Wednesday, February 24, 2010

the prototype

Today I picked up the March Issue of Modern Painters. Two things sealed the deal: the fabulous cover of Marina Abramović, interviewed here by Laurie Anderson, with a thick and brilliant smear of gold leaf across her lips. And the claim that this particular issue was a retrieval and examination of its art rock roots – to the days when David Bowie interviewed his favorite artists - a celebration of how art and music collide.

The issue coincides with a conversation I had just yesterday about my own sentimental education with art. My pivotal year of 21 in 1977 in London was filtered through the tonic of music made essentially by dropouts. My model wasn’t an MFA, not that there were so many anyway. The prototype was Patti Smith, David Bowie, John Lennon, John Lydon, David Byrne, an endless list. We loved art and we formed bands.

All these years later, even though I became a painter in a very classic sense (you know, oil on canvas), I still relate the most to this model. And when you make that kind of crossover, sometimes on a daily basis, the blurred line of non-specialization is the order (or the chaos) of the day.

As I prepare for a solo show of the Targets in June at Augen Desoto, people ask me How are your paintings related to your montages? Or are they? Well, how is painting related to rock and roll? Or is it?

A prime example for me right now is the touching story Patti Smith relates in her new book, “Just Kids.” In this book they are drawing, they are writing, they are poets, they are thieves, they are taking pictures. Paramount is the idealization of the art life, which they clearly define early on and cling to even as they starve. Maybe they cling the most when they starve. It’s not about form or medium. It’s often completely internalized, outside of dreams and declarations which are more manifesto than artist statement.

This must have been evident in that recent show of Patti Smith at Robert Miller, which I unfortunately couldn’t see but heard about. She showed her boots, for Christ’s sake. The very name of the exhibition – “Objects of Life” - makes sense when you consider how her whole life is art.

Does poverty have anything to do with it? She had to fight for just about everything, though there is not an unhappy tone in this recount. Some of us find at least an art if not an entire life out of a thrift store. Part of my association between the collage and the garage band is that affordable access, an entry by the starkest means. To be frank it was not a costume I was wild about lending out! - But in good art there’s no borrowing, just theft.

When you look at photographs of the young Patti today, she’s like a contemporary fashion model, ready for the runway: rail thin, odd yet beautiful, birdlike. She’s determined the chic and the norm of today so much that’s it’s easy to forget the impact. The nurses at a hospital in the 60s snidely ignored her pain and call her “Dracula’s Daughter,” threatening to cut her black hair.


Tracy said...

Eva, I just bought this book and if I wasn't already looking forward to reading it, I sure am now after reading your post. I heard Patti Smith talking about this book on NPR last month and realized again how related all artists can be. Plus I just love Patti;)

nod said...

there are many good things to be said about beans and rice.. happy is such a good place to live.. I miss it..

Eva said...

My first few months in NYC I was broke, had the worst job ever, lived on bagels and had a series of mysterious maladies. And I was extremely happy, chasing a dream. Yep, happy is a good place to be.

Michelle said...

Your point about the Patti Smith as an archetype is so well made. It's very easy to forget how wildly unusual she must have looked compared to everyone else in the 60s...I'd love to get my hands on this book.

CAP said...

Throughout art history, music has been very important to painters. From the Venetians (Titian, Giorgione) through to Dutch Baroque (Vermeer, Metsu) to Rococo (Watteau) and the Impressionists (Degas and Lautrec) to 20th century abstraction (Kandinsky, Mondrian) - one art form has constantly inspired another. Much the same happens with literature - different fashions in poetry in particular have a huge impact on the artists reading them.

So it's not something new, to draw inspiration from another art form, or so-called low culture (endless composers raid folk song for instance).

In some ways it makes sense to find very basic instincts or attitudes elsewhere, for a painter. Since these core values apply across a range of the arts and confirm their fundamental nature through this recurrence. So painters can often find focus through attitudes expressed in music or poetry, in ways that may be clearer than study of all the surrounding trees, in just painting, so to speak. Their distance allows them to see that about the music or literature, perhaps more than dedicated music or literature lovers. And rock music for instance, can seem immediate, in a way that painting is not. De Kooning for instance used to play a lot of jazz on his studio stereo at one time. I’m sure for much the same reason – to get in the groove.

So I don’t think it was just a 70s thing, to look to Punk music and still find direction there as a painter. As a matter of fact I was also in London at that time, although some years older, and remember the excitement of the period well (I attended film school just around the corner from the notorious Roxy Club in Covent Garden, and would sometimes go drinking there, during late/all night editing or studio sessions). It was a huge stimulus to watch that really direct expression to the music, when all day we wrestled with cumbersome technology! – and it did make us look at our ‘mistakes’ and ‘primitive’ efforts in a new light. There wasn’t a punk film making wave to emerge from it – because that turned out to be super-8 and video work – while we were all bound for TV and Ad-land. But the seeds were definitely there. We took something from the music – even the fashions, the slang and graphics and could apply it to our own areas.

All this to say, that mood and attitudes often straddle art forms, and are best revealed that way.

Eva said...

Hey CAP, I agree that painters have always loved music. I know that Kandinsky wrote quite a bit about it.
But I don't think they were always in bands too, sometimes forsaking visual art for long spells at a time to rock on and vice versa... in the Beatles Anthology, they talk about when they all got back from Germany and didn't see John for a long time. He wasn't sure he wanted to do a band at all but had seen himself more as an individual artist. So many were shocked that he went for an artist like Yoko but it made a lot of sense. They both crossed over a lot. It's not about being "inspired" by music. It's about actually doing it and doing it in an innovative way...

admin said...

Interesting points both Eva and CAP.

Hip Hop is the most recent example of this type of crossover you're speaking of Eva. I knew many people in the 80's that not only did art (graffiti) and music (rapping/DJing), but breakdancing as well. Sometimes all three.

Personally, most of my friends have been musicians of one sort or another. They seem more laid back and don't take things so seriously.

Artists can be a moody bunch, and a little tedious to be around. And those on the periphery (non-artists and scenesters) even worse.

By the way, Patti Smith's album "Trampin'", is one of my favorites. From start to finish.

Thank you for letting me comment.

CAP said...

Point taken Eva - although Kandinsky and Klee in their Bauhaus tenures - were both keen amateur musicians, who played together, apparently.

There are some lucky people who are gifted in both music and fine art, and I can understand people waiting to see which talent holds sway in their lives.

Schoenberg's paintings are pretty indifferent although Victor Hugo's are surprisingly good.

Luckily, or unluckily, I don't have the temperment for performance.

Eva said...

Last night I met a friend who said Dada might have been the time we first saw a big crossover and free-for-all in artists doing just about everything. She might be right - Jean Arp was the first to come to my mind. He was a great poet, a performer, a great collagist of torn papers and assemblage. And then started sculpture in his 40s to eventually be in the Venice Biennial. He was crazy and did everything.

Then I thought about Basquiat who is a really interesting example. While he was a "fan" of jazz, definitely inspired by it, referring to jazz giants in his paintings, he formed a (art/rock)No Wave band.

nod said...

smoking a bowl with Walter Anderson's ghost while rowing a wooden boat to a moving island in the Gulf of Mexico... wondering why we are loved by our family's but very glad that we are.. very deep oar stroke.. playing xray specks songs with a kazoo.. another deep stroke... it's just another day in life... some lifes are remembered... trying to express it in binary...thanks for the thoughts Cap.. and all..expression of our thoughts is such a wonderful thing to be given the chance to do