This is a two part post, for information on the show that this piece is headed to, click here.
As I am finishing up the third piece in this series, I’m settling into a good rhythm. The paintings are starting to happen pretty easily, and (I think) they are looking really good. The latest piece is being send out to a great show, and I even have something scheduled that will allow me to hang a larger group of them together (more on that soon). There is really just one problem. I have not figured out a graceful way to explain exactly what it is I have been working on. And that really is a big problem.
People are always curious about artists, and what exactly it is that they do all day. So once you admit to being an artist, you tend to get a lot of questions. They generally start out tentatively, there are a lot of wingnuts out there claiming to be artists, after all. They will ask what your real job is, or maybe they will wonder who exactly would buy an art in this day and age. But once they have felt out the situation a bit, they will almost certainly ask; what kind of art do you make?
When I am faced with this question, I generally respond by glancing towards the ground, and mumbling something about portraits. If it is not already obvious to everyone reading this, that is the wrong answer.
I am not sure how aware the models are of this, but each one of these paintings really is a collaborative effort. The women that are helping with these paintings are setting off without any real direction from me. They have their own ideas about what this kind of sexy image looks like. They are not necessarily professional models, they are not people who are used to making a public display of their private moments; and they have to decide what their line is. Where does a bit of naughty fun, turn into a regret? Where does helping create this painting turn into an uncomfortable public display? I am not there to help make these decisions; and let’s be honest, if I was I would probably just push for more.
And really, this is what makes these painting work. Sure, they are just playing a role. Sure, they are only doing this because I wanted to make some paintings. But really, while the situation is obviously arranged for the sake of art, the decisions being made are real. Not only are the decisions real, but I am hanging their portrait right there, I’m asking them to own the decision.
As the father of a baby girl, I am involved a lot of new baby parenting small talk. Inevitably, this involves fielding a lot of questions about her future dating habits, and how I will scare off her future boyfriends (spoiler alert, I am not sure it is possible for me to be any less worried, and I doubt I will be scaring anyone). Now, I am not mentioning this because I find it particularly egregious. But it has given me a renewed awareness that I really am asking a lot from my models. I am only asking them to play a part in a painted story, but we live in a world where that can lead to some real world judgement and consequences.
When it comes to the power of any individual piece of art, I am not really a true believer. Art can affect people, it can be beautiful and powerful, but no piece of art is going to change the world. So I am not going to try to convince anyone that sitting down and writing this, or making these paintings is going to make the world a better (or worse) place. But I do believe that when you see something is wrong, you should stand up and speak. So really, if I am asking people to put themselves out there for my paintings, I damn well better be prepared to stand up and own my part in the whole process. I better be ready to tell the story, to defend the pieces. At the very least, I better be ready to explain the basics of the project.
So, as I am preparing to send the latest piece in this series off to Miami for an exhibition, I am preparing to discuss the painting in a more meaningful way. In order to do that, I have been trying to come up with an answer to one important question.
How would you feel, what would you do, if it was your daughter sending these sort of images, or participating in this kind of project?
And for a long time, I did not have a good answer for that. But I have realized that I don’t need an answer for that question. There is no question in my mind, that one day she will grow up and do things that (as her parent) I am going to be worried about. She is going to grow up, go on dates, get drunk, have sex, do all things that most grown up people do. So the question for me, is not how would I feel if she grows up to be the kind of girl that sends naughty text messages. The question should be; when she is going through the normal course of growing up and dating, if something goes wrong, do I really want her to feel ashamed? And for me, the answer to that question is obvious.
So I am preparing myself to face these questions head on, and to do my small part in pushing things in the right direction.
See the latest painting from this series in December at Sirona Fine Art in Florida, more info in this post. For those of you that are with me here in Boston, I have a local show in the works featuring these paintings, so keep your eyes open for that.