Out of My Hands
Out of My Hands
An exhibition of nine paintings will be at the Pavel Zoubok Gallery starting March 21, Thursday, until April 20, Saturday, 2002. One large painting titled Seven Vermeer Corners is now at the Nancy Hoffman Gallery in Soho. The other eight paintings are in my studio here on 18th Street.
There are three large paintings: Seven Vermeer Corners, Painting Perspective, and An Allegory of Faith. Large paintings exceed 70 inches horizontally. Today is Monday, March 18 and I have completed An Allegory of Faith. The paintings are wrapped and ready for pick-up tomorrow.
Tuesday, March 19. By eleven-thirty this morning, Pavel arrived with a truck and loaded the paintings from my studio. The largest painting, Seven Vermeer Corners, is being held at the Nancy Hoffman Gallery. This is partly because the canvas does not fit into the elevator here in this building.
I have a history with canvas stretchers. Once I thought that my taking a painting off a stretcher, then using the stretcher again for a new painting, was wrong. The discarded canvas was usually destroyed because it was unsuccessful: the stretcher is hexed.
The stretcher for Seven Vermeer Corners has a story and has caused the hex superstition to no longer apply. When I moved here to 18th Street in 1979 some of the other tenants knew I was an artist and I was offered frames and partially used tubes of paint. I have learned to reject such offers because the paint is not good, but student-priced paint. I know that an artist never gives paint away when it’s the artist’s selection of paint. As for frames, any frame given away is a damaged or somehow ruined frame, or it wouldn’t be given away. There are exceptions, always, but I have discovered any un-ordered frame never fits anything an artist has available to frame, and it’s depressing to spend time cutting down or over-matting a drawing or painting just to fit the frame you didn’t plan on having anyway.
One day within the first year of living and working here, I found a large, well-made canvas stretcher leaning against the wall by the elevator in the entrance of the building. The stretcher did not fit in the elevator, but it was possible to carry it up to the fifth floor through the stairs, which I call the fire stairs. I still do not know who left the stretcher there.
I used the stretcher to paint Actual Size, a canvas with eleven paintings the exact size of original Vermeer paintings. This painting didn’t work, mostly because the gesso undercoat was too thin and the painting surface absorbed any coat which I applied. The painting was put away for a year at least. One day I would conclude how to handle it.
The day came when I decided I needed this size stretcher for Seven Vermeer Corners, which is very similar. This is a painting of seven Vermeer interiors, again the exact size of the originals, placed on one canvas. Each of these small interiors has everything removed except that which touches the wall. It was at this time I decided to leave the borders around each painting unpainted. Finally this led to using these borders as a test area for color. They were also used as a palette where I mixed colors next to the painted interior. This was new for me and the cluttering of the borders took more time and consideration than the interior corners.
Seven Vermeer Corners was completed in 1999 and the stairway, called the fire stairs, had been changed at the entrance. A security gate had been installed and the large painting could not go through it.
Was that the return of the hex? Should a canvas stretcher only be used once? Finally this large painting was carried down the fire stairs to the second floor, the floor above the entrance where the security gate had been installed. The painting was then lowered by a rope from the second floor window to the street and transported away without harm. The hex has been cancelled and I’ve decided not to bring the hex into my mind again.
March 21, Thursday 2002. This evening from 6-9 are the hours of the reception for my exhibition “Extended Vermeer.”
This extension has been on my mind for a while. I look at Vermeer’s work again and again, even when I am working on other subjects in painting. I look for how an object is rendered by Vermeer because the end result is clear, yet every detail is made of paint. Even thickly applied paint. Painters such as Rubens illustrated each detail with ease and speed, but the air around, and often on, the detail of his painted object is cloudy with underpaint and swift strokes of generality. Vermeer is not swift, not general. He shows underpainting in a decisive way but it is possible to detect that he leaves it the way it forms.
Looking at Vermeer gives me information and I began looking a bit beyond his compositions. The exhibition at the Zoubok Gallery, which is on Madison Avenue between 78th and 79th Street, was totally realized. There are nine paintings: the three large ones and five smaller ones. One painting was not displayed, so there are eight in the exhibition. When I walk in, the thought of working on these paintings goes away and I am in the presence of an art exhibition. I don’t look at the paintings as the maker of them any longer, but see them as paintings which I came to visit. They are out of my hands. They are arranged by another person. All I do is look and talk to the guests.
The art world is stylized and always has been. The unexperienced asks, “how many did you sell?” If there are some that sell, I answer and tell them. If none has been sold, I answer and tell them. An exhibition is not only that. An exhibition is a gesture of appreciation, a social moment for the art to be taken out of the studio and seen without the artist. It’s the art world. I am thinking of Raphael, after completing the Stanze, the frescoes in the Vatican, and being in their presence when the public gathered to see them. He had to do it, and he learned just what they were without him.
March 23, Saturday. I am on my way to the Zoubok Gallery to experience more of what it is to have an art (painting) exhibition.
Notebook entry 2002