from the mountain
'red and green'
red and green
Artists are zoo keepers--they capture
and cage. In nature, man-made and God-made [oh good
grief-mm] everything exists free. Artists take out things and events and confine them.
In the past, artists strove for art--perhaps today we are bored and (though we cannot get
ride of striving) look for non-art or that which can't possibly be art. At least it sometimes isn't until someone else makes it art, as with the paintings of children, the insane, the
primitive, commercial art, monkey and worm art. That's what's happened with junk heaps
old autos, weeds, coat hangers and ash cans. We live in an age of found art. Some have
to paint it (a bother at times), others, like Duchamp, just say, 'here it is again.' Warhol
tried to make boring films--hours and hours of hardly anything--underground they are
called--but they too failed, that is, the boredom in the films, because they became an artistic expression, No matter how one tries, one ends up an artist, a cager.
So much exists, however, that as
yet cannot or has not (at least artistically) been caged.
There are still sights, sounds, emotions, and movements which are free. I look at
hundreds of things each day which, I thank God [sic], I can't do anything about. Of course, I
am that I can see, react, and cage. That I must. But the more art I see by myself and others, the more I must look for non-art. In it I can breathe. I am surprised by it, and wonder if it could be art, maybe dream it into art--but still know it isn't--yet
Hard-core artists don't believe this way. It's untraditional and too anti. But is it really anti? Might it not be positive? Though one knows that eventually everything will end up as art (religion did, now pornography is) one can still enjoy the non-art, experience the virginity of life, before it is married, raped, mistressized or caged into art. Sometimes we've been blessed by anti-movements or individuals (Duchamp put a mustache on the Mona Lisa; Raushenberg erased a drawing by de Kooning) and this has helped us to re-think . . . to de-value art so that we can look and understand for ourselves. These acts, though negative on the surface, are really positive expressions, and help, like all art must, to instigate creative thinking.
As much as I am for art, I am more
for non-art. That is, virgin art or even better: never-art.
I say this as an artist who does cage, but who sees the uncageable. My paintings and
photographs are the caged. What do you see that is uncaged?
If tonight, after looking at my paintings,
you said to me, 'I can't see anything in them, why
would you want to paint something like that?' And if you had seen my earlier paintings about
nature, and figures and windows, and they seemed more interesting or more informative,
and you asked, 'Why don't you paint that way now, why don't you paint something I can understand?' perhaps I might say:
I could paint something like that
that I already know about
and that you already know about
and that I know you know about
and that you know I know you know about . . .
and you'd be glad I did it
and I'd have to be glad I did it because you are
and you'd have to be glad I'm glad you're enjoying it . . .
or I can say:
I want to paint something
that you don't know about
and perhaps I don't know about either
and that I'm glad I'm not all-knowing about
and that I hope you'd be glad you weren't either
and then maybe
we'd both find out something,
a little at a time, maybe even at the same time, or at least
close enough to the same time so that we could have an experience of a kind.
A visual experience, that is . .
. an experience which doesn't appear to depend upon
anything, or to mean anything, or to give off something literal to hang on to, is a strange
thing. But once one gets accustomed to having visual experiences (and really pure ones are rare and almost too much to hope for) one somehow gets hooked on them. And--at least for
me--at this point everything else seems too much.
When I try to define my paintings,
I usually end up confining them. It's almost as if I were
hammering them into the canvas and when they're looked at, all the told-viewer sees are the
nailed-in reason I gave verbally. Though I do believe in some verbal explanations, I believe hints and whispers are fairer to the viewer (and to me) than credos and essays. After all a
painting is something which can't be anything else. When a viewer exclaimed to Matisse that one of his paintings didn't look any woman she had ever seen, he simply replied, "Madam, it isn't a woman, it's a painting.'
There are so many things a painting can be without being anything else, one wonders why people even bother with other matters in paint. But one must start somewhere. Mondrian began with heavy, moody expressions of landscapes and after many years arrived at squares, rectangles, and primary colors. Today one can start with his insights and after many years still retain these shapes but state them very differently. One can take up the the long road, from a tree or figure or figure or any other subject and see it develop into a primary shape. I personally believe that somewhere in a painter's life, he [sic] must come to terms with a square--whether he stays with it or not.
I came to the square by way of the long road and when I look back (and I try not to very often) I find that most ideas happened by accident. Accidents, though, are often the best teachers, because they show things which logically couldn't have been conceived. When I do review my painting past, how I came to red and green, to squares, rectangles, stripes, and to flat color, I realize how many 'mistakes' were needed to unlock my pre-judgments and start my thinking. Now, after 10 years, I have a visual language, but I still need accidents to confuse myself and jar the prejudices I keep acquiring.
When people look at my paintings
they first ask. "Why red and green?' To be honest, it was
one of those accidents. I was going to do what I thought to be a subtle paintings of two whites. I wanted a different under-color for each white. I painted what I thought to be the grossest colors (red and green) in the areas, and planned to paint over each with white. I painted without looking, turned to pour some coffee and to wait until the paint dried. I glanced at the canvas and got a tremendous visual shock. For some reason I couldn't proceed with the painting and left it alone (not understanding it) and went on to other paintings.
Later when I began to believe in red and green, I had other reasons. Green could imply nature, a season, or the exterior; red--the warmth of the interior. There was also the implication of the conflict and complement between male and female. Now my primary reason for red and green(aside from the personal fact that I find it to be the most exciting color combination) is that they work visually in space and do not jar the two-dimensional surface as would other colors, such as yellow and purple. Since they stay, more or less, on the same plane in space they interest me formally.
Now as far as the shapes (the square, rectangle, and stripe) are concerned: those exist partly from a process of elimination of subject matter and technique, and partly from a positive desire for simplicity and for a self-imposed restriction. Back in 1959, as I was beginning to paint I started with colored abstractions . . . any color, any shape--just so it was 'abstract.' Then I became interested in the flowing aspects of nature, swirling limbs, flowering foliage, and rippling rivers which led to flowing brush strokes strokes and flowery colors . . . all colors in each canvas trying,I suppose to say everything I could imagine about nature. My early paintings show me how they saw the chaos in nature (or was I the chaotic one?)
When I became interested in the figure, though I tried to use the same landscape technique at first. I found myself searching for a different form for the figure. I began blocking in shapes, trying to refrain from painting my drawings, and eventually ended up with squarish figures, which, though they worked visually on canvas, rather distorted the real essences of the body and soul of the human subject.
About this same time I had been doing some collages and assembledges--a few with figures and some with windows, using the actual parts, such as a curtain. a screen, and a venetian blind. I became concerned with the personality of individual windows and through my photographs at this time I began seeing what the window was made up of. Slowly there appeared a perfect reason for squares and rectangles. Here was a subject matter that was also a shape which worked on a two-dimensional surface without forcing it into something else.
By 1964 everything began falling into place with the red and green combination, the window shape and the two-dimensional planes. For a time I was content to use red as an abstract representation of the interior, green as the exterior, or to reverse the order for visual conflict, to use stripes as venetian blinds and clapboards, and the square or rectangle as a window or wall.
But eventually I became excited by the shapes themselves and did not want them tied down by the window. Though the essence of a window appeared, and at times more literally, soon the formal qualities became the dominate idea. I did many variations on only a few themes--such as the diamond, triangle and square--just to see what possibilities existed within a rigid framework.
At this point I am working with stripes, and existing patterns like bricks or tiles in the man-made environment. The stripes can come from fence posts, telephone poles, blades of grass, venetian blinds, legs, phalluses, cigarettes, tree trunks, wires, highways, books in a bookcase--even the repetition of the same word . . . red-red-red-red-red is to create verbal stripes; to say red-green-red-green-red-green creates a form (it's impossible for me to see one of the colors without thinking of the other). Then if one were to visualize this pattern on a canvas, or to think of it as the preconceived pattern which I work with in some of the paintings, one can see how the stripe has a shape to reduce or erase into another pattern within this planned one. The idea is the play between the preconceived red-green pattern and the void or emptiness of the white canvas. There are multiple variations within this idea which destroy the idea that there is a right or perfect solution of a stripe. And within this situation I have been intrigued by the conception that there is always and there is never a completed painting.
exhibition talk at 'the exit' may