THE BLACK PERIOD
Everybody’s life has its high and lows, including banalities and extremes, the forgettable and the unforgettable. As we know ourselves we can empathize with the stranger, even the animal. Thus, if we make an art about our experiences it has the potential of universal legibility and we can speak to anyone. The “Black Period” was a ten-year period of my life. It was a time when things fell apart and were put back together again. It started with a painful realization about my mother that cast a new and troubling perspective on my entire life and identity. It then proceeded to and through a divorce and a subsequent period of great anxiety and doubt. Finally it ended in the early years of my present marriage.
To say that the “Black Period” started or ended on such-n-such a date is more a matter of convenience than fact. All the processes involved were organic, with deep roots far into the past and aspects that reach into the present. I decided to use the date of an exhibit to start the period. This was 1978 at Beyond Baroque when it was located on Abbot Kinney. I showed a group of collages derived from photos clipped from books, magazines and newspapers. This was the first coherent body of work I had ever done that was based squarely in figuration and narrative content. The period ends in 1988 with paintings of monks that marked a certain resolution to the upheavals of the foregoing years and a degree of calm that I hadn’t experienced in a long time. Afterwards things brightened up considerably and by the early nineties I was doing abstract work based on the idea of “PLAY”, improvisation, and with no narrative content of any kind.
I had been almost exclusively involved in abstraction from grad school (1969-72) through till around 1974 when I discovered that I could tap into sources of subconscious symbolic content using the monotype process. The monotypes started out being images based in abstract formalism until the process became more and more like a Rorschach Test in which I searched through the abstract stuff I had generated on the printing plates and then would “find” (through projection/recognition) aspects that had meaning for me. Once I felt that there was something true about these meanings I kept digging for them until it became the only reason I was making art: to find out the content that my subconscious was full of. This content became more overt and clear the longer I worked. The collages shown in 1978 were the culmination of this process.
The collages were clearly about my early life with my parents (both real and phantasmic). I was discovering my own creation myth. It was revelatory and clarifying. Even though the day would come when I couldn’t make them anymore their content has colored all my subsequent work. After the collages I went back to a kind of quasi-abstract figuration that gradually became completely figural with volumetric space holding solid forms.
I was living in a loft in downtown LA in those days and my second marriage was falling apart. The works from this time were about the feelings generated by this collapse and the uncertainty that came with it. This period came to an end with a painting called “Redemption”, a piece that I worked on over a period of three years. I started it in the downtown loft and finished it in my present studio where I’ve now been for 25 years. After “Redemption” I started using acrylics due to air circulation issues in the new studio, but the content of my work kept building on itself and the imagery morphed into a narrative about rebirth and discovery. Then in 1988, having returned to oils and after seeing a Terry Winter’s show at UC Santa Barbara, the monk images started coming through the same process I had been using since 1974, but, thanks to seeing what Winters was doing I started using a lot more paint than ever before.
I think of the monk paintings as a coming to terms with life, at last (I was 41 years old). I owe most of this to my wife, Suzanne, who has provided me with the peace of mind I was searching for. In retrospect I feel that the monks were a metaphor for the role I was creating for myself as an artist: to be a person attempting and sometimes succeeding to get in touch with the deeper truths about life. These “truths” are insights that are more felt than thought and form no systematic text. Feeling them is a process, sometimes long and sometimes short, that involves pondering and making in search of a synthesis that amounts to more than the sum of its parts. This synthesis is conjured out of thin air and comes without an instruction manual. It defies being written about or being explained and the best tool you can use to find it is called a hunch. Call the resulting works “compositions” or “numinous visual poems”, they all involve a searching of the depths and a lot of trial and error. The pay off is the arrival at a sense of the ineluctable, something seeming and feeling like truth.
I decided to show this work now for a number of reasons the two most important of which are that I’m in a period of transition in my work that hasn’t fully resolved itself yet and that the subject matter of this new work relates closely to the work I was doing during the “Black Period”. Space considerations allow me to show only a small selection from the whole body of work, but a much larger selection will soon be posted on my website, http://sites.google.com/site/jeffoconnellatfig/home.