Back to Venice Series

Dear Eric Fischl
I have just read the- interview with you in Art in America. You
articulated thoughts I have had towards my own work and as a.
result I am motivated to address those ideas and show you my
I have just mounted THE VENICE SERIES after 16 months spent-
painting the nine paintings. It is the morning after the
reception with all of the emotions attendant on the completion
of a large body of work in play,
"I'm narrative in my storytelling - I wish I were narrative in
the historical way/ in the sense that everybody knows who the
characters are; then you can be confident in the way you retell
the tale. Nowadays you have first of all to make up the
narrative, to reconfigure the archetypes, and there's no
consensus within the culture as to what the particular importance
of those archetypes is- I always wanted to tell tales that take
place on a mythic scale, but 1 cannot find it within myself,
I have to couch them in quotidian terms,- put them into the
ordinary context of banal life"
The creation of THE VENICE SERIES followed just this rational.
It was born of a desire to make a series of paintings on the
same grand eloquent scale as that of the old master's work,.
But the story line was not evident. There was no shared
contemporary framework of metaphors to draw upon, so I made
up my own. The SPY VS SPY paintings depict an archetypal dance
between a man and a woman in a romantic setting. The larger
backdrop was the city of Venice, host to the Venice Biennale,
an olympian showcase of contemporary art and home of many of
the Renaissance masterpieces.
In Venice I staged SPY VS SPY. The Italian man in white is a
street photographer who sells tourists photos of themselves
in San Marco Square with pigeons resting on their hands. The
woman in black is me- The intent in SPY VS SPY was to make the
storyline - what did happen between the two people in San Marco
Square? This is the ''muddled period. We still don't know what
it is we want to narrate."
The statement is honest and clear, none the less- The nebulous
nature is inherent in the dance- It is an answer to "What is
the cultural narrative today? What are the narrative forms as
well as the archetypal forms we are working on?" In this instance
the dance, the scene depicted, in relation to the paintings
to our contemporary societal context.
interrupts the reading of SPY VS SPY- This is the "couching
in quotidian terms, putting them into the banal context of
ordinary life." These large heads are "scenes which are a sort
of voyeuristic intrusion(s) into daily life''. My husband took the
photos used for these paintings with a tripod and cable release,
alone in the house after I had 'stormed out'. His intent was
to record himself showing no emotion. But emotion registered.
The photos show a face as transported as a fallen angel, yet
as angst as the human condition. I took these four photos with
me to Venice as the visual record of my husband, the photos
which I as a woman traveling alone could show to a new
acquaintance. In the VENICE SERIES I have labeled them MY HUSBAND
WHO LOOKS JUST LIKE CHRIST in order to establish the status
quo- This man is my husband/ not the man in San Marco Square,
I wonder how much of this desire towards a contemporary
archetypal reservoir comes from the combination of a protestant
American upbringing and an exposure to art history? Does the
ordinary man and woman feel such a need to have life expressed
in a form recognizable to us as a society with common references?
The idea of a harpie or siren has intrigued me since I was an
art student - a beautiful woman who lures young men into her
influence only to cause them to die, dashed upon a rocky shore
as they are stunned by the revelation of her as an old woman
with "wrinkled dugs''. As a woman of 48, the story is attractive
as a narrative- And the grandeur and epic size of a Renaissance
format IS still recognized by the layman or woman, if the
response to THE VENICE SERIES is used as an indication,
There must be a cultural narrative today, a cast of characters
we recognize in a setting we are familiar with, playing out
a story in which we recognize where to applaud or boo. I believe
that the physical manifestation of that narrative- - the painting
- is possible.
I relate to "as for the life of faith...I'm totally convinced,
T believe it as a truth; I see it as a real drama."
I have enclosed slides and a self addressed envelope to
facilitate the return of my slides, I thank you for the time
spent reading this letter and should you feel inclined to reply
I would appreciate a further correspondence.
Julie Oakes