Panel Discussion to Follow
The Museum of Underappreciated, Retroactive, Depictive, and Enduring Renderings is honored to be the first home for installation of this entire exhibition. The artist, described as a “pathological painter” by his critics, captures life in his art unlike any other contemporary. On behalf of the Museum I welcome everyone to the panel discussion about the exhibit and the artist’s work and life.
These pieces were donated by the artist’s now late daughter, just before her death last month. When she brought the pieces to the Museum, she requested the exhibition run for the next two months, “regardless of the circumstances,” as she put it. Although the museum doesn’t usually take exhibit installations on such short notice—a regular installation takes at least nine months to plan—the donation of the pieces came with a rather significant donation to the Museum’s foundation. And so, because of that, as well as a contract the Museum signed to accept the significant donation and follow the explicit instructions, we are here today to present said exhibition. We are pleased to see such a turnout, especially for such an unknown artist. As far as we know, this is the artist’s first and only installation of any kind, as well as his only released pieces of art.
Before we get into the Q & A, I’m going to go briefly over each piece so you can get a bit of background on all the things you can see here today as well as who is on our panel for the discussion today. This entire exhibition is full of original pieces—the artist has been working on them since the 1980s, according to his daughter. This exhibit consists of seven pieces, each one just as unique as the last. “Untitled” is the main event at this exhibition today, and it was originally created in 1987, making this its 30th anniversary. We don’t have much information on the artist, but we do know that he grew up not far from the Museum and has stayed in his hometown all his life, married his high school sweetheart, had his daughter who donated all the pieces here today, and was heartbroken at his wife’s death around 30 years ago.
His daughter says he couldn’t pick just one medium to express his pain—he tried singing and composing music as well as other artistry such as pottery and glassblowing, but he eventually found a fascination with everyday objects. Thus, the seven pieces included in the exhibition here today are all rather common objects, but they give us a chance to meditate on their meaning and possibly a bigger purpose at hand, as all good art does.
In the first room is the most famous piece of the exhibition, the small 7” x 7” painting. This piece seems to use unconventional methods to adhere colors to the canvas. One of the many ways the artist filled the once-blank canvas with life is by using grass to stain the hills and using dirt to fill in the actual dirt in the painting. By using these natural elements, the artist achieved an avant-garde, life-like realism not yet seen before in an exhibition of this caliber. The artist’s daughter assured curators of the Museum that this painting is, in fact, genuine, and that the location was somewhere near town, but she had never discovered where exactly, claiming not to know herself. Upon further inspection, there seemed to be actually quite a lot of locations around town that could possibly be the true location of this landscape painting, but none of them were ever confirmed as she never had the chance to respond to the email inquiries about it. The vagueness of the painting’s setting are so common they could be anywhere in the world, really. Regardless, the dark sky, stars, hills, lone tree, and shovel are iconic. This main piece is titled “Untitled,” and many of you know it from the viral posts on Reddit when an anonymous user posted it. Attempts to identify the user were unsuccessful and we still do not know who made the original post, but it has been reposted liked, reposted, and linked to millions of times..
The artist’s daughter says the artist chose the palette for the painting by gathering all his paint tubes into a dirty old canvas bag, tying the bag closed, and then hurling it against a wall. The first thirteen colors he pulled out, whether broken open or not, were the colors he used. Thus, a few extra colors can be seen as they exploded onto other paint tubes, or collided together, allowing for a beautiful, streaky quality in the work.
The dark slate blue sky, tainted by sienna, got its depth by the artist picking up some color on his brush, pausing, contemplating the fact that life seems to move so quickly, and that none of it really matters in such a vast expanse such as space—and then he gently brushed paint onto the canvas. He waited for each brush stroke to dry entirely before adding another. This way, each streak got its own chance to breathe before it was suffocated by other colors, he says. He maintains that the stars in the night sky were made at random by flicking paint onto the canvas and that any line of three stars is not Orion’s belt, but in fact just a trick of the eye, the human brain only seeing what it wants to see, where it wants to see it, and how it never wants to see what’s right in front of it. That, of course, is verbatim from the daughter of the artist. She says he would talk about his art nonstop—it acted in place of a bedtime story most nights for her.
Here on the panel today is what the Museum has on good conscious to be the artist’s therapist, who will be able to give us an insight into the maddening genius of the artist himself and verify the painting of the sky and stars as the artist often painted during their sessions. He will also be able to confirm other facts about his life, as he has decided to entirely revoke his medicinal license to break the non-disclosure oath he took years ago, all in the name of art. The Museum thanks you for being here today and the art world appreciates your sacrifice.
The imperfections along the top of the rolling hills all the way in the background mimic the wavelengths of the artist whispering his late wife’s name in an echoing cave near the Adirondack mountains. He recorded his voice in the caves, opened the audio files to see the waveforms, and intricately copied their patterns along the ridges.
To create the tree, the artist thought long and hard about how to make a tree seem lonely. They’re not lonely all by themselves, because a lone tree isn’t inherently lonely, in fact it’s speculated that trees can connect to other trees in a forest to share resources and “knowledge”—for lack of a better term—about the climate and other life-dependent factors. And so the artist acquired every copy of the New York Times from the last decade and found every single article about suicide and cut out and collected every instance of the word “alone”. You’re not alone, They felt so alone, Know you’re not alone, No one is truly alone. He pasted each slip of paper onto the canvas, painted over it, and placed another layer of slips. The alones created the trunk and branches and he finished off the top of the tree with a thick layer of saddle brown, unthinned, thickened, actually, by the dark slate and a little cornstarch, as well as ashes. That is what gives the tree its dimension: the saddle brown, the ashes, the dark slate, and layer upon layer upon layer upon layer of alones. The artist’s daughter brought a few cut-outs of leftover alones for proof of authenticity.
The artist added another focal point to the painting on a whim while glancing around his toolshed in search of an ebony knife, with which to scrape paint. He saw his shovel there, in his toolshed, and was struck by inspiration, according to his daughter. She recalled her questions about it, when she was young:
“Why do you care so much about that shovel?” she asked.
“It’s just for gardening,” he said to her, “nothing else.” This is the shovel seen in the painting, layed on top of the grass on the left of the painting. When asked which spade this actually was, the artist’s daughter recalled her father taking the shovel out to his car one night. “I never saw it again,” she said. A few years later, when she asked her father about it, he said that he was unable to find it, stating that his brother “or something” must have taken it from the house. Although it’s literally just a shovel and no other shovels were ever reported to be stolen in his neighborhood, he offered no alternative explanation. In the panel here today we have what the Museum assumes to be his brother based on documents provided, though his daughter was not able to confirm before her death. He will be available for questions about the shovel and other topics related to the artist during the open-mic Q&A.
To finish the painting off, the artist tucked the painting into bed in his master bedroom, tiptoed out of the room, and flicked off the lights, letting the painting sleep in on a Saturday morning. He stayed quiet the whole rest of the day and kept the lights off so as to not wake the painting up, according to his daughter. Neighbors took no notice to this odd behaviour because the artist is reported to act erratically on a regular basis. “I guess it’s just a painter’s way,” says one neighbor who requested to remain anonymous. “He’s always been that way, sneaking off somewhere, taking huge bags of stuff in his car. He says he’s usually going somewhere to paint on-site, which is probably what he did for that painting. The neighborhood calls him the pathological painter.” Although that specific neighbor can not legally be identified, there is another neighbor of the artist’s on the panel today, willing to testify as to what it’s really like to live next to such insane genius, as well as the grief the entire neighborhood felt after the death of the artist’s wife, and the current grief the neighborhood is living following his daughter’s death. “It’s really a tragedy, no wonder he’s so gifted artistically, I’m not surprised,” they say.
“Stop talking about the stupid painting and my stupid art,” the artist responded to one of our writers asking for a comment on the neighbor’s comment. This was just a few days ago and although the artist was getting his mail, he abandoned it in the box after being approached and promptly walked backwards into his house, never breaking eye contact with the writer until he finally slammed the door. The black wreath hanging on the artist’s door fell to the ground but the writer did not feel justified to pick it up. Instead, the writer left it there, face-down on the front porch, and stole the artist’s mail. That mail is now here for us to open and analyze during the panel discussion and the writer who was there at the artist’s house that day is also on the panel.
And that is the general gist of what we know about “Untitled,” the main piece of the exhibition here today. The other pieces are the canvas bag the artist used to pick paints, gloves and boots used when the artist painted the piece, knotted rope chosen by the artist’s daughter, and a partially used roll of grey duct tape as the finale piece. The artist’s daughter carried over some of his requests for an ideal art display: he requested a clinically white to house each piece and a thin rope to protect the pieces from the grasp of the public during the exhibition. Photography will be allowed, as per the daughter’s request. The artist asked that tissues be provided for the viewing, but never stated why. There is also a memorial for the artist’s late wife in the gift shop. Feel free to leave small coins or offerings there, as is customary in the artist’s culture.
As you can see, we have a fine panel who is ready to discuss the work of the artist. Though, the artist is not here with us today—in fact, he has explicitly uninvited himself from today’s talk, burning the invitation that was ceremoniously handed to him. Rumors have spread that the ashes will be part of another painting, but evidence has yet to surface to corroborate that theory. We will not be taking questions about theoretical future works from the artist today. We are only taking questions about the artist’s personal history and current art work here at the Museum today. As for his exact whereabouts, he is in fact on a trip to South America, as his brother can attest to. His return date is unknown, and critics take this to be another publicity stunt, emphasizing just how little art matters to the artists themselves.
Now, thank you for joining us at the Museum of Underappreciated, Retroactive, Deceptive, and Enduring Renderings for this discussion. We will now be taking questions from the audience.