A Conversation Between painter Will Yakulic and Patrick James Dunagan, author of the forthcoming book from The Post-Apollo Press,"There Are People Who Think That Painters Shouldn't Talk" : A GUSTONBOOK.
Will Yackulic: Hey Patrick some thoughts: "There are people who think painters shouldn't talk". I was one of those people, AND I am a painter. But I may have changed my mind, or at least I'm open to it. A friend, and fellow painter, Tommy Burke said the other day "Sometimes you gotta lead people around a bit" because people have a hard enough time with their own every day to have to try and understand where you're coming from. Life is contingency and negotiations between always-moving parts. We expect that it's a balancing act between the known and the unknown, but we forget that what we know is always in flux.
This is hard for people to come to grips with. The rug gets pulled out over and over from beneath us, and the stumble that follows is a source for art. "Need to organize / occupy and hold / the space is there / ever to escape", a human impulse, knowledge; but it's the second half that's a more cogent argument for leading the artist to the blank canvas, the writer to the blank page, etc. To this space I send "outposts". It’s research, asking questions, perhaps questions with no answers. To paraphrase Picasso "Answers are for computers". Thankfully, there is always the unknown. A world which would be absolutely quantifiable would be, besides impossible, horrifying.
Patrick James Dunagan: Hey Will, your “outposts” are the small chapbooks I’ve seen?
Yackulic: Anything I send out in the world is an "outpost".
Dunagan: . . . which appear to be the mixing of your original writing and drawing with found text and image— often from out of “official” sorts of publications like ‘how-to’ manuals or dictionaries or travel guides.
I’ve always thought of the “outposts” as a sort of one shot quickie takes of whatever’s round in your thoughts and/or work and living space, in the moment. Thought through, but not fully deliberate. An element of the come upon by way of, if not chance, perhaps a virtue of the quick glance, or succession of...& it is this kind of off the cuff “what if” which draws me to Guston, over and over…a sorta serial approach to getting at the problems of living, what to do, where to go, who to talk to, what to say, day after day…through the activity of Art…not that one doesn’t know or wouldn’t if not busy with the creating of the thing, but that the concern already present finds itself formed by way of the making. That nothing is without an interest already formed about it.
Yackulic: Well those things are whims, they require whittling and stacking, but we are ultimately driven by whims that we choose to take seriously. If "a form is that which beckons" then it's true; ideas are forms. But I don't want my words in stone, I want to change them rearrange them, make up new meanings: this is closer to what life is like anyway, not much stays the same. Oscar Wilde said something like: The more inconsistent we are the truer we are to ourselves. However, the forms help us as placeholders for the contingency of life, the chaos, to my mind, in the German phrase "Es schwimmt mir vor den Augen" (literally: it swims before my eyes). This tack is subverted in the phrase "Environment is inherent fact" objectively perhaps, until Robert Moses bulldozes your apartment to make a highway to the suburbs. But I'd like to suggest that that's one thing that makes art interesting; the way in which we experience it is, like feelings, subjective, thus personal, and ultimately unknowable.
Dunagan: And that kind of line, when and how any such a thing turns to stone, is one possible enticement bout art, along with the odd paralleling and sometime apparent co-propelling relationship of the image to the text, poet to painter: erasing boundaries while exploiting the experiential phenomenon…attempting an understanding that ultimately leads nowhere save back into the self.
Yackulic: A considerable amount of energy has been spent in the last 30-40 years making "knowable" art, didactic stuff that is illustrative in terms of its relation to theory. It's academic and of a particular style, but "Just because you have a style, doesn't mean you have Style". To bring it back to Guston: what we remember him for is the work he did in the last decade of his life. Before that he had a style (abstract expressionism), but then he ditched that and painted and he had Style. De Kooning was one of the only people at first to recognize the importance of the late work; of course he had a figurative streak, too, that ran counter to his abstract tendencies.
Dunagan: But Guston also said something like, “there is no progress in painting.” That the painter is always painting the same painting…which is like, yeah, when in that last decade he’s headed off into this terrific territory, but all the same he was always already there.
Yackulic: When I speak of Style (capital "S") I'm thinking it's something like having no illusions about your limitations and playing to your strengths and weaknesses. Or even the classic "let your weaknesses be your strengths". He wanted to tell a story. He has said that his pictures all come from anxiety (which would make him the Woody Allen of Painting, I guess) and I take it he's speaking of the later work and while it may be where they come from we shouldn't get that confused, as some have, for what they give to us.
Dunagan: Which is simply far more than Woody Allen ever gets up to. Certainly, you walk away from gazing at a Guston with a certain shock of recognition that lasts longer than a chuckle and a shrug. Perhaps that’s a form of an anxiety inducing experience, but for one thing it’s far and above merely a personal anxiety. It’s like talking bricks over pigeon-shit.
Yackulic: He has been criticized for not being a "generous" painter, which is hogwash. Honesty is a sort of generosity regarding truth, and this late work is nothing if not honest, remember that his figurative work was almost universally hated when he presented it at first. He must have known that it would be (I'm headed for what I think will be a similar reaction.) Furthermore, after giving up on abstraction he spoke of how miserly it was (is)
Dunagan: Yeah, again: The making of the thing. That’s like what allows for anything to be possible. What is is because of. Things like Charles Olson’s using that “FIRST FACT” as an opening launch of sorts in his book on Herman Melville, Call Me Ishmael. Laying it down in broad strokes, even the smallness of shapes takes on huge scope. That which matters is…
Yackulic: However, when we experience spaces that appear (remember however, appearances can be deceiving) to have stood as rocks within the swirling eddy of time we become MORE aware of the contingent nature of reality. As in "history is something / ideally we'd touch" said Gustaf Sobin (I'm using his phrase to my own ends here, but what else can one do? after all, so do you quoting him in the book), who was a teacher of mine when I studied in Lacoste, France and lived in a building over a thousand years old.
Dunagan: Man, did you really study with SOBIN? Is that what you’re saying? That’s crazy...I just dissed his Collected Poems in a review but I do adore his books about the landscape of Provencal … from which I took that quote. It is the idea of getting to touch a thing that is so compelling about artists, like living with a painter or sculptor seems like it’d be such an incredibly jealous fueling experience, particularly if the relationship was of a romantic nature. O’Hara is fabulous in capturing this in writing I think. How cool it is to have a thing which you is produced from things, the materials used, etc
Yackulic: He introduced me to Patchen and I think I really rankled him in my, at the time, serious persistence of non-seriousness (he showed me Patchen, so what gives?) and probably, more-so, for standing up to him but he remembered me years later for it. But in Lacoste I came to FEEL, for the first time, truly my sense of passing through history. You don't feel this growing up in NYC because the city changes as fast as you do, which strangely undoes your sense of change. You need this slippage, this friction is the measure of things we need if we wish to hold on to our mind, that is, in terms of having perspective.
Dunagan: Haha… yeah, Sobin strikes me as lacking in an appreciation of the anything this side of the non-seriousness… and when serious being non-serious is sometimes the only way to get things done which will matter. It all adds up and that weighs something heavy once you take a look long enough to feel it—which sometimes doesn’t take any longer than a second. That sorta drag of awareness which accompanies any kinda knowledge. The idea of getting through the day: “Time is a bitch” like the t-shirts used to say. All of life being this accumulation of experiences, the numerous encounters with this and that, a vast piling which you end up hanging out in.
Yackulic: And then we put it to the page.