Susan's "subject matter, context and medium...present a coherent artistic vision"
John Torreano, Clinical Professor of Studio Art, NYU

"Great stuff. Love your work."
Seymour Chwast

Search This Blog

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Insect Queen





We called my father “Daddy Long Legs” because he was tall and had extremely long legs. He told us that he had been drafted by the New York Knicks, but had decided to become a surgeon and use his extremely long fingers instead. Of course, he was a pathological liar and there is no evidence to support his claim that he was drafted to play professional basketball. However, he really did become a surgeon.
I offer this bit of family history as an explanation for my kindly and unusual relationship with insects. I am in awe of their exquisitely designed, exotic little bodies. Their shape, construction, patterns and colors serve as inspiration for me as an artist. I am amazed by their variety: they outnumber any other class in the animal kingdom. I feel it is my duty to take care of them. In fact, I love them. This is called father-insect transference.

My husband on the other hand, dislikes and is frightened by these little bugs. He believes they are terrifying and the ugliest things he has ever seen. If an insect is in a room, he will not enter until I have removed the alien offender. I perform this task with kid gloves – not for my protection, but so I do not injure their vulnerable little bodies, frail limbs and antennae. I relocate them to the gardens outside of our cottage. Other services I perform for them are as follows: I have removed them from my dog’s mouth when she decided to make a snack out of them; I let spiders spin their webs in my gardening hat – sort of like a veil (I only ask that they do not have too large a family); I import ten thousand lady bugs every summer to live happily in my perennial garden; I pray over dead praying mantises.

One very hot and sunny summer day, I was weeding in my rock garden along with forty or so pollinating bees. They were swirling all around me, even my face, and sometimes even landing on me. I was not afraid. They are my co-workers and friends. (I have only been stung once in many years and I am sure that sting was an accident.) I noticed my husband watching me from the porch, lemonade in hand, with a huge smile on his face. Through the jalousies he called, “I’m the luckiest man in the world.” I called back, “Why? Because I love you, I’m a good gardener, my visa bill was low, pretty, smart, talented, good worker , cook, what….” He replied, “No, because when the insects take over the world and kill all human beings, you will be their queen and they will spare me because I am married to you.”

Monday, March 29, 2010

Beauty


Fairfield Porter (1907–1975), the American painter who successfully produced realist work in the midst of the Abstract Expressionist movement, wrote "When I paint, I think that what would satisfy me is to express what Bonnard said Renoir told him: make everything more beautiful."

When I painted in graduate school at NYU, I agreed with Porter and Renoir and tried to make everything I painted more beautiful, much to the dismay and chagrin of my professors and fellow students. They repeatedly told me that this was a flawed expenditure of my artistic energy. They explained that after I finished a painting, the painting was an autonomous entity, completely separate from me and my opinions–even though I was the one who created it. Even if It seems beautiful to me, there will come a time when the painting is viewed by someone else outside my presence. At that time, "beauty will be in the eye of the beholder."

Beauty is not judged objectively, but subjectively, according to the estimate of the beholder. This idea is a very old one (Theocritus). In addition, the beholder's estimation can be affected by whatever vision he brings to the painting. By this I mean not only his personal vision, arrived at through his life's experiences, but also his actual visual acuity. People see things differently as a result of their literal eyesight as well as the psychological "baggage" they bring to the painting.

Having been won over to this idea (that's what I had to do to get out of NYU alive), I have concluded that we painters should aim for transcendence of the signifier, not its beauty. We must capture and distill the spirit of our subjects in a meaningful and ultimately more truthful manner. Merely enhancing the subject is inadequate. An artist who is searching for beauty simply by reproduction of images is limited because no matter how "accurately" she paints, she can never exactly reproduce the original. The most obvious of many reasons for this is that she is trying to represent a three dimensional subject in a two dimensional format. So, by her own definition, she must always fail.

When a teenage girl, no matter how beautiful, has a pimple on her nose and looks into a mirror, she does not see a beautiful teenage girl. All she sees is a great big pimple. When a handsome, legally blind man looks into a mirror, even if the room is well lit and he knows he is handsome, he might exclaim "Who is that dark and fiendish, film noirish looking man." When a two scooped- ice cream sundae with hot fudge sauce, whipped cream, and a cherry on top looks into the mirror, it sees ........ well, you know the answer to that.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

McLAUGHS

"Honey, do we have any defoliant?"

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Electric Arthropods





When I'm confronted by anything with a cord, fearing death by entanglement, electrocution or embarrassment, I immediately withdraw into my shell. I have to. It is a matter of self preservation.

As an example of my technical ineptitude, when I try to make a piece of toast, I am toast. The toaster, a simple, useful appliance for most, generally burns my bread to a deep, dark mars black. On those rare occasions when it toasts the slice to the nice ochre color I like, the bread spontaneously pops up, targeting my eyes and blackening them.

No appliance ever works for me. For that matter, nothing mechanical, electrical or technical–big, medium or small–ever works for me. "Just stupid, I guess," is what I used to think about myself because of my chronic inability to use a machine, no matter how carefully I studied the instructions, or how many times I was taught, or how simple an operation it was for anyone else. I observed many people who I did not think were nearly as clever as I operating the very same machines with the greatest of ease. I guess my IQ had nothing to do with it.

That only left one possibility. I did some historical research and eventually discovered the reason for my personal mechanical failure. One dark and dreary night, a long time ago, around 45 BC, all things mechanical, electrical and technical, though still embryonic, clandestinely and illegally convened. They came from all over the world for the sole purpose of conspiring against me, Susan McLaughlin. They voted unanimously to put a curse on me–the Curse of the Low Tech. This pernicious curse was so powerful that it could only be placed upon one person at a time, or else the world would stop.

They chose me, even though I hadn't even been born yet. They issued a dictum and put the static-laden word out to all things mechanical, electrical or technological:

WHEREAS, all machines, appliances and other devices employing technology have organized themselves into the Mechanical, Electrical and Technical Alliance (hereinafter "META"); now, therefore, it is

RESOLVED, that all members of META hereby pledge, agree and confirm, singly and collectively, that they and each of them shall never, under any circumstance, and irrespective of how hard she cries or begs, even if she has a full meltdown, work properly for Susan McLaughlin; and it is further

RESOLVED, that this pledge shall continue in full force and effect for the entire duration of the life of the said Susan McLaughlin, and shall be binding upon her and her successors, heirs and assigns.

You can understand my distress at having a big organization like META against me. I have a suspiciously high rate of non–deliverable emails and Facebook messages. My Dyson vacuum cleaner is as likely to blow dirt as to suck it in. But that is probably a good thing, because if it did, it would probably suck me in to its dusty bowels, never to be seen again. Recently, I have seen many electrical wires quietly slithering up behind and around me, maliciously edging closer and closer in the guise of delivering power to my computer or clock radio. I find their behavior shocking and, indeed, have been shocked repeatedly, almost to the point of electrocution, by these malicious electrical snakes.

The final indignity, though, is this: the only way I can write this blog is to sign in under an alias, so blogger.com, which I happen to know for certain is in cahoots with my computer (both are members in good standing of META), doesn't know it is I, Susan McLaughlin, composing this post. As you can see, META has continually harassed me, wreaking havoc on my low–tech mentality and kept me in a state of sheer and utter technological ineptitude. But I am sure you understand that it is not my fault, it is theirs - those slimy, ugly, conspiring, bullying electric arthropods. This is why I am going to have to hire a circuit breaker guy to unplug and dismember, circuit by slimy circuit, each and every one of them.

By the way, (our little secret, OK?) the above post was not written by me. It was written by that internationally–known blogger Nasus NilhguaLcM.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Gagged


One of my criteria for deciding whether a work is art or not is as follows: If you think about it after you see it, whether it be a play, movie, painting, concert, or book, it is art. If you don't think about it after you see it, even if you enjoyed it for the moment, it is not art.

Recently I saw an extremely heavy late night movie on TV. Its content was disturbing - murder, annihilation and oppression, and it was set in turbulent times. That made it difficult to watch, but I liked the lead characters (two innocent little boys), the lighting, photography, scenery, dialogue and the screen play, so I stayed with it. The story of the forbidden friendship of the boys and the haunting results of their friendship moved me. I couldn't forget about it after I saw it. I thought about it the entire next day as I went about my painting.

At dinner that night with a friend, I tried to start a conversation about the little boys and the artistry of the movie itself. I was told not to talk about the movie and that, though it was a work of fiction, it was offensive. I explained that the part I wanted to discuss was about the boys' relationship which was wholesome and uplifting and showed a light in all that darkness. No matter, the gag order was still on. I was compliant but my friend made me feel totally oppressed which, ironically, was the part of the movie that so offended him.

If he came upon me working on a painting containing subject matter he didn't like, I wonder, would he break my paint brushes?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Grey Ladies


I have known two grey ladies in my lifetime: my cat, Mrs. Grey, and The New York Times.

Though Mrs. Grey was actually black and white, her colors optically blended to grey.

Before the New York Times added color, she was also called the Grey Lady . She, too, was not really grey, but black and white. New Yorkers affectionately called her the Grey Lady because of the lack of color and sparing use of pictures. The black type and white ground made a beautiful shade of grey. Her message never did though. Black and white told the truth. Black and white is newspaper and has always been the carrier of information journalistically, providing an immediate and reliable source of information.

Artistically, black and white, at least historically rather than implicitly, is more "truthful" than color. Consider and contrast Picasso's choice of black and white for Guernica to depict the true and horrible journalistically derived information with Warhol's use of color for Marilyn to produce his intentionally artificial and "untrue" Marilyn.

The capriciousness of color: Would anyone have any faith in an attorney or businessman in an orange suit, a nun in a multicolored, floral habit, a minister, priest or rabbi in striped yellow and cerulean robes? Is a multi-patterned, brightly-colored, red-cheeked clown taken seriously?

The straightforwardness of black and white: When people are born, christened, confirmed, graduate, married and die, black or white is traditionally worn. That is because black and white drives home the truth of the event.

I miss the Grey Lady newspaper. Perhaps, though, I should be happy that she is still around even in her colored state now that the era of the newspaper is passing. I will miss her even more when she is gone entirely as a physical presence and I have to read the news on my computer.

I miss the grey lady cat too. She always made a bed for herself in discarded newspapers. Grey on grey -- a delightful color block composition. Besides reading and bedding, newspapers are extremely useful and can be repurposed for wrapping fish, insulation, papier mache and fire-starting. Wilhem de Kooning used newspapers to cover his canvases when he finished for the day to keep the paint on them wet and workable. On some of them, the newsprint transferred to the canvas and he left it there. Imparting some of the Grey Lady onto canvas enhanced his multi-colored ladies.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Outside we're worms. In here we're organisms.


Before I became a painter, I was an interior designer for years because I know that your environment can make you feel better about yourself!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Three Proofs


When Harrison Brandell was age two his universal reply to any question was, "I not." Before that he was giggly, cooperative and agreeable. He was enjoying his "terrible twos" and he was so cute that he could get away with it -- for a while. His mother understood that he was in the stage when babies realize they are separate entities from their mothers and are "trying out" their new autonomy. When he broke his mother's best flower vase and replied to her accusal,

"I not,"

his mother decided it was time for a lesson.

She told him he couldn't just go around saying, "I not" all the time. It was o.k. to disagree with people, but that he should have and give a reason for it. She gave him an example. Question: "Would you like to have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?" Suggested Answer:

"I not, because I not hungry."

Right after the lesson, he returned to his mantra, "I not." Mother reminded him of the lesson and re-asked her question:" Would you like to watch Sponge Bob?" He replied, "I not." Suddenly, apparently remembering the lesson, squinting his eyes, looking off into the distance and, indeed, reasoning, he said in a calm and statesmanlike manner,

"I not, because I not. "

That is pretty good thinking for a two year old, right up there with the philosophical proof of Descartes,

"I think, therefore I am." (Cogito Ergo Sum)

And my artistic rewrite of the above,

"I paint, therefore I am." (Depingo Ergo Sum)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Andy Warhol, Art and Shopping


Andy Warhol and I have two things in common.

One: we are both artists -- even though he is one of the most important artists of the 20th Century -- and I am merely a for-hire 20th-21st century artist who loves her work illustrating, cartooning, and painting.

Two: He loved shopping and so do I. I was always ashamed that I loved shopping so much and kept it a dark secret until I read that Andy did too. Then I was proud that I had the same passion for it as an art icon.

I tried to analyze why artists would love shopping so much. There is the facile answer to this: When one goes shopping she is surrounded by space, shiny, bright and muted colors, patterns, shapes and lines of all sizes and dazzling light. All the things we artists love. I, personally, carry all those images around with me. The next time I am drawing or painting this melange comes flowing out and I utilize it in the process of creation.

If I had a better grasp on the philosophy of the great art critics, e.g. Arthur Danto and Walter Benjamin (I painted more than read while in school -- sorry Cora Cohen if you happen to be reading this) I would be able to explain this next less obvious answer more tidily. Anyway, here's my try: When you make a work of art, it doesn't belong to you. It was yours while you were working on it, but if it reaches the status of a "work," you don't own it anymore. It is an entity unto itself, incapable of being owned. Even if you buy it, it doesn't really belong to you, nor does it belong to any gallery or museum. That is why some artists don't sign their paintings on the front of their canvas, as initiated by Moholy-Nagy. In addition to the signature implying ownership, it distracts from the "work." (I stopped when my NYU classmates laughed hysterically every time they saw my signature on my work.).

If artists can't even own their own work, they are going to want to own something. It is only natural ... so we go shopping. Andy bought so much stuff, he had hundreds of unopened boxes still in shopping bags piled all over the place. I at least open mine. Oh, excuse me ... I have to go shopping.

Monkey on the Roof


One day Richard, the monkey, sprung himself from his cage, stationed himself on the roof just above our porch door and dive bombed everyone as they tried to enter or exit. We were prisoners in our own house. I imagined Richard eating a banana up there and chuckling evilley to himself, "Let's see how they like being caged." Patsy, the only family member who Richard loved and who could reason with Richard was away at a movie. Having had quite enough monkeyshines, mother called the movie theater and told the ticket taker that there was an emergency: she should stop the movie, locate Patsy McLaughlin, and tell her to come home right away. The ticket taker said that that would be highly unusual and asked if she might know the nature of the emergency. My mother replied, "The monkey's on the roof and he won't let anyone in or out of the house." The ticket taker replied, "Sure, and I'm the Queen of England" and hung up.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Monkeys, God, Father Divine and Tommy McLaughlin

 Painting Manita

MY GRANDFATHER, PAPA, called all his grandchildren "Monkeyshines." It was an omen.

Many families had cocker spaniels (although probably not as many as 10 at a time) cats, canaries, hamsters and pollywogs, but rarely would you find a family with a pet monkey unless it were the McLaughlins. His name was Richard.

Monkey on her back: One day my brother, Tommy, heard these perfectly dreadful screams coming from the laundry room. Like this: "Taaameee, the monkey's loose ... he's coming for me ... he's on my back ... biting my neck, ... Taaaameeee ... ... Have mercy on me! ... God in Heaven, ... Father Divine ... Taaawmeee ... Help me ... and so forth and so on! If you heard this, you would probably wonder what was going on. But not me. It was Faith, our housekeeper, stumbling up the stairs, fighting for her life, and, yes, with a monkey (that would be Richard) on her back. She was desperately asking anyone to help her -- God, Father Divine, or Tommy McLaughlin. She didn't care who -- any one of them would do. Although Tommy liked the potency of the company in which he had been placed in this possibly last supplication of Faith, he calmly walked past the laundry stair door, quietly closed it and moved on. When I asked him how could he possibly have not helped Faith, he told me at the time he was thinking, "God, or Father Divine, this one's yours. I have to go make a tuna fish sandwich for my sister." Right, it's always the sister's fault!

Monkeys don't swim: Richard, the monkey, didn't like family members any better than household staff. He was an equal opportunity molester. At our lake house, my brother told all his buddies, "Of course, monkeys don't swim," you can taunt him as much as you want and when he gets smart enough to figure out the locks on his cage (which was frequently) and gets out and is mad enough to chase us, all we have to do is jump in the lake. because, "Monkeys don't swim." It was quite odd to see a bunch of teenage boys swimming as fast as they could across the lake with a furious monkey swimming after them. The boys were screaming, "You told us monkeys don't swim." I am sure Richard was just misunderstood and I applaud him in his aquatic apprehension of marauding teenage boys. Au contraire, Tommy McLaughlin, monkeys do swim.

Paint on,

Depingo

To see more Depingo family portraits and read  family life posts click  the links below:

Circle of Hell


Bipolar Mood Disorder


My diagnosis is bipolar mood disorder.

Monday, March 15, 2010

No, I Had Not Gone "Mental"




I had the occasion to draw patients in the day room of a psychiatric ward. No, I had not gone "mental." I was waiting for an appointment with a doctor there because I had sudden onset asthma. Since there was no physical cause for it, and thinking it was stress related, my GP wanted me to consult a psychologist there. The waiting room was directly across from the day room with a full view of it.

Instead of getting depressed by this view of worse-for-the wear patients, I was elated by their poignant beauty and expressive form. I started drawing them in my journal. They loved their portraits and I loved drawing them. They were perfect models because they were for the most part either slow moving or stationary. I actually think the drawings made them feel better ephemerally and I'm so happy that I could help them a little.

A nurse made me stop drawing them. She said that no cameras were allowed and I was too accurate in depicting them. I told her I thought that was a good thing and she said that I would probably get sued.

Her name was Ratchett.

Loose Ends


When I was an illustrator, I wrote and illustrated a cartoon strip called "Attorneyman - World's Sharpest Attorney." This drawing shows Attorneyman about to be "tied up" by Lou Sends a/k/a Loose Ends. Being very compulsive (but not as compulsive as Seymour Chwast), I rarely leave loose ends. However, the loose end here is that I do in fact leave loose ends -- even in my paintings. I say to myself (as did Loose Ends to Attorneyman), "You'll take care of it in the morning." Then in the morning I start on another painting because a paint rough is more exciting than finishing touches. Sometimes I never go back to the previous painting. A few months down the road I'll take a guilty look at the unfinished painting, declare it finished, and it looks just fine.

More loose ends: My father was a pianist in addition to being a surgeon. He had a very strange affectation to his playing though. The music he played had no beginning and no end. He just sat down and started playing in the middle of a piece, played for a while, stopped before it ended and then got up and left the piano. We called his pieces "Harrison's unfinished melodies." They had loose ends; were unpredictable, mysterious and sounded just fine.

Loose ends help create more art, mysterious music, and are not so bad at all.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Letter to my Canvas