Arnold Mesches, Artist Interview
|Arnold Mesches, Eternal Return|
What is a typical day like in your studio? When do you arrive? Do you have a plan or do you dive right in?
I don't "arrive", I'm actually already here in that we live and work in the same place. Each day differs depending on how much "business" I have to take care of, things like answering questions like these, exhibition preparations, mailings, emails, photos, contacting collectors, etc. so there is no set pattern. I work every day, am always looking and searching, no matter where I am or what I'm doing. However, when I'm working on a painting or am into a series, the work takes precedence and I'm gripped by the making and thinking. I plan ahead, as I work, as I eat, as I read the paper---all the time. The length of painting, planning, collaging and drawing time varies, much depending on my back pains and my wife, Jill's schedule regarding lunch or a swim. (Arnold is married to novelist Jill Ciment). Often, I go back to work in the afternoon or occasionally in the evening. Some days I work straight through much of the day; the needs of the work as it talks to me, the excitement of it, dictates my hours, as does my back.
Have your work habits changed much over time?
No, Jill’s schedule has changed. I used to work better in the afternoon and I did business in the morning, my afternoons are better. Jill is better in the morning so I changed my schedule so we could have more time together. So most the time I work, I do some business and do some work while she’s writing, then we have a life together. Living and working in the same place, which is wonderful, has some limitations.
Can you talk a little about your creative process? How does your work unfold? Do you start with sketches or have a clear idea of what you want to achieve with each work?
I make sketches, collages, get images from my files, the computer, my sketches, anywhere and everywhere. I compose in collage and sketch form and then work from them as the imagery becomes "mine" and the painting surface and color congeal, helping to change the subject to content; I add and subtract, stop to clarify an image with a drawing; it all depends on the work as its needs guide me to completion.
|Arnold Mesches in his Gainesville, FL studio|
Can you talk about what you mean by “mine’?
It becomes mine in that it becomes something I can work with, for example I look at images in a magazine and think that’s my image, that’s not my image. It has to do with what strikes me, conceptually and visually. It has to be something I can bring into my work and once it congeals with my other images it becomes "mine."For example, there are forty-two painted panels in Eternal Return II, Tower of Babel, and when collaged together a gestalt happens and that something makes content.
Does this imply that at that moment you know where the painting or drawing is going?
I have a vague idea, like each one of the panels in the 36 foot wall of drawings began with a collage that actually took longer than the drawn panel itself (Coming Attractions 2). It is 11 months of work, collaging and drawing. When I complete the collage, I put the collage up on the wall in front of me and draw from it.
|Arnold Mesches, detail, Coming Attractions 2|
Does the collage function like a still life?
I make drawings and collages and work from them---they direct me.
Who were you’re earliest influences? Did you know you wanted to be an artist? Did you begin in painting?
Goya, Breughel, Kollwitz, Beckmann, Daumier, etc, etc---the usual social artists. Yes, when I was about 14. No, coming out of the depression, it didn't seem practical to go into fine art so I studied Advance Design in High School, got a scholarship at Art Center in LA but after about 2 1/2 yrs got interested in painting---a long story.
Have your influences changed much over time? Do you look at the same artists you started with or has that list changed over time?
I think eventually you’re the sum total of everyone that influences you, art comes from art; my art comes from art and my observations because I come from a different time. And they (other artists) can’t do what I do because they didn’t live in my time. All I can get from them is formal understanding, For example, I have lectured on The Raft of Medusa for hours. I know a great deal about renaissance composition; I use it when necessary. In ANOMIE 2001: CONEY (in the Whitney Museums collection), borrowed Rembrandt's V and inverted V composition.
At a certain point you don’t look anymore, you know what you’re doing. I used to have artist friends come over and talk about the work but at a certain point you don’t give a shit. …I remember having coffee with Leon Golub and us both saying this. My best editor is Jill; we bounce off of each other. She was my student and when I wasn’t painting I wrote novels---I value her judgment and she values mine. Sometimes, sitting on the floor with the sun on our backs we just compare notes. It's a process that saves us from wasting time.
Do you ever find yourself in a creative dry spell? If so, what do you do to find your way through and create new work?
Yea---I didn't make art for over 8 yrs. I wrote 2 novels, acted in 10 movies, did court room art for CBS' Walter Cronkite News, did commercial serigraphs to pay the bills, had to find myself again, divorced my wife and started living with Jill. Eventually, I returned to painting and art with a new passion and a more contemporary approach, stil coupled with my knowledge of the old master's.
I know this is a perennial question, but how do you know a painting is finished?
How do you know when you've finished making love? In art, when all the surfaces have uniformity, the tensions balanced, the movements resolved, when there's nothing else to do. This is a good question and needs a longer discussion.
If you could recommend a reading or a book for artists what would it be?
Look at art history books and know history well. Look at lots of art, all kinds and all periods, all ism's.
What are you currently working on?
Eternal Return, the new show at Life on Mars references Nietzsche's eternal return. Jill suggested the title, everything returns again and that’s what this show is all about everything comes back again. I’m a social painter and I’m trying to find different ways to talk about how feel how I feel about the world. Shock and Awe of course comes from George Bush saying the Iraq war is over, yeah-- the war is over, ha. I look in the newspaper everyday and, on every page, something horrible is happening here and another war is happening there…from the time I was 2 years old, all I remember is war, war, and more war…I’m ninety years old---it has never stopped, I’ve not known a day of peace. My work is constantly affected by my take on the world I've lived in.
|Arnold Mesches, Show and Awe, 2011|