PAINTING II: Martin Mugar Talks Back




MM I was looking at Gorky's late work and thought of the importance of symbol and how he got this from the surrealists, Andre Breton... Miro. I thought how we as Americans, you influenced by Smith and me by Held, are more interested in paint and if there are symbols they aren't all that obvious and are not transcendent. What was this symbolism about where did it come from? Late 19th c was pretty materialistic with realists, impressionists; the first half of the 19th c was political: Delacroix, David, Courbet. I was thinking that I am interested in painting as language... nouns, verbs, objects, phrases, sentences, and if there is going to be any meaning it will be in the emotional application of the paint. But I can't conjure up any symbols. Forms with heavy meanings I can convey, yearning, desire, will ,all sorts of primary processes. But no strong ideational forms. I like where I'm at. But every once in a while it hits me what I am not.

APMy experience with symbols has been as abstract shapes that act in a certain way, but are free from the prejudice of "symbolism," at least in my own mind. The shape has been something like a lighthouse in the fog, something that calls me, something to go to, something which will help me when I find it. It is not something prescribed for me at all. If it was I couldn't bother. Once I get there I don't stay, it's on we go. Instead I find that this shape becomes a lens through which my inquiry takes place. The paint is the process.

Take the stripe/band paintings I am doing right now. They are not something I rationalize to keep them around. They kept coming up in the work, like someone you don't know but you keep bumping into: you're getting a message that there is a reason for this. One day I gave way to the stripes and there was a big yes in me. At last, I had listened. This was some place I needed to go, regardless of whether anyone else liked them. I've been learning a lot from these paintings, not just about myself, but other things as well. Something about the way things are, the way we want them to be, and what happens in between. If you go back twenty years in my work this business of the in between has been there.

Appropriated symbols for the sake of meaning are naturally meaningless. If I have appropriated a symbol it was either as a question or a gesture of irony. The cross for example. I wanted to see what it would mean for me. I found out it had meaning, although not the one people normally take. For me the cross became that thing in between again. In between crucifixion and standing up, arms outstretched, open and alive. For some reason I always see the cross as Christ alive on the cross, not dead. Dead it has no meaning. Alive it is the choice we make and accepting the consequences; living with them. The cross is very much alive and a part of the stripes. It is a personal affirmation: not martyrdom. Choices. He didn't cry about it; he knew it was part of his choice.

When I stop learning from these stripes I will move on. Something else will
call me, catch my eye. This is the balance between the "paint" and the "meaning." The poetry of abstraction.


Martin Mugar with Addison Parks, July '99---More coming soon!