Thursday, September 26, 2013

ARTISTS IN LOVE, part 19

 

I share Roberta Smith's views about the special quality of drawing:
Drawings are the most overtly delectable of all art forms...Drawings in general are like love letters. Personal in touch and feeling, physically delicate, they reflect the artist's gifts, goals and influences in the most intimate terms... [They are] a direct extension of an artist's signature and very nervous system. 
Some drawings turn out to be more intimate than others.  Take for example the secret drawings of Malcolm McKesson (1909 - 1999).

McKesson was not a professional artist.  Heir to a pharmaceutical company fortune, he grew up with privileges and attended the best private schools.   But he was a fragile soul and had a hard time surviving in the business world.   At a debutante party he met Madelaine Mason, a strong willed poet.  He married her and gradually withdrew from society to devote himself to a life as her full time servant.

"I am Chastened."

McKesson said he was in awe of the "the strength and wisdom of the female" and wished he could be a woman, if "only for a day." 

McKesson and Madelaine were married for 48 years before she passed away.  During that time, nobody knew much about their private life together.  We would still know nothing today if McKesson had not drawn thousands of pictures about their relationship.

 



McKesson wrote and illustrated a little manuscript entitled Matriarchy: Freedom in Bondage.  Wiki summarizes the plot as follows:
Matriarchy follows the sexual transformation of Harvard undergraduate Gerald Graham, who willingly subjects himself to the authority of the stern Lady Gladys. She teaches him to "curb his manly nature" by forcing him to take on the role and costume of a lady's maid named Rose. The house is a matriarchy because, as Lady Gladys explains, "in this house all things feminine are blessed, all things masculine are bound in slavery."
. . . . 

Gerald's first transformation into Rose is described thus: "From a closet she removed some padded silken forms. These were strapped tightly to his shoulders and waist, adding a more feminine shape to his thighs, breasts and buttocks. In this upholstery Rose was indeed a proper woman prepared to assume the black dress, the slip and the elegant apron of a serving maid."

Measured by traditional standards, McKesson's amateurish pictures may not appear to be great drawing.  We don't see sensitive lines or decisive, telling strokes; there is no real economy or vigor here.  Instead, these pictures are comprised of thousands of worried little circles, overlapping and repetitive, turning around and around on themselves.

In this sense, they are the "direct extension of an artist's... very nervous system" that Roberta Smith described.  To the extent that McKesson was cringing and dithering, those characteristics are embodied in his line.  To the extent he was obsessive, that too shows up in these densely inked pictures where McKesson went back over his images again and again in little circles.  We are witnessing drawing as an extension of the sex act.

Drawings need not be skillful to have merit.  I think these drawings do a marvelous job of portraying McKesson's personality.  You can almost smell the rooms where these scenes took place, with heavy curtains drawn. 

For me, the following drawing is easily as compelling as anything R. Crumb ever did.  It gains power from an ambiguity that R. Crumb lacks.


I love that immense leg coming in from the right

These drawings may appear weak and indecisive at the micro level, drawn as they were by an apparently weak and indecisive person, but the I find the cumulative effect of these works to be quite potent. 



55 Comments:

Blogger Richard said...

Existential nausea at its best (worst).

9/26/2013 10:00 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Richard-- If Sartre had loved a good woman who "chastened" him with the lash, I doubt he would ever have written Nausea.

9/26/2013 10:40 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

After a bit of thought, I worry David that you may be projecting your own attitudes about gender dysphoria, about a BDSM lifestyle, onto McKesson and Madelaine, and their actual personalities.

Do we know, outside of their bedroom roleplaying, that McKesson was cringing and dithering?

Isn't it just as likely that he was a normal guy, with a small bit of paraphilia, who just couldn't draw very well?

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the idea that his very personality could become imbued in his work, but I'm not sure it's the most likely explanation, especially given that McKesson's friends apparently suspected nothing before his death about his paraphilia.

9/26/2013 11:14 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Richard-- From the Chicago Reader"s article about McKesson: "The only thing McKesson excelled at was failure. Uncomfortable in his own body, yearning to be a woman "just for a day" (and occasionally dressing like one), he was a miserable student, a disappointing husband, and a hopelessly inept businessman who quickly drove a company his father set up for him into the ground... he struggled to eke out a living as an animal caretaker.... Finally, in the early 60s, his mother relieved him of the need to support himself and his wife, and he began to live as an artist." It seems pretty clear from the shreds of information available that McKesson was unhappy living as a person without a backbone, and was quite relieved to outsource his decision making to the right person.

9/26/2013 11:33 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Have looked into the journalist of that article, I get the sense she is a hardcore leftist who only wanted to slam this poor old guy because he was weird, and wealthy, and all sorts of things of that sort.

Take, for example, this note that the artist wrote to his wife (in his journal presumably) after she died --
"I have just run into this book while looking for some papers to add to those already in the hands of the Barker History Center at [the] University of Texas, as arranged by Margaret Cassidy Manship two years ago.

Now, three years since your departure at the Cabrini Medical Center, I can say that I call upon you daily in my Buddhist prayers and rejoice in our wonderful marriage.

Only yesterday, I had a reading from Tarot Cards by my friend Edwin Verbecke, in which he told me that you follow me with love in my declining years. I was not surprised since you taught me to love.

He also told me that the awkward marriage of my mother and father had been a benefit in bringing together mamma's haughty moralism and papa's passive kindness. He said that I should bring harmony between them, and happiness.

I close for now and I shall continue this letter.

Love Malcolm"



I just don't get the sense that their relationship was that strange.

His nephew wrote a bio on the artist some years ago, you can view it here --
http://web.archive.org/web/20080608183943/http://www.gatesofheck.com/matriarchy/bio.html

I think if you read that biography you'll get the sense that the woman who wrote that article was just a bitter old cretin.

9/26/2013 1:00 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

E-mailed Deanna Isaacs on the matter -- "Richard - So long ago, I had to reread the article to remember it. It sounds like I talked with McKesson, probably by phone, and read whatever he had published."

Sounds like this article didn't even mean anything to her. I'm less and less sure I buy any of it.

9/26/2013 1:01 PM  
Blogger António Araújo said...

>We are witnessing drawing as an >extension of the sex act.

Yes! (Yes! Yes! etc... :))

Drawing, you are not your day-job, of amusing the patrons and the connoisseurs and the buyers of variegated doodlery. You are an eye and a memory - visual, tactile, muscle memory.

I care more about the secret stashes of private drawings - especially of curious and amusing fellows such as these - than I do about the grand works of much greater value (and worth!).

Who was it that mentioned the quality of disinterestedness? This is not it, certainly. It is very much "interested-ed" :)). But there is a sort of purity in it, of a related sort. Say, the sordid alter ego of disinterestedness. (I mean it in a good way :))

Tangentially, I bet Mr. McKesson excelled at his failure (an art in itself, as so many times we stumble into successes despite our worst efforts) and was very happy for it. Top or bottom is irrelevant - the only thing that mortifies the flesh is vanilla.

9/26/2013 1:07 PM  
Blogger António Araújo said...

On the other hand....

>Have looked into the journalist of >that article, I get the sense she >is a hardcore leftist who only >wanted to slam this poor old guy >because he was weird, and wealthy, >and all sorts of things of that >sort.

Bummer :(

A pox on you, facts!

May the real Mr. McKessons of the world step up and show us your drawers! Your drawings, I mean! :)

9/26/2013 1:11 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

"Bummer :("

Indeed, Bummer if I'm right, not a terribly interesting possibility.

Look at the pictures and imagine a novices attempt at the combination of Kimon Nicolaides' sculptural drawing techniques, with an affinity for 17th century engraving. Seems more likely to me, albeit admittedly boring.

9/26/2013 1:48 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Writing on a cell phone from the airport so I'll be brief. Did not rely on that one rrporter, I own the book Matriarchy , available cheap on Amazon used-- amazing book. Also, info availablre from the Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore.

9/26/2013 2:13 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Hack drawing no matter how you dress it up.

9/26/2013 2:21 PM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

Sometimes things are counter intuitive to how they appear. A baseball player doesn't feel like he's bashing a ball, rather, the ball that's hit hardest has been hit in a way the batter barely feels it at all, as it's about moving the bat through the power zone with almost effortless speed and fluidity.

A person who expresses themselves violently may be someone who doesn't want to take a leadership position and so lashes out in a kind of leave me alone violence with devastating effectiveness. A boxer may be such a person.

So too, someone who may want to be loved but is too proud to be hurt may indulge in similar violence or fantasy thereof. Or someone hungering for recognition which never arrives may seek an imagined love object as passive longings, which may become infantile, hopeless, retiring, irresponsible, escapism, etc.

From reading the bio Richard mentioned in combination with the Chicago Reader article, a picture develops where it's possible he was indulging in passivity in regards to having learned to love through his wife, whom never had sex with him. It might have been a passive love or longing, a passivity which may have become its own sensual preoccupation, or desire for idolatrous love and pleasure, replacing a desire to see his love reciprocated.

His effete drawings make Boris seem positively commanding by comparison.

9/26/2013 10:39 PM  
Blogger Joss said...

Apparently unique among commenters here, I share your wonder and appreciation at viewing these drawings David.

The power and integrity of Visionary artists, is often under appreciated due to a prejudiced eye in my opinion. It is not so dissimilar to the prejudice experienced by the obviously commercial artists usually showcased here.

9/27/2013 12:43 AM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

That's beautifully put Sean (Farrell).

It is usual for drawings born of obsession to be characterised by a focus on the object/s representing it and to ignore and not integrate them with the space within the rectangle. This is not the case with McKesson. Whatever the artistic merit of his drawings may be, the figures are thoroughly related to their space. They are literally 'drawn' out of it. He seems to find them inside it, rolling around somewhere like cats caught in a ball of wool.

He was perhaps subconsciously trying to tie his relationship together with these empty, ambivalent figures born into a rectangular whirlpool of lines like nerve endings. Trying to 'live out' in the act of drawing something he was incapable of in real life; to manage relationships (in this case graphic) that would lead to the fulfilment of catharsis.

9/27/2013 4:41 AM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

On their artistic merit, for the record, I find it fairly high on many levels. (though by no means all)

9/27/2013 4:51 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

David sez "I own the book Matriarchy , available cheap on Amazon used-- amazing book. Also, info available from the Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore."


His book is fictionalized though, no?

I'd be interested in hearing more about the Visionary Art Museum's info on McKesson.

9/27/2013 9:07 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Also, I think its important to note that in the BDSM community, male subs are more often than not, rather masculine people who gain pleasure by SUBVERTING their own personality, not in merely expressing in the bedroom what they also express outside of it.

I think even a short glance at the couple makes that version of things seem more likely.

Also, look at his 1980 portraits of his wife -- we see the same Nicolaides-esque sculptural drawing. And going back to the 1950s, we're still seeing this same technique.

As a Harvard educated student of art-history, he probably knew a handful of strong draftsmen, and was likely impressed with the speed of their pen. I posit, that in attempting to capture that same verve with the pen, but without the actual faculty to render strongly with that speed, his drawings took on this style. I say that from experience, that is very much how I drew when I first started -- originally a student of Nicolaides myself.

And if we look at the work of most students of Nicolaides we see the exact same thing over and over again.

9/27/2013 9:25 AM  
Blogger António Araújo said...

Richard,

about nikolaides: usually the idea is that you "touch" the form at a distance, meaning that the scribbled lines are mostly a record of your "tactile" sensations, and the variations in density of scribble tend to respond to distance to the object rather than light intensity. Don't you think that McKesson seems to be rather preoccupied with light intensity (in his density of line distribution) to really be doing the nikolaides process?

I get how you can subvert the nikolaides process like that - basically you stick to "touching" the shadows. But it sort of defeats the whole "sculptural" notion.

I do notice that your second link is doing just that, while the first is more strictly a nikolaides mass drawing. Maybe it is a natural subversion of the process, since people have to deal with the optical qualities in some way...

9/27/2013 12:41 PM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

Antonio wrote: " I get how you can subvert the nikolaides process like that - basically you stick to "touching" the shadows. But it sort of defeats the whole "sculptural" notion."

Not if you think of it as carving it doesn't.

9/27/2013 1:46 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9/27/2013 2:14 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

"Don't you think that McKesson seems to be rather preoccupied with light intensity (in his density of line distribution) to really be doing the nikolaides process?"

I'm not suggesting he is intentionally doing the nikolaides process, I suspect he was really attempting to do an entirely optical piece, and was simply falling into tactility as it came more naturally to him, as I would argue is evidenced by the bad-ass galleon he made.

9/27/2013 2:15 PM  
Blogger António Araújo said...

>Not if you think of it as carving it doesn't.

How do you mean? If I thought of it as carving, the amount of carving (scribbling) I'd do at a spot would be independent of the angle of the incident light. It would depend only on the relief of the object itself and its distance from me (or the plane of the paper). That's why in a pure Nikolaides style mass drawing you can never read the lights.

>simply falling into tactility

That I can buy. Most urban sketchers I meet use a type of line that clearly comes from their training in "blind drawing" (another method from nikolaides) although if you watch them draw -or just look at their far too well fitting lines - you'll see they're not doing it by the method at all; it's just that it's the kind of line quality that stuck with them.

9/27/2013 4:01 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

"If I thought of it as carving, the amount of carving (scribbling) I'd do at a spot would be independent of the angle of the incident light."

Unless you're working INTO a white block, lit by fairly uniform diffuse light. Then the deeper you carved, the darker that area. I have no idea if that's what chris bennett meant though.

9/27/2013 5:09 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Etc, etc-- Stern Lady Gladys would like a word with you about curbing your manly nature.

Richard-- I'm not sure how much we need to know about the specifics of McKesson's sex life in order to validate these drawings. The consensus seems to be that the couple did not consummate their marriage in 48 years; that McKesson withdrew from the working world to secretly worship "the strength and wisdom of the female" and spend time obsessing about a variety of bondage and torture devices that his mistress applied to his scrotum. You say, "I just don't get the sense that their relationship was that strange," but if such a lifestyle is common where you come from, perhaps you will grant me that 48 years of devoted married life is highly unusual in this day and age.

I was struck by seeing a series of original McKessons-- many drawn in ball point pen, dense with circles going round and round, taking far longer than he needed to, as he contemplated his subject matter-- for example, a young man being "trained for marriage" by being chained to a wall, on his knees, submitting to the whip. All of McKesson's drawings take the long way around. He never takes the shortest path between two points, because he obviously enjoys prolonging the journey and meditating on his titillating, excruciating subject. The impression I got from his originals was that McKesson was using drawing to extend and process those moments of subjugation, like good foreplay.

You may find such drawings "not very interesting" if McKesson's sex life turns out to be not kinky enough, but personally, I would find such private, personal drawings interesting even if they were done by a traditional heterosexual married couple.

9/27/2013 11:57 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Antonio Araujo wrote: "I care more about the secret stashes of private drawings - especially of curious and amusing fellows such as these - than I do about the grand works of much greater value (and worth!)."

I think there is certainly something to this. The world spends a lot of time dividing art into categories based upon its motivation for being. Art that is created for commercial assignments is treated differently from art that is created for "art's sake." Art that is created as part of the seduction process (from the valentines of various artists to the illustrated love letters of Rockwell Kent or Albert Dorne, or the art Saul Steinberg created to show off his intellect to his groupies) has a different feel to it. Secret art that is created for the artist alone, with no thought of worldly gain other than to process thrills through the artist's fingertips-- that can be interesting art indeed. Sometimes it is done in the spirit of exhibitionism, fondling the notion of eventually revealing to the world what you're up to behind closed doors. In the case of McKesson, he kept his treasure trove secret until his wife was gone and he was in his 80's.

Sean Farrell-- Certainly every couple has to work out their arrangement between themselves. All of the psychological variations you mention are possibilities here. If you are right, how fortunate for McKesson and his wife that someone who wanted to worship for 48 years was able to find someone who wanted to be worshiped for 48 years. And how amazing that they were able to find each other when this type of behavior was very taboo, with no computer dating to help!

My only disagreement is with your point about Boris. I think McKesson's obsessive drawings of subjugation are far more powerful and commanding than Boris' juvenile paintings of body builders.

Joss-- Thanks, I agree.

9/28/2013 7:17 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Chris Bennett wrote: "On their artistic merit, for the record, I find it fairly high on many levels. (though by no means all)"

When I first saw one of these drawings, I thought it was the kind of fumbling, indirect work that a high school student might do. Then I saw another, and another and soon I felt like Shelley DuVal flipping through pages of "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." McKesson devoted a lot of his life to drawing these little circles on paper. I'm not sure why the cumulative effect of his life's work should transform the quality of an individual drawing (which in theory should stand alone). But it certainly does for me. I gained an appreciation for all those anonymous, scribbled faces, those stout thighs and the R. Crumb high heel shoes that would accommodate a horse.

I suppose what I most wanted to put on the table with this post is that there are all kinds of reasons for liking a drawing, and while these odd, heartfelt pictures would not satisfy my standard criteria for good drawing, I was receptive to the wide variety of marks on paper and found myself won over by them.

9/28/2013 7:58 AM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

David,
It takes courage to love, but it takes much less than courage or self possession to be seduced. Many prefer to love a child or subordinate rather than loving someone who is capable of self possession. Escapists often make for great company.

McKesson's wife may have relished his ineptitude, but would that have been love or possession? Is it easier to possess something smaller than oneself and is this sometimes self serving? I think the last line of the bio says a lot, McKesson believed he was integrating the haughty moralism of his mother and father's passive kindness. He may have been seeking a tender touch of acceptance which never materialized.

There was clearly a surrender involved in his life, but to what is the question. Was he simply dispossessing himself for sexual stimulation, perhaps unrelated to his wife, but to the restraints of marriage itself? Did he project an authority upon her for the sake of stimulation? This is part of what Richard implied with the word paraphilia, though something was setting his imagination off which is the subject of pondering and a curious guess.

Of course the drawing with one figure with draped arms over the knees of another is very touching and far more human than the work by Boris, despite being pre-known as in, he ventured nothing to become the tender one needing affection, as this very moment may have been his very goal. Taken in its context it is infantile, though human, touching and tragic for the dispossession required to get there.

McKesson's drawings are so refined and delicate that they do make Boris seem commanding, though yes, I agree the work of Boris is also sexually infantile and not so far off with its masculine she gods.

Thanks for another curious and thoughtful post.

9/28/2013 8:32 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

I agree there is a peculiar absurd quality to some of these drawings, like the world is staffed by isolated, nondescript figures made out of balls of meat; existing merely to lumber between dim rooms and into occasional proximity. Plodding, morose existentialism. Like Jenny Saville without the fire.

I view art as necessarily reflective of the person making it, so I don't discount the possible parallels between this aesthetic quality and McKesson's sense of life.

The ones where the riding crop pops up have less of this existential quality and just seem silly to me.

I don't feel the allure of sexual masochism, and maybe that keeps me from really feeling the gist of these pictures in their full measure. So I am left to view them from squaresville: And from here, I can't help feeling that this arrangement of a marriage was less about love, and more about complementary derangements.

And I wonder, are we to accept the McKessons' derangement arrangement as a form of love, or else be considered prudes or bigots?

9/28/2013 11:15 AM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

And I wonder, are we to accept the McKessons' derangement arrangement as a form of love, or else be considered prudes or bigots?

Yes, Kev, that's the way it's being taught. To be or not to be is no longer the question. Leave your content at the door in exchange for ever more narcotic and zombifying pleasures. One university teacher brags on You Tube, that he can take his students to sexual heights they never imagined.

9/28/2013 2:08 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

David, I'm sorry, I believe you've misunderstood me.

"I'm not sure how much we need to know about the specifics of McKesson's sex life in order to validate these drawings."

I have no interest in validating drawings, or invalidating them either.

I'm merely arguing that what you pose as specifically interesting about these images, that is, the mindset of the artist making them and the similarity you posit between his style and his soul, is misguided.

That isn't to say that I don't find them interesting, but that I doubt very much McKesson's mindset was all too similar to the one you and Deanna Isaacs suggest -- "fragile soul", "The only thing McKesson excelled at was failure."

His images would not then be the "direct extension of an artist's... very nervous system", or at least not the nervous system you suggest they extend from.

I like these drawings, they seem like early prototypes of Adam Jones's stop-motion animations, which were very exciting to me as a young man -- the valid/invalid argument was quite beyond the point of my posts. The only compass I have for "valid" art is whether the piece 'turns me on', plain and simple.

"The consensus seems to be that the couple did not consummate their marriage in 48 years; that McKesson withdrew from the working world to secretly worship the strength and wisdom of the female and spend time obsessing about a variety of bondage and torture devices that his mistress applied to his scrotum."

I'm not arguing that at all. That may very well be true. I'm suspicious about it, sure, but my suspicion is neither here nor there.

The conclusions, however, that you draw about his personality, about the underlying soul that gave rise to his work, and pointing to his paraphilias as evidence of said theorized personality, betray a certain amount of inexperience on your part. People get sexually aroused by all sorts of strange things, and I think the evidence on the matter suggests that those kinks don't generally mean anything deeper about the underlying person. Clearly I shouldn't have said it the way I did, "you may be projecting your own attitudes", that rang too much of academic neo-liberalism and poor Kevin over here is worried the Political Correctness police are going to terk his jerbs.

"You may find such drawings 'not very interesting' if McKesson's sex life turns out to be not kinky enough"
I find them perfectly interesting. Thanks for the post.

9/29/2013 1:02 AM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

Antonio and Richard--

“Unless you're working INTO a white block, lit by fairly uniform diffuse light. Then the deeper you carved, the darker that area. I have no idea if that's what chris bennett meant though.”

That is what I was getting at, Richard. However the idea that the pencil is a mason’s pointing chisel is not a fully literal one. I see carving as an attitude towards material – the paper being seen as something that reveals visions by disclosure rather than by inclusion of something on it. So this would be the case even though the marks are landing on the forms rather than around it. I experience Michelangelo’s pen drawing as carved; the hatching, resembling a scutch chisel describing the turn of their surfaces. R. Crumb’s hatching, though ponderous, is more modelling than carving. And Seurat’s conte crayon drawings (which McKesson’s superficially resemble) are the same; the forms ‘built up’ rather than uncovered.

In its broadest form, the carving and modelling distinction, beyond being one of process, is a philosophical/spiritual one concerning the nature of an artist’s dialogue with the medium: On one hand, to see the unsullied material as a pre-existing oneness that is to be maintained in the formal relationships separated out of it. On the other, to see it as mute stage upon which forms are placed until complete.

These ideas can be found in their fullest form in Adrian Stoke’s book “The Stones of Rimini”

David Apatoff— I feel the carving thing can be seen at the service of McKesson’s hangups rather than any aesthetic attitude on his part. (In my view his drawing fall short of Seurat’s and even R.Crumb’s aesthetically.) Although ‘carving’, McKesson’s graphic handwriting is like something wriggling within the womb of the paper. Michelangelo’s hatchings confidently cleave it into his passion. R. Crumb’s ‘modelling’ hatchings proudly build his obsessions.

9/29/2013 7:00 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Sean Farrell wrote: "would that have been love or possession?" I'm not sure I can speak authoritatively about the difference between the two. As I tried to suggest in an earlier "Artists in Love" post about cowboy artist Charlie Russell, "It's not clear who really wore the saddle in their marriage. I suspect that, as with most long term relationships, the difference between who rides and who is ridden depends only on the time of day."

I especially like your use of the broader term, "surrender." We don't just surrender to another person, we surrender to passion and desire, we surrender to our nature-- a lot of potential there.

Kev Ferrara wrote: "I can't help feeling that this arrangement of a marriage was less about love, and more about complementary derangements."

I'm not sure I can speak authoritatively about the difference between these two, either.

On your other point, I assume you view Frazetta's pictures "from squaresville" as well, unless in real life you are a barbarian with a wench draped over your shoulder. That shouldn't prevent you from getting a voyeur's appreciation of his work.

Richard-- I don't know how accurate Deanna Isaacs' article was, or how her political orientation may have affected her view, but there seems to be some objective facts that do not seem susceptible to interpretation-- that McKesson could not survive in the family business or any other real job, that he lived off of his mother, etc. I agree with you that "People get sexually aroused by all sorts of strange things," and furthermore that they talk or fantasize or role play about all kinds of things they never do in real life. But this may be the reason the cumulative effect of Mckesson's work has a qualitative impact; this is no playful fantasy, it is a long term consuming obsession. Looking at a whole room full of these scribbles at the Visionary Art Museum was very persuasive to me.

9/29/2013 10:04 AM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

David, I wasn't trying to speak authoritatively. That's my point, that these things are not all as they appear. They can be born of many things and counter intuitive to how they appear. Yet the behavior is extreme enough to warrant some thoughts.

As the drawings are presented, they are selling a world in shadows, a vague and sometimes directly submissive world. My point is that it's a self indulgent world, even if he was trying for example to negotiate a coolness, or stubborn wall of a mate; or allow another to express themselves without his interference. To allow another such leeway for whatever reason may not matter because it still wound up grossly self indulgent.

Even in the drawings, he may have been trying to understand things, but he was still wandering in a very self indulgent realm. By self indulgent, it implies lonely, sad, disconnected, endless yearning, but misguided.

One can see another in kindness and behave accordingly without the belittling of oneself. For that matter, one can share oneself with another in a kind, humble and tender manner without drifting into subservience. McKeesen, for whatever reason, got caught in a wind of gentleness
which twisted some virtues into a source of sexual pleasure.

9/29/2013 10:37 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

David, having played rough sports for years and years and having had an older brother who I wrestled with constantly growing up, and having spent far too much time in gyms attempting to keep fit, I have a strong empathy with the physicality of Frazetta's works. I don't care about his subject matter, really, or anybody else's really, as it all is a mask over the feeling.

That I lack any empathetic feelings toward paraphilias made me wonder what, if anything I am missing in the feeling of Mckesson's drawings. That's what I meant.

David, were you implying that run of the mill heterosexual relationships are also the product of complementary derangements incorporating?

Richard, while it may be true that "people get sexually aroused by all sorts of things" this is a confusion of the issue in the light of the actual discussion about paraphilias. Normal people can find non sexual things arousing because of a Pavlovian association with actual sexual experience. Whatever the signal associated with the meal, it can bring about salivation after it has been programmed in. While paraphilias seem to be an end in themselves. One shouldn't confuse the arousal caused by the memory of a lover's perfume with that caused by the lash of a whip on the back.

9/29/2013 10:52 AM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

He may have felt very guilty over something, or how he treated someone and in his remorseful searching discovered a gentleness, a surrender that first became a sexual friend and then he became its slave. There's no way of knowing how he arrived where he did. The phenomenon, or mysteries of masochism are far too old to consider he or his drawings as visionary.

9/29/2013 11:02 AM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

Whatever the signal associated with the meal, it can bring about salivation after it has been programmed in.

Very well said.

9/29/2013 11:07 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Chris Bennett-- I agree that R. Crumb's lines, compared to McKesson's, "proudly build his obsessions," but lines that dare to "confidently cleave" have to live with the consequences. I think much of Crumb's work could benefit from more of McKesson's artistic ambiguity. For example, I think Crumb's Book of Genesis is pretty bad because Crumb's drawings are not up to his subject matter. They are so clear, there's no hiding his simple mindedness. McKesson's blurry ghost-like figures would be better suited for such a text.

Kev Ferrara-- You obviously missed the comment above that "in the BDSM community, male subs are more often than not, rather masculine people who gain pleasure by SUBVERTING their own personality." Perhaps you're in a state of denial?

Sean Farrell-- I knew you weren't trying to "speak authoritatively," I was just offering my own humility before broaching a topic where, as you say, "these things are not all as they appear." Even the most normal, healthy relationships have their eccentricities. If the couple is fortunate, supply and demand fit together the way they fit for McKesson and Madelaine.

9/29/2013 4:00 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Perhaps you're in a state of denial?

More like I've sublimated my desires. Now when I want to get bitch-slapped by degenerates, I just post here.

9/29/2013 4:25 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Chris B say'd "the paper being seen as something that reveals visions by disclosure rather than by inclusion of something on it."

The former is very much the way I draw. The idea of drawing by inclusion, rather than disclosure, is very much beyond me, unfortunately.


"Whatever the signal associated with the meal, it can bring about salivation after it has been programmed in. While paraphilias seem to be an end in themselves."

I think what you may be missing, since you don't empathize with paraphilias in general, is that paraphilias are not generally about sexuality at all, at least not deep down. Paraphilias are usually not a way to produce sexual joy by way of pavlovian response from power, but a way to produce a pavlovian feeling of power by way of sexuality.

Sexuality has a variety of sexual power-dynamics built in, with deeply hard-coded switches that can be flipped rather easily by manipulation of the circumstances of a sexual encounter, so that if one desires to experience a specific power-dynamic it becomes very easy to stimulate that feeling in the bedroom. Most sex theorists hold that to be the case even for a large portion of seemingly "normal" sexual encounters -- they're an attempt to experience specific feelings of power -- see Frat Bros at the club trying to make themselves feel manly to combat many internalized fears of inadequacy of masculinity.


And while I suspect David was joking "Perhaps you're in a state of denial?", there is something to be said for looking at your own experiences of power as a young man to get a better sense of your relationship to it now. When I was kid, I was the older brother constantly wrestling with my younger brother. I suspect that he probably internalized some specific power-dynamic feelings as a young man, similar I would guess to your own, that pushed him in a similar direction. He could now probably kick my ass, works out every day, studies martial arts, and is all-around very characteristically masculine.

I have gone the opposite direction. As a child I was a very angry masculine kid -- as I've gotten older I've found a lot of pleasure in subverting that (although not in the ways McKesson did). I'm interested in "pretty" things, "sweet" things -- I like pop music designed for girls and what have you.

Perhaps I am way off the mark for your specific case, but I think most people have some power-dynamics internalized as children that they attempt to subvert, although not generally in the way McKesson did it.

9/29/2013 7:37 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Richard, I think you are risking confusion here.

There are any number of "theorists" or "experts" who will say anything about anything, depending on ideology.

Leaving them aside, either paraphilia causes arousal or it does not. Since, definitionally, it is understood to cause arousal, then we must conclude that sexual gratification is a major aspect of it. Thus it can be considered an end in itself, as stated earlier.

Harvey Dunn said to his students that an artist must be in touch with his feminine side in order to be any good. He must appreciate the beautiful, and the tender, and the lyrical or the poetic. If a man as burly as Dunn can say that, I'm pretty good with it too. But he didn't call it "subverting his masculine side."

Such an idea - that we must limit who we are in one sense, in order to be more of who we are in another sense, would have seemed bizarre to him. Except insofar as he believed in decisiveness, industriousness and the shunning of doubt in order to be a strong and positive artist.

I would certainly align myself with the belief that we don't need to subvert any part of ourselves. We can be funny, sad, strong, and tender all at once, can't we?

9/29/2013 8:11 PM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

McKesson literally surrendered to his desires as a slave. His was a world unto itself, a rather small world. Finding an enabler is hardly a fix and it wasn't simply an eccentricity.

Whatever the initial motive, it's still a distortion of certain human virtues for the benefit of deeper and deeper experiences of dispossession. He allowed himself to be replaced by the possession of the experience, not unlike a drug addict who readily sacrifices self for a fix.

That is what McKeeson's surrender was about, dispossession. It was his choice and in the end it appears to have been the story of his life.

9/29/2013 10:02 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

these remind me of some of Gottfried Helnwein's early drawings which feature figures in mysterious scenarios often with distorted or blurred faces.
they also remind me of Caroline Leaf's animation of Kafka's Metamorphosis.

what they share is the impression that the vague figures are made from the same smoggy atmosphere that fills the spaces, and which also threatens to swallow the figures.

9/30/2013 9:15 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

"McKesson literally surrendered to his desires as a slave."

We've heard this put 10 ways now, but again I ask, is there anything substantial to evidence that?

We have a fictional novel, some drawings illustrating it, and this hearsay that he and his wife didn't have intercourse.

We have this sense that he didn't perform well at his parent's company. But I ask you, how many hyper-rich artfags would, given the choice of retirement at 50 to a lakefront cottage where one can do as they please?

Those few pieces of information are enough to tell you enough that you can say a man "surrendered to his desires as a slave"? A Harvard educated WW2 veteran, but the fact he may have been an asexual, who wrote and drew some BDSM art, who (incredibly) didn't like running a pharma company, and we can suddenly say that he was surrendering like a slave?



"Since, definitionally, it is understood to cause arousal, then we must conclude that sexual gratification is a major aspect of it."

Eating causes satiation. If I gorge myself on twinkies to distract myself from my own obesity, would it be accurate then to say that satiation is a major aspect of chronic over-eating?

The sex theorists maintain the positions they do, because they study these things day in and day out, and speak with these people on a regular basis, and this is what they see and hear. If you'd like to discount an entire area of psychology, even when you yourself say you are entirely incapable of empathizing with it, then how can you be expected to have a reasonable discussion on it.

These are the facts. BDSM is not about sex. If it was about sexual arousal you would expect these guys to have erections while they're getting electrocuted on the testicles and what have you, and I am sorry to get graphic, but the fact of the matter is that, in general, they don't. If you'd like to go research it until you get it, by all means, but at the moment, you're talking out your ass.

In fact, I think the majority of you here are talking out your ass, at least in this thread.

9/30/2013 9:18 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Etc, etc-- Stern Lady Gladys would like a word with you about curbing your manly nature.

Tell the Lady that she and her sisterkind can wear the dresses and high heels far better than I can; it's no contest.

9/30/2013 9:26 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Richard, are you writing from a dungeon?

9/30/2013 11:07 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

It feels like it. Cubical farm...dungeon, yeah, basically.

9/30/2013 12:44 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Do you torture the deadbeats, or do the deadbeats torture you? Or is it more a spiralling reciprocity; a dungeon pas de deux where the roles do-se-do?

9/30/2013 1:08 PM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

The drawings which are the subject involve fantasies of submissiveness, a slave's disposition, a worship of the female, which are at least sensual and that's enough to make the statement that he surrendered to his desires as a slave.

There's a whole industry built on images and literature as sexual stimulation and all of it is at least sensual if not sexual, despite analysis that it's about power or some other measure. The excitement of self abandonment, or self annihilation, combined with (psychological) danger and sensuality is a powerful tonic.

A look at Joris-Karl Husmans' life might offer a different angle on the matter. The virtues are not masculine or feminine as both male and female were called to embody kindness, forgiveness, mercy gentleness, justice, humility etc. in the western context. Such virtues, are sensual-ized if not sexualized in McKeeson's drawings.

Huysmans' had to have discovered this very human error towards the end of his life as he moved from a deep decadence toward an appreciation of the virtues.

The fantasy as sensual experience moved McKeeson to render his drawings over a long span of time.
His drawings didn't change as his end neared, which indicates that he may have remained bound the sensuality of his shadowy world. So too those smitten with the same practices and fantasies will defend and justify them.

9/30/2013 1:52 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

k- I should think we whip each other with comparable zest.


"There's a whole industry built on images [...] at least sensual if not sexual"

Wait, are we talking about illustration now, or pornography?

9/30/2013 4:31 PM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10/01/2013 7:25 AM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

David Apatoff wrote; ”I agree that R. Crumb's lines, compared to McKesson's, "proudly build his obsessions," but lines that dare to "confidently cleave" have to live with the consequences. I think much of Crumb's work could benefit from more of McKesson's artistic ambiguity. For example, I think Crumb's Book of Genesis is pretty bad because Crumb's drawings are not up to his subject matter. They are so clear, there's no hiding his simple mindedness. McKesson's blurry ghost-like figures would be better suited for such a text.”

Yes, the ambiguity is what I found intriguing about these drawings. Not so much the softness of the forms but the subject matter itself. The drawings are not pornographic in the way that those of, say, Bill Ward are. Mckesson’s real intention is mysteriously unclear, yet somehow felt strongly at the same time.

R.Crumb’s clearness of artistic purpose is a straight-forward magnet marshalling his pen hatchings like iron filings. His Book of Genesis gains its comic/tragic meaning precisely because a transcendental subject is being deliberately tugged into the dry-humoured field of his semi-nihilistic physics. McKesson’s ambiguity of meaning, while being more appropriate to such text, would not undermine it. And that, I believe, was Crumb’s purpose. However, I completely agree with the thrust of your point.

10/01/2013 7:31 AM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

Richard, I appreciate you taking a sledge hammer to this subject with the clinical non sexual example illustrating the depth of the rabbit hole. Baudelaire's masochist who wanted his money back complaining he wasn't beaten severely enough is also a good example, but people don't start out this way.

There's a gateway born of boredom and enticement such as say, the book Fifty Shades of Grey with its introduction of role reversals, mystery, danger and blindfolds. There is enticement in the mingling of virtues and pleasures. We don't ordinarily think of sex when we think of tenderness of heart or trust, but without them, sex quickly becomes a contest to maximize pleasure where it is convenient to forget that virtues are easily compromised for reward.

Attempts to mingle selfishness and virtue is as old as humankind. Honor among thieves is another example and the pride and excellence in the perfect heist has been the subject of countless movie plots. Joseph Conrad's stories also test the limits of ethics in grey areas of the crisis situation.

McKeeson's drawings are set in such a grey area. In order to enjoy them at their fullest, one has to walk into the shadows in them. It's in the grey or shadowy areas where evil makes its most persuasive arguments. It's in the areas of grey where virtues are misappropriated and much lot of life exists, but as such is brought into the light of even a single virtue, the deception is revealed.

10/01/2013 10:16 AM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

The reason it's so easy to enter the Garden of Earthly Delights and difficult to leave is because it provides insufficient contrast to see and think.

Artists need different kinds of contrasts to make images and people need contrast in order to think. In our new world of genderless thinking it's not surprising that so many people are experiencing gender confusion. I'm sure some have read the sad story of the woman who felt she needed to be a man and was horrified at the “botched” outcome, only to ask a doctor to euthanize her, which he did.

In our watered down neutral world which views contrast and differences as evil, there's no way of knowing just how many qualities of virtue have been lost. How much courage, honesty, generosity, gratitude, even creativity has been lost in living a life with insufficient contrasts? Contrast was a benefit of having some kind of standards, even if they were difficult to live up to, sometimes led to scrupulosity or nagged at our conscience from time to time.

10/02/2013 4:53 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Sean, you are pushing against some big buttons here.

As I see it, the issue is that any citizen of a society such as ours, where "all men are created equal", who yet isn't living an "equivalent" life to his peers (he/she feels less successful, weaker, powerless, inferior, damaged, different, etc in any way) is going to have a serious internal conflict.

The two alternatives are to destroy inequality in life, (all people live equal) or to destroy the idea of difference, to destroy the ability to judge difference.

Since the first alternative is almost impossible (even if perfect communism was implemented by dictatorship), the most widespread attempt of the current worldwide troupe of unequals is to destroy the validity or morality of judgement.

And I believe this to be the cause of the dumbing down of pretty much everything. Because not only is it politically expedient to have no allowable standards by which to create hierarchies (of quality, morality, craftsmanship, art, meaning, sense, truthfulness, manners, originality, profundity, sophistication, education, or what have you), but it is commercially expedient as well. Thus the idea has cut through the entirety of the culture like a hot machete, lowering the bar for everything.

It is interesting, but impolitic, to note where such postmodern relativist views have had no effect whatsoever and why.

10/02/2013 6:51 PM  
Anonymous Sean Farrell said...

Yes Kev,
You have described exactly what is happening.

Brzezinski said that in the future, people won't be able to think, because they won't have the concepts to form thoughts. If that's where all is heading, then our assumptions of the past, present and future deserve a more serious examination.
Thanks.

10/04/2013 11:27 AM  

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