While my painting is ironically rooted in ab ex’s ethos and style I do not believe it is derivative. I discuss the lack of expressionistic fervor in today’s fashionable art by combining the visceral with the decorative not forsaking authenticity though not allowing serious abstract painting to exist on its own in my diptychs. Though I’m not sure you’d approve this impulse to juxtapose my oils with stretched panels of fake fur, “ vinyl like stuff”, upholstery or painted artificial flowers. I’d like to give you some background as to my development so I’m excerpting some pages from a memoir I began three years ago.
Even though I am an abstract painter, I think of my work as a visual diary. A diary of my unconscious. A diary of my responses. A diary of tangible form and color without words. I understand the meaning of a metaphor. I make meaning. My first works at Alfred were abstract symbols for organs floating on what I believed to be a metaphysical field. I thought of them as interior and exterior maps. I drew symbols for the newly discovered experience of sexuality and believed that my personal mark was crucial to inner awareness. Being an abstract painter was essential to me. I wanted to do nothing else but express my life, soul. I believed that the world needed to be in touch with aesthetic soul more than they were and that it was necessary. My father, Paul Woodbury Weld, was an internist at the Rochester General Hospital and I had been exposed at meal times to daily conversations about health and disease. He was not interested in culture and did not attend church with the rest of the family. He had contracted polio the year I was born and was disabled so could not participate in sports with any of his six children. He did throw horse shoes and play croquet but that was all except for hiking in the mountains. While my mother, Mary Jean Cameron Weld, painted she had first been trained as a nurse and was able to have an active voice while talking to my father about his work. Their serious attitudes about their interests revealed to me now to be serious and ambitious about my painting.
The painting process, even after thirty years, is a daily discovery. Painting grows meaning, much like a gardener. I paint bones and skeletons, organs or turtles, cellular forms or body parts, pistols and stamens seeking to emote. I believe in a physical sensuality, a materiality of the object, and I see consciousness in imagery that you can touch and caress with your eyes. What made me believe in the power of the visual to speak profoundly? What gives me the self esteem to believe I am speaking about the spirit of life and consciousness? What gives me the will to persevere as an artist after years of little interest, few sales and the need for employment? I feel that because I am an unknown artist painting without regard for the coolness espoused now that I have freedom. I respond to an inner conviction. During my ten years of working in the museum world I sought out artists with an idiosyncratic passion, rather than follow the dominant international fashion of Art Forum.
I look back to your beginnings for strength and support today. I must ask your spirit whether you were as intolerant of Andy and his followers as I am now? An intelligent guess would be yes. Judging from your oeuvre. How did you discover your imagery throughout your years of painting? “Just paint” your spirit screamed at me yesterday. Your spirit is right. It is evident that neither one of us begins with a visual preconception more important than the painting process of call and response. Your abstracted expanses of land and atmosphere or my abstracted forms of fossils are less important than our expressionistic process and love of the material and substance.
Going to art school in the country was formative for me, as formative as my childhood years of walking and hiking with my father. I find a profound spirituality in nature and yearn to interpret and suggest this life force. I doubt you saw your works as landscapes either.
I’ll write again. I wanted to let you know my response to your retrospective at the Whitney. I went several times and loved the works. It was good for New York to see such passion. The curator who awarded me my first mid western show was born in Paris but raised in Ohio. And the critic who wrote an essay for my recent Robert Steele show is also French. They are both named Dominique. It was also good for New York to see nature based work–New Yorkers have a hard time appreciating the transcendental sublime in Nature–concentrating much more on people--and I for one prefer impersonal Nature. Thank you Joan for your ambitious interpretation of it.