It is not unusual these days to come upon video elements in an exhibition, including films in which the artist speaks. This exhibit offers film of Agnes Martin painting and being interviewed about her work. The video teaches a lot about the artist in her work. Watching her paint and listening to her words, I could go back to viewing the paintings thinking I better understood them and why she did them I also felt certain that no one else could have done them. Her paintings are a complete, or near complete, self-representation of Agnes Martin by Agnes Martin.
One particular piece of the film has been in my thoughts since I viewed it. The interviewer asks Martin if she ever painted a negative emotion. Martin unequivocally says "no," that her aim has been to paint positive emotions -- joy, gratitude, friendship, etc. She wants to have the viewer feel "elation" in front of her paintings. She adds that tragedies are bad enough when they happen and asks: "Why would you want to repeat them in painting?". I think Martin gets what she wanted. The emotions I felt while standing in front of her work were positive. They have a calming, peaceful effect. Looking at them carefully, quietly, for an extended piece of time, I felt relaxed.
But what about my own painting? Not the still life paintings, but my depictions of current events. Martin's strong statement about tragedy gets my attention. She wants to provoke "elation" in the viewer, I paint images of dead children being carried out of the rumble in Syria, and refugees held back from freedom by metal gates.
Recently, I have been working on a series of prints compelled by the murder of Shamaii el-Sabbagh, a 31 year old Egyptian woman killed by the police as she participated in a small peaceful memorial gathering, The masked riot police were said to have used birdshot to break up the procession as the people carried flowers to Tahrir Square. Shamaii el-Sabbagh was the mother of a 5 year old boy, an accomplished poet, a recorder and preserver of Egyptian traditions, and a left-leaning activist. Photographers and videographers captured a moment to moment account of her murder on January 24, 2015. The internet was filled with images of her death and the efforts of her friends to support her, to keep her from falling to the pavement, to carry her to a safer place, and to cradle her and place her down gently as she died.
I thought it important to have her image on paper in a form that can be held. Here are four of the prints.