Friday, September 21, 2012


photo: Hans Namuth
"It is important to never forget how crazy painting is. People who buy paintings, or who write about them, tend to think painting begins in the cosmopolitan world of museums and art galleries, and that its meanings are explored in departments of art history. But painting is born in a smelly studio, where the painter works in isolation, for hours and even years on end. In order to produce the beautiful framed picture, the artist had to spend time shut up with oils and solvents,staring at glass or wooden surfaces smeared with pigments, trying to smear them onto other surfaces in turn...

For those reasons, the act of painting is a kind of insanity...Françoise Gilot tells the story of visiting Alberto Giacometti's atelier. He was working in clay, and his studio resembled his work:

The wooden walls seemed impregnated with the color of clay, almost to the point of being made out of clay. We were at the center of a world completely created by Giacometti, a world composed of clay...There was never the slightest color accent anywhere to interfere with the endless uniform gray that covered everything...

No one who has not experienced that condition can understand the wood feeling that accompanies it. When every possession is marked with paint, it is like giving up civilian clothes for jail house issue. The paint is like a rash, and no matter how careful a painter is, in the end it is impossible not to spread the disease to every belonging and each person who visits the studio....

Working in a studio means leaving the clean world of normal life and moving into a shadowy domain where everything bears the marks of the singular obsession. Outside the studio, furniture is clean and comfortable; inside, it is old and unpleasant. Outside, walls are monochrome or pleasantly patterned in wallpaper; inside, they are scarred with meaningless graffiti. Outside, floors can be mopped and vacuumed; inside, they build up layers of crusted paint that can only be scraped away or torn up with the floor itself. The studio is a necessary insanity. Perhaps writers have insanities of paper, or of erasers, but they cannot compare with the multicolored dementia caused by fluids and stone."

--From a chapter entitled "The Studio As a Kind of Psychosis" in What Painting Is, by James Elkins



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