Since 2016 the handbasket that is the United States has been on a non-stop flight to its proverbial destination.1 The landing gear is down and our seats are in the full upright and locked position – I advise strapping in and bracing for impact.

There have been some terrible years for the US during my lifetime: in 1968, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy, and Andy Warhol were shot, and nearly 17,000 troops were killed in Vietnam; in both 1994 and 1995, over 49,000 people died from AIDS-related complications; in 2001, there were the September 11 terrorist attacks, in which nearly 3000 people died, and their aftermath. Eventually we’ll see how history will view 2020, although I’m confident I know without the benefit of hindsight what the results of that exercise will be. Up to this point, we’ve seen over 226,000 deaths from COVID-19 (“their new hoax”); over 8.5 million acres burned in wildfires (“… you got to get rid of the leaves”); social unrest of a magnitude unheard of in decades (“[Black Lives Matter] is a symbol of hate”); and complete and utter ineptitude, amorality, narcissism, nepotism, bigotry, and corruption in the highest levels of government (“No, I don’t take responsibility at all”).2

On a personal level, one of my closest friends passed away in July. For me, 2020 has been the worst year ever –  that includes 2001, when a friend’s body was found and the police called me because my phone number was in his wallet. I was asked to call his family to tell them to contact the “hospital.” It includes 2004, when I was laid up for months following a car accident and I had to learn how to walk again. It’s been worse than 2013, when a friend was killed by a tow truck that ran a red light and hit his car, and a month later my grandmother passed away. As horrible as all those things were, they were at least knowable; they allowed for an emotional process. 2020 has been worse because of the uncertainty of it all, the knowledge that our health is reliant on other people doing the right thing, and the profound dread of what could happen next Tuesday.

News From Home show announcement (2020). Archival Gallery.

One often hears from artistic people that “[my vocation] saved my life.” I’ve never really thought that, but during these recent months, I have felt that painting has kept me on the good side of the mental health line. It’s kept me busy, given me something on which to focus, allowed me some sense of accomplishment while isolated. Even so, I haven’t had an easy time of it,3 and the resulting show is not the one I had envisioned a year ago. I had been exploring ideas while working on three-dimensional mixed media constructions, ideas which I had planned on integrating into paintings for this show. Unfortunately, due to my scattered state of mind, I was unable to deliver on that – only one piece in the show is made with anything beyond paint on canvas. None of the pieces are connected conceptually; they too are scattered, so perhaps this is a perfectly appropriate show for me to mount as we near the end of this shattered year.

News from Home will run from November 5 to December 5, 2020 at Archival Gallery in Sacramento CA.

 

1 Mixed Metaphors “R” Us.

2 Four actual quotes from he who is currently squatting in the White House. Squatting in more ways than one.

3 I am very aware that a lot of people have had it much worse than I.

Deborah Oropallo and Andy Rappaport: still (detail) from FLOOD (2019). Video installation.

I recently saw FLOOD, a video installation by Deborah Oropallo and Andy Rappaport at the Catharine Clark Gallery in San Francisco. Oropallo is one of my favorite contemporary artists; I’ve been following her work since the early 1990s, when her paintings were actually made of oil on canvas. However, even then she was not a traditional painter – her conceptual bent has always been strong, and she used silkscreens, rollers, and other tools in lieu of brushes. Her work has continually evolved, building on previous ideas while taking in new techniques and technologies. Since 2000, she has been utilizing digital imagery, which she manipulates on a computer and often works into on the canvas or paper itself. In 2017, she began collaborating with Rappaport on video projects which retain her painterly aesthetic without, obviously, being made with any paint at all.

Oropallo and Rappaport have been working with the theme of climate change and its impact on our population. Between 1995 and 2015, 2.3 billion people worldwide were affected by flooding. In this incarnation, FLOOD consists of three video screens, set in line horizontally, showing still images culled from internet news sources. Flooded streets appear and are gradually overlapped by photos of people in the deluge. The images continue to accumulate, the waters continue to rise, and the frame fills with more and more people. Rappaport’s score builds along with the images, from the musique concrète sounds of water to a pulsing beat – the impact of the whole is hypnotic, poignant, and affecting – a poetic call to action.

I’m not very learned re video art, but, as always, Oropallo excels here. The layering/montaging in the video is an extension of what she does so brilliantly in her paintings, expanded to epic proportions through the added dimension of time. Over the course of about twenty minutes, hundreds of individual images are seen. In this age, when information is so quickly forgotten in favor the next new story, to spend that amount of time contemplating a single subject is nothing short of revolutionary.

FLOOD will be on view through Saturday, March 28 – spare no pains to see it.

I’m not one for making resolutions, but I do know that I’ll be painting a lot in the coming months, as I have a September show scheduled at Archival Gallery in Sacramento CA. I’ll be showing paintings alongside work by Laureen Landau, which I really couldn’t be looking forward to more.

The last few years, I’ve been working in a different manner. From the time I first started painting until recently, I made detailed graphite or ink studies for my work. There came a time when although I was making good paintings that I liked, they weren’t the paintings I wanted to make. I needed a change. It’s important to me that my finished work not come too easily, so I stopped keeping a sketchbook and replaced it with a notebook. I write ideas and notes for pieces, occasionally doing a rough thumbnail sketch. These notes may include compositional ideas, a list of collage material to compile, prospective titles, concepts to research, reference points, et al. It’s a more open-ended process than I’m used to, and it’s been challenging and engaging in a way that painting hasn’t been for some time.

I’ve also recently done some mixed-media construction work, of which I’ve done very little in the past. Artistically, this put me in foreign territory, which I enjoyed. Besides being satisfying in themselves, these pieces have opened up possibilities for my painting.

I have confidence in my ability to draw and to paint, so my artistic ambitions lie beyond that. My goal is to make work that is compelling on multiple levels. Of course, I want my paintings to work in purely formal/aesthetic terms. In addition, although I generally play it pretty close to the chest as to what my work is “about” – much of my symbolism being personal – the work should elicit some response: emotional, intellectual, physical. I hope it’s apparent that the work is thoughtful and conceptually layered, even if the viewer is very unlikely to decode my singular vocabulary.

So, in 2020, I will present a strong show of work with which I am satisfied not only as a viewer, but as the painter. I’ll see you in September, after which I’ll resolve to get some sleep.