A Long Marriage

I originally published this post in August 2006 as A Brush with Destiny, but I've brought it back under a new title. I'll have a new post in a few days.

Uttar 231, encaustic on panel, 18 x 18 inches, 2004


Art and I have been together for almost 35 years. Until recently I was the one who carried the financial responsibility in the relationship, working full time to sustain the two of us. Art was emotionally supportive most of the time, but I’ll be honest, a financial sponge. Virtually my entire paycheck—a good one, because I worked as a senior editor at a high-profile women’s magazine—went into maintaining the relationship. Give, give, give. That was me. When I got a raise, where did the extra money go? Art. Those jokes about "ball and chain" were no joke to me. But I was a woman enthralled.

I was still in my Teens when the marriage began. I couldn’t have known it would develop so lopsidedly. Art was generous at the beginning, arousing in me feelings I’d never before experienced. I learned to see as if I were seeing for the first time, to savor every nuance of color and shape, line and tone. But after the honeymoon we settled into a pattern that would become all too familiar: I gave. Art took. Love, in my case, was not just visually impaired, it was sitting blindfolded in a dark room. I worked assiduously to keep the relationship going. If there was an opportunity to make it better, I took it. I learned to ignore the indignities while reveling in the generosities. I also sought out those who were in similar relationships—an informal AA for overcompensating partners—and we made many visits to galleries and museums.

Things changed in 1998 when my job ended. Instead of looking for another nine-to-five, I took on freelance projects to pay the bills. Art, to my profound surprise and delight, picked up the slack and over the next few years became the primary breadwinner. Art has been supporting the two of us ever since. I’m on cloud nine. This, finally, is the relationship I’d hoped for.

Before you brand me as a feminist failure, trapped with an alternately withholding and rewarding partner, let me tell you this: Art is not a man. Or a woman. Had it been either, I would have left long ago, I assure you. I’m a painter, and art—lower-case a—has been my primary relationship all these years. After a day of working behind a desk, I went to my studio to paint. Whatever transpired from nine to five, I could count on an evening of intense passion—sensual satisfaction, bitter struggle or utter bliss. Then I went home, sometimes to a flesh-and-blood lover, but always with painting on my mind.

Back when I was in art school, a professor earnestly informed me that if I wanted to be taken seriously, I would have to "choose between being a woman and being an artist." He was onto something in terms of duality, but he had the specifics all wrong, and not just because his comment was so irredeemably

Silk Road 68, encaustic on panel, 12 x 12 inches, 2006

sexist. Creative jobs intertwine art and life. The idea is not to choose between the elements but to come to terms with the nature of the twist. I call my union with art a marriage only partly in irony because, for better or worse, it is the longest-running relationship of my life. Other artists with varying degrees of tongue in cheek, have described their art liaisons as "the other person in my marriage," "living with devil," and "a jones, plain and simple." Rarely is it simply a career.

The idea of art as an addiction, a jones, is not so far fetched, by the way. Sometimes when I’m painting and the endorphins are firing, there’s no "art," no "me." There’s just brush and brain in a euphoric vortex of energy, an ectoplasmic blob at one with the universe. It’s as good as sex. And I’ll do anything short of armed robbery to ensure that I have the means to experience it as often as I can. Do accountants have this kind of relationship to their careers? Do dentists?

Whatever you call it, each artist’s relationship to art is a unique combination of give and take, pain and pleasure, or any number of other antithetical concepts jostling for supremacy. Some of these emotional clashes are generated by the creative act itself. Unlike Sunday painting, which I’m told is a relaxing and enjoyable hobby, when it’s your life’s work, every brush stroke is charged not only with paint but with esthetic decisions, intuitive flow running smack up against intractable deadlines for the next show.

There’s also that tantalizing promise of a livelihood repeatedly extended and withdrawn. Working 80 hours a week without a steady income is not satisfying, no matter how ecstatic the work itself, so every little success—a big sale, an interested gallery, critical attention—sends you soaring until the trajectory of the arc sends you crashing back down.

The good news is that art means money these days. With the recent increase in the number of fairs, galleries, and collectors big and small, there are more emerging and mid-career artists than ever before able to sustain themselves with the sale of their work. I am one of them.

Art and I celebrate our 35th anniversary this year. It’s still an open marriage as flesh-and-blood lovers come and go, but we will grow old together. The gift to mark 35 years together is coral. Please, no presents. I mention it only because I often use coral, the color, in my painting. Coral is a lovely mix of cadmium red light with a touch of spectrum yellow, and just enough titanium white to soften it to a blushing, roseate hue.

Vicolo 4, encaustic on panel, 12 x 12 inches, 2004


Morris Louis at Paul Kasmin Gallery

See addendum at bottom of post

Ah, seeing these paintings at the Paul Kasmin Gallery (through January 19) made me feel like I was back in art school when everyone was stain painting and Morris Louis's arc was ascending. I didn't take notes, just pictures.

I've seen a lot of Louis paintings but nothing remotely like this one. Who needs a fireplace if you've got this on your wall? You could almost feel the heat. Made me think of those beautiful Siennese paintings depicting saints at the stake. Hellish. And heavenly.

Here's a detail. I love the rivulets of color. Look how the pigment migrated away from the edges in some places and to the edges in others.

In this painting the graphic elements are reversed, like apostrophes. And then the polished floor reflects and reverses the whole thing.

This is one of Louis's Veils. Up close (below) you can see just how much color it took to get those smoky hues. Looking at the painting for a while, I thought of Rodin's The Three Shades, a trio of nude male figures, bodies drawn together with their shoulders forming a strong horizontal line.

Time has not been kind to this painting. See how the canvas has sagged? And I was surprised to see the "starving artist" framing on this and the other paintings--lattice strips nailed all around. I asked the fellow behind the desk about it, but he didn't have an answer. I suppose it's to maintain the integrity of the work as it was originally shown.


Addendum (2.4.08): A painter friend e-mailed with this comment: "There are Morris Louis paintings that weren't supposed to be seen. In grad school I used to work at the Lawrence Rubin Gallery which showed all the Clement Greenberg people, Louis included, and there was always this idea: "Oh don't look at the 'failed ones'." Like the ones you highlight here. Time changes our eyes and our take on things so much, doesn't it?"


The Business of Art

Back when I was in art school, talking about the business side of art would have gotten you branded as a careerist, a sellout. This kind of thinking has persisted in—and, frankly, hindered the careers of— many midcareer artists who still believe that financial struggle keeps you closer to integrity, and that selling well means selling out. Ha! Garrets don’t bring you closer to heaven, they just keep you cloistered in poverty a few stories above street level.

Deborah Fisher’s brand-new blog, Sellout, addresses these ideas. Conceived as being by artists for artists, it encourages dialogue about every practical aspect of being a visual artist. Recent topics include suggestions on finding a way into the art world; the realities of who you know; news on a new book, The Artists’ Career Guide: Making a Living Doing What You Love; and a digital/cyber Q&A. It is more than a professional advice aggregator and hot-tip provider, says Fisher. " We want any information we provide to be fleshed out as anecdote or called out as bullshit. We depend on your insight, and welcome your ideas, comments and emails." (Disclaimer: Fisher has mentioned Art Bloggers @ , a project I do with Sharon Butler, whose Two Coats of Paint I have written about previously, and I’ve already put in my two cents on a few posts.)
Fisher is a sculptor and writer.

How’s My Dealing?
Also back in art school, when I was still dating men, I used to say, "Wouldn’t it be great if there were a National Asshole Directory? You could ask about a guy, and if his name showed up on the A-list, so to speak, you could save yourself the trouble and not get involved."
Now comes How’s My Dealing, a site for New York Galleries that does essentially the same thing for a particular slice of the art world.

Alas, there’s a lot of opportunity here for anonymous dealer bashing, despite the moderator’s entreaty for "Facts and first-hand accounts wanted, not opinions." The moderator, a smart, sincere artist posting anonymously as Buck Naked, has his/her work cut out for him/her. I’m not entirely comfortable recommending this blog, but it’s a great idea at the right time—hey, wouldn’t you want to know who pays on time and who doesn’t?—and if everyone uses it in an informative way, big IF, it could work. Take a look and make your own decision.

Edward Winkleman
Yes, I’ve noted Ed's blog before, but his business-of-art posts—he’s a respected Chelsea dealer—get scores, sometimes hundreds of responses. I teach here and there on the topic of building and sustaining a career in art, and I often used his posts about the art business as teaching tools.

Some interesting items from the archives: Gallery Contracts and Not a Cheap Affair (what it costs a dealer to participate in an art fair)--you need to scroll down the opened post for these-- and The Logic Behind the 50/50 Split . Spend some time clicking and linking in those archives; there's a graduate course worth of MFA advice there.

What Blogs Give you the Art Info You Need?
Consider this a forum to post your suggestions and commentary.


On the Geometric Trail, Part Two: SoHo

Kay WalkingStick: Cataloochee, 2007, gold leaf, oil and wood, diptych; 24 x 48 inches

The geometric trail continues below Houston Street. I get around each month--uptown, Chelsea, downtown, the museums--and the amount of geometry I saw in December was far beyond what I normally see in a given month. And with Warren Isensee's show just opened at Danese, I'll have more geometry to report on later this month.

Here's some of what I saw and liked in SoHo in December: .


Kay WalkingStick: New Paintings
at the June Kelly Gallery

You might call WalkingStick a quasi abstractionist who is semi geometric. The larger picture is that she’s a landscape painter who introduces abstract elements into her work, typically via a diptych format that allows her to integrate the two disparate elements so that they are no longer disparate at all. The geometry in her new work is derived, I think, from Native American weave patterns (she is a member of the Cherokee Nation).

The installation shots are mine; the individual works are from the gallery's website. You can see more exhibition images at the gallery website and more on Kay's website.

At the June Kelly Gallery, above and below: opposite views of Kay WalkingStick's show

Above: Remember the Bitterroots, 2007, oil on wood panel, diptych, 36 x 72 inches; below: The Road to Santa Fe, 2007, oil on wood panel, diptych, 24 x 48 inches


Machine Learning
at The Painting Center

Matthew Deleget, a reductivist painter, put together a sharp show of four contemporary artists working in geometric abstraction. And sharp is the operative word here, as the paintings by Henry Brown, Terry Haggerty, Gilbert Hsaio and Douglas Melini are hard edge.

The title, Deleget writes in his catalog essay, comes from the field of artificial intelligence in the way computers are programmed with algorithms to allow them to recognize patterns within the volumes of cyber data they process (like the Google search engine, for instance) so that they continue to make new associations based on what they have done in the past. I didn’t get the connection between the artificial intelligence of the premise and the visual intelligence of the work itself, but I thought it was a smart show.

Two views of Machine Learning at the Painting Center

Above: paintings by Terry Haggerty, Gilbert Hsiao and Henry Brown; below: Brown again, two by Douglas Melini, and another by Haggerty

If you’re in Houston March 8 to May 3, you can catch the exhibition as it travels to Gallery Sonja Roesch. There’s more information on the Painting Center website and on Minus Space, the online curatorial project Deleget maintains with his partner and co-editor, with Rossana Martinez.

Below: Gilbert Hsiao, Encounter, 2006, acrylic on wood panel, 30 inches diameter

Impromptu Geometry
Sometimes the city is a gallery. I saw this geometric assemblage in an old garden lot at the corner of Houston and Elizabeth Streets.


On the Geometric Trail in Chelsea

There was a wealth of geometric expression in Manhattan last month. I photographed some of it. Then I went to Miami for the fairs and spent the subsequent two weeks blogging about them. I was prepared to let this New York report go--one has only so much time, after all--but in reviewing the images, I realized the work was too interesting to ignore. I made time. If you don’t go to New York regularly, I suppose it doesn’t make all that much difference when you see these shows en blog; and if you did see the shows, well think of this post as a bit of 2007 déjà vu all over again.


Bridget Riley: Recent Paintings and Gouaches
at Pace Wildenstein
Of course you know Riley’s work. She shot to fame in the 60s with eye-blazingly, undulatingly graphic paintings that practically created the genre of Op Art. She’s mellowed. The colors are Monet-esque and the geometry is larger, more sinuous than searing. As you would expect at this gallery, the work was big--but it was an invitation to see, not a challenge. A catalog is available. Click gallery website for more info.
Above: The central gallery at Pace Wildenstein. The work on the right is painted directly onto the wall. The painting visible through the doorway to the far gallery orients you to the installation below

Gail Gregg: Recent Paintings
at Luise Ross

Gregg has taken the lowly packing carton and turned it into geometric abstraction. Her symmetric shapes, reminiscent of totemic images, are from flayed carboard boxes, carton dividers, cup holders—the stuff of our throwaway culture—all coated with wax. Some works hang as relief sculptures; others are laid onto a wax ground. Technically these latter are more assemblage than painting, but painting embraces everything these days, and Gregg is a painter with a great sense of compostion and color.

You can see more at the gallery's website and at

Installation view of Gail Gregg's show at Luise Ross

Below, a work from the show

Polished and Pressed: Bill Thompson and Peter Weber
at Thatcher Projects
First I liked the title, with its suggestion of neatness and order. Then I liked the work: relief sculptures that played shiny against matte, rounded edges against sharp, crease against smooth. Thompson has the polished work: geometric wall sculptures carved from urethane, many of which glisten with layers of, I’m guessing, automotive-type paint. Weber has the pressed work: felt objects that have been folded and formed into geometric order, like weave patterns under a microscope. See more at the gallery's website.
Polished and Pressed at Thatcher Projects: Bill Thompson, above, and Peter Weber, below



The Geometry of Seeing: Elaine Lustig Cohen
at Pavel Zoubok Gallery

Although I knew of Cohen’s work, I hadn’t realized the breadth of it. Thanks to the show at Pavel Zoubok and the impressive catalog with it, I saw a range of Cohen's work in this 40-year retrospective. Painter, collagist, sculptor and graphic designer, she has worked within a hard-edge idiom that has traversed fluidly within her various modes of expression. See more on the gallery's website.

A second part of this exhibition was held at the Julie Saul Gallery. I didn't get there, but you can visit the website to see more work.

The Geometry of Seeing: Elaine Lustic Cohen at Pavel Zoubok Gallery. This view looks into the gallery from the entry

Below, a view behind the desk


Alberto Burri at Mitchell-Innes and Nash through January 19

When you hear arte povera, you think Merz or Kounellis. Burri? Who knew? The exhibition is a 40-year-plus survey of the artist, who died in 1996. The work is varied but the constants are the materials--commonplace stuff like plastic, Celotex wallboard, burlap, clay--and a geometric sensibility that threads its way through the material and the years. Not surprisingly, Rauschenberg cited Burri as an influence. Read more and see additional images at the gallery website.

Above: Alberto Burri installation view

Below: Oil and gold leaf on Celotex--a little ricca with the povera

Next post: The geometric trail continues below Houston