The Harpies and the Suicides

The Harpies and the Suicides
Paintings — ‘Ugly Feelings’InstallationAboutSketches


Ugly Feelings

What is the right surface to paint on when you want to be rigorous about emotion? In between your passages of color and ink, are you aware that feelings are mixed, sometimes ugly, and the difference between real and false feeling hard to discern? Where did you go to get those feelings and having come from that place, what do you see when you look back at it? Or maybe you never look back.

Are they the ancient stories underneath your marks and drips of paint? Or whose violence, whose beauty, whose myths are you reading? What kind of story do you want to live in? What is the right surface on which to tell that story? Do you ever touch paintings? And if you do, do you do it gently?

What does it mean to remember an artist, now dead, standing by a pool in the summer a few years ago, looking down at the curls of afternoon light on the water? What does it mean to be an artist from start to finish? What does it mean to be thrashed by that water?


Installation views:

“Daniel Brewbaker” in Painting As Is at Fosdick Nelson Gallery and “Magnolia & 26th” and “Pulaski Street” in Notebook on Cities at Rodriguez Gallery


About

The death of a composer I met at an artist residency a few years ago prompted me to look at William Blake’s “The Wood of Self-Murderers: The Harpies and the Suicides.” Blake depicts the seventh circle of Dante’s Inferno: figures writhe within their new form as trees. The composer’s death was not a suicide, but Blake’s painting gave me a starting point to reflect on grief. My sketches of self-portraits as trees, and larger Suicide Tree paintings, took shape at the same artist residency where I met the composer a few years earlier.

These paintings are grouped with canvases of large fragmented color wheels that share similarities in form. Their starburst shape recalls the outward reaching branches of the Tree paintings. The burnt oranges, reds, and browns of those paintings are repeated, and matched with blues and purples. Their jagged wings make me think of the harpies that visit the suicide trees.

The color wheel form has been a way for me to think and ‘write’ with color. Here, they write about grief. These canvases are tethered to a place or experience (“Gowanus,” “Magnolia & 26th”) evoked by screen-printed text. Each is a place, as Alice Munro says, “where something happened.”


Sketches