Travel Pictures (Post 9/11)

Most of the drawings in this exhibit are from the trip I took this past spring to the Middle East (Egypt and Turkey)--the trip I was initially set to take 9/27/01. The clock ticked away and the original departure day came and went. In the months to follow as I fretted about the cancellation, loss of nerve, and world affairs, I worked in the studio recycling famous Renaissance portrait heads, and painting Pop-ish, contemporary, media-derived faces. My world had shrunk.

I learned, if I hadn’t known already, of the close link between travel and my art. A working class kid drawn off by the anti-war movement, years of delayed  schooling, and full-time work, I never made it to Europe until after I was 40. That trip took me to London, Paris, and Florence. Maybe delayed sensations register more intensely.

Since then I’ve been back to Italy and traveled around Greece, Spain, India, and Morocco, was back to London, and this year off to the Middle East. One memorable trip to Naples and Rome was taken with M. Louise Stanley, the last before she turned professional tour guide.

For sure, some artists that I respect greatly like Cornell, Morandi, Hopper, and Ensor never really left home, mining interior worlds. But I am more like O’Keefe who needed New Mexico, Picasso Paris, Hartley Germany and Maine/Nova Scotia, Gauguin Tahiti, Van Gogh France, Whistler Venice, Sargent Italy, Hockney Los Angeles. The latter list is the easy one.

I am even able to insulate myself somewhat from mundane and painful visits “home” to the Midwest to aging, ill, and/or contentious relatives if fortified with vacation props of camera and books. I rediscover these overly familiar and prosaic locales as fabulous and exotic, as indeed places like Taliesen, Oak Park, and the Chicago Art Institute are.

The last trip to the Middle East was so hard-won in a way, overcoming my own insecurities and the reservations of others. Once over-touristed, almost banal destinations seem more precious, just as travel itself has become more daunting, uncertain, and unusual for many Americans.

Maybe good news for artists, though, as we’re once again the avant-garde painting postcards for those bunkered down at home with the gates closed and blinds drawn.

Statement for Fresno Art Museum exhibition: Robert Brokl and Michael J. Carey: Contemporary Directions in Bay Area Figurative Work, 2003