Monday, March 25, 2013

Just To Be Clear; Painting and Other Friends

Addison Parks; WHIRLYBIRD(Higgs boson); 2010, oil on canvas, 14 x 10"

When I paint I go on a hike and where I'm going is hopefully new and unknown to me, or has something new to show me. I may end up going in circles sometimes and may end up back where I started or some place I've been before, but I don't intentionally choose paths I've taken before. I want to get somewhere I've never been before. I'm not trying to surprise the viewer, I'm trying to surprise myself. If I go somewhere I have never been, then I have surprised myself and I've learned something. Where did I go, what did I learn, these are always my biggest questions.

I don't paint what I know. I paint what I don't know. I paint out of curiosity. You know, find the painting in the painting, so to speak. I never have a fixed idea what a painting is supposed to look like. I paint from a feeling, an idea, something that draws me forward. Again, I don't know what it is going to look like and I am hoping to be surprised. How brave I am or can be or have been is my challenge alone. No one else goes with me; I go alone. No one else knows. No one else can judge me, try as they might. It is between me and myself. I don't paint to make something beautiful or successful, but I do hope that in the end, wherever I get, both of those things on some deeply personal level. 

If it is not however, I do not feel that it is a failure. What have I learned? Where did it take me? What can I still learn? These are such important questions for me. Which is why I am loath to destroy a painting. What would cause me to be so angry or unforgiving or destructive? If I absolutely hate a painting I have done, which seems unlikely, it would only be because I never went anywhere that meant anything to me, but hate wouldn't do it; if I hated a painting that would make me even more curious because hate can be very revealing since fear plays such a large part. I could really not care if someone else already felt they had been there. Why should that make a difference. Should I not go to Bali because other people have been there? If I say, hey I went to Bali and had a great time and I had never been there and it was all wonderful and new to me, but my friend's response was what? Been there, done that. Well then, I would say I have an asshole for a friend. And learned that! Learned something I hadn't quite figured out. Find another friend.

When I was in my 20s I had a show of 2 twenty foot murals at PS1(Now MoMA PS1). My first abstract murals. In oils. At the opening my friend and mentor Richard Tuttle's response was basically "all dressed up and no place to go." He actually said something about two beautiful cars in my back yard. A wry putdown. Not only was he less than a friend, he was less than honest. He had never been to that place I went and done what I did. Just because he may have known other people to go some where near I went, well, it is just his selfish agenda that he was always hunting for his "fresh meat." He was less than a friend to judge me and then be less than truthful and say, in effect, been there, done that. He had no idea where I went, and it was just pure ego for him to have to pretend that he had. Ego was Tuttle's big challenge and he was always trying to make it everyone else's problem while he was going through it. He lived in a dump because he was lusting after a penthouse, and hating everyone else for their penthouse and thinking everyone else should live in a dump too like him to experience dumpy so that they could experience humility they way he needed to. Don't you love people who want to go in the water but have to push other people in first to make sure it is safe or what they actually want to do? From Tuttle I learned to look out for that in myself and others, and believe in my own path. Did it suck?Absolutely. But I have learned from it. I may miss my friend but not that. Have I come across these people again? Yes. Are they dangerous? Yes. I just keep going if I can.

Don't get me wrong. When I show my work everyone is free to do what they like. I have no control over that and want none. Richard Tuttle was free to be as big an asshole as he could be in response to my work. He was free to do whatever his ego dictated, and I was free to do whatever I wanted with his response. That he was bad just meant he was a bad friend and no friend at all. Just to be clear, a friend is in your corner, rooting for you. If they say they are your friend and are not (in your corner), well, they are a liar, and not your friend, and you should probably have nothing to do with them. Also, beware of those who can only be in their own corner, for these are people who are fighting the whole world and they are dangerous. Not that being in your corner is a prerequisite for friendship, but it is just something you will find out sooner or later, and yes, it matters.

Addison Parks, Spring Hill
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Thursday, March 21, 2013

James Balla coming to PAAM Summer 2013

Ominous, alone...(2012);24 x 24"; oil paint on panel 

Second Sight and the Balance of Opposites

James Balla makes mysteries. Right away we sense this about the work. It is about flowers but it's not. It is about clouds but it's not. We don't necessarily want it to be complicated, especially unpredictable, but it is. We are tempted to be happy with the elegance of its exterior, the tip of its iceberg, but that would be a mistake. 

James Balla is poet as painter, or the other way around. Living a quiet life as an artist in Provincetown, a quiet life that of course rages like the sound and the fury. How could it not? The farther you get away the closer you get.  He is surrounded by nature. It permeates everything he sees, everything he feels,  everything he paints. The broad sweep of ocean and sky. The way light and pattern play across that expanse. The way in one motion he can discover something washed up on the sand at his feet, and then look up and explode beyond the infinite, beyond the imagination, beyond the horizon, beyond the clouds, beyond the stars. How he takes that, and makes sense of it, and transforms it, is what gets gifted to us in his work. That is what he frames for us, lays at our feet, shows us with a wave of his hand. The results are always somehow primordial, even mythical. Somehow prehistoric in the best sense of the word. Before we got here. Somehow just between us and our maker. Creation. Not much in between.

Untitled(2003); 15 x 15"; oil enamel on mylar

That process of transformation, the way his experience gets translated into the paintings, is very much at the heart of the mystery of this work. It requires a certain wonder, a kind of plunge. Of him and us. Contemplation and experimentation. Laying something bare, lifting layers, and laying it all out there. Examination and exposure. James Balla goes out over that edge. Here he is Kokopelli with a wry smile. His paintings flow like a rising tsunami. They flood him. They flood us. A watery life. A watery death. Complicated. Just as they are a marriage of opposites, of earth and sky, dark and light, immensity and density, that balance of opposites can also become a war. The fight between things. Breaking up and making up. War and peace. Peace and war. They are the irreconcilable. The contradictory. They need each other, complement each other. But. Paradox. The great mystery. Paradox at work; paradox at play; paradox on holiday! 

They dance, they collide. Flashing! Running hot and cold. Freud's life wish and death wish having at it. Humidifier and dehumidifier in a room fighting it out. Love is a battlefield. Black white, white black. Line space, space line. Man woman, woman man. Light dark, dark light.  Real abstract, abstract real. Figure ground, ground figure. Patterns. Shapes. Things. The idea of things.Creation and destruction, destruction and creation, and back again. They are the stuff of James Balla’s work.

Art's paradoxes. Dada's anti-art art; Surrealism's dream made real(or is it the other way around); Pop's commodity as art(or again, is it the other way around); Minimalism's less is more. How much time have you got? It is all there in the work. As much as James Balla loves nature, he loves art. They are the light out of darkness. 

And is it work? Why do we call it work? Why ask? Because what the artist does is, again, so much the mystery. We call it work so that we know it is hard, but it goes beyond that. To infinity. So why do we call it work again? So we can hide behind that? So we can play? The play of Jung. The play of digging. Fathoming. Sounding. Seeking. We play. Hide and seek! What’s in a name? James Balla. Ballare! Dance!  James. Jim. Gym! Jungle Gym! See Jim dance! See Jim play. See Jim find his way. In the mush of paint, or asphaltum, or graphite, all like earth in his hands, looking for what’s at the bottom, like a boy digging in his backyard, exploring, certain he will find the light, the treasure, and maybe even China! 

Signs. That’s what we see. The perhaps foolish gesture of hope that is art-making. That beautiful cut flower that rots in the vase and putrefies its water. Live to live. Live and die. We pick ourselves up and go forth. Tabula Rasa. A new beginning. Despite the unbearable we nonetheless bear.  Growth and decay. Over and over. It leaves its mark on us as we leave our mark on it. The human being. The artist. James Balla makes paintings tuned to this station. The dream, the illusion, the real. Memories, dreams, visions. Clairvoyance. Second sight. Where does it begin? Where does it end? The circles. The seasons? In life and death? Does art transcend that? James Balla believes so. His work is proof. His work is exhibit A.

Soul in Flight((1997); 50 x 50"; asphaltum, shellac on linen

But we can forget about all that. The living and dying. The hope and despair. The happy sad. The way they define each other all too well. Here again we have that simplicity. Complexity broken down. Broken down into shapes. Vessels that try to contain some unfathomable fluid in place. Fluid life that spills out, that is otherwise without shape, without contours, without order. A mess. And then patterns. Degrees of patterns. Patterns of things real or imagined. Patterns of stripes. Patterns of flowers. Patterns of clouds. Patterns in space. Patterns in dreams. Real or imagined. James Balla gifts us a painting. A sign. A sign of life. Of truth. In the mystery that is life and art we get a moment’s peace. The beauty makes it so.

The Source(1992); 48 x 48"; oil on canvas

And still. It is just a moment. The work keeps vacillating! Of course! Kind to be cruel; cruel to be kind. Can't make up its mind. Back and forth. Gentle tough. Big picture attention to details. James Balla keeps us moving. The new day. Anything can happen.

But the proof is in the pudding; it all comes out in the wash. There is this thing. The work of art. The poem. The painting. Yes. That is it. All that matters. The talk stops there. And then starts. The work happens. The painting happens. It is born. It is real.  And after every winter the bear comes out of his cave, the birds migrate back north, the perennials blossom and bloom. The winter turns to spring and summer. The resurrection! The power and the glory! For ever and ever? Amen!

We have this to look forward to and we do. Wash away the winter; summer is here. A new season. A new body of work from the poet artist James Balla! Behold! Ecco! And of course, as always, just a word of caution! Keep your eyes peeled!  Things aren't what they seem. Pay attention. And let the work play, wash over you, sneak up on you like that tsunami. Feet in the sand, feet in the surf. Waves going in and out.

Wings of Silence(1995) 30 x 30”; oil on linen

You get to muse like he muses. See like he sees. Feel like he feels.  Dream like he dreams. On nature. On life. On love. On art. On stars. On clouds! On all of those things and more! 

And what of all their opposites? They are there. On hold, if only for a moment. Sort of. Finding the beginning or the end is that bowl of spaghetti. Never mind. Won't happen. Just eat! Mangiare! Enjoy! And be happy! Go on! Summer won't last forever!

Addison Parks, Spring Hill, 2013

 James Balla has an upcoming retrospective at PAAM in Provincetown opening June 28, 2013

Friday, March 15, 2013

Don't Go Chasing Black Clouds in Search of Silver Linings, And Other Thoughts

You can't point to the silver lining to say a cloud was ok. Every cloud has a silver lining. Some people try to point to the silver lining to justify the cloud. Wrong. These are generally the same people who find the fault in things. Nothing is perfect. Everything has a fault. Finding the fault does not make you a critic, or make you right, or make something wrong. Wrong. People find the fault in others to keep themselves afloat.
We shoot for perfect like we shoot a basketball. They don't all go in but we keep the bar the same height, we're aiming to get it in, we're aiming for the hoop. It is imperative that we know where the hoop is and stay focused on that. As Bill Russell says: it is all about baskets!
Don't go chasing black clouds in search of silver linings.
There is a story to tell in modern art that has Gino Severini at the center of it. He was a kind of lynch pin. A key stone.
It started when he moved to Paris in 1907. By the end he was responsible for a domino effect which led from Cubism to Futurism to Suprematism and Constructivism to finally Minimalism. The key ingredient was movement. Movement and politics. By the time it ended with minimalism the movement and politics had gone out of it and it was just itself, the self-identical object. But a lot had to happen before then, and like I said, it all started in Paris in 1907.
Painting is a high risk high reward enterprise. The education system generally inspires conformism and backward thinking, especially when there are grades and passing and moving forward issues in the balance. Even the most broadminded of teachers has agendas, preferences, biases, and blind spots. The wrong teacher for a student can cause irreparable damage. So that when you combine the high risk high reward nature of painting with the high risk low reward nature of education it is a bad fit. Everybody knows this, they just think they will be different. The best teacher is like the best frame; the one that gets out of the way and lets the work shine on it own.
Painting also can very often be a one step forward two steps back experience, and the student artist needs to be in an environment where they can do that without fear of failure, condemnation, judgment, etc. A student artist needs to be able to go out on a limb and not get jumped on for breaking it off. It takes an awfully wise teacher to let a student fail so that they can paint their way out of trouble. It takes an awfully wise teacher to not step in a fix that. Every solution given the student artist just means one less solution is available to them when they get in trouble.

Staying in the moment while the future is beating down our door

Teenagers are hammered by questions about the future

Juried art shows aren't just political, they are intensely, fiercely political

The struggle to be real, not synthetic, not digital, not filtered, not fake, not obfuscated, not computer enhanced, not drug enhanced, not shouted down, not denied, not dismissed, not ignored, not lied to or not to lie, not misdirected, not sugar coated, not being blown off, not isolated, not asleep, not put to sleep, not on board, not rocking the boat, not squealing like a pig, not clinging to guns and religion, not being handled, not being bullied, not losing your head, not flipping out, not getting too comfortable, not looking the other way, not bought, not trying to be too secure, not part of the team, not part of the mob, not part of the ruling class, not a victim.

What is an artist to do? To show their work? Suck up to one or other establishment, the commercial art world, the academic art world, the museum art world? To all or none? To be real?

Addison Parks, Spring Hill, 2013

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