glorious from our wretchedness. I believe we must do this again and again; that we will be weary, and will believe that we have done with it - and then the dilemma will re-emerge, and again, we will be forced either to become directionless grey ghosts, or to go down to the dark room, and the hook, and the hopelessness, before the life-giving plant and the life-giving water are bestowed.
This is a story I believe; it is a story I can tell.
So this was the final partial - now the project is ready to begin, telling this story, this way, in twelve or fifteen paintings. It will be one of my main pursuits in 2012.
I hope you all will find yourselves renewed in the new year.