About a year and a half ago, I set a goal to finish eighteen salt water taffy paintings as the core of a solo show in a year or two. I’m working on the eighth—I sold the first one and have stopped posting pictures of the successive paintings partly as a way to prevent the temptation of selling more. My painting plan has been deferred again and again because of my recurring role as a care provider. Last summer I spent three months mostly taking care of my parents and this summer and fall I will put in about the same period of time helping care for my son, daughter-in-law and grandson. Matthew has migrated back to Pittsford, NY, at least for now, after having lived and worked for more than a decade in Los Angeles. He lost his job cutting movie trailers—not lost exactly, but he will be furloughed at least into next year. So he’s unemployed with no assurances about the future. Where he settles permanently depends on the job market, and on how long Laura, his wife, can work remotely as a producer for Ellen Degeneres. She has come back to live with us following three weeks in the hospital after a car literally ran over her, a front and rear tire leaving marks on her back, as she was sitting on a strip of grass next to a clinic’s parking lot where she was waiting to get a blood test. Laura was discharged last week. She and Matt will stay with us through her long, arduous recovery, during which she will attempt to resume working remotely for Ellen via Zoom. At times she has been in continuous pain. There’s much more to tell about the bizarre accident and her long recovery here with us, but her attorney has embargoed any details of the accident or her condition until further notice. Miraculously, Laura is still expecting their second child in December, God willing. Their stay here isn’t all-consuming for us, but has become the center of our activities, putting my work nearly on hold again, as it was last summer and then off and on for months after my father’s death a year ago. I began to regain a regular daily painting schedule over the past week, but have had to put it aside again, I hope briefly, until we settle into a more predictable routine. Our lives have become like a Frank Capra movie where family, friends and neighbors are constantly traversing the interior of our house, bringing food and gifts, standing vigil through some small crisis, and using our grill to prepare a meal.
Meanwhile, my daughter, Christin Bridge, has been sending us iPhone video and photographs from Bentonville, Arkansas, where she and her husband (and two children) are being courted as potential emigres from Los Angeles. At first, she laughed at the idea of moving to Arkansas. The trip in her mind was primarily a safe getaway after months of being isolated through the Covid-19 crisis. She worked as a publicist and celebrity handler for New Line Cinema after she graduated from UCLA, having moved to California about twenty years ago. She went through a number of jobs after New Line was folded into Time Warner. Over time, she has built deep friendships with people in L.A., particularly the family of a man who works as an agent for Hollywood writers, and she is deeply reluctant to leave behind the life they have built there. Her husband, John, is a corporate attorney specializing in energy company mergers, making enough to allow Christin to raise her two children full-time. He has been doing his job remotely, as well, for many months, in particular negotiating an incredibly arduous and difficult energy deal to its happy conclusion without ever leaving his home. Yet life in L.A. is barely affordable with a $6,000 per month house rental and sub-par public schools requiring private schooling from kindergarten on up—as well as utility costs that occasionally are beyond belief. The housing market has lost its moorings there, everything still selling above asking price, with fierce bidding wars for rentals, and people as giddy about housing as they were in 2007.
In college, John became close friends with one of younger member of the Walton family, an heir to the Wal-Mart empire, Steuart Walton, and they have remained in close contact over the years. A little over a week ago, the corporate jet became available and John’s friend offered them a lift, via the jet stream, to Bentonville for a visit with no limit on the time they can all stay in Arkansas, gratis—an invitation to stay as long as it takes to fall in love with the this culturally rising community. Walton put them up in one of the historic houses the family owns in town. Christin told me the center of town reminds her of Main Street in Disneyland. (That’s a good thing; she adores anything Disney.) So it would appear the richest family in America, and maybe the largest employer in the world, would love to see them move to Bentonville, and would encourage them to bring along anyone else they can lure from Los Angeles to that hilly Midwestern state. The Waltons are determined to grow Bentonville into a culturally significant destination. Not the least of Bentonville’s charms is that it’s the place where the family built one of the largest new art museums in the world: Cyrstal Bridges. Some part of my desire to see Christin and John move there is to be able to tour that museum on a regular basis.
A few days ago, Christin sent me pictures and video from the grounds around it, and in response I sent her a barrage of links to housing and facts about the town, distances from A to B, the location of a Montessori school, the quality ranking of Bentonville’s high school, the still-reasonable price of housing. I’ve been giving her the hard sell for Bentonville, because everyone here would love to see her family move closer to New York. It’s hard to believe, but it’s a shorter drive to the far side of Arkansas from Rochester, NY than it is to Sarasota, Florida. And I’ve driven twice to Sarasota and back.
Again, the backdrop to all this ferment is that my painting has been put on hold for the past month until a few days ago when I was able to resume work. By the fall, I should be able to settle back into a productive rhythm on the taffy paintings—one of which has already been exhibited in Ohio at The Butler Institute of American Art and at Manifest Creative Research Gallery. It’s a series of paintings that has required me to develop a diligently repetitive work process—Chuck Close would nod with approval at the monotony of my daily life when I’m at full tilt. My methods are getting more reliable than in the past, my technique is becoming more stringently observant of how areas of tone flow into one another and how the paint sits on the canvas, while I’ve reduced my subject to the simplest and least overtly meaningful objects imaginable. In other words I’ve embarked on a group of paintings that will be my attempt to do what I have been saying for years that painting is uniquely suited to do: convey a glimpse of living wholeness, the entirety of a world, through purely formal means, and doing this with an image devoid of signifiers. Or at least an image in which any signifiers one might deconstruct are entirely beside the point when it comes to the essential work the painting is actually doing. I want paintings entirely devoid of intellectual content. I’m tempted to title at least one painting of taffy in this series: This Is Not Salt-Water Taffy.
I had hoped to complete maybe eighteen of these paintings by next spring and offer them as a solo show and present them as a body of work for consideration at galleries in larger metro areas, eventually. But the world seems to be fast-forwarding through an economic transformation as a result of the corona virus—something that otherwise would have happened over many more years that it may take now. What will be left of the gallery scene after the suspended animation of so much activity in Manhattan and Los Angeles? How have gallery owners survived this devastation? Have they? I got an email maybe two months ago announcing that Danese Corey was ending its exhibition program, without being able to discern whether this means the gallery was ceasing to operate or simply was going to close its brick-and-mortar space on East 22nd St. The announcement shocked me and made me heartsick: I loved or at least respected the work of nearly everyone who exhibited there and considered that shop one of the most intelligent and discerning of any gallery I’d ever visited. It feels like the loss of a good friend. So who else will succumb to the loss of revenue in a sector already beset by the inflation in real estate and the decline of galleries in general as a result of the dominance of art fairs. And aside from that, I doubt I will have quite as many finished paintings as I’d hoped by next spring, now that life keeps recruiting me for other tours of duty. I will likely present whatever I have completed and see what response I get, but I could also postpone all of this another year—yet that would feel like a surrender, backing off from the massive disruptions the world has been undergoing, not only my world’s, but everyone’s. As a result of all this, being on near-hiatus from Instagram and this blog feels oppressive and dispiriting. Yet I want to build this new body of work before I post anything from it, and I’ve been producing little else. I’m also continuing to write, when I can, about art—without yet posting it. A post about my visit to the exhibit of J.D. Salinger relics, as it were, at the New York Public Library, will be forthcoming shortly—it has taken me half a year to catch up and draw together all the notes I took away from it in January.
And, along with my projected solo show, I’m trying to assemble a sequence of essays that could serve as commentary for the show of taffy paintings. Let’s call it, for now, The Salt-Water Taffy Manifesto. If I were to complete writing it by the time I have a full complement of paintings for an exhibit, I will see if I can affordably print and present it as a companion catalog, a little illustrated feuilleton on behalf of purposely insignificant painting. That’s the plan anyway. So I may seem to have disappeared on this blog, but only because life has become more intensely interesting (and demanding) than the act of writing about it. And even so, I intend to pick up a paint brush every day from this morning until next April. That’s a promise to myself. Even if only for the current hour.