I haven’t been in touch with anyone of late. I find that I’m preoccupied with the fleeting moments rather than the overall pictures. As a friend of mine used to say – being in the game is different than watching the game, and another friend used to say – knowing the game ain’t the same as winning the game. Either way it always seemed to me that the physical vagaries of existence always put a different emphasis on the outcomes of the game. And it is those outcomes that always determine the issues.
I read recently that poor Dash Snow fell victim to one of those outcomes. And after reading so many discussions about his life and his legacy I can only say how sad it all seems, especially when there seemed so much available to this young man. But then again, there are a lot of young people falling victim to the outcomes these days.
In all of the articles there’s talk of the scene. But the “new” scene in the lower east side of Manhattan is very reminiscent of the old scene – even the type of art made there and promoted there hasn’t change very much. I’ll give you an example… Back in the early 90s a well-heeled friend of mine used to have mounds of coke hand delivered to his studio before he began to paint huge expressionist word paintings. The lines would be laid out on the palette right next to gobs of oily paint. All those POMO EV guys from the 80s and 90s would still look very much at home with the artists that Deitch and Co. promote today. In fact that’s probably the point. Deitch formed his aesthetic in those years and so he looks for what he knows best. But what do I know, I was never a street artist or an EV or LES artist – I look elsewhere for inspiration.
But I think that this is part of our time. We seem intent on repeating the past. Maybe this is the post historical conundrum. Without history time keeps moving on while we keep going in circles – an endless Groundhog Day. We age without maturing.
It’s funny, I recently spent time talking with an older gentleman. He was recovering from a mortal ailment. His name was Mr. McNabb. At 90 something years he was intent on telling me all about his life even though he had never met me before. I learned all about his youth, his wife, his children and grandchildren, that he worked at Sears for all of his adult life as an accountant, that in his thirties he had been hit by a truck crushing his left leg and leaving him with a limp, that his father had learned to build bridges in World War I, and that that same father had left his mother and him to fend for themselves in the 1920s when he went out West. I could tell you more, but it was entrusted to me to keep in a strange way. What he really wanted was to be known, wanted someone to understand that he had lived. When I got up to leave I shook his hand and told him what a pleasure it was to meet him, but he would not let go of my hand. He had so much more to tell me, and he wanted me to stay to witness, to understand.
I thought for a while after our conversation of seeing him slowly pushing himself along in his wheelchair, one hand on the wall, one leg pushing forward, how much this man embodied this time that we live in. If he could he would be online pouring his heart out to whomever would read about his life. However his age and his infirmity stops him. He is not the physical human he used to be. Yet his mind is still active, stretches into infinity. His life time, his history, his memory play out all at once without any way to express that memory. He is trapped in his broken body just as we all will become trapped in our physical realities. What I found real in my encounter with Mr. McNabb was that handshake. The reality of his history and his memory became full for both of us in that physical moment. I won’t forget him, but I’m sure he has forgotten me – he has no choice, and neither do I.
In the end it’s about just those memories and what they might mean, how they might come to be, and how they’re imparted to others.
As the summer wears on I find myself very much at odds with the things that I’m reading and the works that I see. Can painting and painters still do this – present a visual world, a visual memory? Does painting still have that sort of visual power? I’m convinced that it’s possible, but for now I guess that conversation will remain MIA from the current art world discussions. I am putting the finishing touches on our Rough Trade series and I hope to have it for you very soon. I’m finding it difficult, because it is so very personal, and I do not wish to bore. Nothing worse than ill conceived narcissism.