I’ve never been a huge fan of abstract expressionism. During my first foray into art school in the 70s, a final project required that we make a painting in that style. Annoyed, I propped a four-foot square canvas against my wall, loaded my brush with color, placed it between my toes, and painted the entire thing with my feet. The professor was fervently ecstatic about the piece, and placed it in contests; it won two awards and sold for $400. I thought (and still think) that was hilarious. (I don’t remember if I ever told him about the feet).
Joan Mitchell was one of the exceptions to my general indifference; something in her mid and late career works spoke to me, in an exciting language of of color, texture and vigor. Then, when I received my BFA degree, Joan was selected to receive an honorary doctorate and I fell head over heels. She sat onstage amidst all the pomp and flowers and immaculately suited officials, clad in her grubby work clothes and a pair of paint-splattered sneakers. A prim, pristinely-coiffed historian began speaking about her life. Each time the historian got something wrong (quite frequently), Joan muttered, “No, no, no” and interrupted with the facts that, quite honestly, only she could know. Finally, exasperated, she leapt up, pulled the mike to herself and bellowed, “OK, forget all that! Go paint. Paint. JUST…PAINT!”
I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a stellar example of the gap between the (often career-building) brouhaha that surrounds art, and the simple truth of being an artist, a maker.
Pretty much how my brain feels at the moment…
I started writing this last week, in honor of the very pleasing fact that I have been awarded a full fellowship for another residency at the Vermont Studio Center, specifically through the Joan Mitchell Foundation. I am truly impressed. But I’m publishing today after being involved in an exhausting contretempts, forcing more tough decisions on my part, and making me mightily tired of that ridiculous chasm between artist and art world. I just want to make some work, and that’s what I will do for the next few days: “Forget all that.”
…what my brain needs, and what some Making will do.