Thursday, February 25, 2021

I Am a Lonely Painter







My father painted those iconic billboards along the Sunset Strip in the late 60s and 70s, his last, Talking Heads 77. His artwork – master giant-sized forger that he was – was seen by thousands of commuters and passers-by each day; I assume in a span of ten years that millions viewed his work. That's not meant to be a brag, but to make the point that no one knew my father was a writer, and no one cared. His writing was proficient and once he left L.A. for the Arizona desert, it was often sublime. Still, no one cared.

For Joni Mitchell, that same bias befalls her painting. Not on the "no one cared" level that my father experienced, but her work as a painter will always be overshadowed, indeed overlooked, by those who otherwise gobble up her genius. As Joni put it, "I'm a painter, always have been. A painter derailed by circumstance." Indeed, so was my father.
One of my favorites of her paintings is the cover for the virtually unlistenable Dog Eat Dog, in which Joni stands hands raised in control (?) of four mad curs; just one example of when her painting far exceeded her music.

Mitchell as a painter, and as a singer/songwriter, creates in plains of cinematic realism and seduction and temptation all in a mesh
. She defined the singer-songwriter, messed with guitar tunings and jazz, and with the prolificacy of Bob Ross, brought what would otherwise be lyrics to life. Talent is certainly not distributed evenly.


















"Mitchell said, "Dog Eat Dog, for instance, had a large canvas, 10-foot-by-5, all dogs, God dog, Jesus dog, you know, and racial dogs in conflict and so on." For it, she spent months, up to 13 hours a day, working on a cover that was eventually rejected in favor of a photograph. "It was suggested to me that I hadn't put my kisser on the cover for a long time." In an extraordinary range of hues, the canine forms emerge from the commotion of color so that the effect of abstraction dissolves as one approaches the picture and discerns the details.

My father would take the work of others and transform them into his own. He would stand on the scaffold at the top of the city and stand back and think and put a little dab here or there and it wouldn't matter because no one from the street below could discern the difference, but it it mattered to him. It was how he created his artwork at home as well, like that cliche of the artist with his thumb up. Joni would do the same.









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