question asked of every artist at some juncture is which other artists do
they admire. Perhaps the inquirer seeks a frame of reference. If
that's the case, all I can say is good luck, here's my list:
Bacon, Bellmer, Baselitz, Basquiat, Boltanski, Boucher, Bourgeois, Brancusi, Cadmus, Calder, Calle, Carracci, Conal, Dali, de Kooning, Diebenkorn, Duchamp, van Dyck, El Greco, Fischl, Frankenthaler, Freud, Gauguin, Goya, Haring, Heartfield, Hockney, Holbein, Hoffmann, Johns, Kahlo, Kandinsky, Kiefer, Kitaj, Kokoschka, Kollwitz, Leonardo, Manet, Mapplethorpe, Matisse, Michelangelo, Modigliani, Monet, Muybridge, Neel, Paik, Pierre et Gilles, Picasso, Polke, Rauschenberg, Riefenstahl, Rivers, Rodin, Rothko, Sargent, Schiele, Schnabel, Sherman, Kiki Smith, Still, Teraoka, Thiebaud, Tiepolo, Titian, Velasquez, Veronese, Wojnarowicz, Viola...
And Bach, Brahms, Beethoven, Bizet, Couperin, Corelli, Debussy, Delibes, Faure, Gabrieli, Gershwin, Haydn, Handel, Liszt, Mahler, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Offenbach, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, Ravel, Rossini, Schubert, Schumann, R. Strauss, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Vivaldi...
And Baker, Bernstein, Brubeck, Ellington, Fitzgerald, Getz, Guaraldi, Jobim, Porter, Tjader, Vaughan, Washington...
What have I learned from them? Style, technique, humor, vocabulary, color, power, repose, passion, rhythm, conflict, harmony, pacing, range, anger, peace, spirituality and love. If you recognize the names and love their creations, then you have tapped into universal truths, and you know who I learn from. But in the end, I learn from everyone who creates from the soul.
These artists are or were uniquely driven to produce works that prove to be timeless and yet are perfectly representative of the era in which they were created. It is as spiritually moving and enriching to experience Bill Viola's Heaven and Earth (1992) for the first time as it must have been, and still is, for the first viewers of Leonardo's Virgin and Child with Saint Anne (1510). These brilliant artworks' power lies in their perfect simplicity: anything unessential is not allowed, leaving the remaining elements as the distilled embodiment of the artist's intent. The messages contained in Virgin and Child with Saint Anne are now cloaked under the burden of being a "masterpiece", hanging in a museum that already contains an embarrassment of riches. One could then almost say that there is hardly room for any new masterpieces in the world, or that it is impossible to produce a new idea. But hidden there is the key: there are no new ideas, because all great art is a reduction to an archetype. And almost five hundred years later, Viola's muse inspired him to create what is surely another enduring masterpiece.
This quote might help explain how I create:
"What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who only has eyes if he's a painter, ears if he's a musician, or a lyre in every chamber of his heart if he's a poet or even, if he's a boxer, only some muscles? Quite the contrary, he is at the same time a political being constantly alert to the horrifying, passionate or pleasing events in the world, shaping himself completely in their image. How is it possible to be uninterested in other men and by virtue of what cold nonchalance can you detach yourself from a life that they supply so copiously? No, painting is not made to decorate apartments. It's an offensive and defensive weapon against the enemy."
Pablo Picasso, Les Lettres Françaises, 24 March, 1945
statement shouldn't have startled me when I read it: I knew the circumstances
around the creation of Guernica, which was created as much by his desire
to propagandize the immorality of the act as by his need to mourn the tragedy
of it. But I had never particularly considered Picasso to be a guerrilla
artist per se, until later when I learned that Picasso had produced some very
bitter works in the thirties addressing Spain's painful civil war. And
that his sculpture The Good Shepherd is considered to be a portrait
of a Jewish friend who was deported and killed by the Nazis, and during the
war years it stood in his Paris studio facing the entrance in silent mockery
of the soldiers that visited his studio to "search" it. And
that he was a fervent enough communist to create art that was dedicated to
the movement in the fifties.
I don't consider myself a guerrilla artist, although at the same time I aggressively question what is spoon-fed me by most of the mainstream media available in the world. I stopped eating baby food when I grew out of babyhood, but the world I see around me is a childish mess of aggression, greed, selfishness, laziness, and stupidity. The last person I can think of who might have been able to sit everyone down and teach them to behave well was Mother Theresa, but she chose to bury her head in the hopeless morass of Calcutta. And then she died.
Looking back at that quote again, Picasso doesn't spend his whole statement bewailing the misery of the world; he also points in other directions that inspire and uplift him. Having considered myself an artist practically since birth, looking at the perfect and simple archetypal incidences around me that occur in everyday life has moved me in ways I could never have imagined, and focused my creative forces to produce the work I feel is my most successful.
When taken consecutively an artist's works, with their developmental ideas and innovations, can be analyzed and placed in a chronological order. But it is important to remember first that the separate pieces do not necessarily express versions of the same idea, and second, that later works are not necessarily, without other considerations, more developed displays of talent. Beethoven's great Ninth Symphony is a powerful sermon of universal love and brotherhood. Hearing his Sixth Symphony is to eavesdrop on Beethoven's private communion with his Maker. My goal as an artist is to create prayers and sermons, and my credo is: Art Saves Lives.