Monday, August 17, 2009

Picking the Pieces

On a recent afternoon I had my head blown; wig flipped; script flipped by THIS Guston at the National Gallery. I don't know why I didn't think about his relationship to "image" before. His piling together of images/iconography makes it difficult, if not impossible, to stitch together a sure, coherent narrative that everyone can agree on. (didn't he say at some point that he wanted to undermine the " image" because we are image-ridden?)

I mention this because I am faced with this over and over; that I keep getting asked what my paintings mean. What's their story? And I give a very, personally, unsatisfactory answer about the content being in the assembly of the images. The "narrative" is in the presence of these painted parts appearing together. The Brueghel plowman appears with some "Christmas-y" trees, appears with a mugging because these things all exist at the same time in the world don't they? Why don't we ask, "World? What's the story?" Oh, wait... we do. Everyday, in some cases.

I am still a little insecure about the "content in the assembly" answer though. I am afraid that it might be a dodge. Like saying, "it is whatever you think it is." I hate that answer. Regardless of whether or not it's true.


Harvey Bayliss said...


I'm a friend of Jay's. I'm very interested in your thoughts about this Guston painting. I've been trying to figure out Guston's use of symbols and what they communicate in the painting. As well as the symbols piling ontop of each other, When Guston wrote about undermining the image, I wonder if all the symbols are masks covering up painting ideas that Guston was more interested in. When he said this, I thought Guston was undermining the image with paint, not necessarily with other images.

Thanks for you blogs, I really enjoy them and your work as well.


Matthew said...

I think that Guston's symbols are revealing painting ideas. I think what we see in his paintings is his imagination spilling out; including life experiences (there are definitely biographical moments) as well as experiences looking at art. There is plenty of precedent for piling up stuff in paintings: Duccio, Piero, Analytic Cubism... all of which reveal painting ideas in the way that items are reconciled to one another. I think of people like "salon" painters as the cover-up artists.

I was reading Guston's "image" quote through my own paintings and struggle with others' desire for linear narrative. I don't think Guston is as premeditated as to say, " I am painting this to undo that.(idea)" I think he was exploring painting and imagination through the matter of his life. Or vice versa.

tim said...

My appreciation for Guston was heaviest when I was only painting abstractions, and this probably tinted my thoughts. But I understood the quote about images in relation to ideas about representation and ideas about honesty, and in relation to guston's rejection of abstraction later in life. That we are flooded in images and that they have to be dealt with, but also that all images suggest some type of deception or inadequacy (and thus there is a sort of exhaustion over having to paint them). Much like Guston's Klan figures whose image exists to deceive or conceal.

Had no idea that painting was at the NGA, i'll have to go see it!

Matthew said...

I think that that particular Guston is on extended loan.

I seem to remember another legendary Guston line that went, “I got sick and tired of all that Purity! I wanted to tell stories.” This kind of gets to the issue of honesty, I think.