Marty asked me to make a painting to remember a friend by. He sent me photographs of a desk covered with pens, pencils, papers, and various electronics, presided over by an imposingly darkened computer monitor. He told me he thought of me instantly because I often paint mess and clutter.
Apart from the challenges of working from a photograph, this painting presented questions about meaning and connections. It’s one thing to immortalize the things which make up my own life, but what does it mean to do the same for a bunch of objects I’ve never even seen with my own eyes?
Of course, I’ve never been the kind of painter who starts out from meaning or ideas. Whatever significance any of my work ends up with is gained through the process of its making. So, in theory, it shouldn’t matter what I start from. Still, it was an odd feeling to be looking over the belongings of someone I never met and would never meet and attempting to turn them into a picture. The fact that they were dead added another layer of complexity. Though it reminded me of many of the pet portraits I’ve done, which were made after their subjects’ passing.
When it came to doing the actual work, all these thoughts went out the window. All there was was an empty space which had to be organized into a picture. The reference photo was quickly eclipsed as primary inspiration by the evolving painting itself. This is often the case. The ones which work dictate their own terms after a time.
Then it was done. I took a photo of it and sent it to Marty and he seemed to approve, so I packed the painting up and sent it off to Texas. In my studio, after I returned from the post office, I cast about for some trace of that dead man’s desk picture, but there was none. Only the table, easel, art supplies, and bookshelf which were there before Marty wrote me. That picture was gone as if it had never been in the room but hundreds of others suggested themselves in every direction I glanced. Most of them would never get painted, but I set up the easel and took out ink and paper for the off chance I could rescue at least one more from the void.