Men and their problems
The thing is this: like little Esmé, I prefer stories about squalor, even though more die of heartbreak. It’s a subject worth contemplating with the precocious earnestness borne of America’s favourite protector of post-war phoney detectors. Chewed up at Utah Beach and spat out at the Bulge before slouching towards Dachau, Salinger soon proved a scribe is a confessor priest for the spiritually promiscuous as a cobbler is a mender of bad soles. Some three score and ten ago Victory Through Air Power remittances filled the coffers of Freedom Inc., even as the children of Douglas Sirk suffered a famine of feeling, rationing their love as the fear business boomed, breaths held in time with Castle Bravo’s nursery rhyme, only the orphans of dreamers brave enough to crawl out from under suburban bunkers to whimper and whisper, do swans cry? Salinger wrote in saviour of those children, offering psalms for piss-ants like Holden lost in the rye, Franny caught up in her Jesus Prayer, Buddy and his arias for Fat Ladies everywhere. Try as he might to guard himself against the whiskey sour mendacity of those he despised, it wasn’t long nor entirely surprising when flight beat fight and J.D. became the Walden of New Hampshire, self-incarcerating his inner fame-seeker’s shame for life in a log cabin—that way I wouldn't have to have any goddam stupid useless conversations with anybody. It was a five-decade Houdini escape act from Manhattan’s python squeeze following the cover of TIME and celebrity, feeling like an animal with these cameras all up in my grill. His choice seemed stark and indeed it was: shut the fuck up or follow the way of Seymour Glass, silently mouthing the Bhagavad Gita before splattering his brains across the plush carpet of a Florida beachside hotel as his wife took a nap—perhaps after that Seymour really did see more? But why get hung up on all that shit? That was then and this is now: Seymour is a SIM, SIMs have feelings, feelings are memes and a meme needs a place to do business. This is, I suspect, why you’ve convened in Melbourne, to do business; a master trope codifier at work in the global marketplace, organising trade shows for the sentimental education of fine young cannibals and their second lives, start ups, mock ups and build modes, stock market plastic surgery and rainbows all day. But tell me something I don’t know, I hear you say, for you got this already, don’t you, TV Moore?
Before we call surf’s up—graining, swerving on that wood—there’s something I need to get off my chest, a square root of the sixth degree between you and me. Your millennial Urban Army Man signalled facsimile crises in my life; we shared an order of hysteria of character. Let’s call it for what it was and what it remains: men and their problems. Others have suggested that this night-vision portrait of an idea of Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction—Army fatigued, Eveready boom box locked and loaded—was your first celebrated work as a bambino artist freshly minted by the Sydney college right about the time, if history be recorded here, that I dropped out. As you well know, his name was Harry. He was nothing like anything, but Harry had rhyme, Harry had reason, if apples be oranges and oranges be apples. We became acquainted in the Big House on Victoria Street, named after the Great Apostle of Charity, over a winter’s long weekend, Sin City’s denizens priming themselves for gold gold gold in parks and pools and tracks and fields. It was affordable accommodation: Fossil belt and Blundstone shoelaces in exchange for two nights bunking, meals included along with uniforms for the residents, casual smocks that tied up at the back, a gentle smile on Nurse Betty hiding the most serious intentions in the world as she diligently distributed little plastic cups for the queue shufflers, twice daily after chow. Ushered into sound proofed chat rooms I caught Harry humming Chisel in the corridor, a self-appointed leader of men, a General Westmoreland bogged down in the Nam of his own mind—it's only other vets could understand. Harry and me, we woke up in the kitchen saying, ‘How the hell did this shit happen? A year after honourable discharge I stumbled into an entirely different kind of institution nestled among the rocks down by the Quay only to overhear hoi polloi and mandarins alike, fascinated by your video portal into where the wild things grow, mutter ‘so strange, so cool.’ But beyond those who recognised an idea of the Rogue Male answerable to no-one but themselves, beyond the identification of relations of pre-emptive self-scrutiny, beyond even a simple appreciation of beauty and fragility, well, what could I say but, hey, mate, ‘There’s Harry!’
Ignorant of this how strange it is that you now ask me to write you in lieu of doctoral drones, inbred thinkers and academic tinkerers, rose petals without thorns, dance floor shirkers, and worse, well-adjusted individuals. I’m in, but let's be clear: I won't tell you you're a shaman, you’re no seer, no sucker, no jester, no butcher nor baker nor candlestick-maker, no matinee idol nor pantomime horse, no top of the pops or next top model despite your Big Sur chops in Vogue Italia high gloss—and hey man, where’d you get that lotion? I’m not your publicist, your Insta follower, your Horatio or Rin Tin Tin. Let’s agree it needn’t be violent. We can play by the laws of cartoon physics. We can fall off cliffs and survive. We can be resurrected from trap door doom. It can blow up in our faces. We can turn Red Bull into wine. Drunk in love, we be tight, we be all night. Make no mistake, those relying on Cliffs Notes to get them through this thing are screwed: there are readers who seriously require only the most restrained, most classical, and possibly deftest methods of having their attention drawn, and I suggest—as honestly as a writer can suggest this sort of thing—that they leave now, while, I can imagine, the leaving’s good and easy. Got that, Buddy? OK, Glass. Others better placed than I have already testified to your backstory, your character development, your IMDB leading roles and cameos, your four-star Yelp reviews and recommendations. For all I care and all I can, your biography is a Video Ezy combo deal racking up late fees in the Woden Plaza of your childhood—excuse me, I have to return some videotapes. What matters most is that you arrived, you commanded attention, now you got mine. We’re here IRL. Now, not fake yesterday, not fracking time. The past? Just Google it, take a troll poll, Twitter the fuck out of it, don’t leave home without trending, anytime, anyplace, going viral. You tell me: look at my CV, it’s not soccer camp, it’s process porn; I’m a seagull and I can play; it’s no longer a Pepsi or Coke world, it’s something all together new. I believe you. Don’t think I’m unsympathetic. I get it: happiness is a warm internet, feelings are so 1979, the indignity of a TED Talk on Infinite Loop while the labour is done in an undisclosed location. It has been this way since at least copper melted into air and code chameleons synched that new device everywhere. Race is on. Join the moron marathon.
Dude! Vin, Vinnie, Vinnie D, Mark to Mama, Dominic Toretto to the many—he is large, he contains multitudes, Vin Diesel, an American, one of the rough, a kosmos—arranged like a silly sausage in the butcher’s window of Melbourne’s Palace of Contemporary Art Daily, how late it was, how late. A man, or worse, an apparition wrapped in a pink chicken thigh universe, to be held and to behold: Vin, paragon of beefcake, tenderised in youth by the bump and grind of a bouncer settling scores on doors, just a bro who dreamed his own future big, bro, Deep Dream Interface in your face, bro, bro bro bro bro. Mesmerised, it strikes me: if, as a philosophical turn proposed, the face of Garbo is an Idea, that of Hepburn an Event, then the face of Vin is an Anabolic Gestalt Effect, a multi-racial-facial avatar just right for white flight, not too light, not too dark, what you see is what you get: for some, a Chicano grease monkey’s son or Guido pumping iron down at the shore; for others, a Mariel boatlift teen with a Wesley-type at the core, perhaps a German-Irish cat-lick tan or Dominican via the back door; gene genie’s bottle shaking it all up in the mix; all in, all him, all Vin. Primed for foreplay in the foyer—he get filthy when that liquor get into him—Vin’s trapped inside a Novotel of the mind, wired in and streaming, pumping and preening to his 94 million galore; only the Biebs, Swiftie and Obama got more. He’s a Pharaoh in a wife-beater: look at that subtle off-white colouring, the tasteful thickness of it. He’s a five-star General in camo shorties barely able to contain his crotch rocket: why can't I keep my fingers off it, baby? He’s bouncing to Beyoncé on a lark: this gun's for hire even if we’re just dancing in the dark. But here’s the thing: granny-shift into neutral and pump the handbrake, pull into the pits and pop the hood, turn the engine off and wind the windows down, there’s real pain underneath that enamel skin: a swan is crying before our very eyes. Have you never lost a brother? Anguish and sorrow is no warm up lap; believing the best one’s still in the can is all that keeps RPMs in the red, while self-medicating karaoke sessions take the edge off the slow walk to the podium in the sky: you’re gone and I gotta stay high all the time to keep you off my mind. Contemplate the vulnerability of Vin in his darkest Benny Hinn hour of need—in a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day—hunched over MacBook, drawing full fathom breaths before asking the oracle of Quora, is it okay for action heroes to cry? Now consider the strength of character; a man unafraid to declare his fragility among the heartless in a heartless world wide wolfpack who howl with jaded jeers and jack-ass jibes: DOM WTF R U DOIN?
The more we see the less there is until Vin is diminished, not quite Vin, only Vin-ish. You say: he’s a stand-in for a masculine vulnerability, recorded, performed, in private, for an unknown public. Why? For what? Groping towards a figure of the collective dream, you render your creation with the precision of Cartesian coordination: Ambien Man, sleepwalking through the subreddit of a crowdsourced subconscious, waking up to find all the DVDs shelved in the fridge. You have to ask yourself, TV, are you enabler or emancipator? I’ve been waiting for a guide to come and take me by the hand, could these sensations make me feel the pleasures of a normal man? In your sleep you can’t get behind the wheel much less gross a billion on that deal; shuteye economies don’t purr to that spiel. Indeed, sleep is an uncompromising interruption of the theft of time from us by capitalism. Not for nothing did Warhol give us his five-hour silver screen slumber party for one at the precise historical moment the cultural logic of cash registers chimed in unison for everything that went pop; between the Factory and Ia Drang Valley only disposable, sleepless boys got the hop. Tread lightly, tiptoe down the corridors of power, hush those Hush Puppies and proceed with the caution of Bambi in an abattoir—make no mistake, lack of sleep kills. Now, some will say that your Vin is in fact Post-Vin, as the saying goes: after using the internet (and are we sure it’s not using us?) Vin turns to Vin with Vin on the mind, ipso facto, Post-Vin. It’s a theory pegged on the philosophical punch line of a cartoon: on the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. What the keystroke kids are loathe to accept, however, is that their digital footprints are the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. In art, as in love and squalor, you’ve got to kneel on all fours and smell the glove; not because you want to, but precisely because you don’t. Convince yourself that others can do that on your behalf and you’ll soon loose yourself to inconsequence, disappearing within the trashcan of your desktop, filtered through the oblivion of a Frat Self SUN SPACE that fills a vacuum for selfless men in their self-made selfish world, gradually adjusting the network parameters until it gives the classifications we want, even if all we desire is the warmth and wonder of Freddie Prinze, Jr. rising to greet the innocent like dawn over Santa Monica sand. There it is, the awful truth: if you can’t fix it, you’ve got to stand it; abandon all sense of responsibility herein, join the frat house, submit to extraordinary rendition by Stifler’s Mom, put your homework out to tender in Bangalore, graduate with an MBA in dumbassification and intern at the Twerking Industrial Complex; whatever else they might say of this generation, you can't deny they may shine with the misinformation of the ages, but they shine. Freddie, he’s all that.
The pride and pleasure of dirty fingers—metaphorical, rhetorical, and for real—has never been your deficit, as recent digit expeditions make legit. In your harem of Cedar Bar Bernini bitches jpegged into art history pictures one recognises a very modern predicament: every orifice occupied. Process porn indeed. Taking in The Dreamer, with its green-masked Bathsheba stripping for a dime on blue poles, red wine lips, Minecraft dicks and eye drops of tetrahydrozoline, I can’t help but think of what de Kooning might say were he alive today: flesh was the reason pixel peeping was invented. Yes, yes, I can hear them moaning even as I write this, the grand old men of painting, yes, and the whorish corporate creatives too, taking you to task as Browning did del Sarto: ‘Lo! His use of the clone stamp and healing brush is clumsy and uncouth. Look there! The gesture is not balanced with natural intent. Fucking hell, the apprentice thinks Raphael is as Easy as Dell!’ Yet others better abled will happily confess, there’s only one school of painting from Giotto until now, pump and dump technique as you see fit, young man, the real measure of a picture earning its keep: is it in balls deep? Sensing sordid history painters’ haunting, in Snake Pit writhes Soutine pleading for a cigarette to stave off hunger and loneliness, eager to trade conversation for conversion upon the altar of Dionysus. If my dithyramb confuses, I confess: what do I know of painting and its pain other than what poor Rothkowitz said of colour and Mother and Aeschylus: silence is so accurate. You will notice, I hope, that I’ve not once asked you how they’re made, for drowning in the bath with the baby doesn’t explain the drowning. Yet on balance here and now I see your use of Cibachrome signals two mutually assured propositions: 1) the purity of your L.A. gear palette, the luminosity of its polyester sheen, the Evian sharpness of its clarity is exactly what you mean; to consider another image substrate, well, I’m sure you’d rather smoke crack than eat cheese from a tin; and 2), via the press release, we’re told the reduction in volume has led to higher production costs that have been further exacerbated by the dramatic increase in the cost of silver; all of which is to say, precious metal premium rates kick in, there’s only one so have some fun. Maybe Wilhelm’s old lady was right: artists are like cockroaches; everything is grist for the mill. If painting be at work today it’s one punch card away from karōshi.
And still, with idiot grin I amble beyond a threshold you set like a trap, curl my toes upon jaundiced carpet and blind my eyes against Scarface setting suns, to encounter Pablo trippin’ like Lebowski, and Walt who knew the meaning of fun: strange children should smile at each other and say, let's play! This is how he ran the biz before he cracked up at thirty: I was expecting more from my artists than they were giving me, and all I did all day was pound, pound, pound, until I reached a point where I couldn't even talk over the telephone without crying. The Chicago kid who drove an ambulance around the battlefields of France returned to palm trees and pools and studios to build an Empire of Dreams on Bank of America debt, but as you well appreciate Walt was not the only pioneer cutting deals with sharks to give the Depression dark laughs and light horrors; the Warner brothers Aaron, Hirsz, Hzhak and Szmul extracted four sextillion dollars from Goldman Sachs to the same accord. Yes, it can happen here! In America! Where everyone submits to the urge and urge and urge, always the procreant urge of the world. This is The Way Things Grow, yield upon yield, inflation-adjusted market value of good and evil measured against the quantitative easing of souls—once it starts, it rolls, and once it's rollin’, it ain’t stoppin’. Your hollow-centered rubber tyre, as symbolic a statement of artistic identity as can be fashioned at the track, runs and rattles and ruptures spleens, cracks ribs, go through cribs and other things, all the while asking, as Enya croons, Who can say where the road goes? Where the day flows? Only time. Until I bothered to look it up, I must admit I didn't know too much about a couple of Swiss who led the path; sorry to say, but broke-ass Eurotrash who’ve fought and suffered and perished in fascist calamity and poverty, don't pay mind to bank clerks who wake up in sunshine to bleach laundry loads for dividends. But I digress (only now making that admission)? The logic of Tripasso in Wackyland rests on the efficacy of its inoculation against mass psychosis and a lesson in equivalence: it takes time to be this crazy and you have to be crazy these days to take your time. Proposing hand-drawn renditions of Surrealism's skid marks as the world turned towards hate in '38, you press us to look and look again at our collective self-image projected upon eyelids wide shut—glance is the enemy of vision said Ezra P. before he went crazy. Chasing Catalonian monsters and attendant dodo call girls down the rabbit hole with O.J. in the Bronco and LeBron on a triple double for the Heat as Marv Albert calls it neat; what Porky well knew then, YouTube now defeats: that’s all folks.
And then I gave in. I submitted to everything. Sounding tired, I got tired. Tired. I am tired. I’m tired. I submitted to everything … everything … everything … Now this is the squalid, or moving, part of … everything … the story. And the scene changes … everything … was so clear … everything used … everything used to get very quiet … everything got very quiet … all this quiet. I opened a heavy metal door that read: TO THE POOL. God reverberated in the room: I’m just a patsy. I saw cats could dream of everything. When cats dream of everything. Cats dreamt of everything. Out of the mirror they stare, Imperialism’s face and the international wrong. It is a dream! I want to dream on! Everything Garfield said … love me, feed me, never leave me. Recorded inside your Sussudio, giving us an epic meditation on intangibility, at the same time deepening and enriching the meaning of the preceding … everything. Sometimes you can use the lyric, other times you're in big trouble, because what you write doesn't mean … everything … anything so I set up this drum-machine, and I got some chords, and I started … everything … into the microphone and this word came out: Copaxone. It was highly acoustical, as though it were reverberating within four tiled walls. An upside down … everything … pool, the last sentence of ‘Teddy’, in a sad future looking at the emotions of … everything … the Information Age and recreational recreations. We’ll give the Apple Genius … everything … a high-five in heaven. Your joystick is all busted up. Cigars on ice, cigars on ice … reverberated … you got me faded, faded, faded. Everything is … a living, breathing allegory of Want. A Coyote … everything … Don Coyote Walt Whitman Robert Mitchum John Candy. I’m in Van Nuys, inside a hangar adjacent to the military airport, there is not an inflated breast in sight, the pictures on the walls are, bizzarely … reverberating … Disney animation drawings. It was all real and naturally real. Amateur jugs. Things that seem like … everything … the thing … everything … but certainly are not. Surely, he was all real things to us … everything … our blue-striped unicorn, our double-lensed burning glass, our consultant genius, our portable conscience, our supercargo and our one full … everything … poet. Honecker definitely knew how to kiss. A man forged in the fireplace of Existence. Adam’s rib barbeque for two. Sizzlin’ hot. NOW! To be radically corrupt yet mournfully attracted by the Real Distinguished Thing. A barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world; If you want … everything … me again look for me under your boot-soles … sales orientated … selling sales pitch commissions … All I can do now is … everything and nothing … wait for the merchandise manager to die. How Wile E. acquires Acme products without money is not explained… There has been no reason for me to tell you … everything … any of this. This confession has meant nothing … just go to bed, now. Quickly. Quickly and slowly. With everything, quiet. Put your life in a blog and be quiet. You take … everything and run … a really sleepy man, Esmé, and he always stands a chance of becoming … everything and nothing … a man … men and their problem men … a man with all his faces … problems … with all their faces … facing facts … quiet problems … with love and squalor. And facts … f-a-c-u-l-t-i-e-s intact.
An open letter to TV Moore published in the artist's monograph TV Moore: With Love & Squalor to accompany the exhibitions TV Moore: With Love & Squalor, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne, and TV Moore: Three Paintings, STATION, Melbourne. Published by STATION, Melbourne, 2015, paperback, 96 pp., with design by Hayman Design and in a limited edition of 150.
With thanks to TV Moore, Susan Gibb and Wendy Cavenett.
© Pedro de Almeida 2015.