Monday, October 3, 2011


Have you ever seen Warhol's early work? I mean, the magazine and album cover stuff he did at the tail-end of the fifties. Would you know it if you had? It's all loose lines and whimsy. Not unlike Picasso's engravings. In a laughable twist of perception that I won't call ironic, this is considered his "commercial" period.

Did you ever detect the slightest progression in Keith Haring's massive body of work? It's there, but not to any extent that could be seen as daring or ambitious.

Have you ever seen a student of William Merritt Chase, this side of Marsden Hartley, that didn't have Chase's brushstrokes all over them?

Can a visual artist genre hop? Could they do so, and still hold your attention?

I know that Julian Schnabel is a polarizing figure. He's a giant ego wrapped in pajamas, who traffics in broken plates. It's easy to sneer at a guy who got himself a one-year independent study grant from the Whitney by submitting his slides between two pieces of white bread in a brown paper bag. Believe me, I get it. However, you can't deny his frequent flashes of brilliance. Take for instance the following bit of dialogue from his directorial film debut BASQUIAT (full disclosure, one of my favorite films of all time):

Jean Michel Basquiat (to his friend Benny): Hey Benny, how long you think it takes to get famous?
Benny: For a musician or a painter?

Jean Michel: Whatever- famous?!

Benny: Four years. Six to get rich.

First, you're gonna have to dress right, y'know? Then you're gonna have to hang out with famous people. Make friends with the right blonde people. Go to the right blonde parties - yeah. Socialite!

Then, you gotta do you're work all the time, when you're not doing that - but I'm talking about the same kinda work, the same style, so people don't get confused, y'know?

Then, once you're famous - airborne - you have to keep doing it the same way, even after it's boring - unless you want people to really get mad at you - which they will anyway.

Say what you will about Schnabel, but that has to be one of the truest statements an artist has EVER made!

The short-sighted mindset of the highbrow art world is one of intelligentsia's most obnoxious shortcomings. Jeff Koons could never do anything like basketballs in a tank now (and who would want him to?), lest he be confused with Damien Hirst.

Identity confusion is a career killer. Highbrow art was destroyed by the modern trinity of Picasso, Pollock and Warhol. The latter being the most clever of wool-pullers. There's no place for nuance anymore. It's all gimmick and posture.

Even more disheartening is how fully these attitudes have bled into the lowbrow, urban art movement. If lowbrow is supposed to be to art what the indie/alt music scene was to corporate gloss rock, why is it following such a shallow social template? Why doesn't it have a Sonic Youth? Where is the movement's KID A?

Mark Ryden is among the most "Masterly" painters of the past hundred years, but how many slabs of meat, and Lincoln toddlers, and big-eyed Riccis did the guy have to paint for you to know his name?

Could Shephard Fairey sell you a hoodie if it didn't say OBEY somewhere on it?

If Banksy showed his face, would his name pass your lips anymore?

I realize I'm never going to be "in the ring" with Cindy Sherman, David Hockney, and John Currin.

I also know that without a "hook" of my own, it's unlikely that I'll even hang next to Gary Baseman, or Shag.

Thing is, I don't necessarily want to. Not if it means doing the same thing over and over again. I have to paint. I just have to. It's not even an option for me, and it would be really nice to be able to make a living doing so, but I need to do many things, explore many ideas. I want to work in different mediums, and in various styles. I honestly don't see how I can become a better artist if I don't.

Don't get me wrong, with the sole exception of Jeff Koons, I have the utmost respect and admiration for all of the artists I've mentioned here. I'm just bemoaning the narrowness of the road they have to travel.

For instance, I love doing portraits, but I'm always playing with context. I want the portrait to have something to say, beyond the subjects inherent "id".

detail from "Daddy Issues #2 (JMB)"

When I do a straight portrait, I'm never fully comfortable with the results, and (truth be told) rarely actually finish them. More to the point though, I don't want to be a portraitist. I want to explore the possibilities of surrealism, agit-pop, impressionism, erotica, and...gasp, abstraction. Why is this not allowed? Has anybody tried? Should I use a dozen different nom de plumes for every stylistic shift?

Lately, I've been painting images directly onto collages that have pale washes over them. I like the look, but I won't hold sway with that forever. I know myself. Odds are strong that by the time I hit upon something that holds mass appeal, I'll be ready to move on. I'm eternally restless. So, I guess in that respect I'm no different than anybody else. When we are attentive to no more than 140 characters at a time, how many seconds are we willing to stare at paint on a canvas?

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