About 99 Bottles
In Spring 2018 I was packing up my belongings in preparation for a move. Among the items that I was encouraged to get rid of were about half a dozen or so empty bottles. I had been collecting them somewhat passively for a few years, keeping bottles whose shapes I was attracted to. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do with them, but I kept them. They seemed like drinking trophies from some undergraduate dorm room. They could be used as objects for still life paintings. In the end, they were beautiful, so they went into a box.
After the move I unpacked my studio materials and there they were. I had already the vague notion of painting them. In 2000, while in Italy, I had been introduced to the work of Morandi. I was made aware that besides painting his famous still lifes of bottles and cups, he had also painted the actual bottles and cups, in order to better study the light and colour effects he was so obsessed with. This has intrigued me ever since. So I began painting my little collection.
I set a few ground rules; always glass, never more than three colours, don’t be too precious, use alcohol bottles as much as possible. And I wanted to accumulate as many as possible. Hundreds conceivably. An abundance. I reached out to friends to give me bottles and they obliged. It began to strike me that bottles stand in for a lot of different things. They often occasion significant celebrations, whether as champagne, say, or as a gift of a fine bottle of wine or scotch. As such they become imbued with emotional meaning, attached to the individuals who consumed their contents. Was the drinking done alone or as a group? Booze has a reputation as a “social elixir”, and groupings of these bottles inevitably, to my mind at least, begin to anthropomorphize. A vast collection of bottles becomes somewhat worrisome. Did you drink ALL of these yourself? Mental health becomes a concern. Like so many, there is alcoholism in my family, so this side of the equation is fairly close to my own experience. And so also death enters the picture.
But besides all that, it is unavoidable that these bottles are beautiful, decorative objects. They are designed to attract our attention and to stand out from the crowd, as they are consumer products in their prior incarnation. And they are kitsch objects as well. A quick google search of “painting bottles” will open up a world of DIY craft projects marketed at bored suburban bourgeois stay-at-home moms, with accompanying texts inevitably peppered with winking allusions to chardonnay-soaked afternoons.
Then, about a year and a half later, I sat contemplating my growing collection, having since decided to cap the series at 99. I was thinking about how my old friend Katharine Mulherin had taken her own life in the summer, thought back to the convivial, celebratory atmosphere of the openings at her galleries, and the rag-tag passion of the scene. I decided this bottle project should be dedicated to her. They seem to me to check so many BusGallery boxes: playful, kitsch, idiosyncratic, scrappy work with deeper subcurrents of existential concern. I thought she’d like it, and so it’s for her; a call from a disappeared world into the void of tomorrow.