- I saw your work for the first time in 2010, at the Whitechapel Gallery.
- I had never heard of you. I only went because I was lonely and someone asked me if I felt like coming with her to the Whitechapel Gallery, to see some paintings by Alice Neel.
- I was lonely enough, and aware enough that my loneliness was starting to put people off a bit, that I said yes way too quickly and enthusiastically.
- Loneliness begets loneliness, and the more aware you are of it the worse it gets, because the more aware you are of it the more other people can tell how frantic you are, and the less they want to be around you.
- It’s possible that you are familiar with this cycle, although perhaps not.
- It seems like you were always right in the middle of things, and that you never really had time to be lonely.
- This is of course a reductive view of loneliness – people can be lonely in the middle of a family, or at a party surrounded by their most beloved and supportive friends. They can be lonely in the middle of painting portraits of Frank O’Hara and Andy Warhol and Clement Greenberg’s small daughter in their cool New York studio.
- It’s possible that I pretended some familiarity with your work. Maybe I thought it would make me seem less lonely.
- It doesn’t work like that, as you know. When someone is lonely like that, it announces itself like a sign.
- You know that. You painted lonely people all the time, and that’s what I remember thinking when I walked into the gallery: This is a person who knows what loneliness looks like.
- To me, that is almost the distinguishing feature of your portraits: the people in them are so often marooned on the shitty islands of themselves, and there’s just nothing they can do about it, you can tell.
- I don’t know how you get to paint like that. Either it comes from knowing loneliness inside out yourself, or from being able to spot it in others.
- Probably both. In your case, I would have to conclude that it was probably both.
- Happy birthday.
a preview from AWRY, a Brick House publication
A poet's refusal to "translate"
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