This ran in this past Sunday’s NY Times – it’s a letter from my gallery which (quite correctly) disputes the opening paragraph of the otherwise nice article I got two weeks ago. Anyway, it’s really, really sweet…
I’ve been thinking lately about how our bodies develop – about how life takes its toll on our bodies and then we wear that toll around with us every day. Two examples from my own body:
1. I started, as a nervous habit, in the 1st grade the habit of pushing my middle finger under my ring finger and then curling all my fingers together in a ball – it’s tough to explain, but it’s the kind of subtle, nervous habit that takes about half a second to execute and I often don’t realize I’m doing it. After years and years and years of this, my middle fingers now slant towards my pinkie finger in a way that is totally pronounced once you’ve had it pointed out to you – it’s not glaring like you see it from across the room or whathaveyou, but if you know it’s there you can’t miss it.
2. My arms are incredibly weak (like, really weak) and my legs are very strong and muscular, even when I’ve been slacking on exercise. I don’t know what’s up with my arms, but with my legs I will bet that it’s from growing up with very limited access to cars (my mother doesn’t drive and my father was often away on business). Even when we lived in Texas, we would walk everywhere – it would take hours and would often involve walking down very busy streets (I hesitate to say “the highway” but that’s possible) just to do a simple task like go to the swimming pool or pick up something from the store. I’m not complaining – it inspired a lifelong love of walking and a sense that I can really get anywhere I need to all on my own.
Anyway. I’ve been thinking about this recently because I noticed that a lot of people I meet who are in their fifties or above have… how to say (politely)?… very individualistic bodies. When you teach figure drawing, you inevitably fall back into these rules (which would make Philip Pearlstein very pissed off) of, “Ok, the arms come to here and the legs are x% of the overall body” – and then suddenly I find myself chatting to a slightly older artist and realizing, “Wait… your arms are way the hell shorter than they should be according to these rules.”
My reoccurring thought whenever I notice something like this is, Your mother smoked when she was pregnant with you, right? which may sound completely rude and wrong, but you have to remember than practically everyone smoked then. By the 70s, pregnant women weren’t really smoking anymore, but I have (and so do all my friends my age) many pictures in our family album of my mother pregnant with me and drinking a big ol’ glass of wine – again, it’s what you did then; the wine was “good for the baby’s blood.” So wait – were all those glasses of wine responsible for my gimpy arms?
Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about this stuff lately – sort of the differences in all of our bodies, about how you don’t see people in their 20s with short arms (my arms are weak but not short, so maybe I represent a kind of transition between the two types) or otherwise disproportioned bodies, and how so much in our culture is about purchasing “solutions” to what is wrong with us physically, but that there is this underlying basis that can’t really be changed. Meaning, I can diet and dye my hair blond and maybe even do stuff like get a nose job or a tummy tuck, but there’s really no plastic surgery or solution to lengthening ones arms or shortening ones legs or moving your eyes slightly further apart or otherwise changing the proportions of your body.
All this thinking comes back to the Marlene Dumas show at MOMA, which I thought was utterly incredible – and the way in which her work is all about female-as-mutant (to sum it up ridiculously) and the body as it’s lived in and inhabited. That show is haunting me and I think about it every day.
Anyway. Hope springs eternal that I will grab some time in the studio this weekend and start to work some of these things out there.
Well, I’m finally doing it; I’m finally applying for some grants. I’ve done this sporadically over the last few years, but not in a way that was focused at all. This time I’m taking it more seriously (mostly because my needs have become more serious).
Problem is, of course, there aren’t that many grants to apply to – but at least I’m starting with the Pollock Krasner Foundation. I’ve printed out the five page application many times before, only to stare at it in bewilderment and then chuck it, but this time it’s for real. It’s become crystal clear to me that I simply can’t teach five classes forever because it just grinds me into the dust, but at the same time I need a serious studio equipment upgrade (new computer, new digital camera, etc). I need to slow down my teaching a bit, and then also pour some money into some equipment that will make my life just so much easier. We’ll see. I’ll keep you posted.
The NY Times is going to run an article about the Hunterdon show in Sunday’s edition. I’ll post a scan of the hard copy soon as I get one, but for now, here’s a link:
The article is terrific. I honestly can’t believe how terrific it is. If I have one qualm, it’s that the author mentioned my old gallery but not my new one. I show with BravinLee programs, not um, that other gallery that was mentioned. But to be fair, the article is so nice and awesome that I suck for even bringing that part up.
I tried to stay up til the article was posted last night, but I only made it to midnight. Around 3:30am I checked my email and there was one from Mary waiting for me – she was apparently able to stay up a little later than I was! I have to say that was possibly the first time ever that forwarding emails to people in the middle of the night was actually fun – usually when you do that, it’s because something terrible has happened. But… yay. Hooray! (As I’m sure you can tell from this post, I have basically been up since 3:30 and I’m way less articulate than usual. Today is going to be an interesting day…)
Mary Birmingham, the curator of my show at the Hunterdon Art Museum, wrote this text for the wall… I completely love it:
”There are always such beautiful things…”
In her drawings Amy Wilson creates an intimate yet accessible world of domestic interiors and landscapes populated by child-like female figures. Acting as surrogates for the artist, these characters engage in what she calls “fearless conversations” that reveal their deepest thoughts, fears and longings. While intensely personal, reflecting the inner life of the artist, they also address broader cultural ideas about art, science, politics and femininity. Grappling with big questions, these drawings transcend their relatively small scale and heighten our awareness of the inner and outer worlds we inhabit.
For this exhibition Wilson has created a miniature house inspired by Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” First published in 1892, this story explores one woman’s descent into insanity during her confinement in a room with yellow wallpaper. As in Wilson’s drawings, the text in Gilman’s story is related through first-person journal entries.
In Wilson’s house, yellow stripes seep from the walls and cascade through the structure, creeping across floors and flowing out through windows. Several birds appropriate these straw-like stripes for a nest, allowing Nature to have the final word. The paper vines that meander through the gallery echo this idea. Nature, so often benign and beautiful always carries the potential for domination and chaos; vines that embellish a home can also obliterate it. Similarly, the same imagination that fuels creativity can run wild and create irrational fears and nightmares.
The power of imagination—for the inquisitive child, the adult artist, and even the world at large—is a recurring theme in Wilson’s work. One of her little girls voices this idea: “I often think about how the imagination is the most important thing that we have – we will never improve the world or grow as a species if we can’t imagine the possibilities beforehand.”
For Amy Wilson, the act of art making is “nothing less than an attempt to build a new world to live in.” The glimpse she provides into her world enlightens and enriches ours.
This is hard to see because the background is white on white (the book is made of a kind of off-white paper and then there are trees cut out of computer paper, which is bright white), but it’s the best pic I can get for now. It’s a small, accordion-folded book that I finished this morning.