Black bean burger colloquy

Natalie Frank, Portrait of S at Fredericks & Freiser

I got home yesterday from a busy four days in New York City. I rode my R1150R down and back, and took it over the upper level of the George Washington into the city almost every day I was there. Though it was very hot most of the time, for the most part, it was bliss, not only the ride down through the Catskills but also the feeling of being able to weave and carve an original path along any Manhattan street clogged with cars. There is no such thing as a parking problem for a motorcycle in New York City. You just back the bike between two parking spaces, or at the front of a row of them, and you’re good to go. (I did bolt a lock to the brake disk.) I learned a lot on this trip, not only about riding a thousand miles on two wheels in four days, but also about a couple artists I thought I already knew fairly well and a slew of others I didn’t know at all. I also learned some basic rules about hanging a good show from Chrissie Iles, a young curator from the Whitney Museum of American Art with a British accent I loved, who showed up on Sunday—just back from Spain—to direct us in our attempt to properly exhibit the summer show she’d jured for us at Viridian Artists.

More on that show in another post, but the most fun I had on my visit was a day I spent with John Lloyd, a Brooklyn artist who joined me for a tour through various Chelsea galleries. Our conversation about art is something I want to share, mostly because it’s what I enjoy most about visiting the city. All the talk. The conversations about art and life. He’s fun to be with, because his knowledge ranges over a number of disciplines, and he touched on only a couple. John and I were comparing work histories and we followed similar paths, in terms of our art. In college, we both came to the conclusion that we needed to do something other than make art to pay bills, and I didn’t want to teach. Mostly, I wanted to paint without anyone else meddling with my head. I wanted to do what came naturally to me, not mold myself into a “career” based on what work was being done successfully at the time. John said, “I never did the bohemian thing the way our friend Lauren is doing it. I wanted an income so I learned computers and went to work at the stock exchange.” That’s more or less what I did as well: I worked two years as a staff associate for the United Way, as a way of making rent money, and then went back to grad school for an English degree, but again decided I didn’t want to teach in departments where people had to name-check Derrida while doing some savage deconstruction of Little Women or The Great Gatsby. So I got a second master’s in communications and became a reporter. I kept painting, and now it’s finally becoming more central to who I am. I do not miss the bohemian stage of being poor and struggling at all. When I’ve stayed with younger friends in Brooklyn, sleeping on an air mattress, it isn’t for the romance of faux poverty: it’s a free way to stage my visits into Manhattan, that’s all. I’m not trying to live out my twenties again in some way I missed in the past. If I had friends in a $3 million house in Brooklyn who would offer me a room for $100 a month I’d send a check for rent immediately. All Brooklyn signifies to me is proximity to Manhattan and the exhibits and people I’d like to meet–and if that means sleeping on the floor with mice running around, that’s fine because I’m not picky about comfort. It isn’t about getting off the straight and narrow path.  It’s about finding an affordable way to have access to Oz on a regular basis.

John and his wife, Jane Talcott, like me, have refocused their efforts on painting during periods of unemployment in the recent past and have kept it up with wonderful results in the quality of the work. Income is another matter for all of us. So I feel as if I have a lot in common with both of them. John and I had our best exchange after our little Chelsea tour was done, during a quick dinner of black bean burgers at New York Burger on 10th Ave., before we made our way to Brooklyn for a cocktail party at the home of a curator from The Queens Museum of Art. We’d been through many galleries that afternoon, during only a couple hours, and we’d seen one place that had marked down every piece in the gallery for a summer sale, and these were by name artists: Ruscha, Rockburne, Hockney, Kelly. As we headed back onto the street, John startled me by saying, “I gave a class once on geometry and painting, and Dorothea Rockburne showed up to listen. Afterward she was saying everybody has a different sense of space. Pollock has his sense of space. Another artist has another. Somebody like Morandi, his is something like a candy wrapper. Just a little shifting of movement is interesting, where someone else might want to see enormous vistas. . . Cezanne would shift the sense of space by moving an apple.”

Dave: We saw two shows today that used black Kongs as an element in the installation. The dog chew toy? Did you notice that? Two different galleries, two different artists.

John: That’s pretty hilarious . . .

D: Bizarre. I remember that toy, we had a Westie for years and he had a little red Kong.

J: I used to keep a coincidence journal.

D: If you start looking for them, they happen all the time. I gave up thinking it means something a while back. Unless there’s a Kong art movement going on. Our friend Lauren is always reading Jerry Saltz and she was saying last night that he’s been calling everything Post-Art now. It’s an old concept, though. Arthur Danto talked about how the history of art ended in the Sixties.

J: You ever read The Painted Word?

D: Yes. I like that book. It’s a little limited. I like Abstract Expressionism. It doesn’t matter that they needed Greenberg to prop up the work.

J: You know the poet Robert Bly? He said the ABEX appeared on the scene after there had been a solid century of really serious art being done in this country . . .

D: Yeah, they took away the American momentum. . . we had our own American art until they took European art and imported it.

J: Right. Until Pollock and the rest showed up and became the superstars, you had all these people who struggled and made slow progress.

D: The Ash Can School. Bellows. Burchfield.

J: Burchfield, yeah. They made slow progress and it fed into this bank of energy that all these artists had been pouring into their work and basically Pollock and the abstract painters it’s as if they were spending out of this full bank account of energy. They basically robbed it and didn’t put anything back in. When they first appeared they were as awesome as the Hudson River painters. It seemed to make sense and yet there was nowhere for the next group to go except Pop Art and all the rest. . .

D: It was a reaction to Abstract Expressionism and that’s where it ended because it allowed anything to be art. Pop Art made anything legitimate. Anything could be a work of art. There was nowhere else to go.

J: There were people like Thiebaud who could be a Pop Art person but he’s had a long, extended career.

D: I just did a post recently about Fritz Scholder that my friend Donna Rose sent me. He said that Thiebaud never considered himself a Pop Artist. He was infatuated with Monet and he loved a painting Monet had done of food on a table. I don’t think of Thiebaud as a Pop artist at all. What he’s done is what painters need to do now: make it your own. There’s nothing to advance anymore. Be who you are.

J: Thiebaud knew it was about paint.

D: Yep. Thiebaud said he wanted to feel as if he were putting icing on a cake when he was applying paint to a canvas.

J: I think he said he makes twenty bad paintings for one good one. Yet he goes for that effect that looks spontaneous . . .

D: I’ve always wondered if Matisse did that.

J: Did you see that movie of him? He’d paint and then wipe it out. He had this rag soaked in linseed oil. He’d do a painting, like, thirty or forty times and finally he’s got one he likes.

D: I’ve been reading Vasari. I got into it because it’s seen that he’d adopted the concept of sprezzatura, which is the appearance of effortlessness, despite all this work behind it. It’s Matisse, Fairfield Porter, Manet—

J: That’s a great idea.

D: I want to pursue that. It’s a superficial, cosmetic quality almost, the way he describes it, but I think it ought to be a much deeper principle of art. You do what feels most natural. That’s what you need to get to, instead of coming up with a justification for doing what you do. It’s Taoist.

J: You probably read Robert Hughes. The Shock of the New. He’s hilarious. He was an Australian who rode a motorcycle and showed up on SoHo in the 70s. He’s turned into a cranky old fuck.

D: Because he hates everything that’s being done?

J: Sort of.

D: I feel a little of that.

J: Me too.

D: I don’t think it all sucks. I saw stuff today I liked.

J: I liked that thing Sam Messer did. He is a smart fucker.

D: Do you know him?

J: No, he’s my age, and I’ve been seeing his shows since the 80s and I always say, damn I wish I’d done that. He always gets better and better. There’s something prickly about him. He doesn’t really let you enjoy yourself too much.

D: That is what’s so wrong with so much art. It’s what Dave Hickey called out. Art has to seduce you first. You can have all the nasty meaning you want built into it, but you need to want to look at it. Some of the stuff in that show I enjoyed looking at. It wasn’t beautiful, but I enjoyed it.

J: It looks like a lot of self-indulgent art school stuff you see. It’s funny. What he did looked like a couple other shows, like the woman with the bedroom scenes at Freight + Volume, but he did it better. That sort of twisted Christmas scene painting with the toys and jet airplane, that would have been any show in the east Village in the 80s.

D: You’ve been a New Yorker for decades. You’ve been here.

J: Yeah.

D: I’ve been coming down here for just as many years, but for a long time I was always looking for what I already knew in the museums and galleries.

J: I went to art school in Boston and that’s where I saw Messer. I usually don’t remember artists. But he just, there was something to what he was doing that kind of, that spoke to what I was trying to figure out at the time. I personally wouldn’t go the route he did. I’m more connected to that French outlook on art: it’s sexy, it’s delicious, it’s pleasure. He’s much more a Gerrman expressionist.

D: With a sense of humor, apparently.

J: It’s interesting to see someone so successful at a young age. He isn’t a name brand like the other guys.

D: From the 80s?

J: Yeah, a Haring or those other guys. David Salle. They went to art school in the 70s and made it by the time they hit thirty.

D: I have conversations with A.P. Gorney in Buffalo. He laments art school, the professionalization of art.

J: It’s a challenge. If you went to grad school now. If you went to one of these schools in New York City. Pratt. School of Visual Arts, there will be all these galleries snooping around seeing if they can turn you into the next star. There was nothing like that going on when I was in school. I had to figure out how to make a living. What were you like in your twenties?

D: I’ve been painting since my teens, and I avoided art school. I didn’t want to be molded. I did what you’ve done out of school. I went to grad school for English. Made money as a writer, still make money as a writer. In my twenties, I didn’t want to be the bohemian. I never would have occurred to me to go to Brooklyn.

J: It’s a very homey place.

D: I agree, it’s a great place.

J: We didn’t have social media back then either. In my twenties, I was trying to figure out how to make a living. I had a little taste of art school and thought how can I pay the bills. I got computer training for six months and I walked into the stock exchange and from four to midnight I ran these machines and it paid for anything I wanted to study. I missed being in my twenties and being bohemian.

D: I’m not sure we missed too much.

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