I remember sitting in my moms car as we drove through the Back Bay of Boston sometime during my sophomore year of college. It was freezing, and she had on brown leather gloves that gripped the steering wheel tight.
“It was always fun to count to ten with you, mom.” I said. She laughed, cough-laughing uncontrollably in the cold. It wasn’t noticeable without gloves, but my mom was born with a deformed right pinkie finger, which was removed by age 7. Gloves drew attention to something that wasn’t there, just an empty cavity, the pinkie of her brown leather glove sticking up like she was enjoying afternoon tea.
Intuitively I must have known how sensitive she was. Round and round I would go, counting to ten on her fingers, filing-in the space with an imaginary fleshy little digit, something that should have been there. It wasn’t until later that I understood the shame she carried, missing a piece of herself.
It’s funny to me now, this filling-in, this “non-rational” and intuitive way a child puts things together. It’s also how an artist puts things together. Both are bridges, sensitive to their surroundings, filling-in space, working, connecting.
An artist who I believe follows this “non-rational” and intuitive process is Julie Mehretu. Here’s an excerpt from an interview with ARTS ATL in 2014:
Julie Mehretu: “I’m constantly playing with these various sides of making, one where you’re trying to make sense of what you’re doing and understand with some kind of rational perspective what’s happening in the work, the intention, who am I in the work, why am I interested in this and what’s really informing this — you ask these questions and you try to use rational means to make sense of that.
Then there’s the process where in order to generate and make work in the way that I’ve always made work, I really follow a much more intuitive form of knowledge-making and trust in the process . . . to be able to make and get my head out of the way.
Then usually after that process, I go back and try and make sense of what I’m doing, what’s interesting, what’s happening, what’s going on with my hand. So there’s this conversation that keeps going back and forth. I think what you said about Guston calling it a third hand is interesting. I think about it almost like this third space, a new space, some other new form that is emergent in the process of making but also in the process of looking and interacting with the painting. So, if you actually spend time and look at painting as a kind of time-based experience, a time-based media, then you can really participate with it . . . where this emergent space exists.”
Julie Mehretu, Stadia, 2004, Ink and acrylic on canvas
Julie Mehretu, painting in an unused Harlem church, a commission for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
You can read more about Julie Mehretu in this NYT article: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/03/arts/design/julie-mehretu-san-francisco-museum-of-modern-art.html