21 Aug Inspiration
Inspiration is for amateurs.
— Chuck Close
Old objects and the personal memories associated with them inspire most of my paintings.
I’m content to call it nostalgia.
Like weight-gain, nostalgia is an affliction of the aged and can rapidly get out of hand. I especially loathe the kind that wistfully pines for a rosy past that wasn’t all that rosy.
But at least I’m never at a loss for inspiration.
Thanks to post-World War II consumerism, there are millions of old objects for me to paint: millions of cans, bottles, tools and toys that have been stashed away in attics, basements and garages; and millions more on display in thrift stores, antique malls and on eBay. I can buy these for a song.
I just finished a Yoo Hoo bottle and am planning next to paint a beer can—specifically, a Ballentine’s Beer can—an idea planted by a throwaway remark made to me this week by another artist, Peter Swift, while we were waxing nostalgic about Newark, New Jersey (the home, until 1972, of the P. Ballantine & Sons Brewing Company).
The company’s ads were ubiquitous when I was growing up and its mammoth factory lit the night sky near my childhood home.
If Philip Roth could find a career’s worth of inspiration in Newark, I figure, why can’t I?
Inspiration lurks in the humblest corners. You just have to show up.
Chuck Close, who died this week, was once asked about the role of inspiration in making art.
“The advice I like to give,” he said, “is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.
“If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you.
“If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction.
“Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.”
Chuck Close was right.
Above: Yoo Hoo, by Robert Francis James, 2021. Oil on canvas. 18 x 24 inches. P. Ballentine & Sons. Lithograph, circa 1850. Self-Portrait (Yellow Raincoat) by Chuck Close, 2019. Mosaic. 6 x 9 feet. Installed in New York’s Second Avenue Subway 86th Street Station.
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