The time we’re living in is crazy, horrible, almost medieval with disease, increasing police brutality and militarization, diminishment of democratic rights, and the upcoming ledge of a terrifying election. I was supposed to have a show of drawings and paintings last May at Gladstone and titled it “Twice Removed”: "twice" to propose the idea of a multiplied subjectivity, being of two minds, forked paths, and having allegiances to both subject and object, thinking and feeling, abstraction and figuration, form and content, dialectics and contradictions; "removed" because my paintings are built through negation, a kind of violent erasure, scraping down, undoing, getting rid of. But twice removed was also a pun on the family relation, being adjacent to something older. I’m a knight’s move away from the old tradition of gestural painting, but I’m really not trying to kill the father: I love gestural painting like it was my grandma, even though I’m skeptical, pessimistic, and sometimes critical of what she stands for. (My mom always said I was too negative.) So I was also thinking about painting as an unrolling of time—both my own genealogy and the way I wanted to unfurl paintings and drawings in long horizontal sequences around the room. I wanted the work to be like scraps and fragments, a bunch of spare parts, puzzling things dug up archeologically, arranged around the rooms of the gallery in a frieze of tangled patches. I was already thinking bleak thoughts about America, and the work looked like it: melancholy, mostly only black and white, ambiguous, often either too raw or over-cooked, ambiguous. I was trying to make a new language out of a bunch of spare parts.
That show was postponed due to Covid19 and will now open in late September. But the new show is an even more shaggy, complicated affair, containing all of the above plus all the new work from this agonizing spring and summer shuffled in. For much of this time, I didn’t have a painting studio, so I just drew flowers, the opulent irises, daylilies, and sunflowers that were springing up around me from bushes and trees and from the earth. As Lorraine Hansberry asked (in her 1962 play), “what use are flowers?” I was obsessed with their colors and shapes, the simple joy of observing them, and how they exude libido, healing, and rebirth, even though while I was drawing them I was wondering if we might all die. Were they funerary or optimistic? During this spring, painting itself was overshadowed by the question of whether painting-life could continue to exist at all. But after months of the flowers, they started to morph into abstractions. The flower stems looked like the legs of figures stalking around, their heads bent over in a kind of looped narrative with no particular story except growth and then withering. The world’s ground was shifting, so I started concentrating on the fields behind the figures— patterns, plaids, and confusing figure-to-grounds, a purposefully destabilized signal-to-noise ratio. And eventually, it was the process of improvisation itself that seemed the most timely and urgent. I was thinking about a quote by Fred Moten, “improvisation is making nothing out of something.” In this sense “nothing” is a good thing, it means you’re in a hole, on the brink of change, and you have to listen, to pay attention. Improvising is a process that comes from within and that proposes a without, a nowhere that is everywhere. The hard questions continue (how to keep making paintings at all, if the world can possibly be rebuilt, and how) but I hope there's an alchemy in there, a use, in keeping on working with the motion between the known and an abstract (but felt) unknown.