In latest issue of The Brooklyn Rail there’s a must-read conversation between John Yau and Thomas Nozkowski, who has a solo show up at Pace through December 4. Here’s an excerpt of the discussion, but make sure to go read the whole thing.
Rail: Okay—you had a diary and you made an abbreviated note. Like, I’m going to do a painting based on this thing that struck my attention, or whatever, right?
Nozkowski: I’m more likely to do that today. But the original function of the diary was strictly factual, as a tax record. It’s a good idea for any artist to keep a narrative that can help identify what was part of the art-making process. Trips taken, materials bought, and so on. Once I developed the habit of keeping a diary, it just grew. Today my diary has a little of everything, from art stuff to anecdotes, business matters to an occasional observation. So it hasn’t been a tool in the life of my paintings. On the other hand, it would probably be very interesting for someone further down the line to track when paintings were done with what was going on in the diary. Do you know Rosemary Mayer’s great translation of Pontormo’s Diary? Written while he was painting some of his most profound and beautiful work and it is completely mundane—his diet, his friends, even his constipation! A wonderful book.
But why not use a diary if you are drawing on your experience? Well, I wasn’t aware of this at first, but now it’s very clear to me that I am as interested in my failures of memory, the lapses, mistakes, and self-delusions, as I am in any kind of putative accuracy. A diary like mine—a string of facts and opinions—is pretty useless for my paintings. The reality my paintings draw upon is as complex, varied, and self-examining as I can make it. What’s interesting is my desire to want to do something—and I tell this to my students. If you don’t want something from your work, you can’t have anything. Purpose makes things come into focus. How come this feels right? Why do I love this and hate that? There’s a lot to be said for doing something as well as you can and not striving for some idea of perfection. Ideas of perfection are usually based on what we have seen in the past, on what we already know. You can give anything a shot, any idea—no matter how odd or impossible seeming. Here: let’s try to make a picture of, say, how I feel about John Yau. And I’m going to try to do this with as much intelligence and depth as I can muster. I now have a place to begin, an area to work in, and I can put forth some propositions: what is the color of this and what is the shape of that? What is the light in this place? All artistic propositions, excluding only the most trivial, look ridiculous upon close examination. I don’t believe success in a project like this can be measured by how easily readable my image is to other people—it is instead measured by how visually rich and complex the painting is. The picture will be of John, but it is really about what I can find in trying to see him.
“Thomas Nozkowski: Recent Work,” Pace Gallery, New York, NY. Through December 4, 2010.
Related posts and articles:
Nozkowski clip at Two Coats TV
Drawing as an End, Not a Means
Ted Loos reports in the NYTimes: “For an exhibition at the Pace that opened this month, the veteran abstract painter Thomas Nozkowski took a different approach. He used drawing as a cool-down exercise rather than a warm-up. The show features 19 pairs of works, each one a painting and a smaller, corresponding work on paper in ink, pencil and gouache. The drawings are still studies of a kind, but they all reflect back on a just-finished major canvas filled with the artist’s signature squares, triangles and rounded biomorphic forms.”
How Thomas Nozkowski scaled back the rules and rhetoric
“One unexpected turn leading surprisingly to the next and culminating in a small triumph.”
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