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What a difference a week in the studio makes
After two years struggling in an artistic pit, I have once more connected with my core and have found a theme.

In a lecture I gave entitled
Paper Trails I mentioned that when subject and object matter align with one’s core, the work is linked with the artistic impulse. When they aren’t aligned, the artist falls into a pit. It’s not that the artist doesn’t produce or that the work isn’t of high quality.

After my father died, I produced a series called Fire Cycle and several works that are part of the current series Ghosts. But I was constantly fighting with subject matter and the object matter of those works. The Fire Cycle drawings were attempts to process my father and collaborator’s passing with a Zen-like concentrated pencil process within a small format. After that series came extensive work in my sketchbook with the accessional studio drawings in ink, pencil or charcoal on paper or canvas.
In March, with the upcoming marriage of my daughter, I began a celebratory drawing. The drawing [Vows, 2022] went through many versions but after reviewing it, I felt it needed a coffee wash. I sprayed the surface to protect the underdrawing, added the coffee, punched up the foreground with charcoal and the drawing was complete.
I remember being surprised by enjoying the process and viewing the final work. I couldn’t put my finger on why except that the next time I went into the studio, high from the work I did for my daughters, I selected the marching men sketch from my sketchbook [see Sketchbook IV: 18] and proceeded to flesh it out on the large piece of paper. As I drew them in, the overall atmosphere of the work changed from humorous (the walking man in the front is marching with the wrong foot outstretched) to discomforting. They seemed to have a direction and focus to their plodding, but the goal of this procession wasn’t obvious. They seemed to be going towards another field after crossing the road (if indeed they were going to cross the road).
This crowd–strange and ambiguous in intention–seemed to me to contain some menace about it. In the next drawing, the characters more agitated than anything I had drawn before (except in the 1988 painting When The Spectacle Threatens To Appear In Full View and in the 1996 drawing Breath/Expulsion] and made the object of their attention occur off the page.

Within 10 days I had blanketed my studio with six underdrawings. I needed to be in the studio. The series was still Ghosts but now the ghosts weren’t phantom images from my partial wakefulness but a theme that focused on phantom fears and dangers–where the chaos, disturbance, catastrophe wasn’t seen but only implied by its absence. The two years living with the pandemic and before that the nightmare years of Trump had found an expression. And there on the drawings hanging in my studio was a subject and object matter that meshed with my core–a fear of crowds, of crowd mentality and amorality. My Cossacks were coming.

Have I just mainlined what Criswell has called the art drug with its sense of redemption, verification, and sense of life? If so, I wish I could bottle it for the next time I fall miserably into the pit. And what would this drug be without a muse? Ah, as to the muse…I could say the muse blessed me, but I think that with all my fumbling in the dark I just found within a subject I fixated on and the objects I chose to give it form an outlet to my Kafkaesque core.
1. Burnt Field [underdrawing], 2022
2. Vows, 2022
3. Sketchbook IV: 18
4. Stride [underdrawing], 2022