The woodcut show at Vanderbilt closes that day as well.
The rain worked on my mental health. We have a hefty chimney repair bill to pay. Feel free to buy some art and help cushion the blow of that setback. It also appears that I need to get a door reframed and better configured to battle the rain. Prior to the recession, I always knew when something was going to go wrong with our house- I would sell some work. There were about 10 years of fist bumps for selling work immediately followed by either my wife or myself telling the other one, “I think you need to look at something that is happening in this room.” The repair bill and the gallery check usually matched up. Post-recession is a lot different. There is no longer that kind of balance. Some artists rebounded from 2008. Some did not. Some bands like the Pixies break up and come back a decade later for a victory lap that was bigger than the first time around. Others come back to find that no one really missed them that much.
The wind and the rain had me defeated by Thursday, and that was even before the real trouble began. I felt like the nuns in Black Narcissus, slowly descending into madness and making ridiculous decisions. Why plant vegetables? Let us plant acres of flowers! I stopped reading and barely got any work finished. I watched all of the Jaws movies. All. Of. Them.
I set a lot of work aside in the studio and went back into the 20x7’ piece. In a lot of ways, I am deliberately making a mess, so I have something to react to. It is a foolish endeavor. All of it. Why am I making this thing? For my own satisfaction, I guess. Note to self: find a 20’ long wall in your house for a future installation. So far, I am taking all the scrap material I have lying around and collaging it onto the surface. Killing two birds. Old ink drawings, scraps of prints, notecards, grocery lists. It is all going up. The test will be trying to remain patient and not skipping steps. There is no deadline so the only reason to rush is impatience.
Those Black Narcissus moments of the week gave me time to take stock of my work. I did not realize that was what was happening, but it ended up being a good thing. At the time it felt like a desperate waste of brain power, but in retrospect, I gained some clarity. I had a discussion with another painter one time and, given the “lower middle class” level of the art market that we both work in, my friend said in some sort of Nashville version of Mo’ Better Blues, “We know what people want. They want soft landscapes and floral pieces. Why can’t you and I just give them what they want?” We can count red dots. Why is this so hard for us? My brain should have a steady loop of the Marsellus Wallace and Butch Coolidge to keep me humbled:
All that said, I cannot make muted landscapes and floral arrangements. I was not put on this earth for that. I am just going to make work of heads and trees. Not together. You know what I mean. It will have the same conceptual rigor behind them that they usually have but I feel no need to broadcast that motivation anymore. Do you need to know that every tree is a crucifixion? No. I do. You do not.
Mark Hollis died this week. Talk Talk was one of those bands that you knew as a kid in the United States because of “It’s My Life”, “Talk Talk” and “Life’s What You Make It”. Despite feeling “tapped in” as a junior high and high school student, the albums, Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock, got by me. It is not difficult to understand why a kid in Hendersonville in the late 80s did not know about either one. I guess in 1988 I would have been into Motown, U2 and Guns-N-Roses and in 1991 I would have been into R.E.M., The Pixies, and The Velvet Underground. That stuff was sold at Camelot. I do not know if Talk Talk got to Camelot. Those albums would not have had enough “rock” energy in them for a kid like me anyway. I could have used Spirit of Eden in college, but no one told me anything about it. In fact, I did not know about these albums until sometime in the past two years. I found them on a list of things you are supposed to hear before you die or something. And really if the last thing I hear before I die is the sound of my family’s voices and the Spirit of Eden, then that is going be to just fine with me. There is something about that album that feels like it has always been with you as soon as you hear it. The only other time I have felt that way is the first time I heard Talking Heads’ “Naïve Melody (This Must Be the Place)”.
As most things do, Talk Talk showed up at a time when I would have most benefited from it. Listen to their career in chronological order and you hear a band go from being accommodating and playing nice with the industry to slowly growing in maturity of their chosen art form and also confident to go their own way. Something you imagine Radiohead looking at and saying, “Let’s just do this.” Talk Talk did not make music that was “not nice”. It is not like they turned in a Metal Machine Music. Their last two albums just do not have hits. They are jazz-influenced ambient meditations. They are not difficult. They just did not want to be New Romantics. No more synth pop hits after a certain point. By the end of Hollis’ career with his solo album, there is no “synth”, period. As he and Talk Talk progressed, the sound grew in its use of acoustic instruments, easing into a timeless sound.
And with that solo album, Hollis did something that few artists have the discipline to do- he walked away. By all accounts, he retired. Who knows, maybe there is a vault of albums to be released. But he was quoted as saying (according to Brooklyn Vegan), “I choose for my family. Maybe others are capable of doing it, but I can’t go on tour and be a good dad at the same time.”
You want to be brave with your work and ignore all contemporary trends and conventional standards. Sometimes you need a guy like Hollis to look towards and realize that it is possible. And you also need to be reminded that you can chuck it all for something humbler, yet greater at the end of the day and be satisfied.
Lyric for the week:
Inside Looking Out - Mark Hollis
Feel my skin, Lord
Feel my luck tumbling down
Left no life, no more
Turn my seasons turn
Lived in much younger times
Left no life, no more
For me to shine
Quote for the week:
“If you’re a Christian, do you ever wonder if you’re going to die a Christian?”
Jeff Wilkins, from the sermon “Life in the Valley between the First and Second Coming”
The Book of Matthew