Mortality Smortality. 2014. Acrylic on panelboard, 64 x 48″
My flyer to be handed out at a show in two weeks:
Art is Work
Actually, in this case, painting is work. I have never considered myself to be an artist, really. I don’t even like “art”, the way my art-lover friend Dan does, one to leap at the chance to visit a gallery or a museum. I love painting though, any kind, and at an art show, I will make a bee line past all other forms of expression to see work of painters, more to learn and compare than to enjoy. Some times professional jealousy creeps in, especially when I see rendering that has a special hair shirt quality, when each stroke of the brush belies both a practical and encyclopedic knowledge of control or constipation—hard to tell which for sure until I meet the painter for beer and oysters. Unfortunately so many are either dead or practically inaccessible, and from my viewpoint in Oswego at least, painting is tolerated as a form of yoga, just another hobby distraction to the despair of the modern age. Thank God for family and friendship, and the blessings of the narcissist Internet. Otherwise by now I’d be eating my toenails at a local mental health spa.
In Providence Rhode Island I looked at my first van Gogh through a painter’s eyes. It was a religious experience. The great and powerful Vincent was a failure. Hurray! Another human being. It was a 14 X 17” landscape entitled View of Auvers-sur-Oise, a day’s work in a village north of Paris in the year he took his life. I read into that painting like any tome of art writing could instruct. The great Vincent van Gogh was nothing much really. Just another proud working man, driven day after day, year after year with an obsession to perfect his limitations. I saw the human hand laying it on thick, always at the right place at the wrong time, a failure at night, hopeful idiot by morning. One life to live, and if he was determined to be a painter, to Hell with the greatest of art critics, Mssrs. Degradation and Poverty.
It worked! A few hours coloring a French village from a field, and he succeeded to live another day pretending to be a painter. It was the billionaires who got rich though. They took the dignity of pride in pretend and made a killing for themselves. Endowments all over the world buy up van Gogh’s paintings to prove unwittingly their dislocation to humanity. They “get” the history, but fear the present moment like a pathogen. I could count all the struggling van Gogh’s living today. But it would take a lifetime and more assistants in my employ than those pretending to be artists at a Jeff Koons factory.
One more point before my plea:
Kurt Vonnegut: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be”.
Last month I checked out from the library a photo book about Picasso. Pictures taken of him at leisure and work in 1956. A mess of canvases and sculptures in every room, painting on the walls, dripped paint on the floor. His mansion had twenty foot ceilings and huge doors at the end of one studio opening out onto a balcony of palm trees. “La Californie” was the name of his hermitage in Southern France.
There is a brief passage in the book referencing his time in Montmartre, when he lived in poverty, painting. Somehow still able to acquire materials without the financial support of credit cards and/or a well-endowed sugar mama. I think poverty in 1905 was a world of difference from what we call it today. He must have made modern starving artists look like rich dandys sacrificing a week of television and a bowl of chocolates for art. Or, God forbid, cell phone service! The photos of him as a rich millionaire painting in a mansion, juxtaposed with my imagination of a poor Parisian painter holed up in some cold January flat over a hundred years ago, instruct and educate like nobody’s business. His wealthy genius in 1956 appears unchanged over 50 years time. He looks just as poor to me, but rich in determination and singleness of purpose. He eats, sleeps, voids excrement, laughs and paints. There is no stopping him. The art crazy old man.
I mention Picasso’s sameness to my wife the other morning over coffee. I asked her how differently would we live if suddenly Jeff Koons got cast inside one of his poodles, and Ron Throop went viral throughout the acquisition dreams of bored billionaires. “Our coffee and climate would get better. Other than that,” she admitted, “nothing”.
A few months ago I helped hang a show at our local art association. One of the helpers, a member my age, asked me what I do for a living. “Paint,” I said. “I am a painter”. It was more difficult for me to get that truism past my lips than if I told him I was an untouchable scouring latrines with my socks.
Picasso’s Picasso. Throop is Throop. We have nothing in common, besides a heightened desire to perfect our limitations. My path for the rest of this life is to pretend like Picasso. It won’t hurt anybody. It won’t even help. Maybe, if I just work harder and dream longer, Rose will taste a better sip of coffee with her next husband, from the Florida room of her beach condo in Boca Raton.
Now, finally, an explanation.
I found out last winter that I am a Stuckist, more or less. Their manifesto is available here at the show. Take a look. The strongest statement, #4, Artists who don’t paint aren’t artists, if not cryptic, is flat out silly wrong. I know nothing about ceramics, but I know a man, a teaching artist who would take his class to Chimney Bluffs along Lake Ontario to gather clay to be used for glazing. Ho boy! Show me a Stuckist in London who longs to extract cadmium from zinc ore. Or, take my friend the marble sculptor, who travels out of state to steal marble from parking lots. He approaches his stone like I do any canvas. As an ignoramus. I wish I had the knowledge (and time) to make my own paint and weave my own canvas. I’d rather paint on a log with berry juice, but the berry juice will never put out like my sweetheart dioxizine purple. And dioxizine sounds like painful chemical death to workers in that industry. So I just hold my breath while I paint.
Anyway, Stuckism. Good medicine. We are painter-workers. We get up in the morning to paint. We are international brothers and sisters in pretend. Yet we all need to get paid. Here is how I dream to be paid. Milton Glaser has the phrase “Art is Work” painted on the transom of his company door. Another tome of knowledge garnered from just three precious words. Art is work. The big painting I finished this week took exactly 40 hours—from surface, image, and finally to frame. At $13 dollars an hour (what I was making at my last job as “cook in the great north woods”, plus materials, and element “x” fee (30%), I value it at $832.00. The following is from my blog posted a couple months ago to shed light on the process of figuring my wages (from another painting pictured below):
It Is Is Is A Doom Alone That Counts. 2013. Acrylic on canvas, 36 x 36″
What is the Value of Art?
For this painting? Exactly $188.43. Why? Because I spent 10 hours of my life working on it. And my wife suggests that I charge at least a $10/hour wage. For the canvas (1½” thick generic), I used a 40% off coupon at an A.C. Moore 30 miles away. With gas money and Golden Acrylics added in, plus sales tax, I get to the above figure, which is exact.
That is its monetary value.
Its intangible worth is another story. A long one. A novel in twelve volumes; the fourth where I finally divulge my true intentions with the piece above. I began the morning in a funk, feeling sorry for the painter alive in a nation that boasts an impossible super economy, yet trounces its good fortune with an F350 sensitivity to life. Squash the spider! Swat the fly! Watch an eight-year-old smash a thousand exoskeletons fleeing up the anthill to protect their friends and family.
I spent the early morning spam tweeting a hundred gallerists to make them wake up to the prolific potential I have always hyper-activated in hard copy for my village. Then a wake-up call to my twelve year old daughter whom I raise away from the F350’s—to teach her that diesel is death, yet antibiotics has opened the door to the greatest party that will ever be. We need to live creatively (and quietly) alongside the diesels, so that we can dream this Christmas on earth without interruption.
This thinking cheers me to an idea that ferments throughout the morning and into late afternoon. I prepare a scratch meal while waiting for my wife to come home from work. She arrives. Plops down in the chair and we unload our thoughts for the day.
Dinner and more talk. A trip to the country wine cellar and a blank canvas in the basement.
I used to rock back and forth in my bed as a boy. I would set three albums on the turntable and let them play through while I rocked myself to sleep. Every single night of my life from age 11 to 18, when college roommates were enough peer pressure to make it a private affair with the door locked.
Now in my basement studio some twenty odd years later, I have gone back to rocking out all of that dreamy energy from my arms and eyes via painting. This night I was going to give my wife a hard copy that would sell. A nature scene at night of our Great Lake Ontario. No more politics. No more cultural critic. Finally a landscape some home decorator would purchase for $188.43. And it started out that way, innocent enough, probably Van Morrison singing “Oh my love when I am away from you…” And all the proposal promises I tacitly made with my lover were kept. We saved for our children’s college. We went to a camp in the summer and cuddled up on the couch to watch TV on stormy nights.
I might have kept to Van for an hour replaying, Summertime in England, and got bold with my love in a red dress, painting soft strokes while slow dancing with her in pacific moonlight. Then suddenly Harvest Moon, and I discover the demon rumors are true. He is rising from the lake! The creature writhes inside every single one of us. No escape. Both rickshaws and diesel trucks. All are accounted for in mortality. Holy Jesus, we’re gonna die!
So the following night I let the born again nihilist Bob Dylan set my text to the painting. It reminds us that doom is impossible to avoid at the onset of middle age.
Even with remarkable advances in metallurgy and sleek rubber linings, the shiny new Ford 350 will rust and leak by the time we are fifty.
It is (is is) a doom alone that counts, and that is the value of art to the living.
This particular piece should remind its buyer that there is no doubt, in a super economy, only a hardened, bitter, and frightened man will buy something he can afford.
So, any takers? I’ll have to add $45.00 for shipping.
There you have it! The first Oswego Stuckist to admit the truth. Art is work. So is toenail chewing if one can pretend really hard. I promise to play this game out to the end. My dreams tell me that buying up my work now, will secure some legacy to leave your children. Buy a signed book. Put it in the attic. Buy a painting to hang in the parlor. Its story will not die.
I apologize about the lack of framing for many of these paintings. The truth is I have another show going on at the Dyer Arts Center at R.I.T. in Rochester. Unlike Zinks, I would be banished from furthering that avenue of pretend if I didn’t deliver framed work. We’re out of money now, and I blame myself for scheduling two shows in the same month. The gallerists at the Rochester venue must keep up appearances. R.I.T. needs to pretend too. And I need to pretend that I have a chance to break into a world that will provide me a line cook’s salary to paint. Please, if you find my art not practical enough for your tastes, patronize Zink Shirts in any way you can. Glenn has offered this space to local color. Come here for holiday shopping. His work is sublime and corporate killing at the same time. Wear one of his shirts and flip a tall bird at the bottom-line world of men who care not a bean about your day to day. Glenn and I do. Look, we invited you all here. Open your wallets and pick out a record album to play. But first, open your wallets!