Sunday, July 31, 2016


131. Leonardo Viet Minh
Any ideas? Any ideas at all?
I'd ask myself that each day,
standing in front of a blank or
barely started canvas. The art
world all around me was
careening with  : Abstract
Expressionism, Op Art,
Pop Art, New Pointillism
(that was something
dreamed up to describe
work by Larry Poons).
Everything around me
seemed exploding, and
there was a growing
overlap between all the
divisions and schools.
Structuralism, Negativism,
Negation  -  the names just
went on. And I didn't much
care. 'Action Painting'  -  what 
the hell was that?The Studio 
School specialized, or dedicated
itself anyway, in the early
days to but one thing. A
carry-over from the great
New York School Abstract
Art movement. All those
very grand people who went
into that entire mix. It was
totally cultural  -  people,
places, schools and
movements. As one.
I was with it all. Yes.
None of the names in any
way meant anything  -  it
was all journalistic blabber,
art-world press stuff. The
art magazines of the day
just trumpeted the best of
what they could accept.
Pretty limiting. The better
art coverage, the theory
and the ideas, were in things
like Artforum, and Avalanche.
You could come away stumped
or confused, yes, but you'd
have learned things too. The
guy next to me, in my studio
room  -  a halfway interesting
guy from Montclair, NJ, a
Jewish fellow  -  would spend
all day painting Vietnam Army
portraits  -  field soldiers and
uniformed men, with all their
pins and medals and sashes
and ribbons, uniformed and
hatted, staring straight out, at
the viewer. Precisely done, to
a ludicrous, almost photo-realist
degree, as it later became know,
and in the background of each
chiseled and perfect stare  -
vacant, stern serious and
emotionless  -  would be
scenes, scenes of helicopters
with people falling out of
them, or jumping, or being
perhaps even pushed, with
some in free fall, others in a
parachute drop. The reddened
tips of helicopter guns would
be seen blazing, fiery pings
on the ground, things flying,
people in a flip, or shot and
blown up. Yellowed horizons,
broken trees and forest, layers
of flame or burning napalm. I
didn't know, and it never really
computed with me, but this guy
went at it, straight-ahead and
constant. I never really got his
story. He'd go home a lot, to
Montclair, and then return. It
didn't seem as if he was
partaking any of the NY life
or living that was all around
us. More like he was always
just 'reporting for duty' to
transcribe these horrid, almost
other-worldly visions. It all
soon became pretty amazing to
me, and I had to not let it color
my own view of War or that
war  -  too vividly done and
it just became cartoonish; I
more wanted the war, as it
was, to remain for me black
and white, maybe at most,
a moire pattern. His work
was turning it all suburban.
I tried viewing this all as a
Dionysian frenzy, an
exhilaration he was trying
to portray, but I couldn't
get over the just-plain
boringness of it. Depressing.
Sad. All that was yet vivid
and raw to me, but seeing
it painted like that, almost
day after day, made me think.
Art is all about antecedents  -
what came before, what's
gone on. Caravaggio, Corot,
Delacroix, Rembrandt,
Velazquez, El Greco. The
list ran on. I'd spend my
solo nights buried in the
Studio School library, on
the floor, flat out with the
art books selected, of each
artist as I went along. Finding
the connections, the parameters
of each  -  who went where,
who did what, and how.
With brush, and with idea.
There wasn't any language
for this stuff, and I knew it.
And anyway, Art wasn't 
about words. Apparently 
no one else felt that way,
for they were writing 
streams of things about it.
All of a sudden the media 
attention given to art was
outrageous  -  I expected
Ad Reinhardt to be on the
Arthur Godfrey Show any
day, or to read a James 
Rosenquist essay in 
Commonweal. It was
all just that crazy.
I found out that when 
you're poor, you just go 
about doing poor things 
and you hardly even 
notice they're poor. This
was in effect not for just 
my NYC years, but my 
entire life afterwards. 
Paying fifty-five dollars 
to eat at some sit-down
restaurant was out of 
the question when ten 
bucks was still a quite
painful fortune. Besides,
what are you going to do,
talk with your expensive 
mouth full? No you're just
going to eat, and the company
you're with goes to hell, loses
interest, and nothing comes of 
it but an expensive burp or
a comment about something -
the bitchy waiter, to coffee 
wasn't hot, the pudding that
stank. Most of the good 
things in life are free anyway. 
I can walk anywhere I want,
and I really am Master of all
I survey.
In all this  -  and one of the 
really cool things I realized, was, 
within that guy's Vietnam paintings, 
all that steely anguish and solid 
staring, much like in the Mona Lisa, 
the real action, the real commentary, 
was in the far-background scenes 
they'd paint in. In da Vinci's case
it was the distant, bucolic scenes of
country and castle. In this guy's case,
the existential now moment of
the fierce and always on 
battle for self, and things
falling to the ground.

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