|Peter Acheson: We were in Yellowstone Park a few summers ago with my kids. We get out to Wyoming and my daughter starts getting symptoms of Bell’s palsy. The doctors are like, “We can’t deal with this here, we gotta get her to an ER.” All of a sudden this young RN comes out going, “Are you Peter Acheson?” I go “Yeah, that’s me, what’s up?” and she says “I really like your paintings. I’ve been cruising around on the internet and I checked out your paintings.” I said, “You’re kidding me.” She said, “Yeah, it’s long winters out here..”||
“The chaotic language of nature is everywhere. And then, the shifting color of the seasons creates a consciousness.”
Ben LaRocco, Sky I, 2011. Oil on canvas, 5 x 7 in. Courtesy of the artist.
In Conversation: Peter Acheson, Craig Olson, Diedre Swords, Ben La Rocco, Elisa Soliven, JJ Manford & Linea Paskow
Peter Acheson: We were in Yellowstone Park a few summers ago with my kids. We get out to Wyoming and my daughter starts getting symptoms of Bell’s palsy. The doctors are like, “We can’t deal with this here, we gotta get her to an ER.” All of a sudden this young RN comes out going, “Are you Peter Acheson?” I go “Yeah, that’s me, what’s up?” and she says “I really like your paintings. I’ve been cruising around on the internet and I checked out your paintings.” I said, “You’re kidding me.” She said, “Yeah, it’s long winters out here..”
Swords: Minerals and wind. Smoke and dampness. Sunlight, coal, metal vs. wood and how all that relates to the body.
La Rocco: Yeah.
Swords: Do you remember that moment last night when Peter described burning that book? That moment of sacrifice?
Acheson: Going back and painting on old paintings almost always makes them better. And it’s usually because the painting is too language-y.
La Rocco: That language thing is what caused me to make that painting. We were up in the loft looking at your paintings and Craig said, “Oh he’s getting into one of his language paintings.” And when I saw it, there was a consciousness there that I didn’t get before.
Acheson: So in an immediate sense, you are my audience. And I feel like I am part of your audience. I’m painting for you guys. Kathy and Deirdre. That’s where you start. “Would Ben make this painting?” If the answer is no, then… Craig, you’ve got quite the tripped out Michaux touch. Just as little as possible. It’s like these northern lights over a lake in Minnesota with a gnome coming out of the spruce tree. It’s such a nocturne. The whole lake image is created by that one horizontal green stroke which is his nose.
La Rocco: And you got the blasted tree up front.
Olson: It’s in the old alchemy drawings. The black sun rises over the tree.
Acheson: The chaotic language of nature is everywhere. And then, the shifting color of the seasons creates a consciousness. It’s a romantic tradition combined with a sense of the sublime. They had it too. Infinitely complex.
Olson: That orange light coming in from the left. I’ve seen that at night standing next to a fire: That residue of light.
Acheson: It’s giving me a buzz like being underwater. The mystical woods. You can’t explain why one painting works and why one doesn’t, except to say that the ones that work have big minds and the ones that don’t, small minds.
Acheson: “Yeah, where’s the scalpel… uh… Did you leave it in the patient again??.. Man you were supposed to remind me to take the scalpel out!”
Olson: “How am I supposed to cut him open now?”
La Rocco: “Maybe if we just work him around a little bit.”
Acheson: Yeah, Anxiety. There’s that great Philip Whalen poem where he says “It all whized by us going to hell in a hand basket and we just cheered it on and watched it crash among the broken chrysanthemum pots.”
Manford: I got really excited about the hurricane for that reason.
Acheson: Let’s be reminded that Nature’s in charge.
Olson: Only in a big metropolitan area would you forget that.
Marilyn: heh-huh, heh-huh, heh-huh, heh-huh
Acheson: “Summer presses the last sweetness through the vine. He who has no home will not build now. He who is alone will not find company. But will wander restlessly where leaves are blown.
Leaves are falling, falling from way off. From far gardens withering in the sky.”
La Rocco: Hey there’s Marilyn. We’ll be back soon. Be a good dog. Good dog.
Waitress: Are you ready to order? Are we all one check or separate checks?
Acheson: I guess separate checks.
Waitress: Separate checks are fine. Absolutely fine. Start with you?
Waitress: Oh, you didn’t get a burger menu?
Acheson: The whole menu is a burger menu.
La Rocco: I don’t think there are burgers on here.
Acheson: I know what I’m gonna have. Start with me.
Swords: I’m having huevos rancheros.
Acheson: I’m gonna have two poached eggs on wheat toast. If you still have some home fries, that’d be good.
Waitress: Poached medium?
Acheson: Medium, yeah, not too hard.
La Rocco: I’ll have two scrambled eggs. Toast.
Waitress: White, wheat or rye?
La Rocco: (chewing) It interrupts that whole thing you do with creating dense continuous atmospheres. That one is discontinuous. It’s almost a trompe l’oiel on the left. The black shadow behind the bush. That bush occupies a different space than the rest of the painting.
Paskow: Does it ever seem like the tasks we have are the hardest and other people have easier tasks?
La Rocco: I think our tasks are hard relative to us. It’s impossible to say. That’s why Milan Kundera’s book “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” had such an effect on me. It was about the way you can never actually know what anyone else thinks or feels. And, if you don’t know then you can never judge them.
Paskow: How did you get that?
La Rocco: Because everyone in the book is living in this completely fractured universe. It’s literally fractured because the Russians have come and invaded Czechoslovakia and everyone’s world is turned on its head. But, it’s also fractured in their perceptions of one another. All of them are trapped in their own psyches. Sex and bodily functions become the way everything is defined because everyone is so walled off internally. Intellectually. Spiritually.
Paskow: But maybe what happened on the train today when you felt compassion for that woman, maybe that’s the end of the trap. If I see someone not inhabiting themselves, then I can feel compassion for them. An artist once said we explore one thing, one theme in our paintings, throughout our lives. Do you think that’s true?
La Rocco: Yeah. We have sharp eyes for what we do.
Paskow: Do you know what that is for yourself?
La Rocco: Not exactly.
La Rocco: It’s easy to observe in others. I can see it in Peter. And in Craig.
Paskow: I can see it in you. Can you articulate it?
La Rocco: Hard. To fully articulate it, you really need to know the other person. It’s got a personal dimension. You could say certain things. Like Craig is exploring this mystical-intellectual dimension of existence. You could say that you’re exploring the atmosphere of the dream-world and its connection to emotional life. You could say Peter is exploring how language exists in painting. That’s a very simplistic way to put it but…
Paskow: Can you do yourself?
La Rocco: A little bit. It’s hard.
Paskow: If you were reading yourself…
La Rocco: I’d say I’m trying to find an expansive inner space where growth and form are the same thing.
Paskow: I’ve always thought you wanted to be liberated.
La Rocco: Maybe that’s the same thing.
Paskow: Looking for that transcendent moment.
La Rocco: Aren’t we all looking for that?
Paskow: Yeah, but for each of us it’s different. That’s what Peter meant by our looking for the sign in the road, but we’re not actually. I think we’re all looking to be carried out of ourselves. While my shoes were being repaired, I saw this ice cream cart with all these tiny squares of spray paint on it and it was really pretty and I realized that before I would have used it literally. I would take things like a photograph and put it in a collage. But I wasn’t going to do that and that felt great. I could just be there and have the experience of looking at the cart.
*** This article was published by NY Arts Magazine, 2011. NY Arts Magazine is published by Abraham Lubelski. Sponsored by Broadway Gallery, NYC and World Art Media.