Monday, November 27, 2006

If You See Agnes Martin

Regarding Agnes Martin: If you see her, say hell0 (she might be in Tangiers). If she thinks that I've forgotten her, don't tell her it isn't so.

More importantly, don't tell her about this canvas:

Agnes Martin is, of course, that truly wonderful artist who's immaculately-arranged colored pencil lines on raw canvas make you think of either the ocean on a gray day or some alternative universe version of venetian blinds.

Which was one of the reasons why I enjoyed the Annie Liebovitz show--her portrait of Agnes sitting in front of a set of closed, over-exposed venetian blinds made me smile.

The idea here is to take another stab at Richard Grasso. One of the interesting aspects of "Big Dick I (Hundred Million)" is that I threw a lot of background color on the untreated canvas while it was wet--approximating the way watercolors flow on wet paper. And though I generally liked the effect, I was less pleased the loss of sharpness in some key areas when I tried to sharpen the line.

Because subsequent layers were put on while the canvas was dry, I could, by and large, achieve as much accuracy as my style typically allows. But I could never get away from the dramatic black lines that formed his eyes and nose. Those initial, defining lines went on while the canvas was wet, and they always seemed to me to be too gross, if that's the right word.

To some extent, the image reminds me of an illustration made with a fine-tip pen, but with the eyes done in magic marker. This is neither good nor bad; but rather just different from my typical effort. Softer, by a wide margin.

Me? I think "Big Dick I" came out pretty well. It makes me think of that line by Quint in Peter Benchley's "Jaws" when he described the dead black eyes of a shark rolling back into its head just before it bites you.

But, because I am (if for no other reason than the personal embarrassment it causes me) widely considered my generation's Warhol, then Grasso is certainly my Chairman Mao, and I've got to keep painting the bastard until I can't do it anymore. And no silkscreens allowed.

Which brings me back to my Agnes Martin canvas.

The idea here, as noted above, is not to cop poor Agnes' style, but rather to set the stage for an all-wet version, entitled, obviously, "Wet Grasso." Between us chickens, I'm glad the guy's name wasn't McGillicutty, as it would lend itself less felicitously to the easy pun.

Anyway, the thought is to exclusively throw the paint on the wet canvas and let the grid (which, under normal circumstances, would be obliterated) continue to inform the image all the way to the end. So I decided to use colored pencils.

There are two ways to "throw" the paint in this situation. First, and typically used as background, is to water the stuff down and pour it onto the canvas from a short distance away. This creates wide swatches of pastel-ly colors. There is always a moment when the just-poured paint sits on top of the canvas, having not yet sunk in (due either to surface tension or some chemical in the canvas itself) and can be manipulated, to a degree, with one's finger. This gives you a bit more authorship over an otherwise helter-skelter strategy and, must tell you, is good, clean fun.

Second, there are the streams and drips of thicker paint that come off my paint stick land on the canvas in the sharp lines you might typically see in my work. But a couple of seconds later, they too begin to bleed into the wet canvas and lose their sharpness. Grasso's eye-lines were done in this manner.

So rather than fight it, I'm joining it. "Come on in," they say. "The water's fine."

Thus "Wet Grasso."

p.s.--For those interested, the passage from "Jaws" (courtesy of Wikipedia) reads (with the really gruesome parts highlighted, as a public service) as follows:
Hooper: "You were on the Indianapolis?"
Brody: "What happened?"
Quint: "Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, chief. It was comin' back from the island of Tinian to Leyte. Just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in 12 minutes. Didn't see the first shark for about a half an hour. Tiger. Thirteen-footer. You know how you know that when you're in the water, Chief? You tell by lookin' from the dorsal to the tail. Well, what we didn't know 'cause our bomb mission had been so secret: No distress signal had been sent. Huh-huh. They didn't even list us overdue for a week. Very first light, chief, the sharks come cruisin'. So we formed ourselves into tight groups. You know it's...kinda like 'ol squares in a battle like a, you see on a calendar, like the Battle of Waterloo. And the idea was, the shark would go for nearest man and then we'd start poundin' and hollerin' and screamin' and sometimes the shark would go away. Sometimes he wouldn't go away. Sometimes that shark, he looks right into you. Right into your eyes. You know the thing about a shark, he's got...lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll's eyes. When he comes at ya, doesn't seem to be livin'. Until he bites ya. And those black eyes roll over white. And then, ah, then you hear that terrible high-pitch screamin' and the ocean turns red and in spite of all the poundin' and the hollerin' they all come in and rip you to pieces. Y'know by the end of that first dawn, we'd lost 100 men. I don't know how many sharks, maybe a thousand. I don't know how many men, they averaged six an hour. On Thursday mornin', chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player, bo'sun's mate. I thought he was asleep. Reached over to wake him up. Bobbed up and down in the water just like a kinda top. Up ended. Well...he'd been bitten in half below the waist. Noon the fifth day, Mr. Hooper, a Lockheed Ventura saw us, he swung in low and he saw us. He's a young pilot, a lot younger than Mr. Hooper. Anyway he saw us and come in low. And three hours later a big, fat PBY comes down and starts to pick us up. You know that was the time I was most frightened? Waitin' for my turn. I'll never put on a life jacket again. So, 1,100 men went in the water, 316 men come out, the sharks took the rest, June the 29, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb."
Me? I'm waiting for the PBY.


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