Monthly Archives: July 2013

Day by Day in the Studio 8: July 30

July 30, 1982

Mira Schor, The Bay at 7:30PM July 30, 1982. Dry pigment, pastel, medium on rice paper, 21 x 29 1/2 in.

The Bay at 7:30 PM was included in a small show I had of Provincetown drawings from 1982-83 at artSTRAND Gallery in Provincetown in 2007. I wrote some notes on each one when I saw them on the wall:

The Bay at 7:30 PM represents a moment of perfect pleasure and balance: the perfect swim, the swimmer caught in the tremulous moment of perfection — the water is smooth, clean, reflecting pink light from the sunset. It was inspired by the beauty of a particular minute of a particular day at the end of July 1982, looking at the bay, one of those days that are a gift.

Even in 1982 this would not have been the way I would have framed an artist’s statement on this work. At that time I was relieved to feel part of a tradition of American art, that of abstracted mystical landscape, and that would have been part of a statement. But in describing it when I saw it framed and on a gallery wall for the first time in many years, I focused on the sensual response to a moment of great beauty in nature and the joy of capturing such a moment of suspension of light in time.

July 30, 2012

Mira Schor, Who is Me?, July 30, 2012. Sketchbook drawing.

I return to the sketch from earlier in the summer which I discussed a few days ago, in terms of its temporal aspects.

Mira Schor, The Work Has to Be…, July 26, 2013. Ink, rabbit skin glue on gesso on linen,12 x 16 in.

To say that the work has to be an expression of who I am, at any minute, is to point to a very subjective criterion and would indicate a very subjective art practice. That was something that was frowned upon in certain influential circles in the art world from the 80s onward, in the years of the “death of the author,” although it could be argued that any work, even the most deliberately distanced and impersonal, in fact perhaps especially work for whom claims of rigorous objectivity are made, is still an expression of who the artist is at that minute. Subjectivity and objectivity are not really in the artist’s conscious control and, if I’m talking about “authenticity,” it may not even be something that one recognizes immediately so my directive to myself is another one of those vague tricks to get working or it is the direction someone gives saying “go there” while waving generally at the horizon.

The struggle implicit in the last paragraph is part of who I am right this minute. When I did The Bay at 7:30PM in 1982, I was just poised, though I did not yet know it, to begin an immersion in a specific type of critical discourse. In the next year I began to research my essay, “Appropriated Sexuality,” on the depiction of women in the work of David Salle, and in the process, of necessity, I began a process of reeducation in postmodern theory and aesthetics, and I found myself engaged in debates between the activist approach to feminism I had been engaged in during the 70s and the psychoanalytic, textual approach that marked the 80s. “Theory” proved to be a lifesaver, not just because it was necessary to have some fluency in it to survive in the artworld during that period and if you wanted to write about the art of the time, but a lifesaver because it took me out of “myself,” at a point in my life when that was needed, and forced me to struggle with concepts in a way that provided clarity and objectivity to the place I stood in the field of contemporary art practice.

In the late ’90s, the grip of theoretical discourse began to loosen, at least in terms of art practice, pushed by a move back to the, less theorized, body and a move forward to eye candy and spectacle. But, despite this slackening of a certain kind of critical rigor, “Theory” still holds pride of place in some parts of the art academy. And it remains as important to individual artists who still stand to gain much of value for their work and their breath as artists by gaining access to a larger discourse that takes them out of themselves, especially at a time when a lot of young artists have learned to commodify themselves by some kind of Homeric identifier: I do this work because…fill in the identity. But too much of a good thing becomes an orthodoxy that offers safe pathways to professional currency but may foreclose on so many of the possibilities offered by art history and contemporary visual culture.

Mira Schor, Who is Me? July 30, 2012. Ink and gesso on tracing paper, 18 x 30 in.

The unreliability of the identity we decide to propose as our own was brought into sudden sharp focus for me many years ago. Not that I thought of it when I did this drawing, Who Is Me?, last year on July 30, (and not that I remember what exactly brought me to put those words into a drawing) but, when I was in my early 20s, I used to see a very old, very wise, half-paralyzed Russian/Viennese psychoanalyst. I said at one point something about being myself, hoping to really be myself. “Oh yes,” she said pleasantly, “who is that?” BOOM, explosions in the mind!!!

The conflict I have indicated between work that remains responsible to/restricted by critical/theoretical concerns and work that would be free to engage with visual pleasure in a less mediated way is itself an unreliable portrait of “myself.” I can’t possibly separate the intellectual from the visual. Even when I stick my nose in the earth, I’m doing it because I’m inspired by a text I’m reading (see my discussion of Silvia Federici’s book Caliban and the Witch in my previous post).

Mira Schor, Fallow Field Series: Deep Communication with the Earth, July 30, 2012. Ink and gouache on tracing paper
14 x 18 in.

July 30, 2013

Nevertheless, “during theory,”  I purposefully policed my use of painting “effects”–bits of virtuosity, swirls of paint, rich color just for the sake of it as opposed to being part of a conceptual program. Yet I was doing exactly what I thought was right for the work, and my stern editing of such effects was and I think it still is part of a search for formal clarity and at the same time I couldn’t help myself from putting paint on in ways that gave me visual and material pleasure.

Today was as perfect a day as July 30, 1982. But the visual particulars of the place itself, Provincetown, is not the object matter of the work today. The “place” in the painting is based on the real but it is transformed into a situation, a shallow proscenium in which to diagram thought and the impact of theoretical concerns on visual practice. This is a work in process in the studio:

Mira Schor, Visual Pleasure/Theory/Productive Anonymity, July 30, 2013. Ink, oil on gesso on linen, 18 x 30 in. Work in process

Reminder: I will return to posting on art, culture, and politics soon enough but I hope my subscribers and readers will allow me a slight summer detour, a project of posting works done on specific summer days from different years, begun July 13.

 

 

 

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Day by Day in the Studio, 7: July 25

Earlier this summer, I sketched this imperative for my work:

A page or two later, I did a bit of copy-editing:

For some reason there seemed to be an important difference between at this minute, and right this minute, with right this minute seeming more idiomatic and more like an order than a temporal indicator. But whether at or right, having written /sketched this out only makes it ever more apparent just how hard it is to do, how seldom work arrives in and of the moment, this minute and not the last or the next.

Every artist works within a number of contexts and territories, so that “this minute” is also the cultural moment, a network of discourses, histories, and ideologies that are always at stake, and even when an artist is not directly engaged in appropriation and sampling, much work done today has an appropriative dimension, even contemporary abstract expressionism comes out of an appropriative mindset and even historical abstract expressionism was always a negotiated ballet between the canvas as an arena for action and actions that were considered, deliberately explored.

Every work of mine is at the very least related to all the ones that came before, particularly within a time frame or series, and simple methods of mechanical reproduction such as stencils and tracing are part of the process. I scan quick notebook sketches like the one above and have printouts scattered around my studio as references, including the pages reproduced above, so “right this minute” is relative.

A case in point: today’s post is about work done on July 25, yesterday’s date. In all, a figure is off of the vertical, either asleep, floating, adrift, or forcibly expropriated from a space of relative safety.

July 25, 1979

Another in the series of Figures I did in 1979, in which abstracted figures, somewhat like buildings and sails, were often in a kind of classical stasis. I don’t remember what I was thinking when I did these, though I think they were indirectly about my entry in to the New York art world as an adult.

July 25, 1984

Another in the series of large gouaches on rice paper done in 1984, this was a very meticulously detailed painting of seaweed attached to the basic figurative shape I was working with at the time, shifting gently in the bay at low tide.

Mira Schor, Drift, July 25, 1984. Gouache, dry pigment, medium on rice paper. 72 x 36 in.

July 25, 2012

Mira Schor, The Bland Face of Expropriation, July 25, 2012. Oil on linen, 18 x 30 in.

This painting, The Bland Face of Expropriation, done July 25, 2012, is based on this drawing done July 22, 2012:

Mira Schor, The Bland Face of Expropriation, July 22, 2012. Ink and gesso on tracing paper, c. 18 x 30 in.

Right this minute a year ago, I was furious about something. Fury can be energizing. The conduit between internalized corrosion by fury at injustice within to artwork that felt connected to much larger forces than the individual, was the book I was reading at the time, Silvia Federici‘s brilliant Caliban and the Witch: Women, The Body and Primitive Accumulation:

The book evolved from studies of “the history of capitalism and class struggle from a feminist viewpoint,” begun by Federici and others in the early 1970s. Federici examines the transition from late feudalism to early capitalism and the regime of “primitive accumulation.” It’s hard to do justice to the book without quoting the whole thing, but it’s a gripping, vivid tale, about how the tradition of the commons and other folk experience-based crafts and practices that had developed in the medieval period were forcibly, often violently eliminated and suppressed as part of the development of early capitalism which necessitated the expropriation of peasants from commons lands, and the violent expropriation of women from any role of equal participation in production of their own culture, in order to make them available to the devalued task of reproductive labor of the proletariat. She introduces her premise for the book as follows:

I. The expropriation of European workers from their means of subsistence, and the enslavement of Native Americans and Africans to the mines and plantations of the “New World,” were not the only means by which a world proletariat was formed and “accumulated.”

II. This process required the transformation of the body into a work-machine, and the subjugation of women to the reproduction of the work-force. Most of all, it required the destruction of the power of women which, in Europe as in America, was achieved through the extermination of the “witches.”

III. Primitive accumulation, then, was not simply an accumulation and concentration of exploitable workers and capital. It was also an accumulation of differences and divisions within the working class, whereby hierarchies built upon gender, as well as “race” and age, became constitutive of class rule and the formation of the modern proletariat.

Caliban and the Witch was one of a number of books I sought out last summer, to help me understand the socio-economic situation we’re in, of austerity, income inequality, and the death of the social contract that existed at least as an ideal up until the end of the 1970s. I also read Maria Mies’s Patriarchy & Accumulation on a World Scale, and Zygmunt Bauman’s Liquid Modernity but Caliban was the most interesting and also the most current, because I read Federici’s examination of the systematic “war on women” over three centuries to control female power against the background of last summer’s vivid demonstrations of the current war on women–last summer, if you recall, being the summer of “legitimate rape” and other appalling instances of misogyny and magical thinking about female anatomy.

Federici’s description of some medieval agricultural practices first made me look at the grass upon which my little avatar of self figure lay as the borderline between life above ground and the earth below as a generative field, so I placed my figure in the earth below the grass as a line of demarcation. But reading about the horrific suppression of women particularly during the period of the Witch-hunts (not as long ago as you may think–not some dark long ago of the “Middle Ages,” but from the mid-15th century through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries), my recent personal experience of expropriation clicked with a larger history and around the word expropriation, and I plunged my avatar into the earth, head first, not of her own volition, Expropriation surrounds us, whether it’s corporate downsizing, unemployment, climate-caused displacement, or expropriation of bodies of knowledge that are deemed obsolete but these days the methods of expropriation are usually as violent as burning at the stake, they come with a happy face.

July 25, 2013

This year the process of expropriation seems to be in a kind of stasis or impasse, of topsy-turvy which remains unresolved or, simply, dual. In the studio yesterday, the 25th, “this minute” as of yesterday, below or above, depending on how you hang the painting, an Arcadian mid-summer moment in which time and matter slow enough to be studied at leisure, and above or below depending how you hang the painting, another avatar of self, shrouded to near invisibility for self-protection, in a temporary and barren shelter, with only the guidance of a map, which offers no directional guidance, simply the idea of a map or of mapping, right this minute:

 

 

 

 

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Day by Day in the Studio 6: July 21

July 21 is mid-summer, already tumbling toward fall, winter, and another year. The goal of the day is immersion in the world of the work, to find the sharp edge between intentionality and experimentation, to know the premise then give the work the lead.

July 21, 1974

Mira Schor, Black Flower, July 21, 1974. Gouache on paper c. 8 x 6 in

July 21-24, 1979

Mira Schor, Figures (#33 front and back), July 21-24, 1979. Pastel, dry pigment, medium on paper bought in a stationery store in Chinatown, New York City, c. 10 x 22 in

July 21, 2003

Mira Schor, “Drawing” (front and back), July 21, 2003. Ink and gesso on tracing paper, 18 x 24 in.

July 21, 2013

The goal is productive anonymity.

Mira Schor, Productive Anonymity, July 21, 2013. Ink, oil on gesso on linen, 18 x 30 in.

 

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Day by Day in the Studio 5: July 17

It is too hot to write much today, but day by day practice in the studio continued/continues.

July 17, 1976

Mira Schor, Fan, Dream (front), July 17, 1976. Ink, dry pigment, Japan Gold Size on rice paper, c. 8 1/2 x 11 in.

Mira Schor, Fan, Dream (back), July 17, 1976. Fragments that are legible to me: “July 17, 1976. I feel better. A Dream: A man…..he felt it….the human race. Explosion of lightning–the only one–woke me up. A hard rain followed. It was terrifying and easily the most exciting event of the summer.”

One’s dreams are not that interesting but that single bolt of lightning out of nowhere which was experienced as explosive sound not light followed by intensely heavy straight down rain really happened early one morning, maybe that morning in 1976, striking the top peak of the roof of the building in Provincetown on the beach very nearby, of the restaurant then called Pucci’s. It remains a vivid memory.

Summer 2002

The summer of 2002 I painted language, words that represented what I did: painting, drawing, writing. I don’t know the exact day these works were done so I’m cheating, again, but let’s say it was sometime in July and I feel I need to include these today.

Mira Schor, Painting, 2002. Ink and Rabbit skin glued over gesso on linen, 24 x 28 in.

Mira Schor, Drawing, 2002. Ink, Rabbit skin glue on gesso on linen, 24 x 28 in.

Mira Schor, Writing, 2002. Oil on linen, 24 x 28 in.

July 17, 2009

Mira Schor, sketchbook, July 17, 2009.

July 17, 2013

Today I lie down to take a mid-afternoon nap in the downstairs bedroom that was my mother’s, where it is slightly cooler. Even here away from the city the heat is something that must be dealt with every minute and the past few days I’ve been getting up much earlier than usual to take advantage of the early cool and calm. This would be enough to make a nap a reasonable activity. But beneath seaside bliss is the stress of having to produce work not only because you want to and this is finally the longed for time to do it but for a show. It is a strange thing to work for a show. Many artists do it, in fact you can only hope that’s part of why you are doing it, but the result of that external pressure may also be part of why so many shows are filled with what my mother contemptuously referred to as “merchandise.” The more I have to simply turn out an adequate number of Mira Schors, whatever that means, the less I feel involved in the sense of an internal search that can sometimes be excruciating but has its own time and its own rewards.

The idea of just painting a “Mira Schor” is an inside joke for me. Each summer battling the sense that I am not working, that I can’t find my work, I try various tricks. I call them tricks, they could be described as mantras or passwords: this all started with a summer in my mid-20s, the decade when I was year by year setting in place elements of all the work I have done since—language as image, figuration and autobiography, narrative and narrativity, nature as an unlikely source for images of text and body, the critique of painting as a source for painting. That summer, after days of despair (that is, the period between June 20 and July 4), I said to myself, Oh just paint a Mira Schor. Now, understand, this was totally absurd, more so then when I was setting in place the elements of my work even than now when maybe I can claim that there is something called a Mira Schor. A Mira Schor, what the hell was that? But, amazingly, it worked, I started to work.

It was just an abstract permission, a release, it just meant, just do something, do something you did before, do anything. The distinction between two paintings may be negligible to anyone else, but I need to feel an engagement that refreshes the familiar. The room is the same, the door is the same, the lock is the same but a new key is required.

I lie down, I close my eyes, and my nap turns out to truly be a power nap because within a minute of lying down, perhaps from the implicit permission to self to not have to do anything for a minute, I suddenly have a vivid vision of something I might do in trying to situate a figure in relation to ground. I get up, grab a notebook and scribble a rough sketch.

After lying down again, the idea begins to seem more difficult to work out. I look at a work I did on July 10, 1983, hung on the robin’s egg blue wall. Something is there about how to depict ground with very little figure.

Mira Schor, First Swim (to the breakwater), July 10, 1983. Pastel, dry pigment, medium on rice paper, 24 x 25 in.

This work was included in a small show of Provincetown drawings from 1982-82 at artSTRAND Gallery in Provincetown in 2007. I wrote some notes on each one when I saw them on the wall.

First Swim (to the breakwater) gives me great pleasure to look at. There is a lightness to this piece that I am particularly struck by. In general, these drawings don’t seem dated to me although I did them 24 years ago, but the sheer frothy radiant joy of this work marks it as belonging to a different time in my life: I knew less and thought I was more depressed and uncertain, but I was young and engaged with nature and with my art in a particularly unguarded way that I am not sure I could replicate now. A spidery white figure reaches for the rock of the breakwater. The rock is the only heavily pigmented element in the work, a burnt sienna dry pigment monument in a shimmering field of reflections of light green, grey, white, sienna waves and lines that go in all directions. There is a grey patch on the horizon, it is the water but it looks like land because like all the horizon lines in these pieces, it is curved like a grey gentle mound. There is a little bit of blue in the sky. If you didn’t know this represented a swimmer in water, it might seem particularly mysterious: a figure reaches for a phallic stele, a rock, an obelisk in a field of unstable matter. Because some of the reflections are lines of algae, they are green so it could be a field of grass. A friend asked if this work had religious content: perhaps yes, swimming in the bay is one of my religions and the swim to the rock is a daily quest, but it is towards a goal that is, for once, attainable.

 

 

 

 

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Day by Day in the Studio 4: July 16

July 16, 1974

After I had lived at my loft on Lispenard Street for about 15 years I finally unpacked the last two boxes I had brought with me when I moved back to New York from Halifax, Nova Scotia where I had been teaching at NSCAD. I needed the room in my closet and I couldn’t remember what was in the boxes. Whatever it was, clearly I hadn’t missed it. Inside one box was a wrapped package and inside that package was an album of page size (about 12 x 9 inches) gouache paintings on paper, combining images of birds and flowers taken from bird books and flower catalogues annotated with poetic language, by which I think I mean, a few words, personal but not specific enough to be political. The ubiquity of this type of imagery as a trope is one that I have written about in my essay “Trite Tropes, Clichés, and the Persistence of Styles,” where I admit my own early contributions to the genre. This was the work to which I devoted my first winter out of graduate school and I had completely forgotten its existence. Lesson #1: we are increasingly so concerned with producing a recognizable, stable, packaged product by the last semester of graduate school that the model of search as part of artistic development seems ridiculous, impractical, dangerous even. But people are still people and what an artist deeply cares about and may devote a year of life to may end up being not that important, may end up not amounting to much, although what can seem a failure at one moment at a different time can appear important.

At the end of my first year out of graduate school my favorite teacher, Stephan Von Huene, had come to New York and visited my studio. He had been extremely supportive of my work in graduate school while encouraging experimentation and the embrace of accident. Now he was clearly upset with the direction I had taken, he felt I had gone off track. Thinking back on it today I think he felt I had lost some of the charm of a personal and feminist narrative and gotten mired down in a gloomy subject statically presented. The strange thing is that I almost immediately forgot what exactly he had said to me, partly because as he spoke I was already converting his comments into a plan to change my work based on my interpretation of what he had said, and, Lesson #2, that pretty much describes the imperfect art of teaching, where as long as some transaction occurs that moves the game forward it doesn’t really matter if you understand each other exactly.

In the weeks after his visit I decided to bring into my work the image of the empty dress. My reasoning as far as I can recall was very simple: I had always been interested in clothing, I had a few beautiful books on the history of costume, which due to the fortuitous importance of painting and drawing as the only means of recording visual appearances for centuries meant that I was looking at dresses and costume in great paintings from art history which was one among many factors and influences that kept me looking at painting when I was in my early teens even when I thought I was doing something else. I learned through imitation of New York Times fashion illustrations how to draw quick fashion sketches in pen and ink which kept me drawing, and I had come out the other end of my teens doing gently satirical, autobiographical small gouaches in which female figures were often elegantly dressed in a 1920s style of clothing in a Rajput and Sassetta influenced, Hairy Who inspired style and scale with a feminist impulse which became more focused at CalArts. So I returned to the image of the dress, now empty of the extra narrative element of the figure, and quickly decided to tear away the ground–I’m pretty sure that had something to do with something Stephan said, maybe that I wasn’t doing much with the ground so I got rid of some of  it.

The dress is long since a trope of feminist-inspired art but at the time it was not that prevalent, and there was not so much of a leader/follower situation as that it was a moment when a range of subjects and materials from women’s daily lives and personal experience were newly available to women artists of a range of age and experience. That summer I worked on small paintings of empty dresses as representative of the curious phenomenon of femininity as a role that women put on and take off. Although elements of the earlier work have remained and recur in my work–landscape, figure, the book of pages, the use of language–at the time these empty dresses felt like the first work I did out of graduate school that I could call my own.

*I’m going to cheat a little here: this work led to Dress Books in 1977 where person-sized rice paper dress shapes had pages covered with language, so that a viewer could stand, gonad to gonad as it were, and try to read the figure of the woman:

Mira Schor, Dress Book (back), 1977. Ink, dry pigment, Japan Gold Size on rice paper, c. 63 x 24 in.

And the dresses from the summer of 1974 led also to works from the summer 1978, more abstracted, and also more decorative and flirtatious dresses:

July 16, 1984

Mira Schor, The Odd Pod, 1984. Gouache, dry pigment and medium on rice paper, 72 x 36 in.

In 1984 I worked on gouaches on very large sheets of rice paper: some were part of a series of calendar pieces for the momentous year 1984–here was the one made during July here in Provincetown,

Mira Schor, 1984 Calendar, July, 1984. Dry pigment, gouache, and medium on rice paper, 72 x 36 in.

Many of the figures were taken from forms that I was interested in, found in nature, forms which in themselves had a figurative, anthropomorphic element, primarily skate egg cases and milkweed pods. Odd Pod was a type of seaweed I found on the beach.

I had pushed the media I was working on, rice paper, dry pigment, gouache to the limits of their capabilities in terms of size. At this point I began to work in oil on canvas and linen. It was at this time also that I began to write about art and Susan Bee and I founded M/E/A/N/I/N/G, and in order to write about contemporary art, I also began an immersion in contemporary art and feminist theory and some of the critical disciplines which were of great importance to art discourse. I looked back on the works from the 70s and early ’80s, particularly these landscape-based works but also even the feminist works such as the Dress Books–though I stubbornly continue to feel these are epitomic seventies feminist artworks despite the fact that they have not as yet entered that closed history–as part of a dream world, one that the intellectual and aesthetic politics of the 1980s intentionally undermined, and, though I gained a great deal from the specific kind of coming to consciousness in my encounter with such texts during the contentious and bracing period of the ’80s, I also felt the loss of that dream world.

Reminder: I will return to posting on art, culture, and politics soon enough but I hope my subscribers and readers will allow me a slight summer detour, a project of posting works done on specific summer days from different years, begun July 13. Because the desire to do this arose on the spur of the moment, after I had left New York and most of the records of my work, I’m going by works that I have on my hard drive where the work’s date is specifically included in the file name, making this a fragmentary impression of the work, which for anyone interested in seeing more, is sketched out very schematically but with a more comprehensive and traditional chronology on my website and I may cheat later this winter and add more relevant works which have specific dates.


 

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