Day 69: Susan Rothenberg and whip cream

I like the whip cream you get at the store and push the magic sprayer and it comes out all fluffy. Growing up, we never had stuff like that. The only whip cream I knew was watching my mom make big peaks of egg whites with beaters to fold into something to make lemon pie or whatever. I’m not even sure if that was whip cream. She probably made it but we never put it on anything. There’s a great scene in Schit’z Creek where David is trying to make burritos or something and his mom tells him ” fold in the blah blah” and neither of them can figure out how you fold something that isn’t a fancy designer shirt.

This quarantine I have canned whip cream every day. I usually have coffee with half and half in my special black Zojirushi thermos, but now I spray some whip cream into it. Sometimes I just spray it into my mouth. Nobody else in the house eats it. For years I avoided whip cream in anything or with anything. It was gross to put on pie; you were supposed to put ice cream on pie. I thought it was really bad and fat filled. Now I know to live life fuller and if spraying whip cream into your mouth is fun, do it. It’s more like a condiment and unless you have a whole can it is like licking the bowl after making cookies.

As usual, I have cut out three boring/negative paragraphs about my eating habits during Covid 19 going down the drain. Today I told a client to do something she hadn’t thought of because she’s alive and can still do it. It is a good way to look at life. David in Six Feet Under has a sobering conversation with his dead dad where his dad shakes him out of his PTSD by telling him he’s lucky he can still do stuff as he isn’t dead. “You can do whatever you want.” Easy for a dead person to say.

What the fuck does this have to do with Susan Rothenberg? Whip cream I don’t know. But she did die yesterday, and I just started writing this after reading about her. She is one of my top three favorite painters. Painters are different from the broader category “artists”. Like I love Lee Bontecou and Eva Hesse but they are not painters, they are sculptors which means they made a lot of drawings but few paintings. To be a real painter you have to have a big relationship with painting all your life that could be quite a struggle but a very close intertwined with your very self-thing.

Susan Rothenberg was a painter’s painter. From the moment I saw her stuff, I just got excited about the paint on the canvas. Looking at her stuff makes me want to grab the oils specifically and make a big messy painting. Her paintings aren’t very messy but they are painterly and kind of delicious.

I guess the other painter I discovered more recently like ten years ago was Joan Snyder. The other painter on my top 3 might be Robert Ryman, but he was an early favorite. Plus he has other stuff in his art besides the actual painting but that stuff is kind of a red herring to distract people from his real activity of putting paint on whatever.

When I started painting back in college and mostly after for the first ten years or so, the painters I was drawn to most and most excite by were Philip Guston, Robert Ryman and Susan Rothenberg. Guston was especially an “artist’s ” painter because of just the way he put the paint on the canvas. And he wanted to be and was buried with his tube of cadmium red paint. It’s hard to explain how a painter can have artist fans and then art collector type fans and the general public but the artist fans have a more intense almost violent interest in the painter. It’s like you want to reach into the painting and get a piece of its mojo for your own painting.

Susan Rothenberg was known for her horse paintings, which were great, but she painted heads and all kinds of things. The way she could put a line in a painting and it would still be a painting and not partly a drawing was awesome. Her paintings are like layer cakes you want to just scoop up a piece and smoosh in your mouth.

I haven’t seen anyone’s paintings in the physical real life space in a really long time (besides my own and my clients’). Last I went on a research mission like trip to a gallery was when I got obsessed with the painter William Scott. I copied one of his pear paintings and got back into oil painting through him. He’s a new favorite. I’d say I got a bit sick of my obsession with Philip Guston and moved on to people like Eva Hesse and Hannalore Baron. Eva Hesse has a great story in terms of her background but she also basically caused her own death from the resins she used in her work that gave her cancer. But she is not a painter. Hanalore Baron feels like a painter even though she is more of a collage person. William Scott is delightful because he just stayed with painting and mostly still lives.

There’s another scene in Six Feet Under when Claire’s aunt sees her open a letter and get rejected from an artist residency. She says well maybe you’re not really an artist, a weird thing to say as getting into a residency has nothing to do with it and probably lots of “artists” get residencies but aren’t really artists. Plus she told Claire she was an artist a few years before that. Claire reacts in a weird way. I can’t remember what she says but her aunt isn’t convinced. I know I saw the whole thing back when it came out, but I forgot most of it and had believed Claire was an artist until she started getting too into having a show and not being honest about her idea origins. I suddenly realized I was projecting. Maybe Claire isn’t an artist. I would have told the aunt that she was wrong that of course I was an artist and that artists make art to live and live to make art, not meaning to make a living out of it, but that it keeps you living in the bad times and in the good times it’s one of the big reasons to live. I’m in a closet most of my day but making more art than before the quarantine.

Anyway I maybe have made peace that my art will never be as good as or recognized like Susan Rothenberg, but I will still die an artist. It’s who you are, not whom you decide to be or even who you become. It may have taken me my first 20 years to stumble on the fact that I’m an artist/painter/draw-er, but nothing stopped me from doing it and I haven’t stopped doing it. I see Rothenberg as a fallen comrade, even though she’s famous.


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