A painter can often recall the first painting that truly inspired. Below is the second in a three part series (read part one) where Bay Area artists talk about that first love -- the initial painting that moved them to paint.
TIMOTHY BUCKWALTER: Marcel Duchamp knocked me out.
I was 17-years-old and visiting a show of painted Dutch tiles at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I wandered out of the exhibition, eventually making my way back to the Modern and Contemporary section. I stumbled into Gallery 182 and looked up to see Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2). I never looked back.
Earlier that year, 1983, I had seen a reproduction of Franz Marc's The Large Blue Horses. It blew me away. Though it was painted more than 72 years before, to my untrained eye it was like an amazing combination of tattoo art and new wave music. It wore the butch confidence and primitiveness of flash. And the colors seemed so alive I instantly related it to the vibrancy of the music with which I was obsessed. I kept trying to find more.
Marc and the Blue Rider group -- a loosely knit collective of artists that held the then-radical notion of integrating art across media boundaries, so they actively recruited not only painters and sculptors but also musicians, composers, writers, architects, and designers to their ranks -- made me realize that art could be as big as life.
But the Duchamp offered something else, a beauty and grace mixed with motion and messiness. There was nowhere on the canvas that wasn't moving, wasn't alive. Action and motion lines were exploding everywhere. The figure had a giddiness to it. It was kinda funny and made me think of sex. I couldn't stop staring.
And I wanted a part of it. I wanted to spend my life trying to paint like that.
Timothy Buckwalter's paintings and drawings are currently the subject of an exhibition at Pharmaka Art. He is represented by Rebecca Ibel Gallery and Braunstein/Quay Gallery. Online his work is represented by The Beholder.
BILL DUNLAP: I grew up in a tiny town in Western Maryland, on the edge of the Potomac River, near West Virginia. For some unknown reason, having in the family no artists, art lovers, or even book lovers, I had a great need as a kid to get to the public library often, so that I could sit on the floor and look at the library's small collection of art books.
Some of the things I remember really loving were: the way JMW Turner painted skies, the way van Gogh drew people and animals, the way George Grosz drew people as animals, the way Frida Kahlo brought so many seemingly unrelated objects to play in one canvas, and Picasso, of course, the way he did everything. I was hooked first by modernism, then moved backward through art history. My favorites there at times have been Brueghel, Giotto, Piero della Francesca, Goya, and so many anonymous ancient Egyptian, ancient Greek, and medieval European artists.
I've always had what I felt was some kind of intuitive understanding of the visual arts. There is certainly much I don't know about visual art, but I never needed to have it taught to me, or to be sold on it. I just eagerly ate it up.
All of that was fine, but I wasn't making my own art in any steady, determined way. That happened later, when I was living in San Francisco. The trigger for that, I think, was Paul Klee. I've studied so many of his pieces over time, but if I had to pick just one that really got me started on obsessively making my own work, it might be his 1923 watercolor titled Battle Scene from the Comic Opera 'The Seafarer'. That one seems to me to have a lifetime of starting points for art-making. There seem to be so many ideas here about color, line, composition, patterning, geometric shape, archetypal symbols (crosses, blood, the number three), wit, charm, horror, violence, and the great fun to be had in titling a piece. And it's all executed in a sort of brilliant technique of anti-technique.
Klee has had a lasting impact on me, and many of my art-wandering paths have started from something I saw in his work. This has led me into "primitive" art, art done by children, the mentally ill, folk art, and art by self-taught visionaries and outsiders of many different stripes. I think much of what I do now to be a kind of anti-technique anti-art. I'm not exactly sure how I ended up here, but I know Paul Klee had a lot to do with it.
CAITLIN MITCHELL-DAYTON: I always knew I was going to be "an artist"; not that I had a particularly well defined idea of what that might actually mean; making pictures, I guess. If there were any real paintings in the Southern California town where I grew up, I didn't see them. And even when I moved to the Bay Area, the artists that meant the most to me weren't represented here by real paintings; in other words I knew their work only through reproduction.
When I was halfway through graduate school and able to visit the Metropolitan Museum in Manhattan, I came upon Diego Velasquez's Juan de Pareja, -- which is a weird format, a half-portrait (the standard is either full-length or head shot). I'm short and the heads of Velasquez' full length portraits tower so far above me that I can't get the close view of them that I'd like. Juan de Pareja hangs more or less at my eye level. You can stare right into his face. The sensation of looking at a real person is hypnotic, peculiar, creepy and intoxicating. Juan de Pareja was Velasquez' assistant -- a regular guy. He looks wary, serious, vulnerable and dignified. He is a particular, specific person. And he is entirely aware of being painted.
Juan de Pareja didn't help me to decide to paint, but it did show me the kind of painting I wanted to make. Without exactly formulating it to myself at the time, I tried to grasp those qualities, which were to some extent and in an unfocused way present or at least being attempted in the work I was making then. Since then, I have used them as benchmarks for every painting I make.
Caitlin Mitchell-Dayton received her MFA from the University of California at Berkeley. She has had solo shows at the John Berggruen Gallery and Gallery Paule Anglim, and her work has been exhibited in the Bay Area at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the De Young Museum and SFMOMA, in Los Angeles at the Lizabeth Oliveria Gallery, and in New York at the Drawing Center and in Pierogi 2000's traveling files. She has been a Visiting Lecturer at the San Francisco Art Institute since 1999. You can also see her on Gallery Crawl.
KERRI JOHNSON: When I was a kid my dad and I would watch public television together, WGBH in Boston. The night would always start with some kind of nature program, followed by Dr. Who -- those were the Tom Baker years, my favorite -- and after that I would stay up to watch the intro for a show called Mystery!.
The animated intro completely blew me away and I remember thinking the same thing every time I watched it, "why isn't the entire show done like this?" I was always disappointed when the beautiful, black and white hatch marks would give way to real, stodgy, middle aged British actors.
I believe it was the rough elegance of the animation and the "gothic" blackness of the imagery and backgrounds that drew me in, not to mention the underlying dark sense of humor. It was not until I grew a little older and started paying attention to credits that I found out it was the handiwork of Edward Gorey.
As a youngster I would imitate his angular style with a standard black pen in my sketchpad, creating my own foreboding characters as if they were surrogate offspring. I would draw for hours trying to extract the same feeling from my drawings that I would get from seeing Gorey.
While my color pallet and drawing style have evolved since those early days, the sinister yet playful sensibility Gorey so beautifully conveyed was an important early influence and it continues to inform my work.
I still love to watch the introduction to Mystery! and I continue to feel that the program would have been far more popular if they had let Edward Gorey write and animate the entire series. I know I would have stayed to watch instead of picking up my sketchpad and going off to bed after the intro ended.