Unreal Nature

February 16, 2018

How to Get Started Again

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:39 am

… I move on, restless, slow, unexcited, but quietly curious.

This is from Under the Gowanus and Razor-Wire Journal: The making of two paintings 5.9.99 – 11.15.99 by Rackstraw Downes (2000). (The abbreviations for some words are as writtten in the text.):

Dear Lewis,

Once you asked me to keep a journal of how a particular painting got painted. Well, here it is. As yet there is no painting, only an intention to start working again, wch. will yield something — a painting, a pair of paintings, a group of paintings, drawings or something. It’s May. I just returned from a winter in Texas.

[line break added] First, I futz around the studio for a few days, clearing things up, throwing away. You don’t work, but you are close to your work, pulling last year’s starts, evaluating the winter harvest, wondering how to get started again, reluctant to do so. Once it starts it will be intense & all-consuming. To dawdle is delicious to a workaholic, an obscene luxury.

Yesterday, May 8th, I went to a show in Brooklyn — inexplicably, the gallery was closed. The way to get to the next venue, PS1, meant — so a street informant told me — taking the F train to Smith St. & changing to the G. So, I got off at Smith St. & wandered around. Last year I started 2 oil sketches near there, wch. might be worth continuing with, so I looked at these sites, unimpressed. Possible, but not alluring.

[line break added] Last week I went to the Bronx to see the ‘Urban Mythologies’ show, and tho’ I have sometimes called myself a sociological rather than a landscape painter, I realized I had not been (as the curators are) interested in the ‘sociology’ of the Bronx at all — not the fortunes or misfortunes of the inhabitants, not the dereliction or the rehabilitation of the neighborhood — it was the wonderful mix of topography, engineering, transportation

[line break added] — it’s a fantasy combination of all these elements of urbanism in a spectacular combination — river, railway tracks, artisans’ shacks & shanties, bluffs, rocks, landmarks, towers, bridges, clover-leafs — the subject, in a way, is the vantage point, the Washington Bridge as a look-out point, a Belvedere onto countless elements that make up city life: it’s the panoramic point of view, as in Whitman, where the individual life counts for little, but the collective life is an extraordinary meal of endless courses, rich.

[line break added] So what am I doing at Smith St.? It’s the two great elevated systems, the subway overhead on one hand, the highway on the other. Two types of El — I think, cd. I get them both in one picture? I think of Gerhard Richter, ‘there are no single images anymore,’ and I think of how annoyed I was with him, but how (perhaps with his thought quietly marinating in the unconscious) I made a seven part painting including six different views of 2 objects at Chinati. And it occurred to me I wld. make, not one panorama combining the 2 Els, but a pair of images with one El in each.

[line break added] I sat down and tried to draw the underside and the supporting structure of the Smith St. El, with a minute vignette of the Gowanus Expressway off in the distance. It was an apathetic performance, unconvinced & half-hearted, and I soon got up from the very uncomfortable curb I was punishing my ass on, and walked off — I approached McDonald’s from the rear — here was a subject, the golden arches very dark & beautiful & austere against the light, everything — the lamp posts, the El with its tiny progress of vehicles its tall slender piers — all was crisp, sharp, like a ‘new’ photographer wld. make it, one of the ‘new contingency’ guys.

[line break added] The colors are crisp, too. I think of working there but without an easel, which I don’t have with me, it wd. be hard. I walk on, planning to try this some other day. I walk along a U-shaped walk ending up again under the Smith St. Station but on the other side of the Gowanus Canal. Here are interesting things, again that supporting structure, and later on, another view of it — with the new drawbridge not quite finished, shiny & modern, sitting tight under the superstructure of the El like one of those ‘nests of tables’ that were around when I was a child.

[line break added] There are 2 tenses juxtaposed; the El is funky, steel covered with concrete — to preserve the steel? — & the bridge is sleek, but the water, the old tires on the banks, the weeds, it’s all too known & sweet, too sentimental, the urban grunge picturesque all over — I move on, restless, slow, unexcited, but quietly curious.

To be continued.

-Julie

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