149, There is one story and one story only.

149, 2018-12, There is one story and one story only, oil on linen, (148 x 228cm) (detail, 1)

Yet another instance in the Western canon of some naked female standing around in some scene. It’s extremely demoralizing to see time and again how utterly limited the human imagination is, especially my own. Everyone just paints the same “things” over and over again. Then someone may decide to do psychedelics and “break free” of whatever idiom they know they are stuck in, yet when one sees psychedelic or surrealistic art, it… basically looks like all other psychedelic or surrealistic art. I don’t want to just break free into my own idea of breaking free.

The inspiration for this painting is Robert Graves’ intonation, in To Juan at the Winter Solstice, “There is one story and one story only”. In some ways the painting is a little embarrassing because of how imposing and insistent this one subject of the poem can be, in general in waking life as well as in the painting as a particularity, yet it seems futile to try to be clever, and probably insincere, in too studiously avoiding it— but I do know that for some individuals/artists it shouldn’t really be ruled out. This consideration in mind, with this piece I was thinking a lot about The Family of Saltimbanques, where the work itself, the subjects, the narrative, the particulars, all dissolve somehow and we have to wonder what ephemeral substance exactly is there that’s left to it. As if humanity itself walked behind a veil. Rather than only do paintings of “things”, or situations, I’d really like to make work that does this— to make portraits of ideas and feelings. The matter at hand is to consciously deemphasize “thingness” in Art as much as possible— ultimately and ideally, for the experiencer to be unable to ever reduce the work into analyzable, manipulable properties. Ultimately and ideally, Art must not facilitate a dialogue, but silence us.

I enjoy the collision of the content of this poem with what we knowingly uncharitably refer to as the “white male narrative“, and “goddess worship”, these phrases being always so casually thrown around.

There is one story and one story only
That will prove worth your telling,
Whether as learned bard or gifted child;
To it all lines or lesser gauds belong
That startle with their shining
Such common stories as they stray into.

Is it of trees you tell, their months and virtues,
Or strange beasts that beset you,
Of birds that croak at you the Triple will?
Or of the Zodiac and how slow it turns
Below the Boreal Crown,
Prison to all true kings that ever reigned?

Water to water, ark again to ark,
From woman back to woman:
So each new victim treads unfalteringly
The never altered circuit of his fate,
Bringing twelve peers as witness
Both to his starry rise and starry fall.

Or is it of the Virgin’s silver beauty,
All fish below the thighs?
She in her left hand bears a leafy quince;
When, with her right hand she crooks a finger, smiling,
How many the King hold back?
Royally then he barters life for love.

Or of the undying snake from chaos hatched,
Whose coils contain the ocean,
Into whose chops with naked sword he springs,
Then in black water, tangled by the reeds,
Battles three days and nights,
To be spewed up beside her scalloped shore?

Much snow is falling, winds roar hollowly,
The owl hoots from the elder,
Fear in your heart cries to the loving-cup:
Sorrow to sorrow as the sparks fly upward.
The log groans and confesses:
There is one story and one story only.

Dwell on her graciousness, dwell on her smiling,
Do not forget what flowers
The great boar trampled down in ivy time.
Her brow was creamy as the crested wave,
Her sea-blue eyes were wild
But nothing promised that is not performed.

Robert Graves