PASSION OF THE PRIMITIVE Ford McLainAmerican Primitive
Good evening and thank you for coming out to the Upstate Artists Guild
for a discussion about painting. I am very grateful to the Upstate Artists Guild for the opportunity to show my work as the featured artist and was pleasantly surprised when I got an e-mail asking me to give some sort of lecture on it.
I am also a bit challenged. While I have written some very personal and emotionally intimate letters about painting, I have never really publicly shared my thoughts on the subject. I am a relatively new painter, compared to a number of folk whose work has adorned these walls and the back room, and I am very unschooled in the art. I've been very blessed to have what talent God has given me, and I do not taken it for granted. Painting has offered me a new path of living and has given me a bit of a new outlook on life.
I will be honest and say that this has not been an easy time in my life. I lost my state job a few years ago and have not been able to find meaningful full-time work. Four years ago, my marriage ended, and I found myself single again, after hubristically believing that I would be married forever. The same year I turned 40, I found out that I needed bifocals. I've experienced very low emotional moments. That's one side of the balance sheet.
On the other side are two great things in my life: my daughter, who I love more than any human being in the world; and painting.
What I will try to do here is give a quick background of my painting experience and influences, then will talk about the more fun aspects of painting, reflected in the title of the lecture...the passion. I will talk a little bit about the show in the back room, "This Painter's Love," and lastly I will give a bit of a glimpse of what is to come.
PAINTING HISTORY AND INFLUENCES
Just above, I mentioned how painting became a bit of a faith to me during this very dark period. I actually began painting, first with watercolors and then eventually with acrylics in the mid-1990s, while living 10 months at my parents' home in Augusta GA. I had left Washington DC after 3 years there, because I had to get out. I moved to Atlanta, then to Augusta and was waiting for a position in the newly elected Pataki administration. It took a year from the Governor's election to get hired. I worked between February and September of 1995 as a dishwasher at a lunch restaurant. It was one of the greatest jobs I had ever had. I was never in better physical shape.
But it had a greater significance. In the bathroom at Harriet's Kitchen was a really faded print or reproduction of a painting by Paul Gauguin. This painting led me to look up Gauguin, whose work interested me for its colors and for the fact that he eventually left Europe and became a 'savage' in the Polynesian islands. About a year after that, I had learned of, bought and then read "The Moon and Sixpence," by Somerset Maugham, which is the fictional account of Gauguin's life. I was hooked on him. I picked up "Noa Noa" and "Writings of a Savage." As a new painter, Gauguin was my gateway drug.
In Augusta, I started to dabble with watercolors. In NYC, while living in the small west side apartment of a friend, I continued with the watercolors. In Albany, I moved onto acrylics. I was unschooled, so they were all crude, primitive and barbaric. But they made great Christmas gifts. I continued painting until about 1999, when I fell in love, started grad school and prepared for a life of domestic bliss. I was also a bit intimidated because my fiancée, Lisa McLain, was a great artist in her own right. I stopped painting.
There was an 8-year lull, and then in the fall of 2007, I was living in my new home, my cloister, and I was asked in a phone conversation by my old high school friend why I had stopped painting. I explained what I just told you. He said that I should pick it up again. That it might be good for me and, as a single guy, it's a great way to meet women. At the time, I was already trying to write a novel, and had written a few short film scripts, and they involved scenes of making an egg cream on (and then drinking it off) the body of a beautiful redhead. So my first new painting, done all in blue scale, was called, "The Philogynist," and it had a table with a book, an egg cream, an empty bookshelf and a woman sleeping on a bed. On a Lark, I submitted it to the UAG in December 2007 for the Bedroom Community show. And it was surprisingly accepted. I was on my way.
Later in 2008, I got bored working with acrylics and moved into oils.
So that is a brief history of my initiation into painting.
PAINTING AND PASSION
What I really wanted to focus on though is the why I paint and what it gives me. Each of us who is an artist creates for myriad personal reasons. For self-fulfillment, recognition, money, sex. I paint primarily because it is a way to release and express my passion. And for those who know me personally, I can seem very social, very affectionate, sometimes surly, and perhaps even a bit shallow....on the surface. But underneath it all is a very very passionate man. I am a very passionate person who finds difficulty personally or physically expressing that passion. It comes out more in writing. It comes out in poetry. And it really comes out in painting.
Painting is a very sensual experience for me. Each time I pick up the brush to work on a new piece, there may be music playing or it may be quiet, I become absorbed in the work. I allow myself to become lost both in the story or subject of the painting and in the very physical process of painting. Of opening and squeezing out paints from tubes, of mixing the paints, of taking that first dip of the brush into the paint and laying it on the canvas. Sometimes, I will have a glass of wine or perhaps a glass of whiskey in my hand. Sometimes, I will have Leonard Cohen or the Velvet Underground or Bob Dylan going. When it is quiet, I enjoy hearing the sound of the bristles on the wood. I enjoy the smells of the oils in combination with the smell of the freshly primed wood. I appreciate the way the colors start to work in concert to create whatever vision I am painting. I become energized, and if I am painting a scene inspired by a muse or beautiful woman who is in my head, I become erotically charged. And empowered.
So, painting allows me in ways to express myself physically when I am reticent to do so in other situations.
But there is more to the passion than that. There is the passion of the storytelling and the passion of the connection between myself and my artistic muse at the moment. Painting has been a way of communicating for me, of reaching out, touching, even - in a very spiritual way - making love to the muse.
Even if the participation of the woman in a painting is passive, I still consider each painting to be a collaboration. Somehow, through discussion, perhaps just a word or a vision, even if they sit for me, a muse is a part of the creative process. The new armchair paintings/photos that I will work on over the next year will be very collaborative for they involve the active participation of the model/muse. And I make sure that she knows that. Every muse for whom I have painted has been informed of their contribution. Every one has been thanked in some way or another.
And this show, the one in the back room, is my valentine to those women who have been involved. Both those who are represented on canvas in the back and those whose paintings hang elsewhere. It is a valentine to all of them. None of them are lovers. All of them I consider friends. Each friendship is special to me. Some women who have been muses are not muses anymore, and some I do not communicate with as much as I used to. But they are always in my heart and their inspiration is immortalized in paint. These pieces will hopefully outlive them and me by well over 100 years.
THE ROAD TRIP 1955 SERIES AND THE FUTURE OF MY PAINTING
There is one painting series to which I am deeply emotionally connected. It is not simply because of the inspiration. It is also because it kind of represents my own personal and spiritual odyssey. And that is the Road Trip 1955 series. Part of it has been shown at the Lark Street BID in August last year, a good number of pieces have been shown at the Wine Bar in October. About half of the paintings in this show, all but one of them are new since October, are of that series.
The Road Trip 1955 series is the closest thing I come to revealing my soul. While I am not represented in most of these paintings, I am most surely there, in the room, off to the side, going out to get the burgers for the woman in the paintings. The paintings reflect my passion for friendship with women, my passion for painting, for exploration, for sex. They can be perceived as mythology or fantasy, but in some ways they also project - metaphorically - a future. I don't seek to escape from my reality, my friends. I seek to reinvent it in the here and now.
And the beauty of this series is that it can go on for as long as I want it to. And as represented in paintings like "The Show," "The Naughty Muse," "Motel Mirror," and even "Dulcinea," I think it is going to get more erotic and more allusive. I've already completed two pieces that are going in that direction. One is called "Stroke," which is a companion piece to "Brushstroke" and involves the lower half of the muse's figure; another is called "Torture," which has a bit more of an allusion to a kinkier lifestyle. All set in the desert and motels of America in 1955.
I do went to end this talk by going back to what I discussed at the beginning. I had said that I was lost, hurt, jobless, felt very unloved and was not sure what direction I was going. Well, there is one person, who is very close to me. Who is not a lover but is a confidante. In some of my darkest days, this person pretty much embraced me and told me that I was indeed this painter. She has influenced a lot of my work and has influenced my path. She handed me the brush and said "paint."
While this show is dedicated to all my muses, I owe a special debt to her, because I do believe that she knows me in a way that no one else does.
So I end the talk with the haiku on the wall in the back and will be glad to take questions:
"My muse knows my soul,
Mythologized in oils, and
Laid bare on the wood."