I went to the portland art museum yesterday to see the chuck close prints: process and collaboration exhibition. Chuck Close is one of my favorite contemporary artists because of his amazing study of color as well as his exploration of the wide range of materials and production methods he uses to make his art. The exhibit features many of his prints and paintings but what was most exceptional was the fact that the various process' he uses to make his art were shown along side the finished work. Etching plates, carved wood panels, and a series of screen prints shown in stages, with each progressive screen adding yet another color, revealing how the final idea emerged over time. This exhibit highlighted Mr. Closes technical mastery, his meticulous attention to detail and unrelenting dedication to a complex process of making. I thought I knew and loved his work before, but after seeing this show, I walked away with a greater understanding and appreciation for his art. What an absolute treat!
I walked away with an appreciation for this man's art unto itself, moved by it's beauty and technical achievement. But I also walked away with a few thoughts that might apply to my life with diabetes. The fact that this amazing work is done by a person who is a paraplegic with limited use of his arms is also remarkable. To say that Mr. Close suffered an enormous set back in life, one which imposed profound physical limitations on him, is a colossal understatement to say the least. I have a hard time imagining what it must have been like. I have a hard time imagining what it took to move forward to paint again. But the fact that I can't personally imagine what it was like or what it took to start again, and the fact that my physical situation is completely different from Mr. Closes, doesn't diminish the lessons his story offers to me. It's not about comparing the level of challenge each person faces but rather, respecting and learning from the way each person approaches their journey and then applying the lessons that make sense to your own. For me, Mr. Closes particular story resonates deeply. The way that he made his art had to change to address his new physical state and as such, his art changed too. Limitations were accommodated and his art continued to be created. He made what was dealt him work, regardless.
Now I'm not going to go to that place about what a "blessing" limitations are. And I'm also not going to talk about how there are no limitations, just lack of will. Everyone has their own response to the physical limitations imposed by disease, disability or accidents. Sometimes getting up in the morning is the most courageous act a person can muster that day and sometimes that's as important to celebrate as any other type of accomplishment as far as I'm concerned. No, what I'm taking away from Mr. Closes story is more of an idea about possibility. I'm taking away the idea that maybe limits can be possibilities too. Given the choice, I'd hand in the limits of diabetes first chance I could get. But in light of the fact that there isn't a choice, I'm left with the question: what are the possibilities here? What can I learn from other peoples journey's with physical limitations and what lessons can I apply to my own?
When I step back from Mr. Closes story, I take away two key lessons. One idea is kind of romantic, the other is practical, but both are very important.
The first lesson I learned was about passion. When I look at Chuck Close's art, I see an enormous curiosity and ability for obsessive focus. There is a deep interest and passion around making and understanding and finding a kind of perfection, on his terms, for himself first. When you see the 100+ screens for a screen print series, you know that there's a journey towards something perfect and complete going on here. A narrow subject range and idea is explored over and over again, with different mediums, through different lenses. Passion, curiosity and deep focus, all feel to me like they're important sources of energy for this incredibly rich, alive and profoundly beautiful body of work.
The second lesson I learned was about collaboration and outsourcing. Less sexy than passion but just as important. Mr. Close's situation, and the art form of printmaking, requires the help and expertise of others to execute his artistic vision. The write up that accompanied the piece called Emma, spoke repeatedly about the trust he had to give to the master printer who was producing it. That it was hard for Mr. Close to let go of the control of the making of the piece. But in the end, Emma is magnificent, due in great part to that very collaboration and dialogue between the artist and the craftsperson. The actual making was outsourced, but the idea, the genius, the artistic story was Mr. Closes, made better through collaboration and trust. To bring that story to life, he had to let others help him do it. And magic and beauty was the result of that process.
So at the end of the day, I saw some wonderful art yesterday. The questions and lessons that came from yesterday however, will be carried with me for far longer. Questions like, what are the possibilities that lie within the physical limits that diabetes can present? What is the passion in my life that transcends diabetes and all the struggles it can carry? What do I need to do to accommodate the limits I feel? What things can be outsourced and who can I collaborate with to bring to life the things I am trying to build and experience in my life in spite of diabetes? And most importantly of all, what new thing can be brought into the world because of the limits I experience?
What are the possibilities?
Image via don relyea's blog.