... (Nicole) Eisenman’s father was running a campaign against her sexuality. “I would get a fat envelope of legal-size paper, his writing front and back, just making a case for why it was dangerous and bad and ruining my life,” she said. “It was such a fucked-up thing to do. And then you can see his tears on the page, the ink running.” Eisenman laughed. “It was really hard. I always felt like I had to read the letters. I should have just thrown them out.” She was ill-equipped to fight back. “I knew he was wrong, but it got in my head,” she said. “I didn’t know enough. I was too young. Pre-Internet, I didn’t know where to look to find the writing I needed.”
Eisenman said of her father, “It was just this one thing, which was a big thing. It really fucked our shit up.” She added, “My mom saw it, and she didn’t intervene.” (When Eisenman and I were in Scarsdale, later that week, her mother said, “When Nicky came out as gay, I totally blamed myself. And I felt absolutely crushed. It really was very hard.”)
“But, you know, all of that fed my work in the early nineties,” Eisenman said. “It was really about visibility, and a big ‘Fuck you’ to the patriarchy—namely, him.” She checked herself. “It was not just him. It was all of culture, it was my education. I was going to risd and reading Janson”—H. W. Janson’s “History of Art”—“and it was this thick, and there wasn’t one woman in the entire book. I didn’t read anything about feminism at risd. I had to catch up on that stuff, you know, over the years, on my own.”
From Every Nicole Eisenman Picture Tells A Story
Years ago, I saw Ann Bannon speak. She was a professor at California State University, Sacramento. Even though colleagues sometimes recognized her voice, she still wasn't open about her own name, preferring to keep Ann Bannon and the lesbian novels she wrote separate. She said women came up to her after talks and told her about finding her books on racks at bus stations and in drug stores. Reading them to learn they were not alone. Ann Bannon, the real person, was married to a man then. She went to New York City to do what she called research for her novels. Before the Internet, she gave clues to a generation of lesbians on how to be.
I read Beebo Brinker as an adult. It was already kitsch. And still, it helped me understand myself in a different way. I had gotten my pre-Internet clues from Buddy, Kristi McNichol's character on the TV show Family. Jo in Little Women. Anything Jodie Foster did. I got my clues from the people who were teased at school. The jokes about the sailors in the Navy-heavy town in which I grew up.
I am Nicole Eisenman's age. I devoured this part of her profile. Coming out and her parents and the way she understood herself in the world. Understands herself in a world with changing gender norms and conventions. It isn't the biggest part of this New Yorker profile, of course.
The biggest part is her art. The big and wonderful Another Green World which I have seen in person. I think at the LA Museum of Contemporary Art, a museum I love and that I had a chance to visit recently in the pandemic definition of recent where an entire year became the longest March ever. My wife, daughter, and I saw her sculpture Procession at the Whitney Biennial.
I am looking forward to seeing Another Green World again, with this profile in mind. With our ways of understanding ourselves. The indeterminateness of this painting. The figures' genders, their attention, the perspective, the art history from which it borrows. This way of understanding ourselves that is everything and not quite any of it, all at once. This way of understanding that resists definition.
#queer #identity #art #NicoleEisenman #AnnBannon