Friday, June 13, 2014

Under the Gowanus and Changing with de Kooning

A particularly successful composition masquerading as a 9x12 oil painting of an automobile under the Gowanus Expressway somewhere around 24th Street.  Though I am now working on a South End painting, I feel compelled to return to Brooklyn, since there is no place like it that I know. I will be alternating with the emphasis on Brooklyn.

The following is a succinct quote from the Shiff book on de Kooning, a book you must read if you have any inclination towards de Kooning as a painter:

"'You have to change to stay the same.' Although de Kooning maintained variants of this thought throughout his life ('I like the type more than the original.'), it is as good a candidate for his final thought as any.  We associate the statement with his last decade of his productivity, the 1980s; this is when he repeated it with the greatest frequency.  Such a thought possesses ultimate openness along with its course-of-life finality: you change, but you always remain your same self, you, a person, this person (not some other), who changes.  Was this a painter's 'bright idea', or was it a bit of absurdity de Kooning knew he could throw back at interviewers who had foolish, pretentious notions about his work? His line may be a corruption of the adage, 'The more things change, the more they stay the same.'  De Kooning was known for malapropisms as well as witticisms, and often the difference was indiscernable.  Perhaps he meant to repeat the cliche, but it emerged garbled.  The spontaneous result seems to have amused him,  and presumably others as well; so the expression remained with him, imprinted (a cause of his reputation for repeating himself with uncanny precision).  De Kooning's aberrant phrasing has no fixed origin, existing only in its frequent reiterations.   His version of adage seems to call for some kind of action, rather than resignation with respect to the perpetual state of things.  He rarely left things as they were, even when complete.  His reluctance to finish led him to technical extremes as he attempted to keep his paint wet for revision (to 'do the same thing over and over').  He preserved records of his process so he could move backward as well as forward.  He merely wanted to move, to change.  His exhibited paintings have an unfinished look but lack a typical rhetoric of the 'unfinished' (such as artfully distributing drips and rhythmically spaced bare spots).  Such a rhetoric. were it present, would convert a lack of finish into an end--this was an irony in which de Kooning took no part.  It might be accurate to say that rather than finish works, he discontinued them for the sake of other works.  This was his 'I just stop'.  As long as he was alive and painting he would avoid stasis.  Keep moving, keep changing, stay alive."

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