Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Authors on Artists: Gabby Bess on Women & Art

"I'm Not The Girlfriend Of An Artist. I Am The Artist."

by Gabby Bess

Damn baby, pussy can’t be your only hustle
Unless you bad as Naomi Russell
I mean a lot of niggas got money
So basically, Russell ain’t the only Russell
Russell Brand, Russell Crowe
Zero Zero Zero Zero, a whole lot of 0’s
What you after, actor money?
You in line behind currency, yeah you after money

-- Illest Motherfucker Alive, Kanye West

My friend Lucy and I walked past the “Five Centuries of European Art” exhibit in the Baltimore Museum of  Art. You’re always forced to walk past the 17th Century Baroque art before you can look at the good stuff. No one would look at it otherwise. Everyone is in a rush to get to something they can easily recognize as relevant to the cultural context of their lives. Of course they put the contemporary art near the exit, only being able to access it through the dimly lit rooms holding Sir Anthony van Dyck, and then Degas and Matisse, until you can finally see the brightly lit white room with high ceilings contrasting against the dark wood floors with forms of large purple and pink sculptures coming up from it and can start to make out the instantly recognizable Warhols and a bike with strange tubes coming off of it. A bike with strange tubes coming off of it was something I identified with most days.

In the room with the Matisses and the Picassos there was a painting titled Group of Artists (1908), also known as Apollinare and his friends, by Marie Laurencin. The placard to the side of the painting read that Laurencin had spent time with Gertrude Stein and Henri Rousseau, notable in her approximation to others. The painting featured the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, Marie herself, Picasso, Picasso’s dog, and Picasso’s mistress. Laurencin was one of the few female avant-garde cubist painters and through history she is most known for her romantic relationship with Apollinare and her proximity to Picasso. Apollinare and his friends could be viewed as two famous men, who are featured at the center, with their women.

I will never understand women.

How bizarre to write yourself as a background character in your own story.

Group of Artists (1908), Marie Laurencin

Group of Artists (2013), Various

What I realized, when viewing Group of Artists, then was that every perceived art movement was just a group of friends that had gravitated toward each other in the common interest of feeling less alone. With that perspective, the prospect of becoming a culturally relevant artist seemed more attainable. If my friends and I could continue to do cool things someone would take notice and move to capitalize on our content. Of course the goal is selling out. Of course the goal unromantic and simplified, unlike the unpredictable events, set off by some origin or intention, that precede it. In between points A and B are billions of co-dependent molecules of energy pushing out toward every direction, feigning the look of a straight line. 

Brad Troemel, Comments on the World at Will 

In my limited means, the only interaction I could have with a gallery is to be on its walls or as an observer, learning what I could do to be on its walls. And of course its all for sale. Let the richest man find me and let him find other women too. One rich man can finance the art of at least 10 girls. I would like to see the art of 10 girls and a once rich man. Love or death is a different animal that, in my youth, I am not concerned with. Youth is concerned with money and art and ideas. Pay me for my art or my tits, ethically it doesn’t matter which. I think that the most beautiful part of sleep is dreaming that I am someone outside of myself and the most beautiful part of being outside of myself is admiring my body from a distance. With distance even the most deadly animal is desirable and with a gun, it is attainable. The painter, Francis Bacon remarked, upon seeing ham, pigs, tongues, and sides of beef in a butcher’s window, “…All that death. I find it very beautiful. And it’s all for sale—how unbelievably surrealistic!"

I’ve Got it All (2001), Tracey Emin

I’ve Got it All (2007), Kim Kardashian

Just as I had, Bacon walked past the walls of Picassos and thought, “Well, I could do that.” To amuse myself I’ll consider an object or a person or a passion and think, with confidence, “Well, that could be my art.” I feel myself alternating between the extremes of ‘depressed’ and ‘uncontrollably egocentric’ which seem to be the same emotion, essentially. The likes of Bacon, who studied the walls of galleries on his own and taught himself to paint, or Basquiat, have overtaken my romantic notions of The Artist: an overconfident outsider, a hustler. Bacon said, of becoming an artist, “I don’t think people are born artists; I think it comes from a mixture of your surroundings, the people you meet, and luck.” And of course, I tell you these things about Bacon and Picasso or whoever else in order to tell you about myself. I filter myself through these men, through something more understandable, as I have often been called a difficult woman to understand.


Gabby Bess is the author of Alone With Other People. She lives in Brooklyn.