I'm still not satisfied I've got to the root of the matter of why I'm driven to art. I feel like I'm moving in on it, but haven't quite got there yet. I'm remembering an interview with Robert Ryman, New York abstract artist from Nashville. He went to New York to play saxophone, wanted to play in a jazz band and did for several years. In New York he saw what was happening in art for the first time in his life and had to be involved. The interviewer, a New Yorker, couldn't believe he'd never experienced art in Nashville. I knew exactly what he was saying. Nashville is as great a wasteland for art as any other American city outside New York, with maybe an exception or two. Earlier in the day I saw a meme on facebook of Carl Jung saying life begins at 40, all before is training. It struck me because my life, in effect, began at 40. I recall when I became 40, I felt like I was ready to start, like my life was just beginning, again. Talking with an aunt I mentioned I felt like I was at a new beginning. She gave me an emphatic lecture that 40 is over the hill and everything after 40 is downhill. I thought, but couldn't say, she wasn't asking for conversation, I don't base my life in what I see in the mirror. If I lived for the mirror, 40 is the beginning of the fade. I'm looking at one's inner growth. Like Jung said, all that went before is training, education, learning how to live in this world as a human entity in civilization at a turning point. I'd studied art, looked at paintings and sculptures, listened to music, read poetry and prose, looking for art everywhere I looked. In rock, the bands I was drawn to were what they called the "art" bands, like Patti Smith Group, Garbage, bands that wanted to play art instead of pop. The early years of punk were loaded with art bands. In London, punk was an art school phenomenon. You wanted to get in a band, you went to art school. That's where people who wanted to play rock went to meet others. The Clash was a band that got together in art school. They made their own stage outfits with stenciled words on their clothes. Punk, in the first six months, was an art form in London. Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees was an art band from first album to present. Nina Hagen is an artist in every aspect of her stage persona. She never looks the same in any two photographs taken of her.
I fell in with Meher Baba at age 33. Just before age 40 I met two artists at the Center between Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach, Hwy 17 and the ocean, 500 acres of virgin forest, a spiritual retreat. They were talking about making images of Meher Baba as a kind of meditation. It sounded good to me. Working on the farm in the mountains, I needed something to help get through the winters. In the early years the winters drove me out of my mind. Too much solitude. I came to the mountains for solitude, but without understanding of what solitude entails. It wasn't long before I realized it was not solitude I wanted, but a home base where I dwelled in peace, in harmony with the spirit, whatever that meant. I do need others in my life. My life had changed radically. I felt like living remotely in more or less solitude would be a good exercise for five or so years. It was an exercise in learning I had no idea what I had jumped into apparently without foresight. A woman here who had a frame shop gave Monday night art class. It was all women getting away from Monday night television, sports night. I came to know them and liked them all. Met a friend there, April, who continues to be my friend, a good friend, the kind that if you need help right now, call her first. She's been through a disaster of a marriage with a Vet and got away from him after her son finished high school. April is one of the lights in my life. She was just out of high school then. She's having a rough go of it in this time when the economy does not include the working class. They talk about the sinking middle class. Hail far, the working class has already gone under. That's never on the news. April is finding her way as women are able to do. Men tend to fold or get married again right away for help, or pop a cap in the head. I've seen women do things maybe one out of a hundred men could do. We have a lot of young divorced women in the county with kids, living in HUD apartments, food stamps, Social Services, working fulltime at Burger King or waitressing, making it work, giving herself totally to the kids when she's home and worrying about them while she's at work. I can say straight up I do not know a man who could do that. Maybe one would fool me, but I wouldn't be able to guess who it might be. I know for certain I could not.
I went to the Monday night art "class" where Arzetta oversaw the ladies helping them get better at American Suburban Primitive. I took to drawing immediately. Arzetta told me I lied to her when I said I had no drawing or painting experience. I assured her it was true, but she wouldn't hear it. She took me for a liar from then on. I went to the classes for about a year to make myself do something at least once a week. Set a time aside and do it. I started drawing at home and stopped going to Arzetta's Art Shop for the classes that became tiresome. I made some drawings of Meher Baba and made drawings of people I knew from photographs I'd made of them. Farm scenes and mountain people. It became boring. I was house painting alone in the late 1980s and a woman I was doing some interior house painting for suggested I start painting with oil. I tried it. It came natural. It was like I'd done it all my life. I was looking at the canvas a rectangle or square, straight lines, the masculine. What I wanted to do inside the masculine box was feminine curves and circles with occasional straight lines in relation to the straight lines of the frame. Balance. I wanted to paint fruits and vegetables, watermelons, bell peppers, apples, bananas, oranges, cantaloupes, onions, lemons, limes, in more or less abstract compositions. I saw them as abstractions. The market saw them as kitchen art. That wouldn't do in my kitchen, the colors are wrong. Painted several rocks as mountains, and aged wood with odd shapes. Got with a gallery in Chapel Hill. Had to drive 7 hour round trip once a month to deliver, to be treated like a truck driver at that end, and expected to go to all the openings and Christmas show etc. After a year, even though I was received favorably and they sold 3 things, I couldn't do it anymore. I did not aim to drive back and forth to Chapel Hill every month the rest of my life or any portion of my life. I brought everything home and didn't paint for maybe ten years. Turned completely off by the art market world. Especially hated being expected to suck up to the rich. I got too much hillbilly in me---don't suck up to nobody for no reason. There's nothing I want that bad. A touch of Taurus the Stubborn.
Over some years I found the purist art form of old-time mountain music. Couldn't play it, but took to it. Started a Saturday morning show of music from the region, "music from home." It lasted 7 years until a preacher bought the station and put it out of business. He didn't do anything with it. It sits empty as a good shelter for the field mice in winter. Had a music store for 4 years of mountain music on cd. Downloading and gas prices choked it down. Just not enough volume. A musician friend asked me to make an album cover for his bluegrass band. I did. It worked. It activated my painting again. This time I wanted to paint mountain musicians. My late friend Jr Maxwell, in his eighties, felt sorry for me because I couldn't do nothin. Couldn't weld, couldn't work on tractor motors, couldn't drive a bulldozer, couldn't work a sawmill, didn't know how to make liquor. He humored me, but took me for somebody who just didn't know nothin and couldn't do nothin. He felt sorry for me until the day I walked in his door carrying a portrait I'd made of him playing his banjo. All of a sudden, I got respect. Always had his respect, but when he saw the paintings he realized I was a man who actually could do something. I saw a cloud of self-consciousness come over him as he shrunk into saying he could never even learn how to do something like that. I did not want him feeling like I was outdoing him, because I was not. He said, "How did you learn to do that?" I said, "I figured it out, like you figured out the banjer." The light came back. This was a man I looked up to way up high, and not without knowing his dark side, the only man I've known in this lifetime I'd call wise, and without hesitation. The most humble human being I've known. His was not fake humility. I have known two women I call wise, one still living. What I keep on coming to in this examination for the origin of my art impulse is that my life, itself, is my art form. Addressed here is kind of a record of how the need manifested. Haven't even touched the need to write yet. I can take that to lying in the bed at night in childhood frustrated because nobody listened to anything I said. I dreamed of writing, the only way I felt I could say what I had to say without interruption, arbitrary change of subject, telephone, commercials, and a long list of distractions, writing as a form of communication. A woman I know here, who came over from England some years ago, said of the blog writing, "You're so honest!" In a sense, appreciating the exposed vulnerabilities and questioning, how do you do that? I said without thinking, heard myself say it, "How else can we communicate?" The writing is about communication. In my own personal interpretation, communication must be honest to truly commune-icate, communion, community. I may be wrong, but I believe it when I say it. Nearly all memory is inexact. Ten years from now I might believe something entirely different from how I see it today. Ultimately, this is leading to my life is my art form. It doesn't look like it on the outside, because it's all on the inside, and not for marketing a living at, or attempting to, or with ambition to.
edvard munch, self-portrait