I called this new painting “Waking Dream” in honor of my friend Laura Park‘s comic book, Do Not Disturb My Waking Dream, which sits near the top right corner of the composition. But this picture has little to do with what Laura draws and writes about and probably little to do with any of the other books it depicts. One of the reasons I’ve kept revisiting the bookshelf motif is that it allows me to think about some of the words, pictures, and thoughts between the covers of my books while rendering them as near abstractions. I’ve been doing these for almost twenty years now and I have less and less interest in nailing details or making any of the spines, covers, or backs recognizable to anyone but myself. They’re not scavenger hunts or puzzles to be solved. That’s not to say that my interest is purely formal; a painting like this wouldn’t have the same meaning to me if it was done without looking at a shelf of books I myself collected over the decades.
What it might mean to someone else is another thing entirely. I’ve never spent much time consciously embedding messages or meanings for viewers to uncover in my pictures. They’re not puzzles or whodunnits. But painting is nevertheless a kind of communication, however indirect, poetic, or elusive. The reason to put marks on a surface—be they words, lines, or paint strokes—is a desire to connect to others in some way. Otherwise there is no reason to keep these things around. I’ve never understood artists or writers whose only audience is themselves. If anything, almost everything I’ve ever made is an attempt to get out or past myself. But what others get from my efforts isn’t anything I could, or would ever want to, shape or control.
Painting is a solitary thing but its purpose is the opposite of solitude. It would be horrible and profoundly disappointing to learn that all these years I’ve just been talking to myself. I hope and have to believe that isn’t so.
What paintings try to say was probably on my mind already because a few days before I finished “Waking Dream”, I went to 57th Street Books to hear Eric Plattner and Kathleen Rooney present the first English edition of Rene Magritte’s writings, which they co-edited. I’ve never been much of a fan of the man’s work but perhaps reading his words will help me make a little more sense of my own paintings.