At present, I don't know what direction I want to go in nor do I know if I want to go in any other direction than where I was previously headed which was the exploration of portraiture for portraiture's sake. I love to paint portraits. I have read that we are only ever truly in our own heads when we are exercising or having sex but I contend that making art is another situation in which we can zone out the world and be completely in our own moment. When I am painting a portrait I love this feeling coupled with the company of the sitter and the challenge of making something that may or may not look like them—something not completely in my control. I love the start of a portrait sitting (the nerves, the smells, the setting up) and I love the end of it (the days of studying it as it dries, the cataloging of it in a journal, the final stacking of the canvas against the wall stacked with canvases).
Transart Institute and the pursuance of a Masters in Fine Arts dictates to me that I must stretch my practice. Put down the brush. "Make a video", I'm told, is the ongoing Transart joke.
I made a video. I hated it.
I created a project proposal that aimed at investigating the confessional aspect of the portrait sitting. In short, the proposal suggested I focus less on the portrait and more on looking at the insistent and unmitigated yap, yap, yap of the sitter and use the videotaped experience (rather than the painted product) as art. It feels contrived. Forced. Inorganic.
So I ran away from the stretchy-dictates and picked up a book on David Hockney. He is after all (according to Art News) the world's "priciest living artist". I was attracted to Hockney because I was well aware of his portrait work: double portraits in LA homes of friends, family, and colleagues.
I thought delving into Hockney's life and work and artistic philosophies would pillar my own insistence that portraiture, in and of itself, is fine to pursue alone without having to walk backwards in a park in Berlin, pile up furniture in a studio, or make a video narrated in a sultry, self-important voice.
I was wrong.
In David Hockney, written by art historian, Marco Livingston, Livingston reveals that Hockney's life, work, and philosophies actually reflect the dictates of Transart Institute.
In short, Hockney was an experimentalist who enjoyed hopping from one medium to the next and who reveled in failure as a pathway towards growth (Livingston 88). Hockney has, according to Livingston, "continued to this day to experiment with different styles and techniques in the full knowledge that many of the results will be unsatisfactory". Failure is a risk, Livingston continues, which Hockney is "prepared to accept if he is to extend his range"(105). Hockney used oil paint. He used watercolor. He used photographs. He used Xerox three color copiers and he used fax machines. He was a realist and then he was a cubist and then he was an impressionist and sometimes he was all three at once. "Style” according to the artist, “is something you can use, and you can be like a magpie, just taking what you want" (27).
Hockney was a mimic with early works clearly inspired (practically aped) by Francis Bacon, later works clearly inspired by Van Gogh and Matisse, and Picasso-esque works peppered his entire catalogue.
I had never heard of Hockney before Transart (he was suggested to me as an artist to look at upon my acceptance into the program). At the time of my acceptance, I looked half-heartedly at his portrait work and nothing else. Now, seeing the full scope of his work, I am inspired to be like Dave.
What does that mean?
I don't know.
So far, I momentarily dropped the brush and picked up a quill pen. With India ink on paper, I have drawn my fiancé, Chris, lying in bed much as Hockney drew his partner, Peter, in bed. With this outright direct mimicry I am attempting to work with Hockney's fascination of the line in this period of his 1960's line drawings where the "line itself becomes more beautiful as well as more economical in transmitting information"(Livingston 84).
I picked the brush back up recently to do a double portrait of myself and Chris. In this double portrait, my intention is to ape Hockney's use of flat, thin paint creating dimensions with a more limited pallet (I have noticed that one way he achieves an old-photograph-flatness with his paintings is to abstain from using white in his highlights). Additionally, by applying the paint thinly and smoothly the "image [becomes] more important than the paint" (Livingston). Both the line drawing and the double portrait are worked from photographs (much as Hockney did and much as I did not—always preferring a live sitting). Lastly, like Hockney, I am beginning to amalgamate the image by using different photographs. In the double portrait photograph, the pillow is not present (it is added from a separate photo) and the back wood panel wall is extended (two open closet doors are revealed in the photo).
In short, as far as portraits go, along with aping, use of color, a thinner application of paint, the use of multiple photograph sources and the occasional line-drawing to practice economy, Hockney is also directing me to where Transart wants me to go: experimentation, discomfort, and failure.
Beyond this I am thinking of the camera not so much as a different mode of creation but as a vehicle to further explore ways of seeing that will inform my painting in the way the Livingston tells of how Polaroids informed Hockney's use of color (71). Livingston claims that Hockney came to the conclusion that "the artist should fear nothing, that he should not worry even about imitating other artists or about producing work which seems old fashioned, for if he deals honestly with his own experience the work by definition will be of his own time" (224).
For now, it is serendipitous that I discovered that Hockney’s latest work was done with video. While I am planning to practice another couple of portraits using a Hockney palette and style, I have scheduled two sittings in December: both of which I will videotape and see if I can pick up the theme of confession, interaction, or use the video as another form of seeing that, in some way, informs the portrait.