Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Addison Parks(2011-13), Noneedtopanic.com, oil on canvas, 18 x 24 inches

Nobody talks painting. Nobody. Some people argue, some people poke around the edges, some people contextualize, and some people describe, but nobody talks painting. They just talk ABOUT it, which is what my friend Richard Tuttle liked to say, his wry smile close at hand. 

And there is a reason for all of this. Nobody talks painting because nobody listens to painting. You can't talk painting unless you can listen, and listening is hard. Painting doesn't speak to everybody. People may be interested in painting, want to own it, criticize it, curate it, hang it in their homes, go to galleries and museums to see it, even love it, but if it doesn't speak to them and they can't listen, well, then they can't talk it. Which is fine. They can do all of those other things. They don't have to talk painting. Talking painting isn't even important. You don't have to be able to talk painting to enjoy it. But make no mistake, being able to talk painting is a gift. And after years of talking painting I had a funny thing happen the other day.

Addison Parks(2013), Little Star, oil on canvas, 18 x 18 inches

I was sitting with my daughter in the living room of our home and she just started talking painting--my painting. It was kind of startling to me. I hadn't had someone talk about my paintings in I can't remember when. And she's 13! I felt uncomfortable. It felt wrong. Like she was taking care of me instead of the other way around, which is the way it is supposed to be. But she was doing it and she was right there and she was saying everything that meant everything to me, like she was messing with me or speaking in tongues or channeling Greenberg or something. EVERYTHING! I wanted it to stop. I had gotten used to people never really having anything to say. I felt unnerved, undeserving.

Addison Parks(2010), Liberty's Fire, oil on canvas, 36 x 42 inches

When I first started writing about art I got the same reaction from people. I could talk about their work and they were shocked. I could listen and keep listening, just going down into the work. I could tell that they had this strange mixture of feelings -- elated and at the same time violated. They asked me how I could see what I saw in their work. There was disbelief. Was I putting them on. Exactly what I felt when my daughter talked about my paintings. 

I had always assumed that everyone could talk painting, that they could see what I saw, so that if they didn't say anything, that it was because they chose not to. But then I discovered that they couldn't. They couldn't see anything, but I could. When I stumbled into a writing job as an art critic for a small weekly it took right away. People wanted to know what I saw. People wanted me to see for them. Either because they were the artists who needed it, or just people interested in art who couldn't see it. As a result when I moved to New York after art school, I became a sought after art writer. And it wasn't because I could write. I couldn't. But I could listen, and like I said, keep listening, which is the important part about listening. You don't stop. Then I found some way to put what I heard into words. It took a while for me to understand all the fuss, but I actually made artists cry with my words. They had ached to hear the words I said; they had ached to hear someone say what they had poured into their paintings. 

When I finished up teaching at RISD in 1996 and retired to raise a family and paint, I had one last critique with my students at the RISD Farm. It was a fitting end for my career teaching on and off at the school that I had also graduated from in 1976. My favorite place at the school had been the Farm. It was where I went to paint during and even after I got my BFA. Sitting out on the grass I was determined that I would leave these freshman with this one gift, or at least the knowledge of it. 

I made them listen to each other's work if it was the last thing I was going to do. It was as though I had asked them to eat shit. It was slow going for the entire class. Still I kept at it. I was determined. And then a miracle occurred. One of the students did it. He listened to someone else's work and kept listening, just going deeper, and then said what he had experienced.  He read it like he was reading the innermost thoughts of the girl who had done the work. And she was embarrassed. Naked. "You can see that?" That was her reaction. But she was also pleased. It was awesome, and everyone new it. It was a wonderful ending to the year, and I have never taught since.  Years later I received a letter from one of the kids in the class telling me what it had meant to him. That it was the best class that he had ever had. 

Addison Parks(2011), Constellation Flower,  oil on canvas, 42 x60 inches

When my daughter read my work I felt like an open book. "You can see that?" That was my reaction. That was how I felt and I didn't even know it right away. I was in shock. My daughter thought that it was no big deal but she was pleased with my reaction. She liked finding out that she had this gift. Just to make sure I hadn't imagined it, I asked her to look at my newest paintings. She nailed them. Not a little to the left or a little to the right. Dead center. She saw everything. Plain as day. She saw what I was thinking. What I was up to. She saw the layers. The thing behind it. Like she was reading my mail. 

And all of those artists I had talked to over the years flashed before my eyes. Over forty years of people who I had talked to about their work and watched them look at me as though I was messing with them. "Who told you"... "no one ever"... "how did you know" and more swirling around in their brains. Because that was how I felt right then. And I felt grateful the way that they felt grateful. A little like crying. Like they weren't crazy. Like what they were doing in their work was really happening.

My daughter was funny about my reaction.  She just laughed and said it was because everyone I know just wanted to talk about their own work. She apologized if that sounded mean. Just the night before she had seen an artist in our home pass all of the many other artists on our walls and gush unabashed in front of her own work. She thought it was funny. 

But what she said wasn't untrue. I explained to her that not every artist is an art lover, that there are makers out there. People who make art because they have to, because they can't do anything else, because they are trying to fill a hole in their life, because they are good at it. They aren't necessarily interested in art at all, not in anyone else's, just their own work. Which is fine. Not a supposed to be. Not a judgment. Just the way things are. I told her that for some other people it is a chicken or egg thing, that it was for me, that I couldn't remember whether I loved art or making art first, that it seemed to happen all at once, but together. Still, after a long time of talking about other people's work it was nice to have someone to talk about mine. I just didn't think that it would come from where it came from, that it would come from my teenage daughter. Just goes to show!

Addison Parks, Spring Hill, 2013

Addison Parks(2012), Banana Boat, oil on canvas, 6 x 8 inches

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