06/06/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I See Dead Artists

Well, not so much see as talk to them. Am I the only one or do other artists "invite" the souls of dead artists to hang with them in the studio? It's not that I issue a formal invitation or conduct a séance, It's more that I just start talking to them. I think it began with de Kooning. I would get stuck in a painting and just say out loud "Bill, what would you do?" And I actually picture him sitting behind me, enjoying the sight of another artist duking it out while he relaxes in the great beyond. Usually he just laughs at me. It feels like Bill's on my team. It's easier to paint when de Kooning's got your back.

I've tried to have Pollock around but he tends to just sit in the corner and brood. At times the energy of old alcoholic Abex artists gets too heavy and it's impossible to paint because IT'S SO IMPORTANT and I feel tortured. Then Andy stops by and what a relief that is. He stands there expressionless and says "Oh wow, you work really hard, gosh. Wow, that's great." He gives me permission to not suffer so much. The paintings get better. Thank god for Pop artists.


my studio

Occasionally John Singer Sargent strides in. His 19th century mind doesn't really get what I'm doing but thinks he'd like to try his hand at it. No annoying portrait clients to deal with. He is perhaps the most technically gifted oil painter of all time and I am truly floored by his work. About once a year I have two weeks where I am obsessed with Sargent and cannot paint. I fall into a stupor in which I think "What's the point? All art after Sargent is bullshit. I should burn all my work and devote the rest of my life to trying to paint like him." Then Andy strolls in and rescues me again. "Wow, that looks difficult." I think of Warhol's work and the lightness of his touch, both literally and figuratively. I snap out of my fog and once again see the value of well, everything after Sargent.


John Singer Sargent, Lady Agnew of Lochnaw, 1892-93, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh

It can be sad when an artist I've admired dies but then I remember that now they can do a studio visit. It was like that with Kenneth Noland. For a few years I've made target paintings based on Noland's. I call them "Failed Targets" because it speaks to the difficulty of trying to paint as well as my heroes. Anyway, I've decided that Noland gets a kick out of them.

This all might sound crazy but it eases the extreme isolation of the studio. The dead artists fill up the empty space and I don't feel like I'm facing the blank canvas alone.

I suppose the artist doesn't necessarily have to be dead. For example, I'm a big Richard Prince fan. Sometimes, I imagine him looking over my shoulder and patting me on the back. His de Kooning paintings are especially relevant to this topic. The Guggenheim notes that

These appropriations of de Kooning's iconic imagery began with a playful intervention into an exhibition catalogue of the late artist's drawings, an act Prince described as a "collaboration" with the modern master.

Hmm....sounds like someone else is talking to dead artists too.


Richard Prince, Untitled (de Kooning), 2006 Collection of Jennifer and David Stockman