It is too hot to write much today, but day by day practice in the studio continued/continues.
July 17, 1976
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.
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.
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.
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.