marlene mountain
journal grand forks 1
march-april 1964

journal grand forks 1

march 14 1964 grand forks north dakota

I have been reading the statements of painters and writers this week. There have been several quotes with which I can identify my feelings, such as color theories, space concepts and reasons for existing. However, it seems that even though I am pleased that my thoughts are not ridiculously unfounded, and after this feeling of security happens, I regret that my thoughts have been so publicly and matter-of-factly stated. So far it seems that I have no inventive or should I say unique personal thoughts. Those which I covet as being self- founded after long struggles and indecisions and ill health suddenly pop out of professional mouths. Even though as I said it confirms what I had felt, it leaves me with a still empty being, almost back at the beginning. Though these still is progress made, I feel foolish for not having read the statements years ago--though it is true I would not have gotten the same meaning.

Just now reading about Joan Mitchell's paintings and thoughts, I find that she enjoys a statement made by Baudelaire which is so close to my feelings that I am perplexed. On what occasion did he write this statement: 'The man who looks out of the closed window sees more than the man who looks out the open window.' Surely he was not speaking of the realistic setting of a window and the window shade, and speaking of the shadows created by the sun on the shade. Was he too interested in such a situation and did he too sit and gaze at the events which happen in such a circumstance? I seem to doubt that this was all he had in mind. He must have been speaking in a more figurative vein. I would like to know more about this.

And in the past week I have read that Joseph Albers created a series of 29 window ideas in his early work which led to the homage to a square theme. I was quite surprised by this. Hans Hoffman and Richard Anuszkiewicz write about the visual and optical changes which occur when using complementary colors or very contrasting ones.

These three past statements about what can happen on the surface of a window, the geometric quality of a window and the strong color events practically state my direction of painting at the present, especially my personal and I had thought least derivative feelings. I am not upset or pleased, but feel very young. My only consolation is the fact that my work progressed to this point without being aware of outside influences in this definite a manner. And I suppose another factor is the combining of them. Before these my closest awareness of a possible influence was Matisse and my friend Al Mooser. I often wonder what A. M. would be painting now and during the last three years if he had continued with the direction he had in 1960, strongly influenced by the window surrounded by interior and surrounding exterior.

Other than these mentioned I no longer feel a closeness toward other painters as far as how to handle myself while painting. There was a time--not so long ago--when I tried to soak up ways of handling paint, color ideas and designs. This was not necessarily a conscious effort, yet it was a way of learning what could be done--what Had been done.

As I looked through painting books tonight I saw many ways to apply paint but was not the least concerned with learning. They were a part of someone else's way and were not in the slightest way close to anything I needed or wanted to adopt to my ideas. I rather feel that I understand paint handling (though at present do not use it as an important subject), and in my mind and background and also future possibilities, I feel that I would have enough to be concerned with and to try. If I were to work with the figure, I would be able to find my own terms for it. Apparently I have memorized many things which I'm sure gives me the confidence to say this.

At the moment I can see a painting in black and white--almost the same thing as I visioned last week in a woodcut idea. I see it now in oil paint--the same design relationship, the same areas designated for black and white. It's strange to me, especially since this same composition [drawing of figure on canvas] of a figure at the near bottom being compressed by black, was first visioned in very subtle and fleshy tones with hardly any value or color contrast. Then it progressed to the black and white woodcut, not it returns to painting bringing the contrast of black and white with it, but using oil (or possibly enamel) as the medium, emphasizing drips and brushstrokes. This must be a result of my viewing of the books of paintings. Yet it was nothing definite which I saw that I could see a specific influence. There must be something about that special design or theme that is important to me. I have been wanting to use black and white; though not with windows necessarily. Maybe it is with the figure that I can express black and white.

A statement I read somewhere this week--in the book of Dada Painters and Poets, I think--mentions that one of the nicest and greatest things which distinguishes a human from an animal is that the human is constantly contradicting himself, being fickle; full of indecisions, and constant reevaluations; whereas the animal has a set of predetermined acts which he has to perform and can never very them. It's a good thing to think about--at least which I am confused at all my indecisions.

I hope one of these two things happens: 1) I will try to do everything that comes to my visual mind, when I become aware that it has some merit, regardless if it doesn't seem to be my direction, 2) I can learn how to discard needless and meaningless ideas as soon as they appear to be distracting from my present interest and direction.


april 2 1964 grand forks north dakota

An incident from this past week keeps coming to my mind. On the return trip from Minneapolis I was with three instructors from the university [Dan Goode, Al Stern, Frank Kelly]. Two of them are not art instructors [D. G., A. S.], however, are aware of what is noted to be 'artistic' and are impressed with culture and intelligence. And for this I am of course glad to know, however, continually from them I heard how depraved this state and this part of the country is, how New York--all of New York--is intelligent, cultural, etc. None of this is what bothers me however--though I disagree.

As we passed each small country town, each barely existing as towns, and having of course no sign of culture or intellectual activity, but plainly farming towns, they would make extremely derogatory remarks about the dumbness.

What bothers me about their remarks are two things 1) I know that they can not sense visual form, that in the midst of clutter and unrefined civilization (farming town) loaded with character and naive existence, and unusual relationships, they can not bring their 'intelligence' which has been developed from 'known' masterpieces into another setting and apply it to new and unsure situations, 2) that they have been exposed to this chance for new exploration by the mere fact of knowing me and glimpsing my visual and verbal statements, and there is no real communication.

We visited a huge beautiful piece of architecture in Minnesota called Cathedral of St. John, designed by Marcel Breuer. Being educated to such masterpieces we all were stunned and full of appreciation. And by its being in a so-called barren district, it was even more pleasurable. However after it's initial effect and spending many minutes walking through, noting textures, spatial relationships of contemporary arches, enjoying the cleanness of design and various other very pleasant ideas I was through with the experience. It existed, I saw it, appreciated it, explored relationships (granted not all that existed), and discarded it from my thoughts.

As we drove along the highway I searched elements in the land for making form in my mind. Each time we drove slowly through the towns, my eyes grasped thousands of relationships and set up experiences in my mind. I was using the material to build (create) designs, compositions, or whatever the name as part of my partaking of life.

Continually there was jabber about the lowlife of rural people, stupid one-horse towns, etc. To this I can agree--that there is not the same education nor way of living involved in their existence. It's an impossibility, of course. However as we passed one particular service station loaded with junk, life (I cannot find the right words to express the character), I stated that such places were very intriguing and in fact that particular station had more to offer visually than did St. John's Cathedral. One friend was so offended by that statement that he asked that the conversation be changed before he got upset.

Naturally I am disappointed at such a statement which shows either ignorance of or rejection of my 'philosophy' of visual delight.

However I learned something about myself, and it is becoming more clear. I'm not sure I can as yet state it. It concerns the fact that I am not a viewer in the sense of receiving visual things--that's not stated right. I look for things that give me something to work with, to create with, to conceive relationships from. And at the moment a certain type of setting gives me the chance to do this. I can be a creator in front of a haphazard situation. I can pull something from a conglomeration. In fact my greatest desire is to be able to have the time and chance in a small town such as those we saw (or shanty town, Puerto Rico, Lexington, Oklahoma) for 4-6 months with a camera, or an hour with one such service station which I mentioned. Time and film to explore a particular situation, to record every happening which would give off a quality. It would be my approach to teaching, my philosophy of living.

The unobvious made interesting or something along that line however trite it may sound. Isn't it too obvious to enjoy the obvious? Isn't that the expected? Not that the obvious (and I am speaking about the obvious known to an educated person) is wrong, but that it is expected, just as we learn that 2+2=4, then we know, and we expect anyone who has been taught that, to believe it also.

What am I saying?


april 3 1964 grand forks north dakota

I believe that it is impossible for me to purify my art while in school. School is not the right place for me to be. No matter where the school is or what type of program it has, there is a thing about it that I cannot trust. I cannot believe in it--beyond a certain point, and sometimes I cannot give it any credit. Nothing more than a place to get knowledge of past art and hopefully to gather appreciation of it. Beyond this purpose I see no reason for art being near a school system.

Tonight I have been trying to conjure up things to produce--with no passion or feeling involved--thinking in my mind about relationships and forms in space, considering the mechanics and trying to fit some ideas into a logical statement. Woe--I hate it. I am forced to make up things which I would not have the slightest inclination to do at the present. I am forced to contemplate things which do not belong to me, do not belong in my mind. I am now cluttered with vague and resolved ideas. I have used my brain, my knowledge, and my energy and have made up some things to do. And I am embarrassed. And I am disgusted.

At the moment--and for the past week or so I have lost interest in painting. I am tired of having it on my mind. This I have finally learned is natural and necessary. Yet over my spirit hangs a heavy sign which blares out words such as: get busy, what else can you do? why aren't you doing something? And as I fight to keep from persecuting myself, I ask myself for what reason am I painting or thinking about painting when I haven't the desire or passion to perform or study it. It irks me.

I have been trying to figure out things to do. Could I do this or that? My inner conscience cringes at the thought of taking up someone else's brush or idea or technique--and yet while I am barren of personal pure thoughts, what else can I do? I must perform. I must look alert, look active, and give the appearance that I have something to say about life. It's a stupid game. I can't believe in it. To some extent I can understand how it has come about. And to some extent I can appreciate some it its bastard qualities and can even get an enjoyment for its products. I often even wish that my inner conscience would release me from this rigid thought and let me partake of the visiting passions of impure art. How grand it must be to be open and unaware of stealing and false passion.

This coming week I must indeed conjure up and perform some work, either painting (on paper) or printing of the figure. It is my duty to brainwash or conscience-wash myself so that I may arrive at a stage of gusto and passion when I do my work. I indeed hope to be able to produce some interesting things having some sort of merit or communication. However in my mind I am disgusted that I must do this. As I have said often I believe it is possible to think and to paint innumerable things--and for this very reason I should think a painter should carefully consider and disregard the mundane or the accepted and the obvious beauties. Then only the pure will emerge--if there exists such a thing.

There was a time when I painted (or tried painting) every idea that I had. Aside from having a huge number of worthless canvases, it proved to be educational. Eventually I learned from that experience that an idea is not necessarily a painting idea. Gradually I discovered which ideas could best be expressed in clay, drawings, prints, paintings. That was a worthwhile investment.

Now I still, when seeing things, can place them into the right categories. And still, very often, become moved by a certain technique and want to get my hands into it. But I fear this because it seems like such a passing emotion, one without enough intensity to sustain itself.


april 5 1964 grand forks north dakota

I really get very despondent about having to perform for a school. Maybe it's just for certain people in the system that I get this awkward and distasteful feeling. But whatever the reason I cannot overcome it, I cannot justify my doing certain things just because they are expected of me by some stupid arrangement or because it is possible that I can do them. So what? Just because a person has at his [sic] disposal certain things, just because there is a capability or knowledge involved--that does not mean that these things must by acted out.

At the moment all I want to do is to paint, and of this line all that I want to do is a series of red-green (and white) shapes based on the window--and then only a few of them. I have several dozen sketches most of which, though were done last summer, I do not understand in terms of what I am doing now. They were drawn with other painting results in mind, and now I can see how some of them are exactly what I can use now--though I am not sure which ones nor in which way. They are in my mind and eventually will come through as paintings. This will take time--and I am in no hurry. A small amount of pressure will speed some of them out, too much pressure tends to make all things ugly.

I went to school this evening with the purpose of beginning a small series of paintings on paper either of windows or figures. I couldn't! I am angry with things. The window ideas should be kept for large scale, not dinky size which although gets the design and color relationship across, comes nowhere close to the power of size. I can't, I can't, I can't. What will I do? I must do something. How did I get so close to this enclosure? I brought it upon myself, I like it as long as I am in command and can stay within it at my own pace. But when forced to turn out things I panic and despise.

I don't give a damn about figures which I would do. I have no feeling for them and no reason to do them. They belong to other people. I do not want to give birth to them. To go beyond and to explore further is a full time passion. I do not have the extra passion. (All that I say is only meant as what I believe at this time.) I wish I could relax about this, that I would not have this inner conflict. It is disturbing. It is an unnecessary worry. I am very much afraid of/against becoming a painting machine--no matter what the merit. I do not like this concept. Maybe it is a false view I have but it is what I have seen around me.

An odd thought has just come to me--I am somewhat like my friend Al. There are some things I just can't do. I now understand him more than I ever have. Al--I understand.

Will I ever be able to get the Master's degree?

april 6 1964 grand forks north dakota

Today I finally reached what I hope is my definite decision concerning what I will do for individual research. After much bitter conflict inside my heard and much unrest I have become inspired about the problem. Tonight I built and sized two canvases (3 x 3'). That is the furthest I have ventured physically to begin the task. All other plans never became concrete long enough to begin the physical preparation.

My feeling is to work from my small summer sketches, to arrive at some statement between a window and an abstract square. Originally I fought against this because I had not been able to see the sketches into a painting yet, and I also wanted to work on a large surface when they did become clear enough to paint. Neither did I want to rush with the ideas, pushing them into ideas before I was ready--and therefore painting nothing.

One idea is very strong with me now. And I hope it stays with me during the painting process. It is not worked out too much that will hold too strongly in my mind and give me trouble in recreating it. It is vague in parts, though at the moment the colors of orange, red, green and possibly white sort of fall into places. Enough to intrigue me to try its working. I hope six will come. Six ideas which are developed in my feelings and thoughts, ideas which grow and must push out. Then I will have a good experience and not feel a sickening triteness about the things.

I will discard the figure ideas that are in the back of my mind. They are not personal enough in my thoughts. Last year at this time it interested me to paint painted figures. Now I find that this is against something though I have not fully understood it. I think I will remember them or something about the design which I wanted to work with. If not something else will be important. And if they are important then they will return. I suppose that sounds a little trite but it is something I need to hold on to at this moment.

My remaining problem is the other class which demands projects--a three dimensional figure--and a three dimensional landscape. This will cost me much trouble. I must find a way to divert doing these or ---- what can I do? I do not believe in such things now. Can I not say that? Is it so odd to reject someone else's thrusts on my painting life? Should I not make the decisions? Must I not find My own thoughts? Why must I be at the mercy of unchosen people? I am not a slave.

Rauschenberg: 'Any incentive to paint is as good as any other.' 'There is no poor subject.' At the moment I disagree when I refer to myself. I used to long for incentives, now I mistrust them.


april 8 1964 grand forks north dakota

I had a talk with my painting teacher-friend [Dave Brown] about my unwillingness to do things in painting that I wasn't interested in doing--things which arbitrarily were expected because of certain regulations conjured up by one or more persons. His constant advice was to do what's expected regardless of feeling, turn it in, then destroy it. He thought it was wrong, but a necessary evil in a school. And in this instance of very little consequence to anything--just a nasty taste in the mouth for a short time.

He thinks I am fortunate to have found a meaningful pursuit in my painting at such an early age. But how can one keep ideals while in school? Or let then develop?

Last night before sleeping I invited figure ideas to come into my head. They came in blacks and whites, large this time almost filling the large panels (4 x 5') instead of being trapped at the bottom beneath the black. Large massive and almost disproportionate parts especially thighs pushed themselves at the viewer--almost in vulgar positions with legs spread apart--though somewhat hidden in abstract relationships of black and white shapes. Black ground, white thick figures, reclining in an almost foreshortened manner. Saw no heads though and at moment I haven't the slightest idea how the heads would be done. As I think back to this past summer I can see how I was slowly trying to rid the figure from my work. And how I have wanted to find the right shapes to work with on the geometric surface.

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