Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Milo Russell: A brief note on Integrity

I received an unexpected email this evening reminding me of this comment, which was originally posted on Hungry Hyaena 12/8/05:

I had a venerable teacher that gave me a solid lesson in the life of the blue-collar artist. "I've seen more movements come and go than someone who took Exlax," he began. He is an obscure painter--an old widower whose work has never garnered wide acclaim. He has been painting since the early part of the last century, and his work has a strange searching quality to it-- an obsessive, ritualistic groping like someone that repeatedly scours the same patch of earth for something irreplaceable that was lost. His name is Milo Russell. His painting is always the same: a man or a woman seated in a room, perhaps a table and a plant, a window or a painting on the wall. Over and over and over.
He is a shy man that cringes at the thought of openings. He is the antithesis of the scenester, hype-artists.
His lesson was this: All that matters is to maintain one's integrity. Know what you are about and do it unrelentingly. Do it when it is unpopular. Do it when nobody else understands or believes. Do it when they love it. Do it, but keep your integrity (To me this also evokes the structural definition of the word integrity, not just the moral/ethical meaning. In this case it means 'soundness' and without it boats sink and buildings topple).
Perhaps you will die lonely and destitute, but, really, what philosophy can save you from that possibility?
As a workaday painter myself, I hold this advice as I would a jewel.
Fame? Glory? Wealth? Vain aspirations of an over-indulged populace.
I want only to make a living.
Right now that means peddling my wares in the common market. As I struggle to pay the rent, I dispatch my creations to desktops, kitchens, and bathrooms. There they will be groggily stared at while urinating or inspected while waiting for the water to boil. They will be tiny bridges between me, the viewer, and the great unknowable.
I may never Make It Big or Blow Up, but I don't need to. In dirty pants, with cold fingers, I am content to crawl in the bilge and patch my leaky hull with modest, little paintings. Perhaps I will make it through another month. Perhaps, someday, I will be able to simply float.

Image via Savedge Art & Technology LLC