One of the odd things about being an artist is that we play in public. As I'm writing this, I am playing with Cezanne in my studio. No, I didn't go to France, dig up his body and bring it back to my studio. Although, that could be a grant worthy idea. I am playing with his still lifes: his sense of space and color and application of paint. But I am adding a contemporary sensibility of food to the setting. It is all rather fun and has been enlightening as to what CZ (he let's me call him that) was doing way back then one hundred and fifty years ago.
One of these paintings was recently shared online. It will hopefully be shown publicly in the next year or so. I get to play with Zanny (he let's me call him that) and then I get to share it with all of you. Now that can be loads of fun - like adding a gun to one of his compositions. But it also can be scary, like making a painting about fishsticks. Really, I played with fishsticks and got burned. Sometimes I will be playing with my paints and I find that I have accidentally wandered away from everyone else into the dark woods. While there, I see a plate of fishsticks or something else amazing, but who's going to believe me? I try to explain the wonder that I have seen, but they can't quite see the beauty or the humor of it all. Oh well, onto the next piece of play. Hopefully, it will entice you to play with it, too.
If you're playing and you're a public artist, well then, your mistakes are there for everyone to see. I talked about this with Amanda Lovelee recently while she took time to meet with me over her lunch break. We talk about play, thinking about art on a city-wide scale and about national and international appreciation of a great City Artist program in our home town, Saint Paul, Minnesota.
Today's conversation with Erin Sayer was recorded four days before Prince's death. We mentioned Prince briefly as we talked about Erin's projects. We posed for our picture in front of Erin's mural of Prince.
In my years, many celebrities and musicians have died but none have had such an emotional impact on me as the death of Prince. I don't have a Prince story. Although I have lived most of my life in the Twin Cities, I never had the pleasure to run into him or see him perform. But like any Minnesotan growing up in the 70's and 80's, I reveled in Prince's music. I danced at Minneapolis clubs to Let's Go Crazy, I snuggled with my Honey to Strolling and felt deeply to songs like Still Will Stand All Time.
Everyone has their celebrities and musicians that they love, that they identify with. John Lennon's death was similar, but it was sudden and senseless. At the time, it did feel like, as Doctor Who would say, a fixed point in time and space that cannot be changed or avoided. In a moment, everyone knew that we now would have to trudge along without a brother who defined our struggle for peace and love. Lennon did this by kicking at the dark and pushing the contradictions of the powerful back into their faces.
The Saturday after Prince's death, I was driving away from my house when Purple Rain came on the radio. Feelings welled up inside my chest and I had to pull over to the side of the street to cry. What is it about Prince that has this effect on me? Yes, I identify with him. Prince was a fellow Minneapolitan who never left town to make it big. It gave every creative person here the sense that it can be done in Minnesota. We don't have to move to the coasts to thrive.
As the days continue passing and Prince's death gets further removed, feelings still well up in me when I think about him. It, again, feels like a fixed point in time and space that cannot be changed or avoided. In a moment, we have all lost a brother. Someone who defined our struggle for peace and love, but not by kicking at the dark and not by showing up the powerful. Feelings well up in me because Prince defined our struggle by reveling in joy. He was the one dancing as if no one was watching, while knowing that millions were. He sang, not as if he was a lone performer, but as if he was part of a magnificent choir that included everyone who came before him, who sang with him and will, now, sing his songs in the future. He was the one who was loving as if he had never been hurt and living life every day as if it were his last - that is what his music tells me. And to hear his music now, knowing that his beautiful heart is no longer beating, I can't help but cry at our loss. Just as he raised us all up, a little closer to the light of his God, we now know that a darkness is upon us. But now, we not only know how to kick at the dark, but we also know how to stave it off by reveling in communal joy. Thank you Prince. Let the dancing begin. This week, I sat down with Erin Sayer in her large studio space in North Minneapolis to talk about making murals, surviving as an artist and about keeping moving. Enjoy! Mark
I have been thinking this week about the need to continually push boundaries and experiment with my work. I certainly am someone who will go into my own uncharted territory. I don't know how many times I look at one of my paintings in process and think, "What the fuck am I doing!" That used to occur more in terms of the painting technique I was using. But now it occurs more in terms of why am I painting what I am painting. I don't think what I'm doing is worthless, I just don't know where it is coming from or how it moves things further. Sometimes these things become more apparent later.
What do I mean when I talk about moving things forward? It's good to experiment, but not good to get stuck there, or to do nothing more than experiment. The work still needs to move your overall idea forward, fulfill your voice. But as I wrote, sometimes you don't see this until later.
Recently, I had a desire to paint fishsticks. I thought this continued a conversation I started with an earlier painting of two fish on a plate. But as I was painting it I really had to wonder what I was doing - I was painting a pile of fishsticks - with tartar sauce! Ultimately, seeing it next to my other paintings in this series, I think it does move the conversation forward, or maybe sideways. I'm not really sure. I guess the best I can say about it is that I don't think it holds back the conversation. Maybe for someone else it will be a "stunner." I do know that it helped move me into a slightly different direction with my work and maybe that is the role that it will have in the series, a pivot point that isn't a yet fully developed idea. Different paintings have different roles in the course of a body of work. Maybe that's why I feel uneasy about it, it doesn't neatly fit into a role in the series. Its too strong to be a supporting piece, yet its not quite developed to the point of being definitive. I think I need more hindsight - I'll look at it again in three months.
This week, I have a conversation with Jan Elftmann. She is sometimes known as the Art Car Lady. We talk about gathering potential resources and trusting the process to make the use of the resources obvious,... some day. And we talk about a whole lot more.