"You have an interesting face. I would like to do your portrait. I have a feeling we will do great things together."
What is a Muse? In mythology, the Muses were nine goddesses who personified knowledge of the arts. For centuries artists have relied on incarnations of these goddesses for inspiration. Some of the greatest works in art history owe their existence to muses. I think of Vermeer's Girl with the Pearl Earring. I wonder what Dali would have become without Gala. What if Stieglitz and O'Keefe, had not met and what would Mapplethorpe be without Patti; Andy without Edie; John without Yoko; and Hitchcock without Tippi? We see filmmakers, writers, painters, and musicians all have at least one deeply treasured muse. Some beautiful, enigmatic nymph that makes us tick. For artists our muses invoke our creativity, our deepest desires, and even our darkest fears.
I met my muse four years ago in New York at the birthday party of Marlborough gallerist Max Levai. For me the difference between a masterpiece and just a painting is simple. Art should touch your soul, and transport you to that place where all your feelings live. It should make you feel the way I felt when I first laid eyes on Allison Barker. For the last 4 years she has been my fuel to create, to love and to learn.
She is beautiful, of course. But muses are so much more than beauty. It is difficult to describe. Her simplest gestures stir my passions. Like when she innocently shrugs one shoulder, as if to say, "I suppose..." all my fantasies awaken and my imagination runs at the speed of light. She has endless knowledge about art history, and boundless curiosity for almost everything. She teaches me things I don't think anyone else could possibly teach me. She is the only person I trust to write about my work. She is as generous with her love as she is with her intellect. Whenever my heart wants to be free I conjure my muse, I think of my Ali, a gesture, a phrase, a lesson she has given me, and I paint.
I think that as an artist the bond you create with your muse is similar to the one you have with your craft... it comes naturally and uncontrollably, or it does not come at all. And sometimes it can hurt. I can get jealous of her shadow. When she criticizes my work it burns my heart. When I complain about this to her she shrugs that left shoulder and tells me "growing pains" should be expected in an artist's life. It reminds me she is always right for me and my wounded pride becomes this humbled fervor in search of a solution. She drives me crazy, but it is always what the French call "l'amour fou", in English, literally, "crazy-love."
Last year Gagosian put up a show with this name, "L'amour Fou" which showcased Picasso's work inspired by Marie-Thérèse, his mistress for 17 years, muse and mother to his daughter Maya. The show was co-curated by my dear friend Diana Picasso, granddaughter of the artist and his muse. Thanks to Diana, the show and accompanying catalog included work never before seen in the US, photographs from the family archive, and insights from not only a brilliant art historian, but a woman with Picasso and Marie-Thérèse in her veins. By so eloquently and comprehensively giving viewers the lens of this muse, the show brought new light and added dimension to Picasso's work.
In life, Picasso kept Marie-Thérèse in secret. Even after the birth of their daughter, Maya, her true identity remained elusive even to his closest friends. Later in life when he met Francoise Gilot, he requested she live in the attic above his studio, never to go out or see anyone but him. Before that exhibit I felt the same desire to keep my muse to myself. I suppose we artists sometimes feel that we share our muses enough when we reveal them in our work - figuratively, or abstractly. When I walked through L'Amour Fou with my own muse, I saw in her beautiful blue eyes that she was reacting to Marie-Thérèse in her heart, while her intellect spoke to me about Picasso's work and what this all meant in terms of his oeuvre. At that moment I realized she could never be just mine. That as an artist it was my obligation to bravely share with the world those things which speak to my heart. And it is you Allison, who speaks to my heart. My muse, my Ali.