Tod Wizon. © 1990 Rudy Molacek.
If you haven’t heard of Tod Wizon (pronounced We-zon) it’s probably because he’s a hard man to find. He showed at Willard Gallery with Susan Rothenberg, Robert Loeb, and Ralph Humphrey in the late ’70s and early ’80s then moved to Connecticut, finally settling back in New York three years ago, in self-imposed exile in Carroll Gardens, painting. Somehow, I got past the gates …
This latest body of work is its own numinous universe. Totality and nothingness cross dissolve. Perspectives blur. The paintings leave me confused, in a state of wonder, like a Dionysian vertigo.
Anne Bonney Do you think that painting is a psychopathology?
Tod Wizon I don’t even know what psychopathology is …
AB Well, what do you think?
TW I think about instinct …
AB Do you think you’re a wild animal?
TW I’m not sure. (laughter) I pull these things out of the deepest part of myself and I do mean, pull them out. They may appear easily made, but they’re not. The making of them goes on blind intuition, you follow these messages and the electricity that comes from your body, through your fingertips, somehow.
AB Do you have a ritual—that you can talk about?
TW Painting is a ritual. It’s a very special and a very spiritual activity. I work alone, nobody has ever seen me paint. No one. And no one ever will. I am a chef and I have my special recipes, and I don’t want anyone to see what I’m doing.
AB How would you describe your relationship to landscape painting?
TW I suppose landscape is a means to an end. By painting landscape for so many years—I mean, what people can call traditional landscape painting—I harnessed my powers to deal with abstraction. The next step from landscape is abstraction. Hopefully, I deal with a place in between landscape and abstraction, but at this point, I feel it’s going more towards the latter.
AB Instead of concrete abstraction, you’ve gone to an inner world.
TW I think it’s a more fluid, continuous world. Varese talked about continuous sound, sound taking you on a journey in some unconscious way. I don’t believe you can instill greatness in work if you’re conscious of it. I don’t believe someone can set out to make a fucking masterpiece. I want something real, something that shows personality, guts and intimacy, that jumps out at you, that bites you. I don’t want some lame calculated shit that’s at arm’s length, thought about for months and months. I want to see play, I want to see vision. I want to see soul and heart and guts … (crashing sound) Don’t let those Martian cards full on the floor. These things cost more than this apartment, more than this building.
AB I think they’ve been saved by the plastic wrap.
TW Hands wiping coffee off the Martian cards …
AB The invasion has begun.
TW They’ve really influenced my whole life, you know. You think I’m kidding?
AB I don’t think you’re kidding. You mentioned wanting something to be intimate. Bachelard talks about the intimacy of the place in which we dwell, the house being more than a metaphor of our most intimate being. These places you paint aren’t geographical, they’re psychological.
TW I really would like the viewer to be surrounded. I’m talking about a very obvious womb-like idea analogous to making spaces like caves, and houses, and grottos. I’m making a safe place to counterbalance abandonment. Life is one long cruel joke, and that’s all it’s ever been to anyone. And that’s all it ever will be. And I think we need a rest from it. Maybe I can give somebody a resting place, some kind of psychic resting place, where they can leave all the feelings that drew them to the work in the first place. Maybe they can leave the feelings in the work and exit the work without feeling that terrible thing. Or perhaps, they could just get lost and dwell in a kind of timelessness for three or four minutes.
AB In dreams, the house is considered your body.
TW I hope that they’re the imprint of emotion. The imprint of someone turning themselves inside out. The imprint of an emotional state is really not too different from a piano solo by Cecil Taylor. I hope they’re like a circuitry of thought—the viewer can get interested in a certain kind of rhythm, like the rhythm in music, especially jazz, an open-ended improvisation—a first-person kind of phenomenon, a dialogue with the artist on many levels. The artist, through the painting, really gets close to the person, sits next to him, and talks with him, that’s what I want to see. I don’t want to see agony covered up, I want to see the artist’s life, someone who’s completely one-hundred percent aware of living on this earth, in this world in 1990. Someone who’s not afraid to assimilate all the things he’s seeing: science fiction movies, rock and roll music, especially psychedelic music. I just turned 38 years old, and there’s no way to deny the influence of psychedelic music on my life and my work. I like that kind of polymorphic thinking.
Tod Wizon, Centerless, 1988, acrylic on wood, 13 ¼ x 12 inches. Photo © 1990 Phillips/Schwab.
AB So you approach painting musically and metaphorically, how about literally?
TW I put on eight hours worth of music when I paint. I listen to Quicksilver Messenger Service, Captain Beefheart, Alan Silva Luna Circus Orchestra, Chocolate Watchband, and Sun Ra, all that stuff … I want to see an image that would be like a Thelonius Monk song, they’re so simple, they just resonate with truth.
AB Do you walk around backwards and in circles to get warmed up?
TW (laughter) No, but I do exercises before I paint: I run around the room, I dance while I paint. Listening to music helps my thinking. It allows me to work unconsciously, to just forget any ideas and feel my way into the picture. It’s more playful—that’s all. I want to have that openness, that constant margin of invention from the beginning of the painting to the end because that’s what allows me to leave that first rush of feeling, complete rage, utter joy or whatever else I feel, untouched. Everyone knows it’s the first drawing, for any painting, that has the seed of truth in it. Well, if Delacroix drew with paint as he did—I hope I do something similar. There’s a preexisting feeling and that first imprint is so important. You’re constantly confronted with it, you work on it to bring it out until what you felt initially becomes a concrete thing that people can see and feel.
AB A friend of yours described your work as a kind of genesis but with no beginning and no end. I can’t locate it geographically. I can’t locate it temporally either, which must be something that’s consistent with what’s contemporary about it.
TW Is it a cinematic thing you’re talking about? From panel to panel? Because that’s what I’m …
AB It’s a kind of mise-en-scene.
TW Right, I want people who are looking at my paintings to feel time passing from one panel to another. Really. I do. I want things to keep being revealed from panel to panel. I want to show the same place from a million different points of view, to show it in time—when it’s dim light, when it’s bright light, when it’s wet, when it’s clear. And I want to show it in space—isn’t this it from a little further away? And isn’t this it from close up? Here’s the same place that I painted in the last painting from behind it or from above it—I’m so grounded in these places I paint, that sometimes I take a rocket trip a hundred miles above them for an objective view, so I can go back into the mire. Sometimes, I’m pulling in and out of the mire in my work. And again, it reveals a thought process. It reveals everything deep inside. And you’re not giving anybody a fuckin’ short trip when you do it. My paintings are not small because I think they’re cute. They’re small because they’re like a vacuum that will pull the viewer inside them and make a statement about largeness and intent and ambition. Who wants to see all this ambition and all this big intent? I want to see something brought down to the scale of a human being. I want to see something, that when it’s hung in a museum, one person’s going to look at a time. A man’s wife is going to peer into it from a foot away and he’s going to have his arms around her waist and have his head on her shoulder, and they’re both going to be peering into it. Maybe two people, maybe three, but not a bunch, because they’re too small for that, and that’s why they’re intimate, you know? You step into my world. Like any world, it’s not all pleasant, it’s a combination of everything: bathos, pathos, kitchen sink and toilet bowl.
AB O.K., I’m here in your world, your Brooklyn apartment. I’m looking at 20 or more paintings on the wall. And you know that temporal shift you spoke of earlier? It’s happening to me, but it’s not just happening within each work, it’s also happening between them. Is that intentional?
TW If you paint landscape, in classical terms, you’re really missing the point to begin with, you know? It just has to be a felt thing, that exists in its own time and space, a truth, a statement of reality. And I feel my paintings are real. They’re not specific places, but there’s a physicality, and a wordlessness to them, like shades of emotions, shades of love and doubt, and ecstasy and everything else. Rimbaud talked about each vowel being a different color. I want to create a color no one’s ever seen, a metaphor for human experience. I don’t mean great truths. I mean the truths of everyday living, the tiny truisms: the tiny loves and the tiny hates. What do you think that means? How can it be about an object? They have to be about formlessness, they have to be a constant synthesis and contradiction, they have to be about silence that makes a sound.
Tod Wizon, Head Full of Tears, 1988, acrylic on wood, 22 × 18 inches. Photo © 1990 Phillips/Schwab.
AB That’s why I locate you with a kind of psycho-mythology.
TW I see my paintings as a cross-section of a living thing, a microscopic slide of bacteria, molecules, whatever, moving around, transforming themselves constantly. They become like atmosphere, they become like the ground. Chameleonlike. Just a receptacle for all things, a receiver—and the transmitter, and the monitor.
AB To me, your paintings have dream-based logic. They collapse the dialectics of inside and outside. What’s real is surreal. What’s physical is metaphysical and reversible.
TW I really want to say my work might transgress that idea of dream, but it’s really not about dream. It’s a visceral roller coaster ride. Why get involved in making art unless you want to know the most out-of-control feelings as well as the most in-control feelings? You can’t call yourself an artist if you’re not willing to take that special swing, which all the Surrealists did. And all these artists who went around the world 50 million times to get away from themselves because their vision was so strong it chased them like the devil, biting their ass—I think you know about that, don’t you?
AB Well, I looked up the word “visionary” before I came over here, and the last synonym was “chimera,” a mythological monster—female—with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail. I think that’s the ass-biting fire breathing devil you mean. And I think that same monster of instinct, insight and imagination chases you, but instead of around the planet, it’s around this room. You take that restlessness to create restful places. You depict absence and project presence.
TW There is a sense of total loss—a loss of everything as well as a feeling of having everything. It is there. It goes back and forth, this special gift of having and that feeling of losing. It covers a lot of territory. It’s really about imagination. It has to do with abandoning yourself.
Tod Wizon, Floodway, 1988, acrylic on wood, 22 ¾ x 18 inches. Photo © 1990 Phillips/Schwab.