Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Mira Schor

"My work has strong conceptual and political elements set within a deep commitment to formal and painterly values." 

The Dreams of All of Us, 2012, ink and oil on gesso on linen, 24 x 28 inches

About the Work

The works I have selected I have two names for, as a group that is, The Dreams of All of Us series, after the title and the words depicted in the first painting of the series, and the Occupy Series.

The Dreams of All of Us series is really about Occupy Wall Street. I painted these four paintings in early 2012, a few months after Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park in downtown Manhattan. I wanted to address the inspiration that it sparked. The protesters sleeping in the park somehow represented this incredible generosity, almost a sacrifice for the rest of us. It parallels sleep with resistance: in New York and in other cities at the time, presumably you could stand in the park, but if you had a tent or if you started to fall sleep, even on a bench, you were breaking the law (all this still holds true I’m sure).

The first painting began with the figure sleeping under a series of dream bubbles or cartouches that spell out the words "the dreams” “of”  “all” “of us." I was trying to figure out how to express in my newest work the effect of Occupy Wall Street. This gets at some of the basic problematics of political art: Do you represent? Do you illustrate? Do you perform? I already was painting these sleeping dreamers, and then I was touched by a comment made by the student of a friend, which she posted on Facebook. The student (whose name I don't know, but I'm grateful for the eloquence) wrote, "In abstraction, one might think of Occupy Wall Street as a 'Sleep-In.' What fascinates me about this particular conceptualization is that it implies using the body's faculties for repose and rest(oration) in an artistic form of activism.… The use of the shutdown of the body to attempt a shutdown of the system is not only a startling symbol (metaphor), but also a deployment of the one thing that capitalism has not yet fully infiltrated: our sleep. It metonymizes sleep with resistance."

This was such a beautiful idea. I have a lot of trouble sleeping, but love to and need to sleep; one of my favorite scenes in the movie Orlando was the long sleep from which Orlando awakens as a woman. As he sleeps on, doctors are summoned, they examine him, and finally, with great and deliberate pomp, they declare, "The Lord Orlando is sleeping." I often think of that line with longing for such an epic and transformative sleep. Meanwhile the tents and all the apparatus of sleeping at OWS was the unglamorous (and courageous) nitty-gritty basis of what they were doing and maybe what drives authorities craziest. They are (they were) lying outside at night, vulnerable, for us, and collectively they were dreaming for us.

Negative of the Positive, 2012, ink and oil on gesso on linen, 24 x 28 inches

The Darkest Part of the Night, 2012, oil on linen, 24 x 28 inches

The next paintings in the series, Negative of the Positive and The Darkest Part of the Night, take us through a dark night, as darkness falls on a cold sidewalk, and then the darkness that presses in and obscures even the dreamer. I do end on a hopeful note though: in the last painting the figure is awake. It’s bright yellow and titled This is the Future.

My work has strong conceptual and political elements set within a deep commitment to formal and painterly values. Over the years I have drawn upon figuration, landscape, and language, with a narrative undercurrent, and always with a great interest in form and texture. I see my work overall as one work, in which individual pieces function like individual film frames or the stills from a movie, and in a way this series recapitulates this as it depicts the same scene through a passage of time.

Language as image has been a principal subject of my work since 1970s. In the 70s the language was personal and autobiographical in nature. In the work from the ’90s to 2006, the language was appropriated, mostly from the news, or was related to art making itself: words like trace, sign, painting, drawing, even the word writing. After my mother died in 2006, I felt I had to start back at a kind of zero of my identity as an artist; I started with basically just a blob of black ink and that developed into the empty thought balloon. It turned out to be a great space in which to paint paint, to place paint where you expect to find language. Some of those thought balloons looked a lot like heads so I put eyeglasses on them, and then about a year later gave them a very basic body, with stick figure legs so they could start walking around and encountering the world. I'm a politically minded person, always drawn to oppositional ideologies and polemics. Interiority and exteriority occur sometimes in the same work, or works in a series shift from one frame to the other.
I call the figure an “avatar of self.” I’m not sure if that is a distancing gesture. It may seem that way but actually I try to express as directly as possible where I am at a particular moment: in space, literally, in my garden in the summer reading, or in my studio, and where I am in my sensations, emotions, and thoughts. The diagrammatic and cartoon aspects of the work come from the speed necessary to keep the flow between everything that I do in my work—paint, write, teach, read, draw, think—as connected and speedy as possible. In works from the early ’70s that were more specifically figurative, I represented my figure and the space where I was with more detail and fullness though not in an academic manner, more in the representational vein of Florine Stettheimer for instance or Rajput painting. Now the cartoon and diagram modes allow for the co-existence of figure, landscape, and language without any need for the niceties of representational rendering.

These comments are culled from a number of interviews with me from a couple of years ago that flesh out more information about my work:
The Thing Itself: Mira Schor + Bradley Rubenstein, part 2

This is the Future, 2012, ink and oil on gesso on linen, 24 x 28 inches

Reflecting on Cape Cod

I first came to Provincetown with my parents when I was seven years old. My parents Ilya and Resia Schor had tried some of the other summer art colonies in the Northeast, Rockport and Woodstock, where they were friendly with Philip Guston and his family, but Provincetown proved to be the place. We had many friends who summered on the Cape, in Ptown, Truro and Wellfleet, including the families of Jack Tworkov and of Chaim Gross. As a child I immediately fell in love with the place, the landscape of the bay and the ocean, and I've spent most of my summers there since, especially after my mother bought a house in 1969, a few years after my father died. My mother Resia worked in a small space downstairs, I worked upstairs and my sister Naomi also worked upstairs writing at a desk with a view of the bay, a seat I now use when I write. Even though I'm not currently a landscape artist in any traditional sense, the landscape has influenced my work and the rhythm of being there in the summer is a big part of my life, which I hope to continue despite the economic unrealities of it at this point. The summer of 2013 I wrote a series of blog posts about that experience, Day by Day in the Studio. The first post is here.