[Note: Here is another post I have pulled up out of the Slow Muse archive from 2012. I am still a bit ham-handed from my surgery and typing is hard so I have been revisiting posts that speak to me right now. This one is full of words and ideas that are worth revisiting. I hope you think so too.
Also, just a heads up that I will be out of town for a week. I am going to DC to spend time with my beautiful new (and my first!) grandchild, Siena Wilcox. I'll be back home and musing slowly on February 3.]
Thomas Nozkowski is an artist I have greatly admired for some time. The review of his show at Senior & Shopmaker Gallery by his long time friend John Yau, A Truly Subversive Artist Is Not Necessarily Someone Who Is Theatrical or Gimmicky is worth reading in its entirety. (The title alone is so great. Thank you John Yau.)
Another great article is an interview in BOMB Magazine between Nozkowski and the writer Francine Prose. These two intelligent, thoughtful artists share a conversation about art and art making that is refreshingly authentic, generous and “art world pretension”-free. Nozkowski is articulate about things that are often glossed over or flattened down to the usual clichés. His words have depth, amplitude, and the evidence of having thought through these issues for a long period of time.
As Prose states in her introduction, she was eager to interview Tom Nozkowski so that she might finally begin to understand what makes his paintings “so beautiful, mysterious, surprising and unique, so simultaneously and paradoxically whimsical and haunting.” The process of speaking with him only intensified and deepened the mystery of his work for her, the finest compliment IMHO. (I also admire Prose for saying this to Nozkowski about art reportage: “I read all those articles and essays that critics have written about you, and I have to tell you I didn’t understand a single word. It made me realize that the reason I started writing art criticism was because I couldn’t understand it.”)
One of the first topics they discuss is about Nozkowski’s long passion for the painting by Pisanello, Legend of St. Eustache. He remembered first seeing the painting in London many years ago and being deeply moved by it:
TN: I don’t know how to describe the feeling, but it was as if I knew why every stroke was made. Every color, every shape. I thought it profoundly moving…I was trying to find out why those elements work.
FP: So did you figure it out?
TN: No, not in specifics. I mean, if you could figure it out, it would lose a lot of its magic. You’d possess it too closely. What I did come to understand was the possibility of working out of a feeling rather than a formal direction. There are a few very modest structural reasons for any of the forms and colors in that particular painting being where they are. They seem inevitable for another reason…
There are paintings that speak directly and privately to you. And it has to do with who you are. As a painter, I’m interested in painterly solutions, things that painters do… I think painters go to museums with different agendas and goals. You go to find solutions for your own problems and your own aspirations.
In another exchange about the more general experience of making art:
FP: Do you have any sense of what would be the ideal response to one of your paintings?
TN: If someone was able to look at a painting of mine for a period of time, to go with it and spin out some kind of logical—for lack of a better word—story from it, I don’t expect much more than that. The central fact of our lives, of any artist’s life, are the thousands upon thousands of hours we spend alone staring at these damn things, thinking about them. We sit there, and these things just go on, and on, and on. Everything in the world ties into them, everything that’s crossed your mind while you’re working on it. And, if somebody could just get a sense of that fullness in a work of art, it’s working, you’re on the right track. Ultimately, the one thing that a work of art is about, is the fact that a human being did it. That’s what’s extraordinary, and what’s wonderful.
FP: But Tom, you can look at really crappy art and think: A human being did that, too.
TN: Art objects are gifts. Sometimes you get a lousy gift, and sometimes you get a great gift. The more complex and the more interesting the art is, the more it gives you.
Always grateful for those great ones that pass through…