PAINTINGS: A Year Later in Tangier I Heard She Was Dead

a-year-later

Richard Bledsoe “A Year Later in Tangier I Heard She was Dead”

acrylic on canvas 12″ x 12″

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The genre was once referred to as History Painting, and it was considered the highest form of artistic expression. For hundreds of years, ambitious artists poured their skills into epic works which depicted scenes from not only history, but from religion, mythology, and literature as well.

The Modern Art era did a lot to sever visual art from this traditional engagement with story telling. This was a huge mistake.There’s nothing to be gained from trying to substitute theoretical intellectual stylings for the passion, drama and resonance of imagery inspired from narrative, whether derived from reality or imagination.

The Remodernist artist is a story teller, visually defining essential moments in the never ending action of the world, the mind, and the spirit.

A few years back I launched into a series of paintings inspired by a favorite book: Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs. Its controversial reputation obscures many of the elements that I really enjoy about it. It’s totally disjointed and incoherent compared to a conventional novel, but amongst the fragments it is built from are elements of hard boiled noir mysteries, adventure tales, paranoid science fiction, wicked humor, cheap porno, and most poignantly, autobiography.

Burroughs was the black sheep son of wealthy parents. His drug habits and homosexuality kept him in trouble and on the run in the 1940s and 1950s. He and his common-law wife Joan Vollmer wound up in Mexico City. In 1951 an awful event occurred. While they were wasted and partying, Burroughs suggested to Joan it was time for “their William Tell routine.” Joan put a glass on top of her head. Burroughs tried to shoot it off and missed, hitting and killing Joan instead. It was a stupid spontaneous act that haunted Burroughs for the rest of his days. He fled to Morocco and sank into severe addiction. It was in this deranged state he wrote the rambling pages that his friend  Jack Kerouac later assembled at random and typed into the manuscript that became Naked Lunch.

Many of my “Naked Lunch” paintings are crude, rough, and unfinished, which suits the subject matter. I flipped through the book, and just like Burroughs wrote by scrambling random words together, I pulled out random quotes to base my paintings on.

“A Year Later in Tangier I Heard She was Dead” is the best of the series, so far. Painted a few years ago, I remember how moved I was by the quote when I read it. I read into it the futility of denial, and how truth and remembrance must have kept getting through to Burroughs even through his drug haze. It’s haunting, and I feel this painting captures the same sense of sadness and accusation.

EXPLOITS: Stills From The Movies In My Mind

Two Doctors

Richard Bledsoe “Two Doctors” acrylic on canvas 24″ x 30″

How do artists decide what imagery to depict?

The possibilities are endless.

I often say before I start into a new work, “What am I going to paint? It could be anything.” Since I am an intuitive artist, working not from observation but from visions that arise in my mind, the potential subject matter is limited only by the freedom of imagination and the skill I have to render it visible.

Other artists might work in the great traditions of landscape, still life, portraiture, or figurative painting. I’ve come to realize that the visions I present are a blend of all these different explorations into a single unified image. I’m sort of a mutant form of a history painter, the genre once considered the highest form in the hierarchy of Western art, but much neglected in the modern and contemporary art worlds.

The difference is story telling. Rather than make a detached work of art for art sake’s, emphasizing merely formal concerns, history painting depicts a moment of drama. It shows action arrested for contemplation, rich in implications of past, present, and future activity. It injects the element of time, suggests consequences and resolutions are pending, and extends the liveliness of the art beyond the edges of the canvas.

I gained insight into the nature of my painting by going back to first principles, and what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I saw Star Wars in 1977 when I was 7 years old, quite possibly the perfect age to have seen that movie. I spent my whole youth wanting to be a film maker. And 10 years later, in 1987, that’s what I went off to college to try to be.

What I learned along the way during my college years was it was very hard to work collaboratively with all the people needed to bring together a major project like a movie. And not only that, in academia, for the most part the need was to act as a cog in someone else’s machine, working on someone else’s project.

Technological advances have made creative control at lot more feasible at the entry level these days, but this was the 1980s. Film was an expensive and unwieldy undertaking.

However, I made another discovery in college: painting. From the first moment I tackled a big surface as a student project I was hooked, although it took a long while and several changes of majors to understand this. But now I’ve been painting seriously for 25 years, and it remains as fascinating as ever.

I’ve found the way to show my vision and tell my stories without needing the resources of a film studio. As I’ve gained comprehension of my art, I’ve been clearer about what it is I do.

I’m showing you stills from the movies in my mind. The possibilities are endless.