Escape from Studio Lockdown: An Allegorical Tale of a Backpacker in Alappuzha

The best way to make a dramatic leap as an artist is to stop working. After Hilary Harkness' show at Mary Boone Gallery in 2011, she laid down her brushes for a full month and went to southern India. Personal transformation aside, she will never evaluate art the same way again.  Here are some ideas for ways to push your practice forward from the subcontinent.

From Love is What you Want
  Word is that you don’t need to look outside yourself for creative inspiration, and that the more personal a work is, the more universal it is. Think Tracey Emin’s tampon piece. This is great advice for the first decade out of school, and for intermittent periods later in life- even Louise Bourgeois took breaks from showing while she reconnected and reorganized her work in relation to her inner life.

Janus Fleuri 1968
After leaving Yale, I painted for myself for three years with no one looking, and no thoughts of showing at a serious gallery. When I moved to NYC, I had no choice but to work long days, often around the clock, to keep up with deadlines for shows. I believed that if I had no life, I would live through my paintings, making them come alive. And if I put all my care into making paintings, then my paintings would go out into the world and take care of me. (I didn’t realize that my paintings couldn’t take care of networking). My dealer Mary Boone has been a champ in that she is hands-off when it comes to my creative process and doesn’t grouse when I turn away collectors. Outside of casual visits from friends, I’ve done only a handful of studio visits in the past decade, and it’s saved me from having to keep up appearances in my studio, explain anything, or otherwise waste time.  I was able to be vulnerable and truthful in my work because I wasn’t bracing myself against dismissive criticism (I was still worn out from surviving Yale).

Since I’m blogging about escaping from my studio,  I want to tell you about meeting a lovely blond backpacker in Alappuzha, Kerala after a night on a rice barge cum houseboat. She was 29 and looking for adventure, hanging in bars (I wondered for a minute if she was going to scam me in some way, instead, she gave me a nonfiction book about the state of healthcare in India). She had spent a night on a houseboat with five backpacker guys she hadn’t known previously, and when she pulled out her camera to show us photos of a foggy Taj Mahal she found that unbeknownst to her the guys had taken photos of their pasty asses and equipment for her to discover later. 

She told me that she had been in India for three weeks and that it was all the same and boring. She was off to Vietnam where she had heard that there were more backpackers.  She was more interested in backpacker monoculture than the culture around her. There’s a time in life for living in your own world, but after a while you’re missing out on much more interesting and important stuff.
Without healthy engagement in reality, I believe artists become unmoored and their creativity shrivels from lack of mental input. 

Genitals, Forrest Bess

Only a few of us can be Forrest Best, the penultimate outsider artist, but with genital mutilation on the docket (a belief in sacrificing everything to creativity, including ejaculation), it’s better to “sell out” and join the fray.

Untitled (No. 5), Forrest Bess, 1949

What dogma about creativity has you by the throat?

1 comment:

  1. The genius of any slave system is found in the dynamics which isolate slaves from each other, obscure the reality of a common condition, and make united rebellion against the oppressor inconceivable.

    Andrea Dworkin