Paul Waddell’s studio
When I walked into the studio – which was pretty much a riot of color and shape, with four or five large canvases spread around and an equal number of smaller ones as well as paintings on paper – two painted figures caught my attention. In my mind I was saying, “What the fuck? Lord these are good.” The bodies of a woman and a man are leaning, knees slightly bent, with their upper torsos disappearing into… a colorful maelstrom of psychedelic abstraction. Charles Garabedian came to mind, as did the little I know about ancient Greek figure statues. (Did this guy train with Phidias?) In each of the slightly represented and almost cartoon like figures I was able to discern thigh muscles pushing, and the man’s legs were parted a bit and his glutes were active rather than simply existing as dabs of paint. I sensed that his arms, and the woman’s arms, although not available for my view, were reaching or lifting or doing something… up there. Seeing all this was both hot and profound. As I appreciated the depth of engagement in these bodies before me, my own body became engaged and even engorged – sex hung in the air like a promise with these paintings.
Paul Waddell’s grandfather is a sculptor and began training him to draw when he was a child. To my delight, I discovered that Waddell is a kindred spirit – I won’t bore you with our hour of reaffirming each others belief in the power of the fundamentals in any successful practice. (We didn’t dispense entirely with theory-based practitioners, I think we allowed them space in Dante’s Eighth Circle. Have fun down there kids.)
Paul Waddell practically glows when speaking extemporaneously, he takes on quaint mannerisms and affects varying accents, emphasizing a phrase that becomes a paragraph and, ultimately, a point. He paces dramatically and his antics remind me of a fictional physics professor who is passing knowledge of the universe to a lucky few students, perhaps this character who he plays is thought eccentric and pedantic by his peers but students love him and thrive under his care. (Am I cursed or blessed with a romantic imagination?)
(Listening now to Marvin Gaye’s “Got to give it up,” another profound and sexy moment for your consideration.)
Paul pointed to a smaller painting, one that I had seen at Art Los Angeles Contemporary when Night Gallery had a booth this year. “See this blob head? This is where the (what I/Geoff referred to as maelstrom) came from.” And the implications of this statement – that the moments of psychedelic color abstraction came from identity, from portraits – are exactly fulfilled, for the now larger blobs have a force field like presence. These objects, or images, have shed their faces, their personhood, and become as Lovecraft’s Color Out of Space: charged, mysterious, powerful – knowable without any need for understanding.
Thinking now about the performance that Paul gave me yesterday in his studio, I recognize that it was a performance and that he as much as told me so when I entered. “I have two practices, I do performances and I make paintings. They are not all that different. Simply put, they are both things that I do with an audience. I have a kind of ‘we centered’ practice.”
A couple of hours spent with paintings, looking and talking with the artist both about the work at hand and also the ideas surrounding the work is better than melted cheese, my friends. Sticking with my cheesy metaphor, some holes in my thinking that have been exasperating me are now stuck full of matter, I find now a surface on which I can stand when I think about abstraction and figuration – and more really. Instead of being about one vs the other I find that a way into (and out of) abstraction (for me) is through an originating real world reference. Waddell’s blobs grew from heads, he really cares about depicting people and things, I think people especially. Painters whom I admire that call themselves abstract painters I now can understand as having begun somewhere definite, or at least definite for them. My friends who are masters at this kind of work do not make things up so much try to find things inside their images. Intent, I think is put away for more concrete tasks, like perhaps gessoing ones canvas.
I am finding my way, now more than ever, in this world of ideas and images. Yesterday I learned that one secret has been under my nose all the time.
The images of Paul Waddell’s paintings are courtesy Night Gallery. I am certain that inquiries are welcome! [email protected]
Waddell will show the paintings that I saw, and more, in June. Be on the lookout.