Sometimes the revival of the self or of a painting that’s not working requires destruction. In painting and in life we have to destroy the surface to allow the real to show through. At many points in life, the shame was too much to bear and we covered the real with an acceptable image. We think this image is who we are. We sometimes have to obliterate the image and come forward again, stripped.
For me, in painting, rendering images naturalistically masks my imperfection. To the extent that I can do it I can claim a level of mastery. And I can’t do it very well. If I could, I might never get free, because mastery itself is a compelling master. I want to kill my master and master the art of honesty. I want to be a slave to the real. When I paint a figure it shows that I can do it but it doesn’t show what I am. It takes skill to hide what we are. It takes courage to show what we are.
I was struggling with my painting after the old master, Titian, admiring his skill while feeling inconsequential and bad at painting. I was also struggling with myself, feeling weak, sick and sad—like a homesick child. I reacted to this vulnerability in my painting by refining the images over and over all day, covering my fear and shame.
I remembered being at summer camp and hiding my homesickness, putting on an act of good cheer. This betrayal of myself was commemorated by a fake leather amulet given to me by counselors for being a “good citizen.”
This time I refused the control of the show, and made myself transparent to the people around me.
Then, back in the studio, when I approached the closed up painting, I was able to destroy the controlled surface. I scribbled out the carefully painted figures with black and gold and outlined the images over the scribbles. I want myself and my paintings to be seen through. This porousness in life and in art is what makes the real visible.