Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Text of Letter Accompanying "Julianna" Painting 2009

Dear T.,

An old tradition in artist's letters is the description of the painting to those who buy significant works. This is an email, which seems wrong. Ah well.

This particular work was begun in the late summer of 2005 and finished early this year. The model was a very striking, 20 year old , 5' 10" gothy girl named Julianna who was planning to go to college for art, given to artfully torn clothing; like a lot of women with this style, she'd had some rough family history but a good high school education on the Olympic Peninsula. As ever, a punk rockish style thrives in the smaller towns and burbs among the alienated - Julianna was captivated by Victorian dreams and darkly toned independent rock music. Answering an ad on Craig's list , she was new to art modeling; she was poised, bright, and a little coltish.

(Admittedly that's the opening paragraph to a bad novel. )

As I think of her now, the painting was begun in my studio with her standing and posing towards the window on an unusual day where the sun penetrated to the blank wall in the window in the building, creating strong yellowish light in the upper right hand corner and backlighting her, with violet shadows in the room and a very warm cast on her normally pale and clear skin. She was quick -witted, curious and funny, with a playful self-consciousness about her style, but without much shyness Physically, she was tall, and trim and imposing, but very feminine in her frame, not over exercised or tanned or even tattooed, which is almost unusual for a girl like this now; and she was given to dark eyeliner, which taste aside, does indeed make light eyes haunting. The eyes are somewhat obscured in a lot of these pieces because they can easily over-dominate a composition.

She worked at the outdoor crepe cafe under the Washington State and Convention Center, where, visiting her once at her invitation (she made a great crepe- which I still remember, like one does when handed delicious food by a beautiful woman, belgian ham, fresh herbs and grueyre) I noticed at least four 20ish guys clearly coming there to talk to her, hanging out on any available pretense, because, presumably, they all really appreciated a good crepe.

We had about four or five sessions for this piece. Like a lot of women models, her first thoughts in a pose were of photographic style poses- artificial, sudden stillness. These I mostly ignored, waiting for more natural movement, slow walks, natural stillness, falling asleep on the couch. Drawing and painting is the act of becoming aware of what you see, of intently feeding the visual memory. In these series of works, I'm feeding a specific moment, somewhat charged, into a memory to chase in paint, sometimes, like this piece, over the course of years. You would not recognize her in any normal way from seeing the piece, but in spite of feeding its studied abstractions spinning off the act of seeing her into my memory of this moment, this painting could only be Julianna. If she stood in front of it again, you would absolutely know it was her- in the piece you can find a very particular form in her nose and mouth that permits recognition, but the piece is far more about what you might call her visual broadcast over time, the way a woman in motion warps the space around her in the mind of a man seeing her.

There are three basic poses that settled out from the sessions embodied in the work- only two of which are clearly visible, in the middle and on the right. Unlike some others, this painting was a particularly difficult struggle because I had not develop the techniques for finishing it when I began it - the difficulty comes because the type of marking shapes I make- somewhat Arshille Gorky-like , figurative in nature, only partly fit what I was seeing, and ultimately proved tricky to integrate with the light, shadow that was also spinning through the space of the painting (which is my studio at 1148 NW Leary in Ballard, #22). It took well over two hundred hours to complete, with approximately 6 posing hours. Like a novel, it takes great time and reflection to begin to understand a moment.

She posed a bit more than I could pay her for, and she thanked me for kindness at a tough moment. This is painting is the record of that time. Julianna, the last I know, moved to Arizona in early 2006.