A lot of what I understand visually is structured by the screen; specifically the movie screen. I watched a lot of television as a child, but the experience of seeing movies was deeply affecting. I didn't really learn about film as an art form until I got to college. I took a film class at Boston University that introduced me to cinema and more importantly, cinema history. I became a much more sophisticated viewer of movies and I would go alone to the Harvard Film Archive or the Coolidge Corner Cinema to see old movies on the big screen. But the film that really affected me and impacted my work as a painter was John Casavettes Faces (1968).
I saw the film as part of an undergraduate class called Narrative in Art at MassArt. The class was taught by David Nolta. We had looked at a number of films in that class and for the life of me I really cannot remember any of them. Faces on the other hand made a tremendous impact on me. In this story of a marriage coming undone I saw something about the emotional structuring of space that I carried into my own work.
I remember Nolta telling us that the first part of the film was really hard. It is essentially three drunk people in a room and if you have ever had to listen to drunk people when you are sober you know how annoying that is. This section of the film is loud and the characters are boorish and clumsy with each other. Gena Rowlands plays the luminously beautiful Jeannie, John Marley is Richard, and Fred Draper plays Freddie. As the characters move in and out of the frame and weave back and forth in the room, a variety of spaces and shapes open and shift framing and isolating the characters. The bodies communicate the attractions and revulsions the characters experience to the point where the space gets filled and emptied over and over. The first 15 minutes of the movie are physically exhausting and raw.
Through out the film, the space between the figures is an indicator of the relationships. The shapes that are created between the people, even when there is a tremendous amount of physical distance, can pull people together or drive them apart. It is a masterwork of composition that has haunted and informed me all this time. I have a way of describing it when I talk about my work in terms of love. If you are very in love with someone (or even just deeply sexually connected to someone) and you are at a huge party, you don't even have to look to know when they are in the room. The emotional space between you is so shallow, that you are next to each other all the time. By the same logic, you can be sitting right next to someone whom you despise that the space can open between you like a chasm. I saw that in Faces for the first time. Two people sitting together on the stairs, emotionally close - sometimes touching even - and a huge amount of air between the two of them. It was the first time I saw the shape and the form of something coming together and then falling irreparably apart.