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Painting is a Brute Sport

by Judson Vereen about a month ago in art

Making work, jazz, etc.

Photo of the author, painting by Adolph Gottlieb, MOMA SF.

Painting is a brute sport. Painting is not for those who have to keep their hands and their mind clean. Painting is not for the scientific or the sharp. In fact, to paint, you will become momentarily dumber. Because in the act of painting there is a sense of loss. Something almost trance-like.

Perhaps a kind of vulnerability. A trance of being in charge, but out of control. "Letting" yourself become happy with just the simple movement of a viscous liquid being brushed over a flat material. That is the simple joy, the simple essence of painting. 

You may be painting a picture, or an object, or you may not -  it is of no concern for a painter. They are usually just happy to have a brush in their hand. They become like children - easily entertained. The artist's torment, I would say, comes from all that living outside of the studio.

That is why I say it isn't really anything intellectual at all. You can see very clearly when a painter has gone too far. When the hand has taken a backseat to the mind and the brain has taken over. "Intelligence" dominates and the hand then becomes invisible. 

My friend, an actor, told me once that if you get caught acting on stage, thinking instead of feeling, then you fail your audience and they will not believe a word you say. Painting is similar. If you get "caught" thinking, instead of moving, your picture becomes mud. Nobody will believe you and even you will catch yourself in an absurd lie.

It isn't something you need to think much about. Actually, you shouldn't think about it at all. It is really, more than anything, like a caveman shouting at the shadows of the wall, in a language wholly made up by himself. Whether or not anybody sees it is a concern that would form much later if it is ever a concern at all.

Contemporary painters, many of them, have been in and around the "art world" so long, from generations and generations, that they have actually exited out of the realm of true painting and thrust themselves into that industrial world of marketing, gimmickry, parlor tricks, magic acts, visual puns and so on. They do not concern themselves with their medium but betray it with "thinking". It is no surprise that when people look at art in the newest century, many of them are impatiently waiting for that "gotcha" moment where they may ask "How did he do that?" or "Where did that come from?".

Unless there is a magical kind of act, a huge "ta-da" moment, people find art to be pretentious, boring, academic and for nobody who has less than a million dollars in their pockets. The idea that the common "man" has different concerns from the "artist" is a commonly believed lie, although, when looking at the pretentious-ness, the price, the attitude, and the gaul of many of todays successful artists, it is easy to see why some people simply leave it alone.

I believe I make work much more like a jazz musician than an architect or magician. I do not know really where to begin. The canvas is stretched. The paint is never mixed or ready. Paintbrushes are laid out. The whole thing is ready -  but to begin is painful. It is much like the writer, who sits at the empty page "until the blood drops form on the forehead". It is a moment of fear, of even treachery, that moment when one decides to start "making" the thing. It is a moment of trepidation, but once it begins, I feel, that is kind of like a freefall. 

You must not care so much that you "respect" the thing you are trying to get out. I let my paintbrushes dry out, paint gets wasted. You must believe you have a plethora of instruments. That the materials are not scarce, even though, in many cases, they are. I feel that when getting started I must first, really, make a mess. I make mud. It is mud from the very beginning, but through the process, through the act of painting, I seem to paint myself "out"of the mud, through reduction, through the sacrifice of the image, through movement, through choice. 

It is an experiment in improvisation. You make a mark, you make mud. You reduce. You kill your darlings for the sake of the image. In any one of my paintings I find myself falling for a corner, a fragment, a "jewel" of a mistake. I will keep this "event", this corner, where the crimson meets the ochre, or the overlapping of a texture seems to tie everything together perfectly. I keep it as long as possible. As long as I truly can. But in creeps the suspicion that in order for the painting to move along you must rid yourself of this beautiful corner. 

Underneath every beautiful painting, there are hundreds of other paintings. There are images in every corner of practically any painting where those darlings have struggled, and then had to be put down. If a jazz pianist bangs at the keyboard he is "playing". He is simply letting his fingers fly, with perhaps some knowledge of where he wants to go, but not totally. You have to get lost.

What is more important is what he doesn't know. That is to say that when he is building a song, each note pushes the song further, interacts with the note before it, after it and so on... he will build a song in no time. But what is more than the song that is sounded out, is the event of the song. The actual pressing of the key, not the sound the key makes. There may be mistakes, in the academic sense, but when a jazz musician plays, like the kind of paintings I make, there are no mistakes per se. Simply choices that push forward the narrative of the composition, or detract from it. 

The image, in turn, will reveal itself. The image is built, upon layers, through work, not on design. This is not the only form of painting. It is not, perhaps, even the best form of painting, but it is, in my mind, the most pure, and is the most dedicated to the spirit of the human condition - constant improvisation.

"Brush in hand, canvas on wall, no need for plan, glass of wine tall".


This is an excerpt written in 2017 from one of my projects on the works, On Painting.


Judson Vereen

B. 1986. American artist and author “American Pleasure” “62 poems from Judson Vereen”


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