Sunday, February 20, 2011

I wish I could be neat.

I always say that I could be messy doing origami.

And it's true -- I could. Honestly, I could make a mess out of anything. Go on, try me!

I guess that's why I'm totally fascinated with the medium of print, specifically etching. The fact that to be a "good" print, it has to look spotless, smudgeless, precisely aligned, precisely inked and that with tools and various chemical components you might control the mess, making lines thicker in certain places with acid rather than with your clumsy, disgraceful, ink-covered hands.

To print an etching, you must wipe the oil-based ink off of the smooth metal surface, so that it only stays where you want it to (in the lines which are incised within the plate). This was where a few truly skilled printmakers had (have) me really jealous. These were the select, anointed few who could kind of "keep tidy," somehow, really miraculously, fully wiping their plates with perhaps the slightest little smudge on their lower palm, which they'd nonchalantly brush off on their aprons. I would stare lustfully at them as they whisked their spotless prints through the press, peeling them off with clean, dry hands. Complain maybe about a lack of thickness in this line, too much pressure on the press, or not enough blue mixed in here, not enough green there.

Across the room, mouth agape, I was a hot mess. The de-inking process was might have in my case been called a me-inking process (ha-ha), and when I was working there almost every night, I'd often trudge out of the print studio, without knowing that I'd ruined (yet another) pair of half-decent pants, and that I looked like the Bearded Woman, just getting off of her shift at the sideshow, hair-afrizz, and ready for her night cap.

And, sigh! I ruined so many prints with a fat black thumbprint here, or an ink blotch where it shouldn't have ever appeared, so than finding ways to "curate," (or de-thumb-print-ify) an otherwise perfect print became a mild-to-moderate obsession of mine (which, like most of my most unhealthy preoccupations, I primarily attribute to my Catholic upbringing, in this case, I'm specifically referring to the notion that the sinner can always find redemption -- out damned spot!).

Even then, when I had no thumb prints, and a perfect print, I'd inevitably tear the print slightly off-kilter when I went to re-size it, or find some other new and shockingly stupid way to ruin hours and hours of hard work.

And yet, I kept going, kept hacking at it, kept being too messy for the task, being clumsy, royally fucking up again and again. Because, occasionally, when the stars were aligned I somehow would manage to bring forth into the world a beautiful, perfect, good, clean print. And I was enamored of it because I thought that I had actually produced something that in many ways was better than I could ever see myself being. A good, clean print. When this occurred, the sensation was electric. I felt wonderful, powerful, and yet humbled, knowing that I could never quite measure up to what I'd just made.

And so now, thinking on it as I write this entry, most of my work now is aesthetically speaking a bit cold, a bit controlled, incredibly exacting, precise. The fact that I'm so drawn to this aesthetic kind of frightens me, and yet I'm drawn to it like a moth to a flame. And I suppose this is the case because I must be trying to compensate for some huge disappointment in myself, in my life -- a lack of tidiness in my own comport.

Because no matter how hard I try, I inevitably just lose track of the laundry, of that email, of my coffee mugs or used saucers. Trip over my high heels and bruise my shin or get a splinter, or or twist something or other. I lose my house keys. I get too drunk (steal sherry!). Or I smile too much, or too little. I blindly tumble into this situation or that one, because my the Ouija board of my curiosity won't let up. I do the wrong thing, show up at the wrong time. Or I say the wrong thing. Hurt feelings. Lie. Say too much; or not enough. Fall in with the wrong crowd. Fall in and out of love with the wrong people.

And there's no protecting myself from it because I'm a bit of a will o' the wisp:

I just landed here, here is agreeable? Here is my new here. Here I am!

All of this said, and returning back to talking about my artwork now; I don't think I'd be able to make my work if it was just the infatuation factor at stake. My art does have a good deal of the untidy me in it, too. And this is the part that goes beyond the fascination, really infatuation with what I can't be. This is the part that is really the essence of why I keep creating -- in a way it's me speaking things that I can't always understand right away. Things that I need to say, but don't always know how to iterate. (It's like how your mind speaks to you in a dream, and although you forget the details the same instant that your eyelids pull themselves apart in the morning, you're still left with a strong feeling that you can't quite explain, and you're waking up differently because of it. That's kind of what I feel when I feel compelled to make something.)

Most of my work, though ultimately presented in a sort of sleek way, was born out of a mistake of some kind, but one that strikes me so that I have no choice but to keep it. And part of the real, deep-set joy I find in creating is that I can actually make my mistakes into something that has some beauty.

I've tumbled in and out of a lot of seemingly sticky situations in my limited time on this earth, each one seeming like the worst possible in all of human experience. How in GOD's name am I EVER going to clean this mess up?!! And yet, the weird world rolls on. I keep breathing. And blindly tumbling along. And with time, ohh time, I learn that much of the beauty I see is because of some happy accidents, because serendipity and experience and intention and knowledge are all, for lack of better analogies, little hippie bedfellows. Mistakes help me to grow, and learn, and make cooler things, find better situations, and introduce newer aspects to my existence that my mind is incapable of conceiving without them. Because, while my mind has limits, my ability to get messy is truly infinite!

Boy, at times I really wish I could be neat. With my artwork, it would really be wonderful to be like Brancusi: smart, sexy and concise. In my life, I sometimes wish I could be like Ann Elliot in Persuasion, who knows just what to say, when to stay in, when to hold back. And shit seems to really work out for her...

[As a hefty aside: In reality, though, I could never be like them. And I don't really want to, either. I'd rather throw myself in the general direction of Amadeo Modigliani, who said as Picasso was buying his paintings to use them as canvas for his work, "Fuck your cubism, I'm making nudes with hairy armpits and haunting eyes," painting image after image of Jeanne Heberterne, because she was the wrong one (too young, too vulnerable), and he allowed himself to love her (albeit in an abusive, volatile way...) more than he loved cubism. Or, sigh! I could (and do!) happily fling myself in the fantastic wake of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, whose messy candy wrappers, sheer blue curtains and unmade beds photographs on billboards spoke of his love for his partner, who was dying of AIDS, the same disease that would eventually take his own life. The work of both of these men, when witnessing it for the first time, brought me to tears. Let me be Agnes Varda, or Diane Arbus, or R. Crumb, or Vincent van Gogh! I'll take Delacroix's Paganini over Ingres' any day.

All of these people kind of walked to the uneven, messy beat of their own drums. And by comparison, they make my life look tidy as all hell. Shit was really, really messy for them! And look how cool they were! They help me along ... ]

But I can only be me, feel what I feel, and say what I need to say, even if it's not always what people care to hear, or should hear for that matter. And I have to follow my heart to whatever strange and mysterious and unspeakable paths it leads me. Indeed, glorified mistakes are, despite my best efforts otherwise, my ultimate medium -- in my thoughts, actions, and profession. Indeed, in finding and creating messiness I am the truest virtuoso.

So -- ok. One more situation to add to the list. One more day introducing a million new moments and experiences and sensations that turn my world in that moment totally on its head. Why try to stave them off?

Let's get messy. I'm ready for the next one! Bring it on.

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