Masurian Lakes, 1981-82
Masurian Lakes is a large painting and I worked on drawings for it and then the painting itself over a couple of years, it is hard to explain unless one is there but the thing about my paintings is that the color has a lot to do with how they are there and how they take up space, specifically rather than generally. It takes a long time to think about it on paper, long again once the stretcher’s been ordered and the thing as an actual thing with a particular size that works just like that is what you have.
The painting has oblique lines in it as well as horizontal and vertical ones, which bring into (or onto) it not only apparent movements into depth (or out of it,) but also rippling and other kinds of movements that are not particularly directional. What not enough people notice is the relationship of the small shapes that are not actually squares that run in a row across the bottom to the rest of the painting, they affect how one sees everything around them as movement. It is meant to be elaborate, and at the same time not full. It is in five pieces so that the space between stretchers can act as lines, disappearing except as edges on at least one side at the top, as the work changes height from stretcher to stretcher. It is mostly grey and white, but they have color in them, fog and atmosphere in general is minimally but still actively what you see.
The title comes from a general theme that’s died away now. Betty, the lady who saved our Sunday newspaper for us when we lived in New York, asked me once what kind of movies my wife Annie liked: love, or war? I told her it wasn’t clear, Annie being an historian and such, but also that she had divided narrative up like Vladimir Propp. I use battles sometimes because of the atmosphere and the kinds of movements they bring to my mind. The first battle of the Masurian Lakes took a couple of days, was on a big open plain, involved disparate forces both quantitatively and qualitatively (brilliant leadership over here and rubbish over there, a relatively small force of well-trained Prussians on the one hand a large one of dreadfully prepared Russian on the other) and took place in what was then Prussia and is now Poland—contested territory for ever, perhaps. I like the idea that it is an image driven by history being made (an advance was decisively stopped) in a space that is historically of uncertain ownership—contemporary Poland aside it is always worth remembering that the original (Balto-Slavic) Prussians have a place in historical (German) Prussia’s name comparable to that of the Sioux in Sioux City.