I’d never much admired the artwork of Andy Warhol.  A certain self satisfaction radiates from his paintings, a smugness and narcissism that seems to say “I’m smarter and hipper than you, and I’m not even trying.”  I understood his impact on art, how he embraced a commingling of the low brow and high brow, how he incorporated advertising and celebrity into the “pop art” he created.  But I always felt that the cold and aloof style of his images never let anyone in.  His portraits, especially his self-portraits, create distance between you and the subject.

“Self-Portrait (Strangulation)” by Andy Warhol, 1978.

While writing this song cycle I considered writing a self-portrait.  Andy Warhol certainly created prolific images of himself, as did many artists that I admire. Chuck Close, whose friendship with Philip Glass inspired this project, returns time and again to self-portraits.  I wasn’t really sure how to start though, and writing a song about yourself seemed kind of, well, narcissistic.  But when I met with Kate Ashton, the lighting designer for this project, the first thing she said was how she felt she knew me better after listening to the songs.  I began to realize that in creating portraits of my friendships I had inadvertently drawn portraits of myself as well.

I went to the Andy Warhol exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum yesterday with my uncle.  The exhibit looks specifically at the last decade of his life, when he returned to painting with brushes after years of silk screening, after the art world had somewhat lost interest in his work, and perhaps more importantly as he contemplated his legacy and death.  The work is still clever and brash, but feels more personal.  The self-portraits (like the one above) even hint at vulnerability.

“In the Garden,” a favorite painting of mine by Thomas Wilmer Dewing, 1883.

The Brooklyn Museum also has paintings by a few of my favorite 19th century American artists: portraits by Thomas Wilmer Dewing, Abbott Henderson Thayer, and William Merritt Chase.  Having worked now on portraits myself (albeit in much different medium) I see now why I’m drawn to them.  The portraits that move me are complex, full of contradictions, like the people themselves.  When editing the interviews Mike and I talk about finding the right balance of a person’s characteristics, and with the songs it was much the same.  I think that in revealing the contradictions in someone you reveal the truth about them. Apparently, like Warhol, you also finally begin to reveal yourself.

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