Talking to Lawrence Weschler can be momentarily nerve-wracking. He seems to know something about almost everything, which we here at grippinglyauthentic! do not. And we become acutely, head-spinningly aware of this fact while in his presence. But one quickly realizes that he’s open and enthusiastic about sharing what he knows, damn happy to talk to you, in fact. He’s an avuncular Buddha with a museum of curiosities in his head. When he talks about his passions, about what he finds to be wonderful, about the people he knows (there are many), the excitement becomes palpable; viral, even. And it’s impossible not to get caught up in that excitement. He reaches back and forth through time and across borders, extracting political dramas and enhancing artistic revelations, seeing everything and forgetting nothing, finding connections where no one else has and setting everything alight. The world becomes smaller and more enthralling and accessible, and just as his interdisciplinary intellect is deeply engaged with the world, his unique narrative voice deeply engages his readers. He speaks in little explosions which set off chain reactions of amazement.
A New Yorker contributor for twenty years, a Pulitzer nominee (for 1995’s Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder), and a National Book Critics Circle Award winner (for 2008’s Everything that Rises), “Ren” Weschler currently divides his time between NYU’s Institute for the Humanities, the Chicago Humanities Festival, several publications as editor and author (including the Virginia Quarterly Review), and about a dozen other equally interesting things that you’d probably like to be doing too. His newest books each chronicle decades of conversation with two of the most dynamic artists and thinkers of our time, artists who themselves explode with originality and constantly question the way we see: Robert Irwin and David Hockney.
“Irwin has been incredibly important in getting people, artists in particular, to focus on presence as opposed to image, which tends to create these little hints of immediate marvel, and to privilege those marvels; And Hockney has made some of the great iconic images of our time. His painting is extraordinarily beautiful. In a way, the book titles really sum up their purviews and great contributions. For Irwin, Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees, that is, being present to this thing before you, shutting up, being quiet, paying attention and observing yourself observing and casting off all associations; And that Hockney has been so True to Life, even in the midst of incredible personal tragedies he has thrown himself in and embraced life continually, he has not despaired, he has not lost the savor of liveliness, and he lets you know this with his art.
I guess that’s what I have to say about those two,” Ren laughs.
Through him, as Weschler excitedly points out in the opening of True to Life, the two artists have been arguing, though neither is likely to admit it. “They’ve been having a fascinating conversation about what the task of art is right now, you know, if you take cubism seriously, which they both do. Both of them think of themselves as true heirs of cubism,” Ren told us, “viewing it as the most important ongoing project out of this ancient tradition, this historical art movement, and what’s funny is that they have constantly and fundamentally disagreed on what is at stake. For Irwin, cubism is the systematic flattening of subject: from Christ, (the king of kings), to this other king, to this burgher, to his maid, to her red shawl, to the color red, to the process of seeing red; the marriage of figure and ground, and thus the elimination of the painting itself. Hockney insists, however, that cubism was about saving figuration, saving painting, in fact, from photography, which falsely claimed to be able to accomplish figuration better and more objectively, though it couldn’t capture what was most important about painting: the existence of time, of multiple vantages which are more truthful to how we actually see the world, and the sense of lived experience.”