Friday, February 24, 2012

I've Said It Once But It Bears Repeating

As you may remember, I've had a strong affection for Patricia Watwood's paintings for a long time. I went by the opening of her solo show "Myths and Individuals" at the Forbes Galleries yesterday evening. The Forbes Galleries are some galleries on the ground floor of the Forbes building at 5th Avenue and 12th Street:

It's an impressive building, and an impressive show - if you're in New York, you might consider dropping by and taking a gander at works covering over a decade of Patricia's creative output.

The opening, for a figurative painter like me, was like Facebook: The Real Life. I was Friends with half the room, on the basis of a shared practice of figurative painting, but hadn't actually met most of them. There was one guy that I recognized, and I could picture his paintings, but I had no idea what his name was. Very dislocating sensation.

I got to congratulate Patricia:

And say hey to Leah. This whole past year that I've been working on the Blue Leah paintings, Leah has been working with Patricia as well. I put them together; if you hang out long enough, with enough artists and models, you start to get a sense of who might go with whom. I recommended Leah to Patricia, and it went much better than I could have anticipated. The recent work was all Leah paintings. You'll remember this one - it inspired the first painting in the Blue Leah series:

Leah and one of her many doubles

But enough about all that. I wouldn't trouble you with this anecdote if I hadn't learned something interesting. Here's what happened. The show included the first two paintings of Patricia's I ever saw, in issues of American Artist in the early 2000's. I won't use professional photographs of the paintings here - rather, I'll show you how they looked in the show. The first painting was Patricia's self-portrait in a windbreaker:

The second was her female nude, Flora:

These paintings made a huge impression on me at the time: the vivid color, the solid flesh, the serenely classical composition. Seeing them in person, I was able to appreciate dimensions invisible to photography: the gentle dabbing of the brushwork, the sensual thickness of the paint, the modulation of unblended adjacent colors.

I am not too proud to admit that, when these paintings joined the body of work that guided me toward making a serious attempt at figurative painting, part of the guidance was just basic jealousy. I wanted to be able to paint those paintings. This is a childish motive, but a very powerful form of inspiration to improve. When I started, I was like a kid in a toy store: I wanted this, and this, and this, and this...

What I learned, seeing them in person, was that I myself have changed. Several steps of evolution separate me from my first encounter with Patricia's work.

The first step was the hunger to be like her, to be like Da Vinci, to be like Rubens, to be like Sargent, Titian, Velazquez, to be like everyone whose work appealed to me.

Then, when my painting began to resemble itself, it frustrated me that it was not like any of the painters I admired. I would nudge it in one direction, then nudge it in another. And yet, elastically, it returned to itself.

Now, I find I am like Aeschylus (I think it's Aeschylus) who, in his old age, breathed a sigh of relief that his lust had died down at last. Which is to say - I continue to have an immense affection for Patricia's work, but I no longer suffer from a lust to be Watwood the painter. Now, I recognize what I am, and what I am not; I am pleased with what I am, and at peace with what I amn't...

This state of reconciliation is accompanied by a change in my affection for Patricia's work, which makes it a much more pleasing thing to experience. For the first time, I can look at it without toothed envy: happy only that it exists, that it has its distinctive nature, and that I have a chance to enjoy it.

Here is her most recent Leah painting - in a professional photograph, so you can see it properly:

Venus Awakes, 2011, oil on canvas, 38"x34"

How different her vision of Leah is from mine! And yet, how marvelous, how sheerly sparkling in its reflection of what Patricia brings to her encounter with her paint and our shared model. How excellent is this, that there is more than one painter in the world, and we are different from one another?

Thank you, Patricia, and congratulations, and I wish you many more years of fulfilling creativity.

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