A couple weeks back a new colleague at the Banana Factory came to town to hang out with a couple friends and me at a local bar. It had taken a long time for us to come together since he splits his time between Philly and New York, so this meeting felt like a fortunate occasion. The artist, Al Johnson, is an abstract painter primarily, like myself – recent history excepted – and it was a pleasure to see just how ubiquitous our experiences were, not least because we’re both black and for the most part abstract artists. The technical and philosophical difficulties of working in this artistic genera are compounded by simultaneously navigating certain unavoidable racial and class dynamics making being an abstract artist particularly challenging for people of color such as myself and I sense Al as well. Al nevertheless impressed me with his laser-like focus on his career and his philosophical dedication to his craft, which made me feel like we were cut from the same cloth.
Placing dots and wondering why I do this.
In our back and forth subsequently, we’ve been talking – more like bemoaning – the state of abstract and really I think conceptual artwork. Scenes like what occurred with Maurizio Cattelan’s “Comedian” piece in Art Basil Miami, last December has highlighted some of the silliness that takes place in the high-end art market and exposed the serious and thoughtful work that abstract and conceptual artists do to unwanted scrutiny. I’ve always thought it was a special kind of person who could imagine and then create a hermetic universe which is totally unlike the world we live in. Of course, since I’m partial to that kind of conceptualization I don’t have a hard time dwelling in abstraction, but I often wonder why it’s so difficult for others to create or enjoy a purely non-representational world. For me it’s often a welcomed relief from the ordinary. But given how assiduously we crave comfort and the familiar I guess it shouldn’t be such a surprise.
Maurizio Cattelan’s Comedian
I’ve been looking at the photographs of the Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto particularly his Seascape series from the 1980’s. I find the photos of the Sea of Japan especially stirring. They remind me of when I was in grad school at Michigan and I did a semester abroad in Japan to finish out my degree. While there my cohort traveled to a local spit-of-beach on Japan’s Sea Day, which was a national holiday there. We swam and relaxed like any tourist would and – thinking myself a good swimmer – I decided to swim out to a rock outcropping near the shore where a smaller group of us were diving and carrying-on. I managed, with some struggle, to swim out to the rock, but had to be rescued by our program coordinator- a handsome statuesque Australian – or else I would have surely drowned. While being rescued I remember looking back on the horizon and not being able to tell where the water ended and the sky began, the water was that blue. It was probably my most cathartic brush with death, and impactful because I realized how insignificant I was in the cosmic scheme of things.
Here are 4 cropped Hiroshi Sugimoto photos I plan to use as inspiration for future work
I’m a very lonely and relentlessly melancholy person, almost comically artistic. From central casting when it comes to thinking of the artists’ temperament. My eyes often glaze over to form some hazy diffuse barely perceptible horizon like in these photos where I teleport to my little world where I can create great art, and escape my sadness and generalized ennui. When we were talking about what it is we do creatively Al wisely said in a text message,” We use a suggestive method by implying that all is relative simply because…. ” I like this idea because it suggests abstraction acts like an emotional and spiritual transmutation from an oppressive orthodoxy and suggests that there is a kind of power or agency in thinking and creating this way. For a person who often wonders about their significance, this brings me some comfort, that I can be a transporter.
I always liked Jill Scott’s second studio album “Beautiful Human: Words and Sounds Volume 2”. Two songs that have been on my mind a lot have been “Talk to Me” and “Can’t Explain”. That last one I’ve been thinking of a lot because I think karma has been hitting me hard over the last decade and that song reminds me why. Anyway here are the Youtube videos of those songs
I’m still in the middle of my Venus painting. I think I can finish it probably next week sometime. I’ll then turn to my Mercury painting. But I’m most excited about reliving that experience in the Sea of Japan so I think I’m going to do an emergency 4 set of pieces based on it. There’s still that Gnostic Confessions on my mind too, which I’m still scared of. Hopefully that fear will lift and I’ll address those works shortly. Until next I write, be well!