Above is my recent abstract painting, LAST MINUTE.
I began it the way I begin most of my paintings, by facing a fresh canvas and applying paint and materials until a way forward becomes clear. I keep working until it feels finished, until it looks pleasing, or until I am stymied.
Sometimes, I park the painting upstairs next to the TV and keep on eye on it while relaxing, to see if it’s done, to see if it grows on me, to see if it needs more work (and to see what that work might be), or to see if I reject it and paint over it.
It’s only when a work is finished that I try to figure out “what it is.” More often than not, I can.
I realized, well after the painting was done, that it was my abstract interpretation of an unknown graphic artist’s DVD cover of the movie “Slaughterhouse Five,” as shown below:
I saw the movie in 1970 or thereabouts. I went to the American Theater in Canton, NY, with my friends Mark Simpson and Steve Merrill. Mark’s father took us, because it was an R rated movie and you needed adult accompaniment.
That alone – the nude Valerie Perrine, my first naked movie star – made the movie stick in my mind.
But the entire movie stuck. I knew nothing about what happened in Dresden. I knew very little about World War II. I was in 8th grade and about 13 years old. I bought the Betamax version, the VHS version, then the DVD version.
The cover art on the DVD version combined with my viewings of the movie over the years. My unconscious mind delivered LAST MINUTE when my first doodlings produced images or colors – that “way forward” – that made me move toward an unconscious image in my mind that had excited me many times over.
You might ask, “Why should I be interested in an artist’s stray unconscious images reproduced in abstract form?” Especially images so personal and possibly so obscure.
Hopefully, the abstract art urpped up by the artist will connect and resonate with the viewer. The viewer will feel something of what the artist felt.
In my case, hopefully you’ll feel a bit of what I felt of the horrors of Dresden, of the firestorm, of imminent death, of the culpability of the Allies, of Valerie Perrine’s incredibly distinctive breasts as played out in the mind of a forever-13 year old. Even if you don’t explicitly know the subject of the painting.
You may come up with your own imaginings, your own ideas of what the painting is about. You should. They may be completely at odds with what the artist thinks is going on. Good. The key is that the life in the painting excites your life, your mind, your imagination. There is no right or wrong.
The graphic artist did his or her job. He or she made me buy the recordings. Their image mated so well with the movie that it’s now a part of me, deeper than I can know – at least until I paint.
And hopefully, just hopefully, a little of Kurt Vonnegut lives on in LAST MINUTE, too.