This painting is so much pain and love and truth. So much everything I can never say. | “I Knew These People” (2011) (sometimes I wish I could get this painting back, but I tell myself it’s better this way… this is the only way.) #rycooder
Matisse was hired by Dr. Albert C. Barnes in 1930 to paint this mural (The Dance I, La Danse I) in the arches which is now prominently displayed in the Barnes Foundation. (A museum in itself a scandal of sorts, watch the film The Art of the Steal.) Matisse painted it in France and then supervised installation in the Barnes Collection in 1933. The original sketch (below) is not surprisingly wonderful, and has more charm than the final piece. As I was standing there in that museum, viewing the mural, the sketch, and listening to the audioguide background story. I thought “He had troubles!” “Just like us!”
First, he had the wrong dimensions and had to start over. Then he had trouble translating his technique to the large scale. (something I struggle with when I try to go big). So he hired a house painter to help him fill the large flat areas of color. At the time, Barnes already owned 27 of Matisse’s paintings. I can’t help but think of who is buying my work these days and who is hiring me for special projects. Will my work ever have the same gravity? What works are preserved? And what are destroyed? And WHO says so? and Why?
Will my paintings be preserved? Are they good enough?
And did - perhaps - DID Matisse “phone it in” so to speak? Was he busy and stressed in 1933? Was he overwhelmed with how to paint a large mural and send it to America? Did he rush it? Was he proud of it? And did he think “we” would ever see it? (since it was for a private collection). AND, if Matisse had a blog, would we know the answers to these questions?
(this, btw, (I believe) is when Matisse first attached a piece of charcoal to a stick to draw the sketch at actual scale. A technique he would go on to use for the rest of his life. !!! :)
I found this text in my sketchbook from when I visited the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia in 2013. Seemed worthy of sharing here as I work on commissions in my studio. I battle doubts and challenges of scale too, and boring logistics such as shipping large paintings. But I also meditate on the gratitude I feel for the collectors who nourish me in their bounty of ways. I find my heroes wherever I can. This time, in Matisse and Barnes - artist and collector, in a dance. - Rebecca Rebouche
This summer I traveled to the Baja Peninsula because I wanted to see the Sea of Cortez, ever since I read the New Orleans library’s copy of the Log from the Sea of Cortez in 2008. The book (published in 1951) recounts a six-week voyage Steinbeck took in 1940 with marine biologist Ed Ricketts for the purpose of cataloguing new aquatic species on the gulf side of Baja California. The book was probably the first example I saw of the artist and scientist combining forces to tell you both what they saw AND how it felt. That is precisely what I try to do with my art. Show you what I see and how it feels. I brought along my waterproof camera (though I’m no photographer) and snorkel mask to dive beneath the surface of the sea. In the evenings I wrote in my journal and drew in my sketchbook as you might imagine. During my stays in Todos Santos and San Jose del Cabo, I noticed more references to Frida than I expected in that strip of Mexico. It seems all of Mexico loves to claim their native creative rebel, so much so she’s on the money. I know it’s nothing special these days to feel a kinship with Frida Kahlo, but that doesn’t mean I don’t. I only hope I can one day be as bold and strong as she seemed, as a woman and as an artist. And as curious and courageous as Steinbeck on a voyage to document the unknown.
I have returned from my recent travels. I have unpacked, washed the 6 weeks worth of laundry, and the travel towel and stashed the empty toiletries in the bottom drawer. I have answered (most of) my emails and paid my overdue bills and stacked up the receipts and the travel journals and uploaded my photographs to my hard drive. But I have not yet forgotten the feelings of the journey. I write now in hopes of preserving them. I admit that I’m at odds with myself. Half of me says “It’s time to go under the radar, admit nothing. Keep it for yourself. Hold the chips.” and the other half of me says “You feel most honest and have the most momentum when you put down words and put them out there. Share. What have I to give if it’s not some bit of insight?”
So I walk the line. I left because I was stuck. Because I toiled over big decisions until I didn’t know which way was up. Because I had read my journals and realized I said the same things over and over. I had invested my time and heart in things that just weren’t flowering. I needed a change.
And maybe it’s overly simplistic to say it, but it worked.
How quickly into my journey I began to forget old limitations, familiar doubts, past lovers, and failed attempts. My journaling shifted from the obsessive repetition in my head, to observances of the world. I kept a group chat with a few close friends back home who kept me grounded, but otherwise, I was out in the world, wiping my slate clean, and remembering what it felt like just to see. I painted, en plein air, the simple vignettes before me. I wore comfortable shoes.
Tonight I went to the movies for the first time since the theatre shooting in Louisiana in July. I trembled on my own, and felt it such a shame that I actually thought, “At least this seat has a high back” and then I slumped in my chair. Hiding, from my own fear. But halfway through the film, it felt familiar, to be there in a theatre, transported to a land of stories. And as I drove home, I felt as though I were still traveling, still floating out in the world. And as Father John Misty played on my car stereo I thought, maybe I’m someone’s “genius”, I just don’t know him yet.
I fully intended to blog more. To reveal more along the way. But as I’ve said before, sometimes I don’t know the highlights reel in real time. So, I resorted mainly to instagram and accomplished little else. The journey continues, and I’m still not sure how much to reveal. But I live to tell the tale. In small bursts, fits and starts, between wifi connections and laptop uploads. Between plane connections and emotional downloads. I am full of questions about the role of the artist today. Perhaps I should just show you pretty pictures, drawn, painted and otherwise. But I feel like so much more than that. And until I’m someone’s genius, I’ll be yours.
I love looking through my camera roll and finding patterns in the images - subtle ways they speak to one another. Time is bridged by their static existence on the screen.
I’m on a bus from Lisbon to Peniche, Portugal and there’s wifi. These moments are all I have for choosing between photo-editing on my phone, writing in my journal, reading, researching my next destination, sleeping, blogging, instagraming, updating Facebook or checking email. Trust me, they go by fast. Today I will (hopefully) catch a ferry to the Berlenga Islands where (I think) I have a reservation to stay at a bare-bones hostel in an old fort/castle/monastery? I asked someone at the hostel in Lisbon to call the island hostel for me and reserve a bed in Portuguese. He covered the phone and leaned over to say “there are no linens, no hot water, no breakfast, no AC and no electricity at night, do you still want it?”
Shelter comes in many forms I suppose. Here we go.
Yes, I want “it.” I don’t know what it is, but I can handle it.