Motherwell 1, “the more anonymous a work. . .”


Elegy to the Spanish Republic, No. 126

Elegy to the Spanish Republic, No. 126

“The more anonymous a work, the less universal, because in some paradoxical way, we understand the universal through the personal”.

This is the first in a series of reflections and musing on Robert Motherwell’s writings. Motherwell was one of the foundational abstract expressionists and was pivotal in forming the New York School in the forties and fifties. Aside from his work being profoundly influential, he was a brilliant writer and became in a sense, the literate voice of his generations experience and artistic priorities. My intention here is not to critique, but speak to how his words connect with me and my process and in the creation of art in general.

A commonly heard tenant of writers is, “write from what you know-” I would posit that this truth holds true no matter the medium. But so often visual artists feel compelled to paint an idea, or as Tom Wolfe so eloquently put it in his analysis of the later 20th century art, to muck around in the “Painted Word.” This speaks to how in the reprioritzation towards conceptualization, artists drew further and further away from a visual experience to become more illustrators of concepts, in essence, creating depictions of one-liners. This is why so often contemporary work does not have staying power, does not transcend time and culture to speak to universal connection, does not create a mutli-leveled experience that unfolds itself slowly.

As I paint these days, there is a constant lean towards the expression of an impassioned release. Works are created from a primal intuition that has been honed through years of sensitizing myself to visual relationships, whether the intention was illusionist or not. Listening to Motherwell’s words, you understand that to create significance, you cannot be immersed with out-thereness, separatist notions of things or self conscious illusions of self importance that are either hackneyed or redundant, or worse, merely decorative. You may paint the land, object or human, but let it come from a source that you call your own. Mimicry is just that, and is a shallow vessel that at best creates a pleasantry to be viewed, not experienced.

When Motherwell speaks of “The personal”, these words go far past narcissistic indulgence. ‘Personal’ here refers to an inward journey of self revelation and exploration, where brutal honesty, even faith, lights the path. It is here, down here, from whence we all come, and it is here that universally connective truths can be revealed.

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