December Studio Notes...
(an Introduction to a book I plan about my September-December
For artists in these times there are two
tests for truth. The marketplace is the first one; the sensibility of the
artist is the second.
The first test is objective and
numerical—“How much did you pay for that?” The second test is
subjective—the accumulated knowledge, experience and personal values of
the particular artist. The artist's sensibility is a language shared among
artists (they call it the tradition) and also unique—the particular style
of the individual artist. As we know, language is easily falsified, and so
in the artist's search for truth, perhaps the most important element is to
guard against fraud—fraud in oneself, fraud embedded and hidden in the
tradition, and fraud embedded but perhaps also blatant in the language of
the artist's contemporaries.
There are times—like these last almost 200
years—when the objective truth of the marketplace and the subjective truth
of the artist's sensibility may be at radical variance. For me, now as an
artist, this variance is especially true. That which from within me calls
to speak (or be seen) has no market value and is rather shunned by those
who these years set the monetary values for art. People who spend big
money to hang social status on their walls (as Andy Warhol said, "Art is
money on the wall"), shy away from images and words whose concern is to
end life well rather than display power before friends now.
When I first found "my voice" (as writers
sometimes say), it was not a style of painting that was new. (I used
"synthetic Cubism" as a fundamental language) but a subject—the
transmutation of youthful polymorphous sensuality into mature
husband-father-homesteader-community builder, the transmutation from
adolescent into mature man, a subject that was the driving force of
thousands of works of which a person representative of the marketplace
truths said, "Your work is almost impossible to sell." The subject was
the source of my sensibility, my truth to it was the test of truth for my
sensibility and my life.
That work—about 1955 to 1966—was the base
on which most of the work from 1967 to 2000 would make aesthetic
variations. (When you have the foundation set in the darkness of your
bedrock, you can build towers of every kind of beauty shining in the
Since 2000 or so, though, a new concern has
come that is as vital and necessary to my life as was my coming to
maturity from youth. This new subject is old age—a subject which could
never be broached before because it was not yet manifest in the bedrock of
my life—old age, the closing down of the afternoon of the day so brightly
begun so long ago... old age and death. Old age—as an old friend said to
me of his activities a month or so before he died, "Finish it up" (he
meant be sure his projects in life had been completed, his papers
organized, the bills paid and the receipts filed)...
Death—the unknown void.
And so my work now comes from these
concerns, to recollect the past and prepare the future. As in my path
from youth to maturity when my work in art was the image of my work in
life, so now in my time to come, may my work in art be the image that
tells me how to live and die.
And to the extent that the path old age to
death is the road we each must take, it may be that these images of my
passage might help others, whatever their language, to find their own way.
And this subject, like the style/tradition
in which I work, is neither new nor unique—every human being faces the
passage from youth to maturity (however each person solves it). My only
difference was that the issue of personal growth was central to my art and
it showed in my work. I am sure that many other artists have similar core
concerns; my only difference from them has been that I tend to be more