wednesday, august 15, 2012
Walls/White Rectangles/Mother

Last night I couldn't sleep again. I was up and down, rolling in the dark. I reached, groaning, for a pile of blank white rectangles of paper as if they were antacids. I wrote things on blank white rectangles of paper. The blank white rectangles give my ideas a framework. They give legitimacy to these ineffable things that make me go sideways in bed. Brain O'Doherty can't be wrong. 'The White Cube' and all it's little rectangular constituents are my hope for legitimacy. They validate. They verify. I can't escape the White Cube. I have to use it.


Studio wall, corner view, 2012.

I'm ready to use the tools of art to ask myself what I'm trying to do here; what it means to be an artist right now, how it feels. There are forces inside and outside that I have to push against. There are realities I have to accept, reject and also fuse together on pain of mental collapse and total demoralization.

I took all the little paintings off my studio wall. I bundled them up to take them to market; all wrapped up like a picnic basket into the wilderness. I'm trying to get them to Grandma's house. But the wolf keeps interrupting me; asking me questions. So they are bundled up and will forget them for the moment.

Now the studio wall is empty again. It's back to the white cube corner that I demanded to be cut into this dusty, memory-locked section of my childhood home. I cajoled my daddy into hiring the neighbor kid from across the street to build it for me. I'm a girly-girl-girl-girl afterall, and hyper-aware of my diffidence about carpentry work.


Studio wall, frontal view, 2012.

Now the partial-white cube-corner of my childhood home on College Street is empty of objects. It is full, however, of history. There are little brassy hooks, looking forlorn without paintings hanging from them. There are spiders and cobwebs. There are tape marks and charcoal scratching; outlines and halos from previous works executed on the wall; arrows indicating lighting arrangements for student still-lifes and model-sittings; measuring marks and other indicators of investigatory use.


Studio wall, detail view, 2012.

I love to look at these marks. They're like the marks on the kitchen door, that show the changing heights of the children as they grow. They are memory marks. They are science marks. They, like the wedge of the white-cube-corner, validate my work. They prove that have tried to solve problems here. They are like the scratchings along the margins of the math homework assignments from primary school (overrun in my case with little figures and faces and body parts).

Show your work.

That  mantra was ingrained into my being through my compassionate parochial school training. Even if you get it wrong; you'll get partial credit if your show your work. And I do. I can't stand the alternative. I mean it when I say this: I will lose my will to live unless I do.

Even deeper down, earlier, the message came. I remember it. It came directly from that most primordial of sources, my own mother; the pre-studio, the original church, the matrix of my being.

I was climbing another white cube, only it was a up one floor, in the upstairs bathroom. I remember it now: the white, rectangular clothes-hamper, oh so fine and tall! Mommy had warned me not to climb it, but I transgressed out of sheer curiosity. And when the thing broke painfully under my weight, I remembered what she had said:

Always tell me the truth of what you've done. Even if you do something wrong, if you come to me and tell me the truth, I will forgive you.


Studio wall, closeup view of charcoal marking, 2012.

So I go to the White Cube and I tell the truth. I go to the confessional; I go the studio; the hospital, the canvas; the blazing white screen, and I accuse myself. I show my work.

Here is an example of a work, produced with a particular curator in mind, for a particular gallery space in Philadelphia (it was a rather matronly gallery director). This work was never intended as a jab, and I was glad for the opportunity to show my work there. However, considering in retrospect the psychological context under which it was produced, the content makes me smile.


Mother, May I?, charcoal, 20x 30in, 2008.


I'm still sideways even now, tossing and turning, bi-locating, oscillating, hanging on to little rectangular scraps of paper for dear life. But I have to say I feel refreshed by this little reflection on the state of my my studio. Already, I sense light breaking on this otherwise puzzling series of wall-drawings. I began them in earnest at the Pennsylvania Academy in 2006. I've struggled with the notion of giving them up under the pressures of various demands and fears about leaving the cocoon of graduate school and stepping into the wide, wild world of the market place, basket in hand. I've set them aside sacrificially, in favor of prettier, more colorful and frankly more marketable confections, more likely perhaps to please mothers and brighten the walls of their antique homes. The sweeter things please me too. I am my mother's daughter.

So for these achromatic, luminous, sometimes menacing, sometimes slightly revolting drawings; dusty gashes, cuts in the wall, evidences of a drive to penetrate past the surface of art making, to get inside the body, to uncover the matter, there hasn't been much place. At least not in the day to day reality of my studio practice.


Gastromancy II, charcoal, 2006. Pennsylvania Academy Museum Collection.

I have willingly turned away from them, hidden them, covered them, tried to shut the file on them. Yet as soon as the studio wall gets uncovered again, the drive to think about this work and to continue it comes bubbling out like a secret, long hidden behind layers of peeling paper, primer and plaster. I suspect something inside me, placed there from the very beginning, demands that I attend to it, and yet simultaneously begs the question:

Mother, may I?








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