Painting 1 was a chamber of neuroticisms. One artist, a gay Asian male in his early twenties, would build massive- I’m talking, Enormous, canvases. He would paint them rapidly- without great consideration to his color palette and without any remarkable technical skill, and they featured images like ‘himself as Jesus’ or, ‘himself in various sadomasochistic sex positions’. He was, unshockingly, into Mapplethorpe. His work was profoundly mediocre, and profoundly overblown. The teacher was a groovy, laid-back lady who painted water. She liked fan-brushes, and would say, real gently, ‘you know, when somethin’s not going right I just fan-brush right over the whole thing, and next thing ya know it’s workin out just fine.’ I felt viscerally uncomfortable that this woman had to be exposed to the bratty, self-absorped, and narcissistic autoerotic slop that was being produced in her classroom. She was obviously nice, and it seemed like she was a caring wife and mother who didn’t need to spend the day in such a negative environment.
The space of the room also created anxiety and hypertension for me, so I stopped taking the classes. You would be in a room with one person compulsively gessoing over and repainting one micro-patch of paint on the hip-bone of a yak, while another artist sorted his paint-palette into tiny, elaborate little grids to render steel girders from a photo, while another girl slowly, so slowly, crunched a granola bar granule by granule. It felt like you were just waiting for somebody to scream their guts out and throw some paint down on their canvas, but no- no spontaneous artistic rapture, no major intellectual breakthroughs, no instances of singular, unforgettable genius to revolutionize the form- just the sound of every dropped pin, every Kleenex, every fidget, echoing throughout the studio as each person pursued some highly individual, utterly unrelated, and for the most part profoundly unstimulating pursuit with the medium of painting- punctuated by the occassionally wry and irrelevant critique from whoever felt like leaning over your shoulder. We were psychologically & ideologically anachronistic, and merely geographically proximal.
To be fair, there was a very competitive and talented painter who was obsessed with the Beatles, whose work I felt had merits. He painted rollercoasters in a hyperrealistic style and would often work ultra-long hours, like over 12-16 hour stretches, to finish canvases. His work was skillful. You could say he was a square- like if he was a painting he’d be a Josef Albers- a large true-blue square in a slightly-larger red square, on a forest-green ground. He was consistently polite and took interest in other artist’s work, but his angst with his process was worn on the surface, and grappling with art history throughout his undergraduate education seemed to bring up questions in his relationship with realism, and questions about the element of imagination in different art historical movements. I’m not sure how he would articulate his answers to those questions now. I would imagine, and certainly hope, that he is still painting.
Ruth was a whip-smart, charming, and spiritual woman with gray hair and a piercing gaze. I feel we connected on a soul-level. We also connected over Bob Dylan- she told us that she had been friends with the woman who was the actual girl from Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands. My eyes lit up and sparkled, and she grinned at me to know I appreciated the depth of her story, of feeling like I knew in an instant what her life had been like in the Paris art scene, and in turn, her understanding of what my life was like and what I valued in art- (at the time, I was painting a self-portrait of rebirth, with dirt rubbed into the surface of an unstretched canvas, and lillies blossoming from an empty egg shell). I still did not make a lot of work in her class, but we shared our interest in music.
I did meet one my absolute best friends in the painting classes. She was a feminist Latina lesbian with wit, brass, and a really sincere interest in the people around her. She also had a punchy laugh that would get you laughing with her. We both knew how to skateboard, we were both from Texas, we’d both worked for Richard, and we both had a kind of rebel attitude toward life in general, or rather, a ‘highly individual, free-thinking, and outspoken feminist viewpoint’, which presumably excluded us from hanging out indoors in the stuffy studio environment. We would drop our stuff of at class then go outside to sit in the courtyard over coffee, tell stories, talk about work, how school was going, where we were living, talk about our ideas in art, and generally laugh our respective butts off for hours, etc. etc. She is an enormously talented painter whose work embraces the raunchy, high-gloss glamour of West Hollywood with a Jeff-Koonsy psychological reversal in her relationship that glamour- she takes ownership of her persona as an artist who ‘lives for the applause’, and as an artist whose identity is crafted like an ever-changing mask- but even within the pseudoinvulnerability of the persona she’s constructed, she shows extraordinary sensitivity for the subjects of her paintings and films, and a hilarious, class-conscious, and self-aware attitude toward both the mainstream and alternative, the cloistered avant-garde and more accessible street (or nightclub) art worlds. She has an ever-changing cabal of muses, but she falls deeply in love and represents that in the portraits of those she is close to. She subjectivizes the people she paints and elevates her muses through her work. We later got into hanging out on our patio in dollar-store 'diamonds' and improvising elaborate Marie Antoinette-ish comedies with Marxist undertones, referencing everything from Funkadelic, to a fictional rock group called Leather and the Daddies, to a fictional liquor called bronzeschlager (a riff on goldschlager, a vodka with literal gold flakes in it) which we decreed (a la Marie Antoinette) that the working class should be allowed to drink. She is really great, and her paintings should be worth a million zillion dollars in pure gold.
‘that sounds like a new york question’
Cal Arts is a groovy little forest enclave, a haven for crusty male artists who are die-hard clingers to the type of 1970’s conceptualism that elevated vapid pseudophilosophy in the form of text-based installations to momentarily occupy the pedestal of “Art” by shrouding it in the smoke-and-mirrors effects that the gallery and museum community is capable of producing until it had the reputation of being something noteworthy. They don’t make art at Cal Arts they make ~vi-i-i-bes~. They scoff. They have communal dinners of crunchy rice and iced tea. They raise their eyebrows and pat their bellies in their sweaters while they laugh about other artitsic enclaves who are intellectually invested in such primitive novelties such as ‘sculpture’ and ‘painting’. Ask them for a tour of campus, and they will gesture with pride toward the topless pool and the barbeque grill, and serve you banh-mi’s made by a graduate who decided that you know he’d rather make sandwiches after all. Many are accepted, and no-one gets through without shelling out some serious cash. They play soccer. They wear flannels and corduroy hats- empty signifiers of being ‘working class’, like the workaday uniform worn by Ab-Exers in the New York scene, except without the work. I attended a panel discussion and asked the faculty, seated in a row at the front of the room, what do you think is the most crucial question in painting today? One artist emits a rollicking belly-laugh, looks to his colleagues, and answers ‘that sounds like a New York question.’