art institute of chicago



           I spent most of last week working on the large piece that occupies all of my available wall space. After five days, I achieved what I think is the base layer for this piece.


             To celebrate, I immediately covered it up with dropcloths and I am not going to think about it for a while. A number of precedents run through my mind when I am working on it, particularly the bathers painting of Matisse’s that the Art Institute of Chicago owns.

Henri Matisse: Bathers by a River, oil on canvas, 1909/1910, 1913, 1917

Henri Matisse: Bathers by a River, oil on canvas, 1909/1910, 1913, 1917

There is a great book (catalog?) built around that painting called Matisse: Radical Reinvention 1913-1917 by Stephanie D’Alessandro and John Elderfield that uses it and a few other pieces as a way to map out Matisse’s reworking of paintings and return to themes and compositions. (Get a used copy). It is encouraging to see someone like Matisse pick at a piece like that, off and on, for 7 years. Not to say that he could not scale up quickly. The Dance and Music pieces are probably not the result of someone that lost sleep trying to make them. That is not a criticism. They are paintings that look like Beatles records: never stale. Forever youthful. More than anything, I like that Matisse took a rejected painting from what was a simplified body of work and used it as a laboratory for new ideas in a period of his career filled with experimentation. And then, in the way that only Matisse and handful of others can manage, one day, he just decided it was finished. There is little about it that feels more resolved than it might have looked a month before he called it. He could have said it was finished a year prior or he could have worked on it another 10 years.

            Anyway, I am taking a break from the big work. When I figure out another way to play around with it, I will remove the dropcloths and dive back in.

            Instead of the behemoth, I have started collaging heads again. Both of these projects gave me the opportunity to think with my hands in a way that traditional drawing and painting do not. It is more interesting, less repetitive and calculating. I push pieces around, cut them, add, remove, etc. I can cycle through a lot of ideas quickly and not waste anything. Hopefully the heads will lead to new paintings or constructions of some sort. After I glued 20 years of scrap drawings onto the large piece, I started looking around to see what else was piling up in the studio that could be repurposed. I have a lot of scrap wood that could be used for future projects- reliefs or sculptures.

            Spring may have arrived in Middle Tennessee which means I have returned to my daily walks. I stuck with the previously-discussed Rhythm of the Saints pacing for a bit but that gave way to Steve Reich today. That sentence makes me wonder if Paul Simon and Reich ever hung out. It seems like too natural of a fit to have never happened. If “You Can Call Me Al” can come from Paul being at a dinner with Pierre Boulez, then I would hope that Paul and Steve have had some talks over the years. 

            I am about halfway through the audiobook for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which I realized I had read or listened to about 1/3 of it a long time ago but never finished it.  

            Netflix has a documentary about Arshile Gorky streaming right now. It is a tough watch.


Currently reading:

In Xanadu- William Dalrymple

St. Augustine: City of God

The Book of Mark