Ivan Albright, There Is No Time, No End, No Today, No Yesterday, No Tomorrow, Only the Forever, and Forever and Forever without End (The Window), 1957 – 1963, Oil, 37 x 48 inches
Not surprisingly, like many other artists I’ve got a personal pantheon of painters. Ivan Albright and Richard Dadd are two folks who occupy central roles in my painting practice and their influence is evident in my approaches to painting, the other artists I also love, my sense of touch, and spatial fracturing. I grew up in Indiana and visited the Albrights at the Art Institute of Chicago whenever we took the Vomit Comet up to the Windy City. They are wonderfully macabre works painted in a bizarre way that captures a child’s imagination (really my nightmares) – pustules of paint that hover over each pore and chock full of the kind of color that has no right to be anywhere near flesh.
Albright served as a medical illustrator in the US Army. His job was to carefully render the wounds inflicted, mortal or not, on the flesh of our boys. The mauves, Egyptian violets, and lemon yellows along the fringe of these gapping holes are constellations and entire universes. The human being as the site of numerous flesh wounds ultimately became his subject matter. In his mature works the portraits are literally portraits of the walking dead. As a painter who seeks to portray the nerve endings, pulse and quiver of flesh and fauna and whose subject is the violence and degradations we inflict onto each other, I respond well to the one-inch-at–a-time crawl that Albrecht undertakes over the surface of his models. Can you imagine daily arriving at his studio to lay your hand on a set piece, an elaborate window frame of his making, while his gaze penetrated deep into and onto the skin loosely stretched over your knuckle?
As a child, I had tremendous anxiety around sleep and every night would wage a battle to secure my safety from visions unknown…I remember trying desperately to make the vampires, werewolves, ghosts and witches of the television show Dark Shadows stay in their castle in Collinsport, Maine rather than make a surprise visit to my bedroom. In trying to keep them at bay, I would close my eyes tightly and then quickly open them to check if Barnabas had found me. With my eyes firmly closed, I saw after burns of psychedelic color projected onto my eyelids. In describing these hallucinations I would tell my parents that I thought they were the materialization of Barnabas, and that surely meant he could time travel to South Bend, Indiana. My parents dismissed my visions as “stars in my eyes” and tried to explain that they were the byproduct of rubbing and squeezing my eyes too hard.
That’s why the Albrights made such sense to me. I could see those microscopic flashes re-forming into the image of a gravity-bound woman or a pompous but dreary man. It made sense too, that Albright’s imagery might have come out of a similar nightmare state of drowsy drift. As a grown painter I learned that Albright had a trick he developed to entice the phosphenes behind his lids: he painted small wands fashioned out of paper and sticks that he would stare sideways into when working from the model. In this way, he could alter the color and texture of all that he saw. He was asking himself and us to find the specter under the representation.
Part II on Richard Dadd coming next week.
Katherine Kuharic, Crown of Whispers, 1994, Oil on linen, 10 x 8 inches
Katharine Kuharic is a middle aged, overweight woman living with her wife and Newfoundland dog in the middle of nowhere. Her artwork is represented by P.P.O.W Gallery in New York.