Art Lies, Volume 47, Summer 2005 Page: 37
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Years ago, broke and desperate, I painted a friend's portrait; it looked
like an Alex Katz, and that is why I am not a figurative painter. I want
you to understand that my distaste is based on real life and not a prej-
udice against certain individuals. As a youth I drew lots of cartoons,
but these were amusements; with an expanding knowledge of paint-
ing and its history, the nature of my practice grew more "painterly,"
not just in its physical manifestation but also in the awareness of self.
In terms of their availability, I want to make paintings that are a part
of tradition and are truly timeless. My work has had a fairly constant
focus for more than thirty years, so much so that I often feel like an
alien: a painter from another planet.
Most bothersome of all is the careless use of the term "mono-
chrome." Monochrome painting is the focus of my life-the area of
painting that most interests me. But today, anything that is one color
is called "monochrome" and typically referred to as "monochrome
painting." As such, monochrome has become a kind of decora-
tive motif, more closely related to Faberge Eggs than paintings by
Reinhardt or Robert Ryman. They are machined, sprayed, sanded
and polished to perfection, to the point that-in one instance I heard
about-a collector could admire her own reflection on the surface
of the work. We Modernists still prefer our reflections to take place
behind the eye, not in front of it.
Another irritant is the confusion of painting with collage, in
which painted marks and gestures are perfectly arranged and glued
onto the ground. A writer friend told me, "What does it matter as
long as they achieve the same results?" I'm sorry (not), but no risk,
no painting. However handsome these objects may be, they are not
paintings. Painter pals tell me not to think about these issues. They
say, "Smart people get it; dumb people don't." The problem is, the
language of the latter has become the dominant language of the
dialogue. Dumb rules.
I currently teach in the graduate program at the Art Center
College of Art and Design in Pasadena, where I am constantly
encouraging a "professional economy" in studio practice. I hate
seeing young painters labor for months on a painting. Get bigger
brushes, I tell them. A professional knows how to get a maximum
return on minimum effort.
I enjoy taking grad students out on the town to look and visit.
Last fall we met Chas Garabedian at L.A. Louver to see his huge
new work. To have Chas chat with us and the class ask him about
his practice is as good as it gets. Chas is now eighty and is my favor-
ite figurative painter. It's shocking that he's not a huge star. A great
thing about painting is that one can be so good at one's practice
so late in life. All my students were in awe of The Spring for Which
I Longed. (It's not often one sees a canvas measuring thirteen by
We then visited Ed Moses' studio. At seventy-nine, Moses is
banging out the best work of his life. In fact, he has a whole new
body of work every other month. Elements get added as other ele-
ments are retired, like steppingstones through his practice. The
class shared dialogue and laughs with this irascible old master. They
loved it. That was a great day of looking and learning.
Recently I took students from my graduate painting workshop gal-
lery hopping, and the paintings that still hang in my mind are Pia Fries'
works at Christopher Grimes Gallery and Kaye Donachie's paintings at
Peres Projects. Fries' paintings are a celebration of the potential of paint
without a point. Sure, there are references to still life, landscape and
even lacelike stencils, but the overall impression remains abstract; no
single reference is leaned on too heavily. Maybe there is some code or
meaning that eluded me, but the sheer visual joy derived from standing
in front of these intriguing works seems more than sufficient reward for
any effort made. They enriched my day and elevated my spirit. (I have
always wondered about work that wants to move the viewer toward a
more perfect world; I'm sorry, but it always seems to be preaching to the
choir. It's not that I am in any way opposed to social protest or progress,
but the street seems more appropriate than the gallery. I can be found
at the barricades with Mario Savio, Caesar Chavez and the Catholic
The Donachie paintings at Peres Projects were small, perhaps
20-x-30 inches, and were very loosely worked, yet they looked finished.
There was a nonchalance and grace in the handling of the paint that
was totally sufficient. Knowing that they were based on news photos
of the Manson Family in no way added to my appreciation of the work.
A. P wire photos are such a wonderfully rich source of visual material,
readymade and overflowing with pathos and psychological content, that
I have encouraged students who seem without direction to look at them
I read that hundreds of new words are added to the English language
each year. I guess my desires run toward a more specific dialogue and
language for painting. I have always thought Rauschenberg's "combine"
was the perfect word to describe his amazing early efforts; that the term
has not found wider usage seems odd. No one would think of calling
a Richard Serra work a statue. But to hear a Robert Ryman referred to
as a "picture" is appalling. Some years ago I visited his studio where
I saw these gorgeous, painterly white squares on blue Plexiglas. Their
right sides painted Day-Glo pink, they were attached to the wall with
hex bolts through four-inch square steel washers at each corner. They
seemed incredibly sculptural, and I asked him why he hung them in this
manner. "They don't hang pictures that way, do they?" he responded.
At the time, I assumed he too was sick of his paintings being called
pictures, but now I think it was a clue that they were not paintings. It's
not just that their emphasis on conjunction seems so sculptural, but that
pink edge, which insists on two vantage points and a synthesis of per-
ceptions, gives the impression of a minimal sculpture. Ryman's show
at Dia Art Foundation in 1988 was about conjunction-sculptural-
while his 1993 show at MoMA was more about painting. In my prac-
tice, I adhere to the idea that all intellectual and physical effort should
be focused on the frontal plane, maintaining painting's potential for
"immediacy." Installation art is widely practiced, but installation work
was largely forced on critics (and the public) by artists clearly beyond
the scope of sculpture. Wall-hung art clearly needs a new genre; "two-
dimensional" conceptual objects are not paintings. I am not setting up
any sort of hierarchy here, but it would simply be appropriate--and
proper--to have a system of language that acknowledges the paradigm
and practice that are the focus of my life. I make my living with hairy
sticks and colored grease, and I want some respect for my people and
ARTL!ES Summer 2005 37
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Bryant, John & Gupta, Anjali. Art Lies, Volume 47, Summer 2005, periodical, 2005; Houston, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth228012/m1/39/: accessed December 14, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; .