When did the visual arts become so encrusted with words? Not just the decent apparatus of a label with notes on artist and artwork, or the more expansive catalogue essay, or even the occasional book celebrating an artist or exploring a scene or movement – but this whole dense verbal screen, like a mass of [...]
The idea that god talks in his sleep is an entrancing notion. To be truthful, I had never entertained the possibility. For that matter, I’m not sure I even thought he slept. I know the story about him resting after the Six Days of Creation, but the idea of the supine stretch of his body, eyes closed, and maybe an embarrassing noise escaping from his mouth, never entered my mind. Since we know that he knows everything we think, and he sees everything we do, it occurred to me that sleep could get in the way of that omnivorous knowledge. And he wouldn’t have to worry about sleep deprivation because… well, he’s god. But Leon Rooke’s title got me thinking about what god does say in his sleep; does he cry out his sympathetic pain and frustration at the way his creation has gone awry; does he whisper the name of his secret inamorata; does he babble in his dreaming of dreams?
I remember everything about the day: the sudden spring rain, the spongy grass, the padlocked garage door and the small key that opened it so I could see a painting that filled the back wall. The sight of The Beginnings of Love echoed the sensation I had had on first seeing Goya’s Dog Buried in Sand: here was a work of art that would be with me for life. The detritus of several months’ labour – a low bed, a table strewn with paintbrushes, rags, a camp stove, books on Goya – filled the garage/studio. The glistening painting, reeking of oil, diminished everything around it. Seeing such a forceful evocation of rushing water, of human emotions seeking their source, seemed a miraculous transubstantiation. I felt I was witnessing water turned to oil and knew I couldn’t treat this painting the way I had other works by Richard Gorman, admiring them in exhibitions, committing them to memory. I wanted to see The Beginnings of Love every day. I wanted to live with it.
On Becoming a Painter (A Memoir)
“If you’re a painter, you’re not alone. There’s no way to be alone. You think, and you care, and you’re with all the people who care . . . To be right is the most terrific personal state that nobody is interested in . . .”
—Franz Kline to Frank O’Hara [...]
Jon began his portrait of Kurt Cobain soon after his weekend show at Loosenz hair salon, part of the annual St. Clair ArtWalk. It was Jon’s first public showing of his work and he stayed drunk from the Friday night opening until tear-down Sunday to get through it. The centrepiece of the show was “The Good Doctor,” Jon’s large, head-and-shoulders portrait of the late Hunter S. Thompson. The famously irascible journalist is imagined in a moment of absorbed and even serene contemplation, liberated from the self-generated props that attached to his image and obscured it. No porkpie hat, no cigarette holder, no cigarette even. No drugs or alcohol in sight. No handgun. Even his equally famous collaborator, the artist Ralph Steadman, is absent, though symbolically present, Jon tells me, in the circles that hover near Thompson’s thinking head. They are the minatory orbs and eyes that rush from the horizon at the viewer in Steadman’s manic drawings. They have become more like soap bubbles, pure placid geometry. Forms. They look Platonic, I tell Jon at the opening. He wanted to depict Thompson as he was, “an intellectual,” Jon says.