Make Them Up And Just Do!

(Written on the occasion for the exhibition ‘Artist Friends’ at the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau in 2015)

I habitually read the correspondence between artists, writers or whoever’s work I’m into at any given moment. Building fantasies about what it must be like to have such a relationship, I’m often trying to figure out how I could attain that myself. As if by having such a friendship my work would improve, my life would be more exciting, or better yet, I could have a partner in crime with whom I could destroy (symbolically) everything I didn’t like about what existed art-wise and in turn, build up a new vocabulary more suited to my visual needs.

Dear Jack,

Your letter reflects some staggering misconceptions on the subject of Mexico. If I could draw I would show you how these „whole families eating late into the night“ end up. Everybody staggering around blind, stupid, sullen, murderous drunk, but still able to get in there with knives and machetes and broken bottles and score for three or four stiffs. And then some cop reels in drunker than anybody and shoots three or four more people before he realizes he is in the wrong house and the people he shot are not the ones who beat his time with some bitch he used to lay who has actually been dead five years, another circumstance he lost sight of owing to his condition.

[Excerpt taken from The Letters of William S. Burroughs 1945-1959 edited and with an introduction by Oliver Harris]

This excerpt taken from a letter from William S. Burroughs to Jack Kerouac is a good example of what can come out of such a friendship. I feel like this bit of writing only exists because Burroughs is addressing a close friend and therefore, is perhaps freer than when writing a novel. This tiny bit has it all. It is humorous, bizarre and tragic all at once. His letters to fellow writer friends contain, in my opinion, some of his finest writings.

I’ve never been in a situation such as August Macke and Franz Marc. It isn’t that I don’t have any artist friends; it’s more that I have friends that happen to be artists. There is a difference I think, friends that are artists and having artist friends. I do of course have people that I can go to and discuss my work with or vice versa. Interestingly, most of these people are older than myself, which I really appreciate. The older people I’m referring to aren’t those creatures that can’t get enough Renoir in their lives. I’m talking about quite savvy individuals who have seen a lot, remain open to new things and in some instances are more progressive in thought than a lot of younger people I know.

Once, I had a conversation with a collector who said that every artist has a family that he or she belongs to extending beyond the limits of time and space based on the work he/she creates. Artists can access each other and connect (as friends) through other means as well. One can belong to a group that isn’t of „one’s generation“ or even no longer living. If the person you want to communicate with is dead, you might not get a response. Then again, maybe you will (see Polke).

As a child I was never one to have ‘imaginary friends’. Although I may be a bit too old for it now, I feel like I have many imaginary friends. Ray Johnson and Paul Thek for example. We all meet up in my mind and drink tea together. Paul doesn’t like Darjeeling and Ray can’t get enough of it. It’s at these mental tea parties that I ask Paul things like „How quickly did you make the leap from seeing the mummies in the catacombs of Palermo to creating your ‘Technological Reliquaries’?“. Or, „What’s with the bunny, Ray?“. Unfortunately, I rarely get an answer out of these two.

I do at times long for an actual, real exchange/connection found only between artist friends. I think that this can be very beneficial as far as one’s work is concerned, but also as a reminder that one isn’t crazy for wanting to do this or that. To have someone be a soundboard with whom one can bounce ideas and fears off of. To be told that one isn’t alone in one’s endeavors is a real gift. The letters exchanged between Sol Lewitt and Eva Hesse reveal what can come out of such a relationship. Here is a passage from a letter from Sol Lewitt to Eva Hesse:

Dear Eva,

It will be almost a month since you wrote to me and you have possibly forgotten your state of mind (I doubt it though). You seem the same as always, and being you, hate every minute of it. Don’t! Learn to say “Fuck You” to the world once in a while. You have every right to. Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping, confusing, itchin, scratching, mumbling, bumbling, grumbling, humbling, stumbling, numbling, rumbling, gambling, tumbling, scumbling, scrambling, hitching, hatching, bitching, moaning, groaning, honing, boning, horse-shitting, hair-splitting, nit-picking, piss-trickling, nose sticking, ass-gouging, eyeball-poking, finger-pointing, alleyway-sneaking, long waiting, small stepping, evil-eyeing, back-scratching, searching, perching, besmirching, grinding, grinding, grinding away at yourself. Stop it and just DO!

[Sol LeWitt, Brief an Eva Hesse, ‘DO!’, 14. April 1965]

Finally, what is most interesting to me regarding artist friends is something that is entirely out of my control. I meet who I consider to be my artist friends in my dreams. These ‘friends’ are changing all the time but are usually famous somehow. I don’t know what this says about my subconscious but when I wake, there are lessons to be learned.

For example, I once dreamt that I was visiting the studio of Lee Krasner and she advised her assistant to „Seek out in literature what you are trying to do in your art. To find authors who are doing similar things with words that you are doing with pens and brushes, etc.“ Not bad advice.

A lesson on style, this one involving Karl Lagerfeld.
’I happened to be in a café when he (Karl Lagerfeld) walked in. Only now he was wearing no sunglasses. We struck up a conversation about style. I said, ‘No one has style’, to which a person to my left in the cafe cried out ‘Paul Klee had style!’ Karl responded ‘But that’s just it, everyone has style but it is an uninformed, ignorant style!

Another dream encounter involving Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns.
Apparently I was in Rome at the coliseum giving a speech that didn’t go so well: „I got down off stage and walked out of there through the grass and over a little bridge that crossed a small river. Once I crossed, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns were there waiting. Rauschenberg came up to me, put his arm around me and asked if I was ‘okay’. I kind of shrugged as he could see that I wasn’t. He stopped and looked at me and said ‘All this means is that you have to keep going and do something new.’ He was speaking in reference to my art. Johns remained mute. Later, as a joke, Rauschenberg made a pass at me. We both laughed.“

The last encounter that I will share involves the late Lou Reed.
„Later in some house where I was staying, Lou Reed stopped by with his girlfriend. He had his new book of poetry with him. I asked if he would like to trade me one of his books for my catalog. He said ‘Yeah’. Then he said ‘But what happens when I get tired of the catalog and you get tired of my book?’ To which I responded, ‘Well that’s okay, then we look for something else.’ I was really nervous because I couldn’t find my catalog and Lou Reed’s girlfriend asked why I was so nervous. I told her because I couldn’t find one of my catalogs. Lou Reed then said ‘Don’t worry, next time.“

I won’t get into the fact that this is all in my head, that I’ve created my own versions of real people, which I’m fully aware of. I prefer to think of them as separate individuals that visit me from beyond the grave, through time, space and celebrity to hang out with me because we all like each other and have something to share with one another. If one has artist friends such as these, great! If not, do as I did and make them up. Make them up and‚just DO!’