Paintings shouldn’t have names. Words shape how people look at pictures, telling them how to think and feel about what they’re seeing, sometimes making them doubt their own eyes. And yet, there’s no way around it. You can just number them, but numbers are a lot harder to remember than words, so an archive of numbered pictures would be a nightmare to use (at least for me.) So I call them things.
With the book paintings, titles are practically screaming over one another to be chosen. Every spine, cover, and back of a book is a candidate. I named this one Pandemonium after a zine published in Boston in 80s. A portion of its black-and-white cover is visible about three-quarter way’s down in the middle of the painting. It was a magazine about underground culture put out by Jack Stevenson, who used to also present evenings of driver-safety and anti-drug propaganda films at places like the Primal Plunge. Seeing stuff like that was a badly-needed antidote for living in Ronald Reagan’s America. I read about Charles Bukowski, John Waters, the Kuchar brothers, and William Burroughs in Jack’s magazine. So sometimes I get to pay tribute to something from the past with my titles.
This one’s called Fardwor, Russia after Oleg Kashin’s wicked satire for which he was nearly beaten to death. It’s the hot pink one with yellow lettering. I reviewed the English translation back when I wrote reviews for the Trib.
Most of my cityscapes are boringly just named after the places they portray. Thus there are now about fifteen Lituanicas, dozens of Jackalopes, and countless Skylarks. With room pictures I’ve occasionally gotten a little more fanciful. In A Lonely Place is named after my favorite Bogart flick; Night Studio after Musa Mayer’s memoir about growing up with Philip Guston as her father; The Mess I’ve Made, a comment on relationship problems. Sometimes I get to have ones with multiple meanings. A series of paintings and drawings of a garage behind a Bridgeport bar is called Excavation, to reference the work of digging through the piles crap which I’d undertaken, but also as a tribute to the great de Kooning I’d looked at a million times over the last twenty-eight years at the Art Institute.
It’s a no-win situation. If I explain where the names come from, it further directs a viewer’s reaction; whether the name itself is obtuse or evocative. If I say nothing and use nondescript titles, perhaps people will wonder if I’m hiding something, that there’s something to get that they’re not getting, or that there’s no meaning at all. I love words, sentences, and even paragraphs now and then. But that love is at odds with a lot of what my paintings are about.
Maybe I’ll just use symbols or sounds to name them. Probably not. That would be even more pretentious than naming one Can’t and Won’t after the great story collection by Lydia Davis. This is just a longwinded way to say that you should take my titles with a bucket of salt.