I have been working on this painting for about a year now. It did not start out looking like this.
I had a photograph as a reference for this painting. I don't normally work from photos; it's too difficult for me. I start to feel some kind of weird responsibility, as if the painting won't be good if it doesn't look like the photo. I start to get plagued by these aggressive thoughts about correctness and precision that have nothing to do with anything that interests me because the photo becomes the measure of quality. I ended up getting very uninterested in the painting. I put it away.
When I took the painting up again, I was thinking of sanding the whole thing down and making a new painting, but for some reason I didn't. I started thinking about how unsatisfied I was with it and that got me thinking that maybe I could make a painting about satisfaction. And if I could, what would such a painting look like. Are there painterly equivalents to being satisfied? I started thinking about the last painting I looked at that I could say I felt satisfied. Not pleased, not interested, not impressed, but satisfied.
At the Armory Show this year, I saw a Jocelyn Hobbie picture called Bee, Yellow, Indigo at Fredericks and Freiser. I had never thought much about her work because I had only seen it in reproduction and seeing it in reproduction allowed me to completely misunderstand it. The cliche exists because it's true-the painting is better in person. Magazine reproductions of Hobbie's paintings make them look illustrative. What I thought was simple geometry is an almost lapidary arrangement of color that makes up undulating and energetic forms that swirl like energy. Like a Klimt painting, it is an image of tremendous confidence and erotic power.
What is so satisfying about the Hobbie painting was that every single moment is realized and held in tension with every other moment. What looks like an illustration in reproduction actually looks like a hallucination in person. There is a sense of air and movement in the picture that I was not expecting when I saw it. She has painted this person as something more than a person.
This sense is enhanced by her technical restraint - it is what stops the painting from being an academic exercise of "solving painting problems." Her use of painterly processes are in service to creating this sensation about this person in addition to a sense of visual satisfaction.
A painting has to be more than a demonstration of the fact that the painter solved a problem.
I don't think about process when I am working. I think that is because the act of painting requires me to think about so many things at the same time. I am never thinking about "the process" because it isn't really something that is outside of me. If I tried to make paintings about process, I fear that they would become a concatenation of painterly effects, "full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing." I've never been able to be satisfied with process for its own sake. This may be a reason my work has always been about the figure. I have always had a subject. It would not occur to me make paintings about process independent of subject. The subject drives the kind of processes I would and do use.
I have been thinking about Hobbie and a few other artists a lot in the studio these days. I've been seeking out their work and looking deeply at it for some answers. I struggle greatly with painting because I am after something that I see less and less in contemporary art and I think that thing is satisfaction. That is not to say that I am looking for art that is simple, or uncomplicated, or facile. What I think is that I am looking for an art that operates outside of the language and techne of marketing and spectacle. I remember a studio visit with Nayland Blake I had back in 2002. I was going on about how I wanted to make work that talked about a sense of desire. Blake said to me, "Desire is the only thing that is produced in late-stage capitalism. Everyone knows about your desire. What we don't know about is your pleasure." Thinking about that conversation now, I see the link between pleasure and satisfaction, between process and image.
Cupid and Psyche had a daughter. Her name is Pleasure.