Sunday, June 24, 2012

Mr. Hop the Scissor's Origin Story

As it turns out this space is a monthly for me, I don't move at the pace of the internet, and really I'm not a blogger, I simply have a blog that I tell some of you about. I've sat on this post since January it was intended to be a response to Sharron Buttler's post on her blog Two Coats of Paint  about an MFA final crit she sat in on. I've been thinking about the relative value of an MFA since 2006 when I was sent my first bill from Brooklyn College for that particular degree and I sent Sharon some comments about what I thought about the experience. This is a version of the same things I sent her with pics I thought would be helpful.

Boats, c. 2003, approximately 10 x 12 inches

In 2003 I moved to New York with the specific intention of attending a fairly cheap graduate school in pursuit of an MFA degree. As it turns out I got into my second choice school, Brooklyn College (Hunter was first on my list). I thought I was a pretty hot shit, if modest, painter and I spent my first year at Brooklyn making competent modernist figurative paintings. My heroes at the time were New York School second generation painters like Louisa Mathiasdottir, Leland Bell and Paul Georges. In turn their heroes were also my heroes, the first generation ab-ex painters DeKooning and Hoffman but also figurative painters like Balthus, Derain, Matisse, Bonnard. I was making paintings just like they did, and I was at grad school trying to figure out how to make paintings like that matter to the world, it was a stance I took against the last 50 years of art history, but I was fine with that, I was a “rebel” in the sense that I was rejecting contemporary mores.

Untitled, 2004, 24 x 19 inches

I found some support for my beliefs at BC, Archie Rand and Patricia Cronin were hugely supportive. I liked Archie especially, he really understood what I understood about how important these artists really were. He was respectful, even reverent, in my studio. At the same time I was studying with Elizabeth Murray and William T. Williams. I'd met occasional resistance from both of them in personal studio crits but nothing I couldn't handle, I knew how to argue for an ideal beauty, I knew how to argue against how stupid and wrong minimalism and conceptual art were, I had moral high ground to stand on.

Bed, 2005, 24 x 36 inches

At the end of my first year I was confused but confident I was right, and it was with that confidence that I walked into my first year critique. Armed with some fairly large new paintings and tons upon tons of studies and small watercolors I was there to prove my worth as a painter, if not by quality at least by sheer volume. I was prolific, like Picasso, ya know? I made a lot of stuff, just look at my stream of semen, look at how well I paint! Look, will you? And if you don't see how great this particular bowl of apples is please look again, you have no IDEA how hard I worked on that pile of fruit, and it's grand, isn't it?

Untitled (after Caravaggio's Flagellation), 2004, 24 x 19 inches

The critique was vaguely praising, nice this, good touch here, lovely color, nice palette knife work there, etc.

And then, the last person to speak finally spoke. Elizabeth Murray, who I'd grown to respect for an abundant amount of reasons and who had recently suffered through an unimaginably grueling session of chemo therapy on what turned out to be one of her last days with us on this planet but who also somehow felt well enough that day to crit me and my classmates, said:

“Your work is inane”.

Which was a pretty easy thing to brush off, I mean the whole rest of the room pretty much told me I was the genius I knew I was so fuck her. Right?

And then it was suddenly summer and I had what seemed like eons of time off from the pressures of grad school. I had one more crit with a visiting artist that summer, Kara Walker, who couldn't figure out why I liked dead white guys any more than I could explain what it was about art that I was so in love with.

I felt awful, and worse, out of touch. That moment of that day killed something in me that needed to be killed. I went home and cried.

[ed. you can't feel bad for me here, I was an incredibly naive person, unaware of my own naivete, thinking it was some kind of secret knowledge.]

Untitled, 2005, 19 x 24 inches

I spent that summer making lots of paintings, reams upon reams of paintings on paper. And I thought all of that work was shit; horrible, awful, terrible things, an amazing amount of paintings, a whole new portfolio. Paintings I spat on, paintings I pissed on, paintings made from soap bubbles and ink, cartoon paintings, stuff I'd never made before. It was an awful summer of awkward growth.

Untitled, 2005, 19 x 24 inches

Untitled, 2005, 19 x 24 inches

I spent my second year at BC making what are probably the worst, ugliest paintings I've ever made, but I was making them as a free person, I discovered I was really good at making bad paintings, I was good at having bad ideas and I was really good at ugly. I had never let myself do that, I'd never really let go, I'd never let myself into my work in the way I did that semester, and the results were horrifying.

Quadripples, 2006, 18 x 24 inches

So I just made ugly art for a few years. I remember my second year crit was nearly silent. Quite a few of the undergrad faculty who sit in on the crits couldn't figure out what had happened, or why. I had murdered something precious, my own “taste” I guess, whatever it was that was preventing me from speaking from my own experience. Fear was part of that thing I'd just killed, fear of making a bad painting, fear of saying the wrong thing, etc. The thing was I didn't even recognize my defense mechanism as fear, I was proud of that mechanism, or at least I had been.

Untitled, 2006, 48 x 56 inches

Dancing in the Show Tonight, 2006, 48 x 48 inches
I spent a lot of time in my second semester reading artforum from the 70's, I figured I'd go to at least one of the sources of the rhetoric I was hearing. I read Don Judd's reviews in Arts magazine, the ones he wrote about the scene around him. I discovered young Jerry Salz's paintings were heavily influenced by Jasper Johns. I realized why he had quit making art and began writing. I began actually liking a lot of stuff I'd rejected before, not just liking it but thinking critically about why it was made and why it might be important.

Dickheads, 2006, 48 x 48 inches

Best of all, for my own work, I did get comfortable with making ugly things, and those ugly things became less ugly to me, because I'd made them and I had discovered a way of owning the things I'd been afraid to make. Making work became a way of working through having my ass handed to me by Elizabeth Murray. I never want another person to tell me that my work doesn't need to exist, and I'll likely never have the opportunity to have someone tell me that again in my life. But that's what grad school is for.

Untitled, 2006, 48 x 48 inches

I remember saying one thing in that final crit, when the notion that the new paintings were less than pretty came about I remember answering “yes, and I should have been making paintings like this years ago”.

70 paintings titled individually, the work as a whole has no title, 2011 - 2012, 10 x 10 inches each (excepting the one that's 10 x 12 inches) photo by Sharon Butler.


Ravenna Taylor said...

Fantastic post; thank you. I'm going to share this ~

helen said...