I tell myself I’m saving old forgotten pictures from the trash heap by defacing and obscuring them. They become the starting point or maybe the support or background for something new. There’s no two ways about it, I love throwing things I’ve made out. My greatest accomplishment in my ill-fated semester of grad school was chucking six months’ work in the dumpster. But I’m trying to change.
There’s often little to salvage. A couple inches of green here, a not-completely-inert brushstroke there. In the case of the oil painting above, when I came upon it in my parents’ basement a few weeks ago I wondered why I kept it. Why did I bring it back with me after graduating from SAIC in 1993. Was it as a keepsake of my school years? A reminder of good times painting on the back porch of the house on Logan Boulevard with friends? This is what snapshots are for not 3’x4’ oil paintings. My parents probably had the hideous thing up on their walls at some point but I know it’s been in the basement at least fifteen years. It was waiting down there for me all that time.
The first thing I did when I brought it home was take a box cutter to it. I wanted to see if the paint would chip off in an interesting way. It wasn’t much but the slash marks made it a better picture immediately.
Starting with an oil painting on stretchers is different than taking a piece of an old drawing and gluing it to cardboard. There’s a lot more there and it’s much less malleable, so the thing to do is cover up as many bad parts as possible. I doodled over it with markers, attached tape to it, painted acrylic lines which sometimes accentuated, but more often obscured what was underneath.
I kept hanging it back up on the wall and wondering what else it needed. The last big move was gluing pink construction paper to cover up most of a lumpy, badly-painted blue van. After that it was just grace notes and highlights. I sensed I needed to leave the thing alone.
It stayed on the studio wall for days. Then, a few nights ago while watching a movie, I paused it, walked down the hall and came back with the painting and hung it up in the bedroom to the right of the TV. That’s where it is now. I look over at it when the movie I’m watching hits a dull spot.
A lot of what I did to it stays on the surface, like it’s on this side of a window pane. But a few things made it through and I can’t tell them apart from the old marks. It’s probably a failure but it might be a transition point to something new.
Perhaps one day this picture will get recycled and transmogrified again. But maybe it’ll just go in the dumpster. That’s my process.
p.s. I watched Béla Tarr’s Damnation the other day and have been listening to Vig Mihály’s Tarr soundtrack music on repeat ever since. Perfect for clumsy dancing in a sad bar or just being alone in a room.