HOW THINGS ARE
Hillstrom Museum of Art
St. Peter, Minnesota
February 24 to April 21, 2013
I yearn to understand life. I want to know where I am, what surrounds me and what is within me that gives life meaning. I yearn to move, to act. I believe this yearning is born out of our need to reconcile abstract truths with our sensually understood world. I am not made to live in a fixed state but in a state of flux between the complexities of the world as it is and the world as it should be. The mind is the elegant confluence between conflicting worlds. Art is the nuanced expression of this powerful movement.
To understand 'how things are' is to realize that I am deeply embedded in other people's lives. I am hampered my individual capacity. To survive, to know who I am, the value of my purpose, to sense the breadth of human possibility, I need my society. Reciprocally, I want to give something of myself to others. For me, this drive is the primary redemption of a liberal life. It is an important purpose of my art.
My art is Narrative
Humankind never tires of its own story. The human images of popular culture do not help me. They reinforce my isolation. They are 'more than' my daily experience. Instead of being a mirror they are more distressed, more ecstatic, more iconically formed, more intellectualized or more graphic. We are frequently entertained by images of masses in a single unifying event: sports stands filled with fans, images of war and disaster or synchronized motion which reduces the broad impact of an individual to a component.
To fill the vacuum created by the received culture, I turn to history to see man unadorned and understood. If I want to know who I am, the value of my purpose, if I need to make judgements about my actions, I need the clarity of other people's minds. Historically, painters such as Breugel the Elder, Francisco Goya, William Hogarth, Honore Daumier, Anders Zorn, George Bellows looked at their subjects with compassion and without pity. Labour, struggle, inscrutable mystery and joy are accepted as part of the common life, analogous to the artists' experience.
My art is Humanist
Creating work about the human condition becomes a congress of souls, man taking man as the measure. Classically the measure could be Vitruvian or Palladian ratios. I believe the true measure is the anguish of Goya at man's fall from Grace. The artist and the art are held to account. Rather than I it is We, rather than the general You it is the personal Thou.
A plain speaking culture undergirds my way of seeing: hard working, making do. It is a view that requires a blank sheet, a tool to mark and a love of life. The distance from concept to material representation is a challenging journey. The energy needed for completion comes from the sincerity of the labour. I want to topple my assumptions. Small cohesive groups within a larger society give me the opportunity to do this. Their environment becomes my studio. I interpret by direct sight what takes place commonly, rather than exceptionally. Although the paintings are filled with physical minutia for future social historians, I am primarily concerned with my own amazement. The edges of the paper are my proscenium arch. Little by little unpredictable life is acted out by players whose personal drama is endured with dignity and heroism. The image develops by being an active part.
Having a gift dictates using it well. The same developed skills could be used for their own purpose, 'art for art's sake'. Instead, in the series paintings for The Way Things Are
, I allow the lives of others to dictate the use of my talent. Being a voice for other people gratifies my need to have a reason to exist beyond myself. A painting brings a newness to their existence, reveals something they might not be able to express and carries it into the larger world of the viewer. To look at man's social condition has a greater fascination for me than man as an abstract or man as form.
Robert Henri's legacy of the Art Spirit and the Ash Can School continues to clash with the established art criticism, which depends on the quantifiable language of classical structures. Although form and structure are an inevitable part of an artist's work, life is impossible to measure. "To follow life" wherever it leads, the home, the street, roof tops or the shops is a natural thing for the philosophical mind to do. The task is limitless. It is as legitimate a reason for two dimensional painting as for any Liberal Art.
The exhibition reflects my own interests. Everything was created at the time and in relationship to the place it describes. There is no anonymity or generalized locale. Curiosity and an empathetic heart are the common borders shared by each painting. Looking is the technique. Without prior knowledge of the dynamics, I become part of the location for a period of weeks.
I learn the life. I watch for repetitions and surprises. My paintings entice the viewers into the situation, so that they take time to consider those lives.
Culturally, most work places are stripped of elements sympathetic to human relationship.
Environments are typically harshly lit boxes. The interiors of my paintings are constructed out of details that pervade the situation: defiant butts in ashtrays, casual litter, decorative glitz, printed words and partial glimpses of the exterior world. For people locked into routine, minutia becomes important. These are the traces that mark our transit. Material culture diminishes the status of the vendor for the sake of increasing the ego of the buyer. There are plenty of aesthetics to boost commerce and indulge the consumer, but rarely for those who toil within it. Yet in each situation, the strong relational worlds of people dominate. It is important that the individual be identified as separate from his immediate environment. Not one person is like the other. I believe this strength insures our success.
I was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1947. My maturation coincided with the social upheavals that rocked the nation. The struggles for racial and sexual equality were engaged in open confrontation. Atomic threat, student demonstrations, police brutality, drugs becoming normalized, South East Asian wars, Columbia, Argentina, the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Presidents Johnson and Nixon, global diaspora filled our minds with the need for massive changes to the established order. There were countless shattered dreams and countless new dreamers. Hostility, confusion, love and hate are part of what we are made of. Creative imagination is where change begins.
- Kilcoe, Ireland, December 2012