See the last installment on Sex Machine Painting.
I’ve been talking to R.S. for over an hour now. I still haven’t seen her paint, although the evidence is all around us. It’s actually quite romantic – this setting of hers – this world she’s managed to manufacture for herself. Like a movie set.
The action paintings were existential acts, I say, ways of struggling with physicality and man’s desperate need to create. However, most would agree they often manifested in work many see as angry, aggressive – savage even.
What role then – as woman, as artist – does violence play in your work?
“A subdued one,” she answers. “Like a velvet rope.”
De Kooning is said to have commented that “flesh was the reason oil paint was invented.” His work was at times so violent that one of his dealers observed that the canvases he received had holes in them from the brushwork. The critic Emily Genauer writing in Newsday in 1969 remarked that “[de Kooning] flays [the women], beats them, stretches them on racks, draws and quarters them…”
And R.S. is talking about velvet rope and nipple contours and calling her work “Action Paintings,” with only the slightest bit of irony.
And I’m talking about white, heterosexual, male abstract expressionists working during arguably the most reactivist, anti-feminist movement in American art history.
“They were the first artists I really related to, I guess. They still work at me – touch a part of me that is visceral, deep and dark and holy.”
She takes a long drag of her cigarette. Looks out the window, past the paintings that hang unfinished on the walls, out the window and across the street.
“The paintings,” she says, “When I look at them, they make me want to drink and smoke and fuck while someone reads Bukowski from a microphone and Patti Smith screams in the background. They keep me in a certain place where things can happen without consequence, where I can feel my heart beating and my mind spinning and everything seems brighter and worth looking at. Things feel worth creating.”
She looks right at me then. “Existential acts, I guess.”
It’s almost too much. I stifle a laugh. She’s starting to sound like a character from a bad movie – one of those over-exploitive artist mythologies that continue to create current versions of deKooning and Pollock at every art school in the world. Trying too hard, thinking too deep.
But then she does it for me. Laughs.
“What bullshit,” she says, stamping out her cigarette and gulping her wine. “The truth is, I like to fuck and I like to paint. And I don’t need a man for either one.”
I breathe a sigh of relief. Maybe it’s time to get a fukbox.
Image: Willem De Kooning, Woman V, 1952–1953.