Like others who have posted here, I too really enjoyed Laylah Ali's talk. Her desire was to have it be less like a lecture and more like a dialog and thought she was very successful in that. I could really relate to her feelings that many artists who give talks have their one way of doing it, and it becomes so second nature that after a while they are on autopilot and not fully present. Such a contrast to the Harmony Hammond talk, where I didn't really feel that I learned much more about her than I could have from reading a few articles online. As I have mentioned her before, when I go to artist talks I want to get a real sense of the artists as individuals, what they are trying to accomplish or work through via their art, what their inner processes are and what struggles they have overcome. I hope to learn something about them that I could only have learned through their presence. All this I got from Ali's talk. It was deeply honest and intimate.
In my reflections since last Thursday, there were several seeming unrelated bits that played around in my thoughts that all came back to issues of control. How she spoke about spending a lot of time as an undergrad being angry, and how she still carries a grudge against her graduate school and the experience she had there. She spoke about the physical and mental demands of her work, especially when working on the Greenhead Series, and about times in her life when she has struggled with depression. Also her comments on self-portraiture, and how "it is always a question of the truth of the subject matter,... the pathology of the artist to find," and how she needed more distance. Also how she questions the role of painters in the context of today's hyper-image filled world. All this inner questioning is present in her Greenhead Series. She explores how people relate to one another, judge one another, act out their aggressions, define and confine one another through labels. Much of all this relates to the idea of control in its many forms: how we exert it, how we lose it, how we rebel against it. The paintings themselves are finely detailed and precise. In the creation of them she embraces control. This connection is very interesting to me.
Although I found Ali to be very compelling, I cannot say I am very drawn to her work, but that is more a matter of personal taste. I did appreciate the technical expertise involved in what she does, the fine detail and attention to every facet of their creation, and the subject matter she is exploring. I also instantly understood and appreciated the intimacy and connection with the viewer that she was going for, however it seemed to me that the way they were displayed at the Weisman was not particularly supportive of that. A more intimate space, or one that wends a bit more would be preferable in my view. The tall ceilings and openness of the gallery felt too exposed, and the lighting did not seem quite adequate to me. I am not sure what the Weisman could have done differently with the space they have, but for me it did detract.
March 13, 2013