So the building where I have my current studio had Open Studios last weekend, an event in which I participated, but with no small reluctance. I believe I've mentioned before that despite the fact that I post all this stuff on the interwebs, I generally dislike having people in my studio casually. Other than friends. It's just . . . private. And open studios are usually kind of uncomfortable. First of all, as the artist you sit around, waiting to see if anyone fancies your wares, feeling simultaneously whorish and rejected. And then there are the various weird ways people behave in your studio. Some people stay bodily in the hallway, as though something dangerous was lurking inside, cautiously poking their heads through the door to assess the dangers within. Some people walk right in, stop, do a rapid scan of the walls, and then turn on their heels and march straight back out again. One couple walked in fighting vociferously, made a 30 second tour, and left, still bickering. Some people mutter between themselves as they stroll around and you can’t hear what they’re saying about your work, and you sort of want to but you’re also sort of glad you can’t. Some people say things that are meant to be nice, but make you feel awful (“So what exactly do you hope to do with your art someday?” Oh, I'm so glad you've managed to put your finger on the most anxiety-provoking issue in my life! Well, since you asked, I'd like to be represented by a good gallery, and have them sell my work for me. And for a decent amount of money so that I can actually support my studio practice and not feel like an over-educated hobbyist. Oh, and how about earning the respect of my artistic peers? That would be nice). (Oh dear, I'm ranting again. I’m leaving out that there are always a few people who seem genuinely engaged, and say thoughtful things that are very much appreciated.)
The thing that's sort of wild is how little people actually look at anything. I would say that the average time spent looking at each painting is less than 10 seconds. Easily less. I guess it still kind of shocks me. I spend hours and hours, potentially weeks looking at every painting as I try to figure it out in order to finish it. It is like a puzzle to be solved, a tightrope to be walked, a disaster to be averted. Maybe I should be heartened by how little people apparently see, and stop trying so hard. Who's going to notice, except me? Really, the only appropriate response to Open Studios is self-medication, and happily, I had a handle of Jim Beam with me.
Anyway, I had up in the studio an older painting of mine, of a hermaphroditic torso, that I made while I was in grad school, which was kind of a break-through at the time and remains important to me (although strangely, Dave won’t let me hang it in our bedroom, I don’t know why). Dave observed that it’s a bit of a psychology experiment, watching how people react to it. Because it’s a somewhat graphic painting of genitalia, a lot of people don’t want to be seen really checking it out. So they kind of slide their eyes over it and keep on going, smiling, unphased. A few people make that small gesture, of the head moving backwards on its stem that so beautifully physically illustrates the phrase “being taken aback.” Some people make a joke about Oedipal complexes, or Lorena Bobbit, or some other reference to my presumably deranged psyche. All in all, if you have to sit around and try not to watch people glance casually over the stuff you care most about in the world, it’s not a bad way too amuse oneself, observing people's reactions as they unwittingly participate in the Hermaphrodite Psychology Test.
I can’t exactly recall how the idea originally came to me, although I remember being interested in hermaphrodites, in a metaphysical/mythological/symbolic way. So there was an interest in the idea of a kind of mystical union between the sexes; and there was a desire to paint this smooth, feminine torso and then deface it by scribbling a messy penis graffito on it (and thus also ridicule my wish to paint that idealized torso in the first place); and then finally there was an identification both as the figure and as the artist, and a kind of frustrated attempt to collapse that dichotomy by taking ye olde phallic paintbrush and just paint myself a nice big dick. But it wasn’t painted as a puerile attempt to shock people, or make them uncomfortable. And in fact, I feel uncomfortable when it does.