Friday, May 31, 2019

Good Painters Getting Some Love

I saw two shows I'm so happy about.  The first was at Rowan, where I used to teach.  One of the art historians there is writing a book on Sylvia Sleigh so they put on a show of her work and other participants of the SOHO20, a co-op gallery for women artists in the 70s.  Here's the link...  

(detail) Sylvia Sleigh, Soho20 Group Portrait, 1974
 It brought to mind the group portraits Mimi Gross did in the 1960s, recently on view in a great show at Eric Firestone.  Link here...

Mimi Gross, Grand Street Girls, 1963

Then I dropped by PAFA feeling like, 'damn why can't they do something like that?' The whole time I was a grad student there I felt figurative painting was always about large scale, heroic man painting.  And then I was told to check out the new installation of the permanent collection and it blew my mind because it read my mind.  Joan Brown, Sylvia Sleigh, Kyle Staver, Judith Linhares, Mequitta Ahuja, Gertrude Abercrombie etc.  It was so good to see.  

And seeing two Joan Brown paintings in person was especially timely for me as I'm reading her monograph The Art of Joan Brown by Karen Tsujimoto.  

Here are a few really compelling statements in there that I marked to remember:

"When I found that the painting was getting monotonous, when the inspiration and the struggle were no longer there, no amount of success and money and fame would influence me to give up my freedom.  As far as I am concerned, success is an inside thing, a feeling of growth, of change of in-goingness in terms of the creative process -- and outside mean very, very little, if anything -"

I didn't realize how much success and fame she had in her early 20s, aligning with the Bay Area.  To completely abandon that work and receive such negative reviews as she did takes a lot.  Its a very important thing though to paint for yourself first, a necessity to be engaged and struggling.

"Raising a child I was able to explore and express another dimension of myself, the more I am able to express the various dimensions of myself, the richer and freer the art will be.  I'm not any one thing: I'm not just a teacher, I'm not just a mother, I'm not just a painter, I'm all these things plus and the more areas I can tap, the richer each one of the others will be.  I've always wondered why nobody has ever asked me how I did it and what I thought about raising a child...It's been tough from time to time.  Sometimes there's an overcompensation; sometimes I put out too much energy into one area and not enough in the other.  It's really hard to keep that balance but...everything really feeds into the other...I find that the work is a by-product of myself as a person and therefore it's much richer because I have lived and have been involved in other dimensions."

I've been of the pessimistic mindset recently that the idea of 'having it all' is utter bullshit.  That stereotype alone asks women to do too many things really well without any structural support like free preschool, which make feeling like a failure very easy.  But I like this take, that having a child and being a painter and teacher and whatever else creates a new and impossible other universe in which the parts work together and would not happen otherwise.  Its certainly true for my new body of work.  I feel the most connected to this show than any of my previous shows, I feel it is so much stronger because it is more vulnerable and personal and that is certainly a by-product of my life.  And that makes me care a lot less what the outside world thinks.  I definitely want my work to be seen but I don't care how it is received.  And she's right, there is a lot of freedom in that.
Good reminders from a trailblazer.  


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