Presenting one artwork, and the detritus from the Day of the Dead performance, makes me want to present everything I wrote about that blank piece of paper, which I cut up and distributed with this note, to all the guests. Forgive the repetition from a previous post. In real life, things weave, repeat, abbreviate, rephrase, expand, as they will here.
For Gavin O'Leonard
I have very few regrets, but I do wish I had said this at Gavin’s memorial service.
Gavin always believed the meaning of his work was in the eye of the beholder. He hated writing artists’ statements and trying to explain. “That’s just what I think the work means,” he’d say. “That has nothing to do with anything!” He believed that only your eyes at a particular time can see the work and give it meaning, a highly individual meaning each time you view any piece.
And God, Gavin hated the way his work looked on slides. When you have a slide, you have a feeble reproduction, with light shining through it, of what the camera saw on that day. Light is so much brighter than white cotton. It just gets flattened by the lights given the camera, which reflect back on the surface, and then the work would get washed out from the bright light of a slide projector. He said his work looks better in person because in his technique, the light comes from inside the paper.
I saw from watching him work how well he understood every fiber of the Arches he listened to every day from 10 to 10 with breaks for lunch, dinner, the news and a few beers. While it looked pale, in Gavin’s classic work he ground the pigments of the pencils deep into the paper, punishing the cotton fibers while he made them sing. (Ask me about the “original” Smithy drawing if you don’t believe me.) The paper was another skin. That Arches 100% rag paper was his partner more than anything.
He also pointed out how in the classic O'Leonard, the source of the light is never pictured. A device from Vermeer and others, very classical.
So this what I wish I had read at the memorial service on June 25, 2006 – when we showed his “Audubon of Lamps” drawings – this quote from the Buddha, whom Gavin respected more than any other teacher:
Therefore, be ye lamps unto yourselves, be a refuge to yourselves. Hold fast to Truth as a lamp; hold fast to the truth as a refuge. Look not for a refuge in anyone beside yourselves. And those, who shall be a lamp unto themselves, shall betake themselves to no external refuge, but holding fast to the Truth as their lamp, and holding fast to the Truth as their refuge, they shall reach the topmost height.
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This is a piece of the first drawing that Gavin did not start. It was hung and ready to go on the studio wall. It would have been used as the base for the fifth piece in The Mysteries, which I always considered the culmination of his life and life’s work. I only wished he had started it earlier.
Please use this paper to write a note to someone you love right now, to write a note to Gavin which you can burn and thus send to him in the afterworld (if he’s in one of the seven Chinese hells still), or to make a drawing. Or just feel the cotton and remember his every day. Or all of the above.
It’s yours now.
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