In early 2020, when Covid’s pandemic began, I started an art project aimed at superimposing memories of my former lovers on my diary to create an intimate portrait. My hypothesis was that the complete understanding we all crave in relationships is elusive. I wanted to define an outline of what it is by mapping something that is not intimate.
This included contacting the artist Chuck Close with whom I had a relationship nearly 20 years ago. He first gained fame in the 1970s with his monumental portraits of photorealists. However, Chuck, who died this year, was probably best known for adapting his process after one of the spinal arteries collapsed and paralyzed below the neck at the age of 48 in 1988. He was able to regain his arm movements and brush his hands to paint, creating a new kind of portraiture.
I met Chuck in 2001. I was 20 or 21 years old and studied art and comparative religion at Columbia University. He was 61 years old. I found him in the taxi window, jumped out impulsively and ran back to where I met him. The street was empty, but I came across a doorway leading to a vast studio with a huge unfinished portrait on the wall. There was Chuck Close in his electric wheelchair in the foreground.
I stood shamelessly on the threshold for a long time until he finally zoomed in and actually asked, “Can I help you?” I can’t remember what he said, but he invited me. After guiding me, he gave me a phone number and invited me.
After I graduated, we started meetings for lunch most days after separate mornings of work. I started as a painter, and he supported and encouraged me. He told me to buy the first suitable oil paint (the exact brand and color he used (the particular brand of the particular color)) and set the palette the same as he did. He taught me how to mix beautiful black without using black. He treats me equally in all areas of the canvas, not painting the hair differently from the skin just because the hair is hair, and not painting the background without paying more attention than the subject. Instructed to clear the hierarchy. This persistent honesty never left my approach to art production.
Early on, Chuck asked me to pose a nude for him. Even though the erotic story about Anaïs Nin’s artists and models was a pillar of my fantasy life, I was uncomfortable with one person doing everything he saw. rice field. I offered this deal: if you pose nude for me, I pose nude for you. This is the end of the conversation. If he mentioned it again, it was a childlike plea and was easily erased. It was more of an instinct than a conscious thought at the time, but I think I was trying to balance the relationship.
I understand that he is attracted to me, but his desires are intimidating. It was verification that he offered me during that gentle period of my early adulthood. It seemed fair that there was something we wanted from each other in the relationship, and because we are 40 years apart by age (and in many other ways), these Things will not be the same.
Over time, and with more lunch, the love between us grew and our relationship became romantic. He told me that he and his wife had no physical contact since his paralysis and she had no grudge against him. This may or may not be true, but I believed it at the time.
A few years later, a handful of women accused Chuck of sexually harassing them when he went to his studio to pose for him. In 2017 he told the Times: I didn’t mean to do that. I admit that my mouth is dirty, but we are all adults. It was a sharp drop from grace: the show was canceled and his legacy was reconsidered.
When I read these articles, I felt mixed sadness. It’s painful to think that someone I loved made another woman feel a violation. I knew the details well, so I never doubted them. When I stabbed, I recognized a similar metaphor and unknowingly felt it was part of the pattern. But I was also confused. Why didn’t I feel their anger? Do i need to have?
But I never felt dangerous to Chuck. If anything, I felt I was in control. I always felt that I could say no. I knew my boundaries were mys, but I did find my limits by having to renegotiate across the boundaries.
As an artist and as a person, my interest is intimacy. I don’t want people in my life to hide their desires from me. I want to be asked. I want to be offered a choice.
As a young woman in a relationship with an older powerful man, there are well-meaning people who tell me I was a victim, whether that is true or not. I’m still open to that possibility, but that’s not the way I felt.
The truth is that feeling temptation can help you while you can become a red herring in search of deeper self-esteem. I used that power as much as frustration.
Seeing Chuck’s image reduced to accusations against him in recent years, I started talking about it because I believe in and respect the woman who came out earlier, not as a defense or counterargument. rice field. The portrait is more cubist than a photorealist.
Last spring, when I contacted him by phone and talked about my project, he was depressed and difficult to understand. The sports station was playing loudly in the background. He said he would go as soon as the pandemic was over so that he could talk about such delicate things directly.
When I hung up, I wondered if shame was the best way to change the culture we wanted to see. I wondered where Chuck could find opportunities for understanding and redemption, and hoped that sharing our experiences with each other would provide some clarity. He died this August before we got together.
I had my memory, my diary, and his approach to painting, which influenced my practice. I also have knowledge of his best and worst parts — so is the privilege of intimate relationships. Even if we can speak, it is as difficult to convey the experience of relationships as it is to actually know what is happening in others.
But the attempt is about intimacy.
It may also be what art is. Efforts to explain and understand one’s inner experience, is there a better definition of art than pain? A complete understanding of humans is elusive, but when approached it is a masterpiece.
In the 19th century, Edouard Manet shocked the world with his paintings of Olympia. Olympia is a famous nudity in the end and has become an active participant. Olympia is no longer an idealized femininity parable, as was the case with previous nudity, but is a real female and a prostitute. At first glance, she created new possibilities. She is the gatekeeper of her sexuality and is a woman who enjoys seeing herself. I’m inspired by her gaze. In it, I see her boundaries being expressed. She calls the shot.
Silberstein, a contemporary artist based in Los Angeles, New Mexico and Santa Fe, had a relationship with artist Chuck Close 20 years ago.