May 11, 2009

Plagiarism in the Past Perfect Tense

My upcoming exhibition is a patchwork of old and new work. The square painting turned towards a diamond shape to the right is a self portrait untimely torn from a painting I made years ago while I was still living in China. I didn’t really like the awkward composition in the original work so I salvaged the face (for historic reasons?) by excising it with a utility knife and then discarding the remaining canvas. I then pasted the portrait on to a gesso panel. Using a slightly updated palette of colors and an older painter’s way of wielding the brush, I surrounded the old image with new paint. It still has a somewhat naive early Lucian Freud look to it, but I will be exhibiting it anyway.
I am reminded again of Proust’s observation that when artist’s reach a certain age they begin to plagiarize from their own past, which explains the first word in the title of this little painting.
The second half of the title, "the past perfect tense," is an overlay of puns, historical references, and an interest in the cultural ramifications of linguistics. It is all word play. Through the rose colored lenses of the present, is the golden age of youth, with its seeming simplicity, a time yet untainted with responsibilities and limitations? Is the past perfect? Or was it really fraught with the tensions of uncertainties? Perfectly tense, maybe. Tenses do speak volumes about the cultures that invent and use them. It seems to me that the past perfect is a language of regret...
"If I had gone to medical school instead of art school, then I would have been much better off financially."
Staring into the face of the past through this little self portrait, I recalled wondering at the time, how I would feel looking into the mirror a few decades later, as an older woman, particularly considering the high premium our culture places upon youth. Surprisingly, it is more annoying than distressing - especially having skin hang down from my face while standing upside-down.
I suppose the mere fact that I bother to walk around on my hands in an old-age-be-damned attitude is its own answer to the trepidation one should be feeling at this time. And the young, rather than evoking feelings of loss or jealousy, elicit charm. Sometimes they look like little dolls to me. Even my own visage from those decades past is doll-like, with that narrow little face and those big staring, almond eyes. But the older face that looks back upon it has some regrets but does not mourn. It only exhales in relief at having survived the vicissitudes of the life lived since then and grateful for the experience gained.

No comments: