Archives for category: quotes

The past few months have been pretty much non-stop with work and all sorts of excitement, but I’m happy to at long last have a moment to stop here and say hello, and happy spring!

The day after my solo show at June Kelly Gallery ended, I was on a plane to Italy for a month-long residency fellowship at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center on Lago di Como in northern Italy (above).  It was an incredibly productive time for me, an honor, and an extraordinary experience in every way.

In addition to the site’s natural beauty and fascinating history, the Bellagio Center is exceptionally distinctive because of its vision and understanding of the ultimate progressive value of interdisciplinary and international discourse to all positive human endeavors:

“Through conferences and residencies, the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center brings together people of diverse expertise and backgrounds in a thought-provoking and collaborative environment to promote innovation and impact on a wide range of global issues.

We have seen the powerful results of investing in and unleashing human capacity. The Bellagio experience fosters a robust exchange of ideas between scientists and artists, theorists and practitioners, those who make policy and those who are affected by it.

Located in northern Italy, the Center infuses unorthodox, radical thinking into searches for solutions to critical social, political, health, environmental and economic challenges.

It encourages all to debate on globally relevant issues and push the boundaries of collective knowledge to translate theory into action.”

It would take a lot more than a blog post for me to describe the profound impact of sustained interaction with an intimate, international coterie of scholars, scientists, and creative thinkers — all brilliant and genial.  Instead, I will just share a very simple story.

My Italian studio, I soon noticed, came with a personal rainbow.  Not that I’m all mystical, but as I held this rainbow in my hand, it seemed to impart not only the wonderful energy and beauty of that place, but also the creative good karma generated by all the artists who had previously inhabited that space.  It was much like the welcome I felt when I opened the supply cupboard to see their names written there, some extra supplies they’d left behind, and even a chocolate — all three practices that I was delighted to continue as tradition. [For the curious, here is a sampling of some of the drawings I did during my residency.]

Being able to work and participate in the community at the Bellagio Center was a long-held dream of mine, and one that I was not sure would ever be realized.  But one of the many things I took away from that transformational experience was the justification — even the imperative — of dreaming as big as possible, and not giving up on the pursuit of those dreams.

Upon arriving home, and I will admit that the reintroduction to reality has been a challenge (like a bad case of the bends!), I have had opportunities to attend inspiring celebrations honoring two women who have exemplified through their lives and actions exactly what I mean.

Over the weekend, Just Food held an event in honor of Joan Dye Gussow, the unstoppable — even subversive, if you will — matriarch, pioneer, teacher, leader, activist and icon of the organic food movement. [Also see: http://joansgarden.org/] And yesterday, I attended the memorial celebration for Jeanne-Claude, who passed away last November.  From each of these spectacularly intelligent, luminous and energetic women, I learned that in the pursuit of big dreams, passion, precision, and perseverance count.  Rules and “No”, not so much.

Many times an hour, both waking and sleeping, I keep returning to my time at Bellagio.  I often think about that rainbow in my hand; how happy and fortunate and connected it made me feel.  Jeanne-Claude was quoted about the temporality of life and art, and the fact that such temporality imparts a sense of urgency.  As she put it, “For instance, if someone were to say, ‘Oh, look on the right, there is a rainbow,’ one would never answer, ‘I will look at it tomorrow.'”

Whatever may or may not have been done before, a full life begins with dreams that will not be denied, disparaged or deferred.

Dear Eva,

You seem the same as always, and being you, hate every minute of it. Don’t! Learn to say “Fuck You” to the world once in a while. You have every right to. Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder, wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, gasping, confusing, itching, scratching, mumbling, bumbling, grumbling, humbling, stumbling, rumbling, rambling, gambling, tumbling, scumbling, scrambling, hitching, hatching, bitching, moaning, groaning, honing, boning, horse-shitting, hair-splitting, nit-picking, piss-trickling, nose sticking, ass-gouging, eyeball-poking, finger-pointing, alleyway-sneaking, long waiting, small stepping, evil-eyeing, back-scratching, searching, perching, besmirching, grinding grinding grinding away at yourself. Stop it and just DO!

From your description, and from what I know of your previous work and your ability, the work you are doing sounds very good. ‘Drawing — clean-clear but crazy like machines, larger, bolder, real nonsense.’ That sounds wonderful — real nonsense. Do more. More nonsensical, more crazy, more machines, more breasts, penises, cunts, whatever — make them abound with nonsense. Try and tickle something inside you, your ‘weird humor.’ You belong in the most secret part of you. Don’t worry about cool, make your own uncool. Make your own, your own world. If you fear, make it work for you — draw and paint your fear and anxiety.  And stop worrying about big, deep things such as ‘to decide on a purpose and way of life, a consistent approach to even some impossible end or even an imagined end.’ You must practice being stupid, dumb, unthinking, empty. Then you will be able to DO! [The DO’s are drawn and decorated and very large.] I have much confidence in you and even though you are tormenting yourself, the work you do is very good. Try to do some BAD work. The worst you can think of and see what happens but mainly relax and let everything go to hell.  You are not responsible for the world — you are only responsible for your work, so do it. And don’t think that your work has to conform to any idea or flavor. It can be anything you want it to be.  But if life would be easier for you if you stopped working then stop. Don’t punish yourself. However, I think that it is so deeply engrained in you that it would be easier to DO.

It seems I do understand your attitude somewhat, anyway, because I go through a similar process every so often. I have an “Agonizing Reappraisal” of my work and change everything as much as possible = and hate everything I’ve done, and try to do something entirely different and better. Maybe that kind of process is necessary to me, pushing me on and on. The feeling that I can do better than that shit I just did. Maybe you need your agony to accomplish what you do. And maybe it goads you on to do better. But it is very painful I know. It would be better if you had the confidence just to do the stuff and not even think about it. Can’t you leave the “world” and “ART” alone and also quit fondling your ego. I know that you (or anyone) can only work so much and the rest of the time you are left with your thoughts. But when you work or before your work you have to empty your mind and concentrate on what you are doing. After you do something it is done and that’s that. After a while you can see some are better than others but also you can see what direction you are going. I’m sure you know all that. You also must know that you don’t have to justify your work – not even to yourself. Well, you know I admire your work greatly and can’t understand why you are so bothered by it. But you can see the next ones and I can’t. You also must believe in your ability. I think you do. So try the most outrageous things you can – shock yourself. You have at your power the ability to do anything.

I would like to see your work and will have to be content to wait until Aug or Sept. I have seen photos of some of Tom’s new things at Lucy’s. They are impressive – especially the ones with the more rigorous form: the simpler ones. I guess he’ll send some more later on. Let me know how the shows are going and that kind of stuff.

My work had changed since you left and it is much better. I will be having a show May 4 -9 at the Daniels Gallery 17 E 64yh St (where Emmerich was), I wish you could be there. Much love to you both.

Sol

[Letter from Sol Lewitt to Eva Hesse, April 14, 1965.]

This morning I was thinking about health care reform, and the vociferous opposition to it in the form of people, many armed, showing up to disrupt town hall meetings on the subject. I thought about those who would say it’s not wise for artists to publicly express an opinion about this issue, because they could risk alienating collectors or others who may bear some power over them. Then I went back to thinking about those fearful, raging people who are so afraid that providing health care for the over 50 million uninsured people in this country is somehow going to infringe upon their own freedoms, especially their right to carry weapons. Who are these people who hate so much? Oh yeah. They’re the same people who hate gays and anyone of color (especially in the Oval Office). They are the same people who want to wrest the right of reproductive choice from women, and who are suspicious of artists and anybody who doesn’t fit into their mold.

Americans for the Arts has joined with 20 national arts organizations to issue a statement calling on Congress for health care reform, and “to fully recognize the rights of individual artists and arts groups in the health care reform debate.”  I want to exercise those rights.

So, when I got dressed this morning, I pulled from deep in my drawer a T-shirt I got after going on the AIDS walk many years ago.  It was imprinted with words and an image by the late artist David Wojnarowicz, who was one of the legions of talented people the art community lost too early because people tolerated a screwed up system for too long.  I pulled on my T-shirt and got on the crowded subway for the long ride downtown.  On my back, his words seared through a not so distant expanse of time:

“If I had a dollar to spend for healthcare I’d rather spend it on a baby or innocent person with some defect or illness not of their own responsibility; not some person with AIDS…” says the healthcare official on national television and this is in the middle of an hour long video of people dying on camera because they can’t afford the limited drugs available that might extend their lives and I can’t even remember what his official looked like because I reached in through the T.V. screen and ripped his face in half and I was diagnosed with AIDS recently and this was after the last few years of losing count of the friends and neighbors who have been dying slow and vicious and unnecessary deaths because fags and dykes and junkies are expendable in this country  “If you want to stop AIDS shoot the queers” says the governor of texas on the radio and his press secretary later claims that the governor was only joking and didn’t know the microphone was turned on and besides they didn’t think it would hurt his chances for re-election anyways and I wake up every morning in this killing machine called america and I’m carrying this rage like a blood filled egg and there’s a thin line between the inside and the outside a thin line between thought and action and that line is simply made up of blood and muscle and bone and I’m waking up more and more from daydreams of tipping amazonian blowdarts in “infected blood” and spitting them at the exposed necklines of certain politicians or government healthcare officials or those thinly disguised walking swastikas that wear religious garments over their murderous intentions or those rabid strangers parading against AIDS clinics in the nightly news suburbs there’s a thin line a very thin line between the inside and the outside and I’ve been looking all my life at the signs surrounding us in the media or on peoples lips; the religious types outside st. patricks cathedral shouting to men and women in the gay parade: “You won’t be here next year–you’ll get AIDS and die ha ha” and the areas of the u.s.a. where it is possible to murder a man and when brought to trial one only has to say that the victim was a queer and that he tried to touch you and the courts will set you free and the difficulties that a bunch of republican senators have in albany with supporting an anti-violence bill that includes ‘sexual orientation’ as a category of crime victims there’s a thin line a very thin line and as each t-cell disappears from my body it’s replaced by ten pounds of pressure ten pounds of rage and I focus that rage into non-violent resistance but that focus is starting to slip my hands are beginning to move independent of self-restraint and the egg is starting to crack america seems to understand and accept murder as a self defense against those who would murder other people and its been murder on a daily basis for eight count them eight [nine, ten…] long years and we’re expected to quietly and politely make house in this windstorm of murder but I say there’s certain politicians that had better increase their security forces and there’s religious leaders and heathcare officials that had better get bigger dogs and higher fences and more complex security alarms for their homes and queer-bashers better start doing their work from inside howitzer tanks because the thin line between the inside and the outside is beginning to erode and at the moment I’m a thirty seven foot tall one thousand one hundred and seventy-two pound man inside this six foot frame and all I can feel is the pressure all I can feel is the pressure and the need for release.

I took more than a moment to remember all those who were gone like Wojnarowicz and Keith Haring, and countless others who were willing to Act Up to save lives.  It’s not just about AIDS now, nor was it then, really.  Think about it.

Tomorrow I will have to resurrect another ancient T-shirt, one emblazoned with an image by the late Keith Haring, and bearing the ever-so-relevant words: IGNORANCE=FEAR, SILENCE=DEATH.

[Text from my T-shirt: copyright Estate of David Wojnarowicz.  Audio of David Wojnarowicz reading at The Drawing Center in 1992, shortly before his death.]

[images from top: David Wojnarowicz, “Untitled (Peter Hujar), 1989, silver print, 30-1/2″ x 24-1/2”); David Wojnarowicz, “Untitled (Face in Dirt”, 1990, silver print, 28-1/2″ x 28-1/2″, both copyright Estate of David Wojnarowicz and courtesy of PPOW Gallery. Keith Haring, “Ignorance=Fear”, 1989, poster, 24″ x 43-1/4″, copyright the Estate of Keith Haring, courtesy of The Keith Haring Foundation.]

That’s what my father said to me.  His interest in my work and praise were rare, so I wasn’t quite sure how to take his comment, “That’s the best piece you’ll ever make.”  He referred to a portrait I had painted of my mother, having come up with a technique that was very innovative back when I was in high school, which was when this took place.  I do believe he truly meant it as a compliment, yet after a while, the words started to sound dismissive. You’ll never do anything as good, so why waste your time?

I continued to paint and draw, pushing myself and my materials to the farthest reaches of my imagination.  Time and again I would hear, “Remember that portrait of your mother?  Well, I still say that’s the best piece you’ll ever make.”  Okay, so my Dad really loved my mother, and I’m sure that had something to do with it too.  Yet this comment touches upon something  important.

[Plato and Aristotle in a detail from Raphael’s The School of Athens. Plato is holding his Timaeus, a speculative scientific work and pointing upward, while Aristotle is holding one of his books on ethics. Click here to view images of the entire fresco and find out who’s who.]

The results of creative experimentation are rarely easily or immediately digestible, mainly because the true explorer is seeking to discover something, rather than just render what is already known.  That new thing demands of both artist and viewer an open mind, a fearless attitude, courage, patience, tolerance.  If it’s new, maybe you don’t know how to look at it yet.

Over the many years of my career, I’ve frequently encountered the phenomenon of having people scratch their heads over my current work, while exclaiming they love the body of work I had finished previously.  Yet that same work they now love had them mystified when it was brand new.  Why didn’t you just keep doing what you were doing before?  We loved those pieces!  Remember when you used to do x?  Why did you stop?  There tends to be a predictable time lag before people are ready to embrace the new work, and it’s usually about the length of time it takes for the new work to become old, supplanted by even newer work.

For some people, their practice is about doing what they did before: making a formula, and repeating earlier successes. That’s enough.

Not long ago, someone struck up a conversation with me about art, and asked me what I was up to.  “Experimenting away with a new body of work,” I explained.  “It’s the most exciting part, when an idea starts to take shape, and suddenly you can make the leap over the big crevasse, and you’re on the other side — a new landscape with new possibilities!”  The person’s eyes opened wide at my mention of such risk and experimentation.  “I knew an artist,” he recalled, and went on to tell me how he used to travel and repeatedly purchased prints from a particular artist.  But one time, he visited the artist’s studio, and saw instead sculptures and paintings.  They were totally different!  And terrible!  Being outside of what he had narrowly come to expect from this artist, he couldn’t accept the artist’s need to explore.  As far as he was concerned, the prints were the best work the artist would ever make.  Dumbfounded as to why the artist would change, the collector never returned.  If the artist’s work was good enough to attract the collector in the first place, it seemed unfortunate to me that the collector would not have enough faith in that artist’s talent to give the new work more than a cursory glance.

Therein lies a great challenge for the artist.  There’s a temptation to repeat what works, to please the audience, to make it easy for them, get work on their walls and put food on your table. Not every artist embraces risk and experimentation.  You risk making mistakes. You risk looking foolish. You risk your security.  You risk harsh criticism.  But then, to quote Aristotle, “To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing.”  I’ll take my chances.

My father worked hard and had many things to occupy his mind.  I understand if my personal pursuits were not his priority, and sadly, he’s not alive to defend or explain his remarks.  Still, it would have been nice if he had said instead, “That’s the best piece you’ve made yet.” Naturally, some works will shine more than others, but on the creative journey, the goal is discovery and improvement, and the best always lies somewhere in the future.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,

Ring, happy bells, across the snow:

The year is going, let him go;

Ring out the false, ring in the true.

~Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Happy New Year to you!  I hope 2009 is a spectacular year for you, full of joy, adventure, love, creativity, good challenges, and many rewards.  May you enjoy excellent health and well-being, and please do come visit me again.  I’ll keep the virtual fire going, ready to welcome you back.

Warmest wishes,

Sky

[Above image, (detail) Untitled (Image DSC4325), ink + paper ©Sky Pape]

Retroblogging 1984, when another very old man was running for office:

Ronnie Raygun tells us, “America is back and standing tall.”
How inspiring–at least for Pop Front. [<–This link works best with Safari or Internet Explorer]


Pop Front: America’s Back (mp3)

The streets are paved with gold
Opportunity knocks on every door
Rags to riches that’s the dream
The will to win, the means to score
But some ain’t white and some live in hell
We all get chances, but some get more

America’s back and standing tall
But I’m leaning against a falling wall

The world’s Great Democracy
Freedom of choice for everyone
We value freedom more than life
Lords and masters, we have none
But we don’t vote for lords of wealth
We choose and choose but nothing’s done

America’s back and standing tall
But I’m leaning against a falling wall

Another nation we invade
The US Army saves the day
All that’s right is restored
Justice, Truth, and the American Way
The war machine grows fat and strong
On what they’ve stolen from my pay

America’s back and standing tall
But I’m leaning against a falling wall

History and billboards
Things aren’t always as they seem
I was formed by a faded myth
Turn up the volume to drown the screams
We fall, wings burned by a neon light
The ashes of the American Dream

America’s back and standing tall
But I’m leaning against a falling wall

America… America…

[music and lyrics, copyright Pop Front, all rights reserved]

[Poster of Ronald Reagan by “art brat” guerrilla drawer and posterer Robbie Conal, copyright Robbie Conal]

I could make all sorts of arguments and observations about why I think the Republican ticket will continue to worsen things for this country, its inhabitants, the people and places we impact across the globe, and the planet, but I realize I’m not likely to change the mind of a single person who is enamored of McCain and Palin.  So, though this blog is about drawing, and I don’t particularly mean drawing lines in the sand, today I want it to be about drawing conclusions, and will point you to those of a thoughtful Republican.

That said, I’m on my way to my local polling station to vote in today’s election, and yes, I’m turning the levers for the candidates with the best environmental records.

To quote Hitakonanu’laxk (TreeBeard), a chief of the Lenape Nation whose ancestors first inhabited this place where I sit:

“Each generation is here but for a little while, and while we are alive, it is our responsibility to see that the land remains pure and undefiled, so that our future generations may continue to live here in health and happiness. What we do to the land, to the Earth, we do to ourselves and those of the future generations yet unborn.”

“There is no separation between a people and the land upon which they live. Men and women are but a part of the greater circle of life, and not superior to it in any way. We are dependent on everything for our very lives.  Without the rocks and minerals, without the plants, the trees and the animals, we couldn’t live.  Indeed there is much in the land to cause us to be thankful and to be humble.”

“We have now surrounded ourselves with a world of our own making, one that is artificial and against life. A world where things are more important than people, or animals, trees or plants, and where roads, industry, and housing developments take precedence over a beautiful untouched piece of land, unspoiled and of pristine beauty. Such a world can only result in death, of our future generations and perhaps all life. There is much that is wrong in the land today, and as long as we continue to live apart from it, out of touch with the soil, the rain, the sun, and nature, our society will be out of touch with ourselves, with each other, and we will leave behind all sorts of problems for the generations yet to come. We will not be the ones who will ultimately be affected by our actions, but is our children and their children that will suffer.”

We can’t keep cutting down the trees, polluting the water and the Earth, and contune living for today without thinking of tommorw. Some call human achievement progress, but we are progressing ourselves right into extinction and perhaps all life along with us!”

There is an alternative path, and “DRILL HERE! DRILL NOW!” is not the signpost of the future.

[The above words of Hitakonanu’laxk were respectfully quoted from a real paper and ink book, not pulled from the Internet.  If you’d like to learn more, go to your locally library and borrow The Grandfathers Speak: Native American Folk Tales (or buy it.)

Also of interest: Republicans for Obama, and Mudflats (from Alaska)

Alice did not feel encouraged to ask any more questions about it, so she turned to the Mock Turtle, and said `What else had you to learn?’

`Well, there was Mystery,’ the Mock Turtle replied, counting off the subjects on his flappers, `–Mystery, ancient and modern, with Seaography: then Drawling–the Drawling-master was an old conger-eel, that used to come once a week: HE taught us Drawling, Stretching, and Fainting in Coils.’

`What was THAT like?’ said Alice.

`Well, I can’t show it you myself,’ the Mock Turtle said: `I’m too stiff. And the Gryphon never learnt it.’

`Hadn’t time,’ said the Gryphon: `I went to the Classics master, though. He was an old crab, HE was.’

`I never went to him,’ the Mock Turtle said with a sigh: `he taught Laughing and Grief, they used to say.’

`So he did, so he did,’ said the Gryphon, sighing in his turn; and both creatures hid their faces in their paws.

`And how many hours a day did you do lessons?’ said Alice, in a hurry to change the subject.

`Ten hours the first day,’ said the Mock Turtle: `nine the next, and so on.’

`What a curious plan!’ exclaimed Alice.

`That’s the reason they’re called lessons,’ the Gryphon remarked: `because they lessen from day to day.’

This was quite a new idea to Alice, and she thought it over a little before she made her next remark. `Then the eleventh day must have been a holiday?’

`Of course it was,’ said the Mock Turtle.

`And how did you manage on the twelfth?’ Alice went on eagerly.

`That’s enough about lessons,’ the Gryphon interrupted in a very decided tone: `tell her something about the games now.’

[From Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland, illustrated in 1998 by students at the Dalton SchoolDaniel, describes his work posted above.]

How do the personal identities of past and present remain contiguous?

It was summer 1982, and I’d just moved to Manhattan from Canada — a teen determined to make it on my own in the big city. Terrified and excited and alone, trying to scour clean the one place I could find to live — that being an SRO (Single Room Occupancy a.k.a. Welfare Hotel). . . I arrive donning my best clothes, and enter the building’s fragrant elevator that had just been emptied of the feces-encrusted baseboards ripped from the apartment of a previous tenant, a testament to the departed Saviour of over 100 cats.

“Will the hassles never end in this city? Will I ever finally kill the LAST cockroach? Will New York ever feel like home?” I look over photographs for some assurance that I do have a past, however brief. People somewhere do know I exist. There’s a knock on my door and I answer it to find welcoming strangers: Two handsome men proffering a pint of Haagen Dazs. “ICE CREAM LADIES!” they chime in unison.

Moving forward on an unknown path, a bit of RD Laing articulated my conundrum well enough that I wrote it down as I closed out the journal that marked my transition from the Great White North to NYC:

Sometimes I come
sometimes I go
but which is which
I don’t know

Sometimes I am
sometimes I’m not
but which is which
I forgot

And the journey back moves me to look up Laing again, his decades-old words seeming startlingly contemporary:

“The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is little we can do to change; until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.”

“We live in a moment of history where change is so speeded up that we begin to see the present only when it is already disappearing.”

More…

“…Everything is gestation and then bringing forth. To let each impression and each germ of a feeling come to completion wholly in itself, in the dark, in the inexpressible, the unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s own intelligence, and await with deep humility and patience the birth-hour of a new clarity: that alone is living the artist’s life: in understanding as in creating.

Rainer Maria Rilke painted by Paula Modersohn-BeckerThere is here no measuring with time, no year matters and ten years are nothing. Being an artist means, not reckoning and counting, but ripening like the tree which does not force its sap and stands confident in the storms of spring without the fear that after them may come no summer. It does come. But it comes only to the patient who are there as though eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly still and wide. I learn it daily, learn it with pain to which I am grateful: patience is everything!”

[Rediscovered journal entry from March 1984, quoting from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, Letter 3, dated April 23, 1903, Viareggio (near Pisa), Italy.  Drat. I wish I had noted who did the translation.]

[Portrait of Rilke by Paul Modersohn-Becker, painted in 1900. More on the relationship between Rilke & Modersohn-Becker.]