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Mat Gleason


My personal art epiphany occurred in two parts.  First, in a 1993 conversation with artist George Herms, he told me “The only sin in art is glamour and the only truth I know is ‘The Rose’.”  It sounded a little too poetic.  George is the original hippie, but he is the antithesis of hippy-dippy, so I scratched the surface at what he meant.

“The Rose” to which he was referring was the legendary painting by Jay DeFeo.

The toughest thing to stomach in the art world is when some allegedly “important” work of art turns out to be a withering piece of shit.

Each of us has, at times, been lied to about greatness by a textbook, a biased art historian, a big name critic, a trendy theory or a greedy gallerist “certain” of “where art is going!”

They never mention that Rauschenberg’s stupid goat is less than two feet off the ground, nor that Matthew Barney’s movies are pain-inducing tedium.  Does Damien Hirst seem nothing but a clever designer label?  Are you bored stiff by Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party?  Ever felt Jasper Johns was not on Target?  Certain that Mike Kelley’s infatuation with arrested development is actually a case of arrested development?  Understand that Chris Burden is surpassed and nullified a hundred times daily on YouTube?  Wonder if Pol Pot would applaud Baldessari’s dots over peoples’ faces?  When the cognoscenti are braying that an artist is “influential” it is a weather vane named fame pointing toward either lame or tame.

Jay deFeo, "The Rose," 1958-66, oil on canvas
with wood and mica, 129 7/8 x 92 1/4 x 11".
The alleged giants will be footnotes.  Glamour leads its artistic acolytes to an inevitable abyss.  Know this.  Accept this.  Because when the undeserving triumph, little else will help you cope.  It always feels lonely being the only one in the cathedral who isn’t nodding along to the preacher.  But all that the trendy core of the art world has to offer is a cold, fleeting, empty glamour.

Part two of the story occurs a few years later when I encountered “The Rose.”  It surpassed the pre-show hype, the shaman’s fable, the books and films and permanent collections.  It was sublime in its audacious majesty.  That day was an encounter with truth.  TRUTH.  Nothing before or since has ever entirely lived up to my reflexive critical scrutiny, but if nothing ever does I will always know that Jay DeFeo made an image-object that went beyond language and dwelt among us.

April is the 25th anniversary of Mat Gleason’s expulsion from Divine Word College, ending his studies for the Catholic priesthood.