I once took a turn as a sometimes player in a New York rock band. The leader, a long-haired, Gibson SG-wielding screamer who also studied Buddhist meditation, told me that in Rock ‘n Roll, making it clear about what you’re against rather than what you love is most effective. With this formula, rockers have successfully defined themselves. By kicking off a point of view, they have united, disrupted and inspired their audiences.
Since acquiring this nugget of wisdom, I’ve often wondered how it might apply to visual art. As painters, we approach our altars with reverent kneeling to work mostly at the beautiful: nature, storytelling, fantasy, love. Even when in protest, a painting lionizes its subject — makes icons of things. You need only think of a can of Campbell’s soup to know what I’m talking about.
In art, saying what your work is against may be as simple as not trying too hard to say what your work is against. Even without a spit-sprayed shower of profanities hurled over a mosh pit of mohawks, there’s still a way to exalt the object of your obsession while also suggesting what’s in the negative space. In painting, this dialogue between worlds emerges in a less performative package, instead sharing space in your room and life and speaking in a human-scaled timbre, in a language of patient and quietly unfolding details that develops over time. Your painting speaks. It may listen, too. It may comfort as a harbour of unity or even spark revolution. Your painting, in its own way, can still astonish, stir and stun as decisively as a smashed Gibson on a stack of Marshalls.
PS: “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.” (Pema Chödrön)
Esoterica: Next Saturday, in celebration of the 20th anniversary of our joint show, Like Father, Like Daughter, my dad and I will show together again. In 1997, at 24, I had shaken off enough of the pedagogy of my BFA to steal a decadent, private period of 10,000 hours. My dad, at 60, was warmed up and humming in the care of the subjects he loved so much. When I think back to that time, a smile spreads for the early-flush moments of colour-work, an ever-sweetening friendship with my dad, and the intimacy of our joint participation in the never-finished quest. More recently, old and new friends remark about the “dialogue” that has appeared over time between our paintings. Perhaps for all of us, a unique, multiplexed world exists in which we form the favourite themes of our conversations with comrades, our points and counterpoints richer for the back and forth. What we each long to communicate or avoid, anticipate or listen to in the presence of someone is revealed without being forced. For all of us, conversations are yet to unfurl. They do so naturally, in their own way, refreshed with time, never finished or completed.
Robert Genn and Sara Genn: Like Father, Like Daughter — 20 Years Later opens April 22nd, 2017 at Canada House Gallery in Banff, Alberta and is on view until April 30th.
“You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.” (Pema Chödrön)