File spoon-archives/avant-garde.archive/avant-garde_1999/avant-garde.9902, message 4


Date: Tue, 9 Feb 1999 22:39:14 EST
Subject: Mob Rule Monthly Mailing -




Mob Rule 20: a conversation between Catherine Howe and David Humphrey

This month92s mob is a conversation held in front of an audience at 4 Wal
ls in
Williamsburg. To get on the e-mailing list for other conversations and 4 W
alls
events, write to wardshell-AT-aol.com


D. In your paintings, the figures look back at the spectator, as if they
understood they were being looked at. There is a quality of self-conscious
ness
in that, as if the painting were another person. In mine, the return gaze 
is
more obtuse. You cannot locate it in the same way.

C. I really feel there is some dangerous interplay between our work. If ou
r
works are having a conversation, they are at odds. But maybe they are tryi
ng
to get at some of the same things, but talking in a different language. Yo
u
touched on that before with your using a language of distance and cool
relationship with the imagery. I am trying to use this hot direct language
with the imagery, so that the imagery looks back at the viewer. A figure i
n a
painting that looks back can deny the viewer the ability to objectify. And
 the
distance that allows you to objectify also allows you to take and covet an
d
possess and perhaps allows you to be stimulated. But if the image has a ki
nd
of human quality, that spins you around and derails this ability. 

D. Gender politics has interrogated that relationship in a way that is the
cleanest ethical way of framing it. We were thinking about it in a more
complicated way. It is more than just how guys look at pictures of naked w
omen
and use them for their purposes. If you put a picture of a woman looking b
ack
and she has some consciousness and some subjectivity, then you complicate 
it,
but you hopefully are getting at something more complicated than that.

C. Right, it is not a simple formula. Is that why you have this distance, 
a
kind of neutrality, in your work rather than a specificity? Is that a way 
of
being safer and not implicating yourself as someone who is exploiting
dangerous imagery? Does it keep it in an unreal zone where you can maneuve
r
better?

D. Yes, and this is something really interesting in your work, and somethi
ng
I92m trying to do. I am not interested in just putting an image out there
 and
saying it is something I found and that it is separate from me, that it is
 not
me and I am laughing at it. I am looking at images that ask me to respond 
to
them in a certain way and I don92t respond to them in that way -- I feel
estranged from the desire it is asking me to have -- instead I92ll say 
93that92s
interesting. I92m not feeling that way at all.94  So I make a painting t
o make a
new relation. Like the beefcake period guy in this one.

C. What would that image be trying to get out of you?

D. It would be trying to get a boner out of me. So I try to make a paintin
g to
get to the image in another way.

C. You told me and it is clear that the source material for these guys is 
some
kind of soft-core homoerotic porn. Nevertheless, in your work they elicit 
some
kind hetero impulse. In a really, really twisted way. So that it is almost
that you are putting them in a different language that allows you to get a
boner
 
D. Or the painterly equivalent. There92s got to be another word for it.

C. What is it about these guys that makes them read like some kind of comm
ent
on heterosexual...

D. In a way that is like my own smell,  I cannot recognize that. 

C. You are so earthy: boner, smell...

D. At the same time, you are coming at the paintings saying they are very
distant. They don92t have the same kind of psychological engagement that 
yours
do.

C. No I92m not saying that they don92t. They have maybe an equal psychol
ogical
engagement, but a different kind. The images in your paintings are more ea
sily
objectified. Their faces are sort of neutral or they are looking away, or 
they
are decapitated, or they are just legs, so they really refer to their sour
ces.
And though I can recognize the source, they become something else. And
partially because you put these homo guys in with girls, so they become li
ke
veiled hetero guys. You recognize the homoerotic form, because it is part 
of
our shared cultural language, and you realize the expectation is hetero bu
t it
is not working because it keeps going back to the source. Your work is
obviously not dogmatic, and its not making some kind of political statemen
t
about the status of the heterosexual male. We could do that, but I thought
 it
was interesting what you said  on a personal level you are looking at thes
e
hackneyed images, these mass cultural images, and you know their intent is
 to
affect you in a certain way but it kind of backfires and it goes through t
his
tunnel and comes out the other end this convoluted narrative.  

D. There is some of that. I feel that I am acting out a relationship with
images. Some images solicit a relationship. And maybe you could have a
relationship of certain kind but you don92t want to have that relationshi
p. You
want to have another one. And the act of painting is the acting out of the
relationship and perhaps the inaugurating of another relationship.

C. It is also a way for you to gain control of the relationship? 

D. As painters this is something we have to offer culture. I think we can
frame our relationship to culture in this way, we can show that our
relationship to images is not passive, we92re not just being sold. This i
s an
old story.

C. No, we thought of it. Everything we say is original.

D. There is the post modern way of dealing with preexisting images, draini
ng
them out, interrogating them, or deconstructing them. But I think there is
another way which is much more hot blooded.

I look at this painting of yours and it is very coherent: the girl is hold
ing
the basket with the little chick, and she, the girl, is the chick, and on 
the
other hand, the chick is covering her vagina...

C. Sounds like a straight forward allegorical painting.

D. ...and the eyes follow you around the room! 

C. I work very hard to get those eyes to follow you around the room. It is
 not
that easy.

D. I have a question. The paintings speak, with a voice--maybe because the
y
are hand made--there is a certain kind of intimacy to that address, there 
is a
certain assumption that the painting is in the first person because of tha
t
voice quality. The marks are made by a person, it is not a recording devic
e.
And I guess I want to ask, you know this question is coming, do you feel y
ou
are producing your paintings from within a role? If painting has this kind
 of
first person character it can be both intimate and confessional, but it ca
n
also be like method acting.

C. If it were a book it would be written in the first person, and the firs
t
person would be in character and the character would have some aspects of 
the
author92s personality, but not all, and the author might be of the opposi
te
gender, but the true voice of the author would always be in there. Hopeful
ly
you would be able to glean information and emotional resonance from both t
he
character and the author. I don92t want to resort to repeating post moder
nist
drivel, but it is very difficult to make a painting now without thinking a
bout
all the other authors92 voices and ways of making a painting. So you feel
responsible for embodying the large legacy that it is. The idea that you c
ould
have one voice, and that it would truly be your voice, and that it would b
e
special and natural and come right out of you. I would love if that were t
rue,
but I have never felt that, so the answer is yes.

D. I think it is a complicated thing,  older paintings that presumably spo
ke
in this authentic heartfelt first person.

C. There is a presumption, there was, that it is superior to come across a
work of art that is pure, that comes from a pure channel, from the artist
92s
heart, sole, libido, whatever. But we are not living in that time any more
, we
live in a time where it is expected that an artist is a construer and a
thinker.

D. I am interested in navigating between alienation and identification. Yo
u
are painting a picture of a person and it seems a priority that you conjur
e up
their consciousness, a sense of their otherness. Maybe there is some
connection between one92s personal psychology and some kind of general ro
le of
painting.

C. I would say that is true, but I92m not sure I will articulate it becau
se it
would be embarrassing. I think what you are trying to say is that, despite
 the
artifice and the obvious way that I am using it, I am not just trying to
create a human being, I am also layering it with all this cultural baggage
 of
kitsch painting and bad painting. It is very layered.

D. Is it possible to have all of this, the kitsch painting, and still have
something moving in there?

C. Absolutely. There has to be. That is the only reason I would paint, why
bother otherwise? I92m shooting myself in the foot over and over again an
d
bandaging it up and then going on. It is a ridiculous dance back and forth
 in.
Believing in it enough to let yourself do it and then stepping back and be
ing
very arch and then allowing yourself to back into it again. I would argue 
that
most people who make paintings have, on one level, a totally straightforwa
rd,
totally embarrassing, egotistical, vulnerable relationship with their imag
es.
Maybe that is always the given in the work. What about your work? Where ar
e
you in these mutated pictures?

D. I feel like an old fashioned romantic. It is guilty pleasures. I hope t
he
paintings are about trying to catch some thought rhythm, life pulse, energ
y
rhythm, saturated with imagination, even if everything is second hand. Bet
ween
this and that, predigested, it catches what it is like for me to be consci
ous.

C. The idea of guilty pleasure and the sources that you choose, are you
conscious of choosing the lowest and unacceptable sources?

D. The lowest and unacceptable sources have quite a pedigree by this time.
 It
is part of being late. As a hunter gatherer in image land, I find myself
gathering stuff that I like.

C. As opposed to what, a carnivore in image land?

D. Kinder, gentler.

C. Lets say a viewer, male, is looking at this painting over there in a ve
ry
quick read it is a very soft core kind of sexy image of he and she, partia
lly
naked, spread eagle, high heals,  macho kind of jeans and boots, but it br
eaks
down pretty quickly, in that they are mutilated, and he has some strange
condition of the crotch and her underwear is suspiciously  packed, in plac
es
you never wanted it. So it gets really ugly, it is really repulsive, at fi
rst
it is familiar, sexy, and then it breaks down.

D. I found the guy one place and the girl someplace else, and I wanted, in
 my
rendering, to honor the strange specificity of the sources. I am fallible 
and
I may have made mistakes along the way,  but I swear to god that guy was
packed that way. I really thought that this was the way it was; at the sam
e
time I have to admit that my devotions may have some mutilating affects.

C. Do you ever step back when you92re painting?

D. I92m really jealous of the amateur who really gives it their best shot
 and
fucks it up. Makes some dramatic accounting of their desire. I feel like I
 did
an accurate job. Of course I am making a painting of a picture of an
illustration that was derived from a photograph. So in a way I am honoring
someone else's fuck up. Now I may have fucked up too. 

C. Unlike earlier artists that were commenting on pictures in mass media, 
your
work is not talking about that; it is sort of a natural trail you have to 
take
to get where you are going. 

D. Here is a story. There was an artist George .... who was an
illustrator/painter in post-war  Hollywood. He probably got a guy and took
 a
photograph of the guy and then made a painting of the guy this particular 
guy
originally had his arm around a donkey. He made certain mistakes and stran
ge
error. Now I enter into this with George. All the layers about failure bec
ome
the drama. Now George probably really dug this guy and he made a picture o
f
the guy because he thought other people would dig this guy too. Now I come
along and I think this guy is really strange; he92s got this ass backward
 thing
going. But I like the whole story and I want to get in on the picture. Now
 I
set him up with the woman which is someone else's story.  So this whole th
ing
becomes this theater of failures and rhetoric.  Now I have this painting,
hopefully a postural, Arcadian love fest.

C. Uh, a love fest in the arena of absolute failure?

D. What else do we have, isn92t that the deal? It92s making the best out
 of it.

C. Making the best of a bad situation.

D. Those failures speak to wishes and shortcomings. I think maybe I92m
overstating it. Artists in their twenties may feel different - I feel we h
ad
to work in a state of chronic belatedness, that everything was already in
super meta world, the quotes were flying around, and you couldn92t even s
peak
without it being in quotes, and if you didn92t acknowledge it you were a 
dupe.
At the same time, what drove you into the studio every day, and how did yo
u
know it was right, especially with painting?

aud. do you think this has passed?

C. Our definition of authenticity and newness is permanently changed.

aud. I remember when the death of originality was terrifying, but now it i
s
fine.

C. The upshot is we are still redefining what is original, authentic and
personal. 

D. We are still looking for that little differentiating thing that wakes u
s up
and gets us excited. In a painting, even if it is a quotation, there is al
ways
going to be a fuck up. Even if you say it is all quotation, there is
something, in that worn edge, and it can actually gush, it can swell.

C. Gush? Swell? You started off using 93boner94 and I think you should s
tick
with it for the rest of your career. 

aud. It sounds like at the bottom of this kind of deconstructed painting t
here
is this kind of self expression.

D. Self expression? My god, how embarrassing. Even I wouldn92t  say that.

Complied and edited by Erik Bakke and Ward Shelley



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