the moonlight, the rush of rain in the gutters packed
with dead leaves: go to sleep, go to sleep.
And the night passes—and never passes—
An extraordinary painter in poet mode.
I paint because I am a woman.
(It’s a logical necessity.)
If painting is female and insanity is a female malady, then all women painters are mad and all male painters are women.
I paint because I am an artificial blonde woman.
(Brunettes have no excuse.)
If all good painting is about colour then bad painting is about having the wrong colour. But bad things can be good excuses. As Sharon Stone said: ‘Being blonde is a great excuse. When you’re having a bad day you can say, I can’t help it, I’m just feeling blonde today.’
I paint because I am a country girl.
(Clever, talented big-city girls don’t paint.)
I grew up on a wine farm in southern Africa. When I was a child I drew bikini girls for male guests on the back of their cigarette packs. Now I am a mother and I live in another place that reminds me a lot of a farm – Amsterdam. (It’s a good place for painters.) Come to think about it, I’m still busy with those types of images and imagination.
I paint because I am a religious woman.
(I believe in eternity.)
Painting doesn’t freeze time. It circulates and recycles time like a wheel that turns. Those who were first might be last. Painting is a very slow art. It doesn’t travel with the speed of light.
That’s why dead painters shine so bright.
It’s ok to be the second sex.
It’s ok to be second best.
Painting is not a progressive activity.
I paint because I am an old-fashioned woman.
(I believe in witchcraft.)
I don’t have Freudian hang-ups. A brush does not remind me of a phallic symbol.
If anything, the domestic aspect of a painter’s studio (being ‘locked up’ in a room) reminds me a bit of a housewife with her broom. If you’re a witch you still know how to use it. Otherwise it’s obvious that you’ll prefer the vacuum cleaner.
I paint because I am a dirty woman.
(Painting is messy business.)
It cannot ever be a pure conceptual medium, The more ‘conceptual’ or cleaner the art, the more the head can be separated from the body, and the more labour can be done by others. Painting is the only manual labour I do.
I paint because I like to be bought and sold.
Painting is about the human touch. It is about the skin of a surface. A painting is not a postcard. The content of a painting cannot be separated from the feel of its surface. Therefore, in spite of everything, Cezanne is more than vegetation and Picasso more than an anus and Matisse is not a pimp.
©Painting at the Edge of The World, Walker Art Center, 2001
I often write about ekphrasis— most simply, one work of art describing another, as in a poem about a painting. (Keats’s Ode on a Grecian Urn is a famous example). I am interested, more broadly, in the way (aesthetic, poetic, artistic) philosophies appear almost verbatim in strikingly different artists or thinkers, and in how philosophies of art, and artworks themselves, mutually inform and transform each other.
Today, reading Glissant writing on Lam, I came across this, as Glissant considers the technical history of European painting: “la perspective est un progrès à la fois technique et spirituel” (“perspective is both a technical and a spiritual progression”). It reminded me of something I hadn’t considered in a long time, but which I internalized so profoundly that it resurfaced effortlessly: Balanchine’s assertion that “dance is not a physical, but a moral undertaking.”
I love the way everyone struggles, elides, alludes to the same questions…
Lovely discovery today— a translation of Bonnefoy by Richard Pevear (before the great and deserved fame of Pevear & Volokhonsky, whose Anna Karenina is astoundingly good).
A faithful, challenging, daring translation. It is so interesting to see him work not from Russian, not in prose…
(From Poems: 1959-1975, Yves Bonnefoy, Richard Pevear, Trans. New York: Random House, 1985)