The study of Art History is basically a survey of Golden Ages, how they arose, flourished and eventually declined. First, there’s a lively Archaic Period, crude and experimental but full of vitality, then comes perfection, the so-called “Golden Age,” refined and technically flawless. And then comes a period of decay marked by excessive emotionality combined with a lack of structural cohesiveness. It looks like I’ve recently been going through a similar cycle, only mine is taking weeks instead of centuries.
In my last post, I showed you my paper plate interpretations of Greek Black Figure vases (the Archaic Period.) They’re strong and expressive and I like them a lot, the way I’m crazy about Greek Black Figure pots. The next phase, which I worked on all last week is my “Red Figure” ware, the so-called peak period (except my red is tan wrapping paper, not red clay), more refined but (to me) not as strong or interesting as the shapes in black. Unfortunately, for the past few days, I’ve gone into my Hellenistic phase, a period of decline; my plates have become overly detailed and fussy. My Golden Age of paper plate collage appears to be over. With the Greeks, (as in other cultures that lost their Golden Ages), you could lay the blame on social conditions, foreign conquests, internal upheaval. Sometimes it’s as basic as running out of a key material and not being able to replace it. With me, it’s my short interest span (my artistic ADD).
Oh well, nothing lasts forever, even well-designed paper plates.
Which brings me to my next topic: how my long and sometimes illustrious career as an artist, appears to follow the same pattern: exploration, culmination, decline. What set me thinking about this was a DVD my friend, Brian O’Neill recently sent me of an interview he had taped at a retrospective exhibit I was having at the Loft Artist’s Gallery on Canal Street many years ago. Brian and I walked around the gallery and he questioned me about the work. The show had been curated by two artist friends, Lina Morielli and Sandy Garnett, whose opinion I valued.; they had gone up to my attic, sifted through stacks of paintings and came up with about twenty pieces. I didn’t like everything they chose, but they were in charge and I wisely went along with their decisions.
Which brings me back to my Golden Age theory. Whenever I start a new body of work, there’s a period of experimentation with a lot of trial and error; not everything succeeds. Then there’s the peak period when my style and message come together and the work just flows. Unfortunately, my Golden Ages never last: they get cut off by one of life’s unavoidable catastrophes or I simply get bored; the boredom shows and it’s time to move on. That’s one of the problems successful artists have (not me); they get locked into a marketable style and even if they want to move on, their dealers won’t let them. The work my two friends chose was (to me) all over the lot: experimental, peak period and “late” (my Hellenistic phase). Fortunately, I don’t think anyone viewing the show knew the difference.