Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Gregory Gillespie: Revisited



Madness and Mysticism:

The Ghost of Gregory Gillespie

by Addison Parks



There are people others like to talk about, and then there are those that demand a whisper. The first time I heard Gillespie’s name in 1971, I overheard it. Two of my high school art teachers stood off in a corner and privately exchanged war stories about someone on the outside really doing it. It wasn’t very often that these two spoke about another artist with anything more than disdain, so I took note. Hushed awe has always preceded Gregory Gillespie's name, and among artists, he is legend.



A few springs ago he killed himself. It shocked the art world. It was right after a back-breaking late snow, and not long after a major traveling retrospective of his work. Beneath a gaudy feature on dating at the Museum of Fine Arts, the Boston Globe ran a small acknowledgment of the artist’s life and death with a reproduction the size of your thumb. It hurt. This had been arguably New England’s greatest living artist, one it could genuinely claim. Art did not come over on the Mayflower, I like to say, but in true Yankee fashion, this man was a maverick. He walked his own walk, his own path, and from stem to stern he was his own artist.





I never met the man. I tried to avoid meeting most artists, especially the celebrated ones. I never wanted to be disappointed. I never wanted anything to interfere with the work. You could really like what someone did but somehow know that you didn’t want them in your kitchen. The last thing I heard about Gillespie before he died was from John Baker, the director of his Boston gallery. He and his wife, Nina Nielsen, had been to visit him and their impression was that he had seemed to have lost his grip, that he seemed to be unable to distinguish between art and life, that he was painting on everything, even the walls and fixtures in the bathroom. Baker said that as they drove away they were both shaking their heads. It is also worth noting that he always felt that the guy was totally "benign."





It is hard, pointless, and mean to try to categorize Gillespie. You could say that his work was figurative, but it didn’t fit in with the figurative art of the early seventies, when beleaguered figuration enjoyed a brief moment in the art world sun. Gillespie was a recipient of the Prix de Rome, and there is no question that his work would be forever influenced by that experience, but to put a finger on just what that was would be impossible. Strangely enough, however, you could go so far as to say that he was the one and only great Italian painter of the last fifty years. Since he wasn’t Italian, that might suggest how deeply he had taken that experience to heart.





So what was he? You could also argue that he was the one true artist of his generation. That he was the only artist difficult enough to own himself. He was a member of no club. There have long been murmers that Da Vinci was an alien, and if so, Gillespie was his brother from another planet. There are other hackneyed expressions which apply...the mold being broken...shattered, or that he gave new meaning to the idea of intensity, times a zillion, again, and then add lots of zeros. But no description of the way he worked would tell the story. His attention to detail, his pleasure with illusion, his blatant and simultaneous regard and disregard for “reality,” his constant self-reference, his dreamscape, his madness, his allusions to the spiritual...or better...his mysticism, his super-man painting technique, none of them do him justice. They are all just pieces of the mask. The only way to know Gillespie is to follow his paintings down the rabbit hole. Then you’re looking him square in the eye, which is as it should be.





After he killed himself I had to help one painter I knew in particular, Ulick Mahoney, get past it. He was sad, outraged, blown away. I felt the same way, but Ulick couldn’t seem to move on. Suicide is a complicated thing. If there are suggestions of mental illness, even more so. For the rest of us who put up with being an artist in these parts, it was devasting. It not only meant a lot that he chose to live here too, it meant even more that in the end he chose not to. This man had done it all, and done it his way, and it apparently wasn’t enough. What did that say for the rest of us? If it wasn’t good enough for him, how could the rest of us hope to survive and flourish? The ghost of Gregory Gillespie haunts us still. It is worth asking, however, if a life of art is its own reward. Go ahead.





Everything else is a lie.





While he was still alive I was approached to write something big about his work. I declined. I didn’t want to go there. Afterall, this was the guy who when invited to hang the work of artists he admired in a museum show, hung his own. The guy had balls. Looking at a lifetime of his work, it looks pretty clear that he may never have known the difference between fantasy and reality, or, just maybe, he's the only one who did! Now that he is dead, I wouldn’t mind telling some of his story; I just don’t know where to start.

Addison Parks

Courtesy of Artdeal Magazine; Lincoln,MA, not far from Belchertown, after another late winter snow, 2005

From the Artdeal Magazine Archives

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, December 23, 2013

Leon Polk Smith: Revisited

"You can't explain a painting. It explains itself, if you give it a chance."

Leon Polk Smith, 1983 (From Photo by Nancy R. Schiff/Getty Images)

LEON POLK SMITH

Leon Polk Smith admits to being one of the twice born; art too claims its converts. Seated in his New York apartment, which also hosts his studio, he speaks softly and serenely of the life art has shared with him. The air is surprisingly fresh and relaxed, it doesn't feel like New York. His living room is cool and bright from a crossfire of east and west exposures, high up they overlook Union Square on one side and face a cathedral of water towers on the other. Only Smith's paintings dress the walls, and they light the room with an elegance which is betrayed only by their jaunty and jubilant spirit. He explains that while he is an ardent art enthusiast, all of his ideas come from his own works, and they serve him well by being where he can look at them. He speaks with a gently rhythmic but a touch crusty southwestern accent, and there is still a shadow of the rugged frontier about him, which can be traced back to his work.

"I discovered art my last year in college ... 1934. Having grown up in Oklahoma and having been older than the state, there wasn't much art there. So it was still younger than I at college age, and I had never seen an original painting. I don't think I knew anyone very well who even had art in their vocabulary. And it's quite by accident that I discovered art. That last year, I was in a building I had never been in before, walking down the hall, looking into the rooms as I passed. . . and this room had students and they were painting and drawing. And somehow that fascinated me immediately. I thought: I wish I could do that. And l went in and asked the instructor if I could come in and work for the rest of the term. He said yes.

I think I realized very quickly that I had always been an artist, and that that was what I wanted. That I would always keep it for myself, that I would never prostitute it, or do anything with it just for money.

I had prepared to be a teacher. When I started school, I said, I want to be a teacher, and it never entered my mind.... Even after I discovered art, and said I was going to be an artist, I knew that to make a living I would do what had been my first choice, which was teaching. I taught for about twenty-five years.

After I finished college, and taught one year, I came to New York in 1936 to study at Columbia ... get my Masters ... education and psychology. I knew I wasn't going to start selling paintings (he laughs). Paintings didn't start selling to somehow support me until about 1957. That's when I stopped teaching. "

From the awesome horizontality of the Oklahoma plains to New York's concrete peaks and valleys, Smith's one preoccupation has been space. From the late thirties through the early fifties it was the Constructivist space of Mondrian which dominated his scope: pure rectilinear abstraction with a parity of positive and negative form. Like many others working under the mast of Constructivism, Smith was looking for the next step up, a stage further in the evolution. Some painters pursued lyrical abstraction, but these solutions sat too self-centered to excite him. So he pushed on.



Leon Polk Smith; Center Column Blue and White, 1946



"When I discovered this thing in 1954, of dividing a canvas into two areas, painting in two colors, I did about twelve to fifteen tondos before I was able to carry the idea over into the rectangle. Because I discovered the idea on a circular format, you know I must have told you about seeing this athletic catalog ... the illustrations that were done that were pencil drawings rather than photographs, of a baseball, tennis ball, football ... that came into my studio, that was in the mail. I don't know why it was sent to me ... found myself going through the catalog ... looking through the drawings. certainly was not interested in any of them as a baseball or a basketball, but I was looking. And I thought, what the hell am I doing this for, why am I looking at this ? And a little voice says, because that's what you're looking for ... that excited me and l knew immediately what it meant. I rushed into my studio, got some paper and a compass and started drawing circles and dividing them up. Then I had to start inventing my own break up. I was inspired. Because that presented what was I looking for?

"When Mondrian died, I think 1945, people said he had hit a dead end, or a stone wall and I said I don't think so. There is no such thing as a stone wall except in one's mind. I said to myself, I think it would be wonderful to use his great discovery of the interchange of elements of form and space, or background-- foreground, although he only used it at a direct angle or a straight line--if one could find a way of using that in curvilinear form-and that's what I was looking for, all through the forties ...

Leon Polk Smith; New Moon For August; 1983

"I certainly wouldn't have gone to an athletic catalog to find it, but that's where I found it. Of course the shapes and lines were very limited, and immediately had to start finding my own, which I did. But then that created a space there that I had never seen in painting before. It was flat and at the same time it was curved. It was like a sphere. The planes seemed to move in every direction, as space does. And so I thought, maybe that is because that's on the tondo. I've got to find out if that is true or not. I've got to do some on a rectangle to see if the form and the space still moved in every direction. And it did. So it was exciting to do a painting on a rectangle that seemed to have a curved surface. It was the first time, you see that I had made an important step myself, or contribution in art. "

Color and shape are the converging planes which form the fulcrum over which Smith see-saws his space. They form the language of which he is a master. Color and shape are his domain; the crossbars of his scope; his words. With them he writes poetry; poems which magnificently sweep their time and space into a single gesture.

In space there is no up or down; up here is down there on the other side of the globe. Smith enlarged the concept of space in painting to meet with the twentieth century, everything moves at a diagonal. He first started experimenting with this in the rectilinear Constructivism of the forties; he implied lines which moved diagonally between points. Later he exposed the diagonals and still maintained a vocabulary of implied lines. Both are central to his dialogue, especially today.



Leon Polk Smith; Sunset Caribe; 1983


In the multiple panels Smith takes the concept of positive/negative parity one step further. He invites the surrounding space into the experience, and activates it into an equal exchange. The painting becomes a point of departure - a runway into space.

We sense the awe in this work, and wonder. These latest paintings are of a dimension so large, so fast and so deep, they tower like futurist space machines, seeming to pulsate on the threshold of infinity. Smith constantly talks of excitement as though it were an essential. He has a faith in what art can do, and be, and this is supremely evident in his work; so much so that with it he restores even our doubt in the doubt intrinsic to both.

“. . . Isn't it simply wonderful to be able to paint? That's what l wanted to do. Now I can - It's something I would pay to do, if I were able to, if I had to.”

ADDISON PARKS
August, 1982
Reprinted Catalog Essay Courtesy of the Joan Washburn Gallery
From the Artdeal Magazine Archives

Monday, December 16, 2013

BILL JENSEN: Revisited

Bill JensenThe Meadow, 1980-81, oil on linen, 22×22”


THE PROMISE OF BILL JENSEN

THIS IS NOT the otherworldliness of spirituality. This is this world: spirituality as the center of being, 14th Street to Tibet. Bill Jensen presumes no grand exclusive vision that I know of. He paints, and in his paintings things happen or don't. He goes places or doesn't. We go or don't. No big deal. Entirely our choice.

No longer is his painted image gratifying by being strong. He can't and won't do that for us anymore. He hasn't for some time now. Years. Maybe he spoiled us, and for that he will accept responsibility. And that is the big deal. So don't vote for him, to paraphrase someone.

The story is fascinating. What happened? What happened to make Bill Jensen drop his sure thing, the golden sword and shield, the cherished crest? You could see it coming a dozen years ago. Blow the lid off and what have you got? What's left, at the bottom, on the other side? Nothing, we fear. Nothing to live for, and paint for. To care for and get out of bed for. Lose the will and what power is there?

Bill Jensen did it. He made the leap and now he has to face it everyday. There is no going back. His paintings are just what he finds. That's all there is. For Jensen. The paintings, his paintings. His vision, but more accurately, what he sees. What he can see. All he can see. And what does he see? What happens between the paint tube and the brush mark, the blank canvas and the place inside him? Can he reach it? Can he clear away the stuff in between, the stuff blocking the way, and then, can it reach him? Or is it even less complicated than that? Will something happen, will something meet him?
Bill Jensen paints the painting, and with his courage not only makes things happen, but lets them happen. But what does he believe? That is the question. What is at the bottom of his paintings? A dozen years ago he gave us something we could sink our teeth into, something solid we could believe. Something that approximated God. Something more than a piece of the rock. The rock itself. But then that changed. He changed. He had a son, a family. He went to Rome. These things touched him. They touch us all. 
Bill Jensen; oil on linen


And then what? No more rock. Something larger. The allness. Bill Jensen makes the trip to Allsville, and that's all there is. A peek at the big picture.



Bill JensenDeadhead1986, oil on linen, 36 1/2×33 1/4”


BILL JENSEN HAS CHANGED the way he goes about making a painting, so much so that it could no longer be called making a painting. It would have to be called something else. Something like maybe catching a painting, because what he is doing is a lot more like fishing that anything we would call making. Certainly the fisherman would never presume to say that he made the fish, he would merely be content to say he caught it. Bill Jensen is clearly in the business of trying to catch a painting, to land a big one, to bring one home. That would make him happy.

Fifteen years ago Jensen would make small sketches that would be shaped while riding the bus or train, while traveling to and from his studio across the East River in Williamsburg. These would be turned into drawings, shaped some more, and finally, perhaps, hammered into a painting where the promise of the sketch would flower into thin, flat scraps of oil paint on linen, edges sharply cut, contour meeting contour like pieces of a puzzle or plots of land. The process was very much one of making in the extreme, more like forging, as in the forging of steel. The image was controlled, methodical, and determined by expectations. It was tatooed, almost as though there was a code, even a set of rules about the process.


Today Jensen's paintings reflect a different kind of honor, a different kind of conviction and determination. Yes, the battle is still within, but it is no longer the battle: the struggle has been sublimated into the most natural expression of life: a relationship. The process, attitude, and expectations have all radically changed. The value has changed. It is not quality as a value, but as an experience, and that is the value. The earlier paintings were clear and defined-sure truths. They were answers. These new paintings are murky-uncertainties. They are questions. 
Bill Jensen

These latter works are beholden to no one; they are unpredictable and even contrary. They are crusty landscapes and ornery still-lifes next to the earlier iconographic heads. They have a more far-reaching space. The way they are painted eludes calculation or analysis. Sometimes they seem almost painfully triumphant in defiance. They fish for the unseen, the unknown, the shy creature at the bottom, in the shadows. The shapes, the handling of paint, the choice of color have less to do with the language of painting and everything to do with staying close to the bone, to the earth, ear to the ground, the wind, the waves. Instead of fire there is longing, instead of passion there is compassion, and instead of roaring, they very quietly listen. Where the earlier work was standing up in your face, this work reclines. So pull up a chair! There is even that kind of whimsy. So who can say what is going on in these paintings?

Bill Jensen; Untitled; 1993; ink on paper; 19 x 15 1/4"


In the end, Bill Jensen paints mysteries. Aways has. And yes, in the world of painting, as in the everyday, there are boatloads, but very few good ones. As the force of painting fades from our lives, Bill Jensen's mystery paintings remain nothing short of legend. His are great mysteries. 
Late this winter Nina Nielsen and John Baker dedicated the first floor of their Newbury Street gallery in Boston to a survey of Jensen's work from 1986 to 1993. It was a perfect invitation to do the otherwise unthinkable: make comparisons. Here we had works which clearly documented the revolution this artist experienced, and we got to look at them from an almost anthropological point of view. 
Bill Jensen; Paradise Lost, 1987-88, oil on linen, 42 1/4×32 1/2”


In many ways the exhibition was a mystery explained, a marked trail across a vast, untamed continent. Panting by painting a journey from civilization into the hills unfolded. It didn't happen all at once, but instead evolved in a gradual process of letting go, reaching out, of perseverance, discovery, and fruition. Contrary to the way it might seem, Bill Jensen kept his promise.

Addison Parks, Cambridge, 1994
Courtesy of Provincetown Arts; Volume 10; 1994
From the Artdeal Magazine Archives

Saturday, December 14, 2013

COLIN MCCAHON: Revisited

Colin McCahon; A Question of Faith; 1970; oil on canvas
Colin McCahon’s
Daring Word Images
WHY would an artist like the New Zealander Colin McCahon (1919-1987) have deliberately tested the public eye and risked an opportunity for success and recognition by instead making paintings that flew in the face of convention? Was it possible that he somehow saw his vision as a solemn responsibility, something not to be compromised, something so much bigger than personal success that there was never any question in his mind what he had to do?
It might be that a true artist gives us what we need, not necessarily what we want. McCahon was willing to put aside the public's expectations, not out of spite, but so that he could ask larger questions. He chose radical themes and a radical means by which to express them. His questions were fundamentally ontological, spiritual in nature, and the clearest way he knew how to ask them was with painted words.


 
"Practical Religion"(1969)oil on canvas;courtesy National Art Gallery, New Zealand
But because religious subject matter violates the precious modern dictum of "art for art's sake," it has been considered inappropriate for use in contemporary art. After almost 2,000 years in the service of churches, illustrating their most-favored themes, art was freed of such duties during the 19th century. Nevertheless, McCahon pursued these religious questions in his work throughout his life, first using the figure, then the landscape, and finally, just words.
Using words got McCahon into just as much trouble. There is a general understanding that a painting must be expressed with images. The viewer not only feels cheated by the use of words but also sees their presence as a failure on the part of the artist. McCahon used words, however, because he was drawn to the way they looked.

"The Kumara God"(1978-79)acrylic on canvas;
239cm x 188cm;courtesy Gow/Langsford, Auckland,NZ
As a boy, he was once impressed by a professional sign painter working on a storefront window. It enchanted him. It spoke to him and inspired him as much as the New Zealand landscape. He saw beauty there, and he wanted to make something of it.
This is the thing that is surprising about his use of words. They come to life. They shine with emotional intensity, robust vitality, and still a delicate grace and silvery light. With words, McCahon discovered the true expression for himself, giving him the freedom that unleashed a power that was inside him and all around him.
Colin McCahon; oil on canvas

Colin McCahon; oil on canvas
My first experience with McCahon was watching a documentary of his life and work (most of his paintings are in collections in Australia or New Zealand, although I was fortunate to see two here in Boston at the Nielsen Gallery). What struck me was not so much his grand and brooding landscapes as the early religious work and the word paintings.
I felt immediately what he must have been up against in terms of public opinion, and I was astonished by his conviction. It is difficult enough to be an artist, but what he did was like swimming up a waterfall. To most people at the time, it was just plain contrariness. Today, as is so often the case, he is a national treasure and a hero to younger painters.

Colin McCahonTakaka: Night and Day; 1948; oil on canvas

Colin McCahon; The Promised Land; oil on canvas

Interestingly, as early as the 1940s he began painting titles on his paintings. They had to be seen and read as part of the image. He even used speech balloons, cartoon style, to make the figures in his religious paintings talk. People naturally thought he must have been joking, but he wasn't. He was looking for a way to make something happen. He recognized the possibilities he saw in the comic strip. Nobody was doing anything like it in painting. He was working totally alone, and most people would say over the edge, not on it.

 
"King of the Jews"(1947)oil on cardboard; NAG,New Zealand
In the 1950s, McCahon turned to the landscape as a metaphor for his religious inquiry. He had a brief but influential flirtation with Cubism and then Abstract Expressionism. The result was an expansive and gestural landscape that was broken up by separate panels and planes. McCahon assimilated these influences quickly and naturally, keeping his vision on track. By 1960, words crept back into the landscapes, which had become more and more abstract and geometric. By 1970, words had taken over the landscape - a presence that was to become more or less implied from then on. Words and numbers filled his paintings, some of which joined panel to panel to reenact the experience of landscape through movement.
Colin McCahon; oil on canvas

It was the landscapes that brought McCahon success at home, but it is the word images for which he has achieved recognition abroad. The power and originality of these late paintings is magnificent and undeniable. We don't even have to read them to ingest their meaning. There is something that happens as we confront them. They talk to us beyond language. Each turn of a letter, each line of Scripture, poetry, or prose, is a sliver of light or a shadow cast on the water. They are at once enduring, longing, believing, and gratifying. They complete a necessary link in the chain of human experience. A piece we were missing.

Addison Parks 
Courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor, April 27, 1992
From the Artdeal Magazine Archives

Sunday, December 08, 2013

ROSEMARIE TROCKEL: Revisited

Balaklava(1986) wool
ROSEMARIE TROCKEL
To start with, Rosemarie Trockel started with us; she chose to introduce us to her work by first introducing us to ourselves. By hanging a hand mirror at the mouth of her Boston ICA retrospective(1991) the way she might have hung a mirror in her front hall, she made us aware that we were guests in her home, allowing us to ready ourselves, letting us see our own glass house. To me, however, the mirror is as much about vanity as self-examination; concealed vanity, fear of self-examination. I didn't look, not then or ever.

At the back of this body of work which includes knitted canvases, bronze castings of dead animals, sculptural arrangements in glass cases, drawings, floor pieces, and quirky apparel, is the oldest piece in the retrospective, Scaredy-Cat (1983). It sat on the floor in the corner of the upper gallery and watched. It is quite obviously a kind of self-portrait. Her Familiar. It says a lot. Two slits peer from iust beneath the top of a plastered cylinder, out of which pokes a piece of wood, like a tail. Seeing that bit of emotion and candor made me look at the rest of the work differently. It made me re-examine not only the vulnerability of the work, but also the fear, the anger, the touch, and, in the end, the humor.

Out on the floor, under the feline's guard-like gaze, are some of Trockel's most intriguing works: haunting arrangements on her customized pedestals and in her glass cases. These pieces recall Beuys in their biological/anthropological quality of inquiry. They struggle with significance, not form. They ask questions. Their inventive visual presence evolves through her personal, almost magical use of materials, natural and synthetic. Human hair, animal membrane, and wire can figure in a piece under glass that we hover over as though it were enchanted. Casts of conch shells hang on the ends of long handles like ladles in a kitchen or carcasses on meat hooks, pretty shells all in a row. A man's white dress shirt stands alone in a tall case - except for a small spider.

Trockel does many things. She is completely human, woman, artist, with all the power, diversity, and complexity that implies. Her work resists limitation. She has scope, mystery, and reach. If three push brooms painted black and hung high on a wall like crucifixes are an angry indictment against men for so much burden and brutality and so little promise and possibility, then is a silver cast of chewed gum likewise a "biting" metaphor for the waste of generations of women who have been used and then discarded! Or is the chewed gum just a whimsical insight recognizing a very funny, and even beautiful, little phenomenon she calls "mouth sculpture?" Is it both! Can the push brooms even be kind of sardonic in the way that a sorceress's getalong can become a crucifix?

Casts of dead animals pointed up just how mercurial her ideas were. Her humor was what was the least expected and most jarring. The dead animals elicit our compassion, and yet we are confused, or at least I was, by the party hat one of them is wearing on its head. Or is it a dunce cap! Is this woman-as-victim, like the image of eyes shining quizzically from one of her knitted ski masks, or is there something else going on! The comic dimension of this work lifted it to a height I have rarely encountered in either art or feminism. It is the power of laughter that makes her work so victorious. With humor, that Trojan horse, she tickles our ramparts and drives her expressions through the gates.

As this exhibition showed, the source of Trockel's power is bound up in her art like religion. Her work resurrects the dominion of the matriarch, earth mother, goddess, and sorceress, and with their spirit instills in it a wisdom, strength, and grace of such intensity that she indeed brings something vast to life. In a tall room near the front of the ICA, Trockel installed a large machine that could manufacture art. Stretched out over a papered conveyor dangled dozens of brushes made from the hair of her artist friends. On the wall adjacent to the machine were samples of its quixotic glory. Call it magic, creation, what you will.

Addison Parks,  courtesy ARTS Magazine,  1991

(Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, April 3-May 12, 1991, after Boston: The University Art Museum, Berkeley; MCA, Chicago; The Power Plant, Toronto; and the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid)

From the Artdeal Magazine Archives

Monday, December 02, 2013

The Patience of Painting, Pt.2


Charles Seliger; c.1940


My friend, the painter Charles Seliger,  believed that good things came in small packages and to those that wait. I have tried to learn from him. I have. But... I have never felt that way.


Charles Seliger, Lagoon, 2004, acrylic on Masonite 12" x 12"


As much as I might imagine the truth of what he believed, my experience has actually been quite different. Now I realize that I have to trust that difference. The things that made an impression on me as a boy were the opposite of small and patient, they were large and impulsive.

Clouds, ships, oceans, cliffs, grottoes and mountains, the Winged Victory in the Louvre, and the lions on Delos.

It made an impression on me that my mother would spontaneously take us out of school to go see Giotto, or maybe just to go to the beach. It made an impression on me that she looked out the window and said grab your things and took us off the plane at a stopover in Rome flying from Athens to the US,  and that we found an apartment and lived there for 4 years,  instead of going back to Cleveland. My mother never waited for things to happen, she made them happen. Our apartment had a large terrace with a view of the entire city, domes and towers as far as the eye could see.  It had 25 foot ceilings, and windows to match. And we ate beans to afford it, as she would say. And it was worth it!

The author, age 10, Via Margutta 48, Rome, c. 1963


The whole reason I got hooked on art in the first place as a boy was from seeing her working fast and furiously on a giant terracotta head of her lover. There was nothing small or patient about that experience of watching her work. It was inspiring.

One of my many attempts at a small painting, c.1997,  16" x 10"


I have tried to paint small, I have, and I will keep at it, but I feel better when I move my arms, my shoulders, my whole body. I have tried to be patient, but I need to breathe. I need to get excited. I need to feel alive, to stretch out! Now! Anything good that has ever happened in my painting has come in a burst, from an impulse. No exception.

The author in his Carr House studio at RISD, c.1975


Recently when my family suffered a bad experience through no fault of their own, I took them out of school and we drove up to New Hampshire and climbed Mount Monadnock. It was unbelievable. Awesome. It made all the difference.


Mount Monadnock 2013


So maybe good things come in all sizes, and maybe sometimes now is all that matters!

I may never know why my friend Charles Seliger thought what he thought. He was very close to his mother as a boy. Maybe it came from her.



Addison Parks
Spring Hill

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Peter Parks: Wall of Paint, Wall of Sound



Peter ParksYellow 13; 60 x 48"; oil on canvas; 2013
Courtesy Greg Moon Art and the Harwood Museum; Photo credit: Cris Pulos


Peter Parks has always had a great imagination. It has been his joyful friend and companion down a rocky road. What he could always count on. Through a difficult childhood. Through a turbulent adolescence in and out of schools and passed back and forth by divorced parents, countries, even continents, apart. His imagination got him through his service in Vietnam during the worst part of the war. His imagination got him through the unimaginably hard years of recovery after the war. For over 60 years Peter Parks's imagination has gotten him through and made him the artist, the painter, he is today.


Peter ParksRED 13; 60 x 48"; oil on canvas, 2013
Courtesy Greg Moon Art and the Harwood Museum; Photo credit: Cris Pulos


You could say that his paintings are a wall of sorts. The wall he faces everyday. In every sense. Like the blank canvas. Like the unknown. The wall he faces and finds a way through everyday. It is a wall of paint. A wall of sound. A wall of pain, of despair, and of hope. And above all it is a wall of triumph. 


Peter ParksBlue No. 7;(2010); 84 x 66"
Courtesy Greg Moon Art and the Harwood Museum; Photo credit: Cris Pulos


Looking at his work we face what he faces. The paintings put us in his shoes, locating us squarely in his shoes, locating us squarely in his experience. They dog his steps from the Midwest to Greek islands, to Swiss mountains, and every European capital, to Southeast Asia, the Southwest, California, Mexico, New York, and back to the Southwest, again with still more places in between, to right out on the Mesa, and into his Taos studio. The paintings feel that way. They vibrate. They resonate. They are marked, layered, travelled, streaked, stained, even scarred that way. The touch is seamless. The power is genuine. The result is kick-ass! 

Peter Parks owns his paintings, and they own him. His freedom. His power. His curse. His question. His answer. His doubt. His faith. They are his cave. Cave paintings. Cave walls. His walls. Walls of paint. Walls of sound. Howling at the moon. Howling at it all. The love. The mess. The joy. The tears. The loss. The laughter. Peter Parks has the imagination to put it all together. To make sense of it all. To make sanity of it all. In paint. In painting. In paintings.


Addison Parks

Spring Hill


Here are some links to Peter Parks's current show at Greg Moon, and the Harwood museum, as well as a wonderful article in the Taos News by Jim O'Donnell that is right on the mark.

GREG MOON ART:


Saturday, September 21, 2013 - Sunday, January 26, 2014

PETER PARKS: NEW WORKS

Gallery: Curator's Wall



Peter and Addison Parks; Crete; c.1960



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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Martin Mugar, Charles Seliger, and the Patience of Painting

Charles Seliger; watercolor; 1988; collection of the author

I confess that at times I have been an impatient painter. At times I have panicked: that I might lose a painting, that I might not get there, that the distance to climb to the top of my painting mountain was too great, that I might lose my way, that I might not keep my promise.

Charles SeligerTEMPEST(1995) 14 x 14; acrylic on masonite; 
courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery

Painting takes patience. The patience to see it through. The patience to get it done. Follow through. Keep your head. Not panic. Stay the course. It is why I live in New England. Winter takes nerve. Winter takes patience. Winter teaches patience.

Martin Mugar at the Bromfield, April 2013

My friend Martin Mugar is a painter with patience, and it shows in his work. You could say that on some level his work is about nothing but patience. You would never think looking at his pastel textured abstractions that they were consummate Yankee.

Martin Mugar; 2012; oil and wax on wood

One of the most patient painters that I have ever known was Charles Seliger. In fact I should just give him the title, because he earned it. Most patient painter: Charles Seliger.

Charles Seliger

I met Charles 35 years ago at the Andrew Crispo Gallery in New York. He was younger than I am now but at the time he seemed older than his years. He had lost a wife to cancer. That would explain it, but I am sure that those who knew him best would say that he had an old soul. It showed.

Charles Seliger; 1971; oil on canvas board; 10 x 8 inches
collection of the author

We became fast friends. Over the years that followed he was generous beyond belief with his work. He would give me a beautiful and amazing painting for every occasion. For any occasion, or no occasion at all. I have tried to learn from Charles. Always. In every way.

Charles SeligerWIND BLOWN(1958) 16 x 22; oil on canvas; 
courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery

I thought of him today because for the last few years when my studio gets too cold in winter to paint, when the cold gives me headaches, I set up a little spot in my bedroom and paint there until Spring. It is there now. I love it, frankly. Always have, since I was a boy. I believe in living where I work and working where I live. I can see my painting when I wake in the morning, when I go to bed at night, and out of the corner of my eye anytime. My painting can talk to me anytime, even behind my back.

Charles Seliger: 1926 - 2009

Charles painted in his bedroom. At least he did when I first knew him. It was his thing. After a long day at work (He worked! Raised a family!), he would settle down with his paints and brushes and a little canvas or piece of paper and embark on a journey.


Charles SeligerFossil Series; 1992; acrylic on canvas; 6 x 4 inches
Collection of the author

Charles Seliger; 1997; colored pencil on paper; collection of the author

These journeys took him far and deep into some place that only his paintings can tell us about. Some place that took the patience of a Charles Seliger. A place that grew out of the world he knew from a young age and was a part of from a young age(Charles showed with the great and legendary art dealer Peggy Guggenheim at Art of this Century in New York and in Venice with the likes of Jackson Pollock, Pablo Picasso, Kasimir Malevich, Piet Mondrian and Max Ernst as a teenager!). A world of surrealism, biomorphism, dada, and abstract expressionism. A world of modernism, which he helped make. The art world of the 20th century. With all the patience in the world! 

Thank you Charles. I will try to get me some.


Charles Seliger; 1990; acrylic on canvas; 4 x 9 inches
Collection of the author



Addison Parks
Spring Hill



Winter bedroom studio


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