painting late in the game — it was my fifth and last year at the University of
Houston and I already had a job at the new Penzoil in-house commercial art
department lined up for after I graduated. I had just one more year to complete
my studies and found that all I had left were elective courses. Great
news! So, I signed up for Painting
1 with David Hickman, Advanced Drawing with Gael Stack, Lithography with Bo
Horak (one of the original lithographers who helped start Tamarind in L.A.
before its move to Albuquerque), Watercolor with John Alexander and a short
story writing class. I am sorry to say that I do not remember the name of that
class’s instructor, but it sure came in handy — as this essay can attest!
myself, for the first time, having fun in academia. I had never liked school
(as my mother would gladly testify in open court), but now, what was not to
like? The courses I was taking
were enjoyable and, though I had never painted before and it was not an easy
process, it came naturally. But that does not mean that the work I was creating
was by any means earth shattering; it was the beginning of a long string of the
worst paintings, not to mention worst drawings, worst prints, worst
watercolors, worst anything that I tried to create. As a matter of fact, over
the following decades of painting, many times during the creative process I
would realize that things were not going so well on the canvas. Actually, they
were going nowhere pretty fast and it was not a pretty sight. Not to mention
the time, effort and bucks it takes to conjure up such dastardly art. But I am
getting ahead of myself.
started painting at the old art barn on campus, I had made small but
significant baby steps in making good paintings — at least good enough to get
some good grades. In any case, these strides were personally meaningful in that
they encouraged me to continue, to try a little harder; go a little further
with these creative endeavors. And I did. But as one gets more confident, one
gets a little cockier about what they think they can accomplish — thus setting
the mental framework for some very serious f@#king up.
of the act of painting that I could never figure out was what to do with my
left hand while painting with my right. It just kind of hung there, looking for a reason to exist, a sign of
meaning; wanting to be useful, to be part of something big! Alas, except for cleaning up, it was
not to be. I secretly enjoyed doing more sculptural projects, in part because
the whole body was involved. This kind of feeling — of something lacking — can
lead to getting the worst out of painting. And, of course, the worst would rear
its ugly head in the years to come in several acts of creation that today make
me cringe and shudder.
was teaching as an adjunct professor at the University of Houston downtown
campus in the late eighties and early nineties, my beginning painting students
would leave their worst paintings behind in storage after the semester was
over. Within a few semesters there was quite an accumulation of bad
paintings. “Why not do something
with them?” I thought, so in some cases I painted over them, keeping some
elements of the painting while either subtracting or adding to them. I titled
this series of appropriated paintings Aneurysm.
painting was so bad that it easily qualified as the worst — the canvas was even
warped. I decided to keep the integrity of its badness, if such a concept
exists. So I painted obscene words in red over some wretched illustrations of
what seemed to be dominos floating in space and asked a framer to construct a
gold leaf frame for the canvas, thus elevating this worst painting into the
rarefied stratosphere of truly horrifying! The title of this particular piece
of refuse was Aneurysm: BAD. People laugh at it even today, though it is a
nervous laugh because, like a horror show, some do not know whether to take it
with a laugh or a shriek. That’s
OK; I have experienced both reactions from the hordes.
painting was in a show at Lynn Goode Gallery back in 1993 that was quite
controversial at the time because it was so different from what I had in my
exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston three years earlier. But
as Luis Jimenez once pointed out to me, “controversy gets people conversing.”
He was right; people did converse a lot about that exhibition. The idea behind the show was that
failure is an inherent part of the artistic process. And a few of the works
were failures (though nothing approaching the standard of worst, except maybe
for that one painting — y’know, that painting!). It was the beginning of a long
detour toward creating more successful paintings. Then again, it’s all
subjective, isn’t it?
told people who have visited the studio through the years, “nothing is sacred
in here.” The studio should be
like a laboratory and not a manufacturing plant. This was especially true back
in graduate school out in the southern desert of New Mexico, when that
fearless, cocky attitude from a few paragraphs ago — remember? — was firmly in
attempted this one humongous motherf@#king painting that just stunk to high
heaven. I mean really stunk! Worse
than a truckload of dead, drunken, stinking skunks. Ambitious and delicious, not to mention stupid, kind of like
an Iraq invasion and occupation on muddied, stretched canvas. An attention-gathering kind of machine,
I’d hoped it to be. And it was
done in an open classroom for anyone to see, me falling like Icarus from the
too-near sun, wings melting faster than an ice cream cone on a sweltering day.
Hey, I like my privacy when I work now, though in printmaking you have no
choice but to work in a communal situation. But again, I digress.
were we? Oh yeah, the worst painting. What can I say but: It is idiotic to
think that the worst paintings are behind me, and, oh my God! I did not realize
that I had done so many “worst” paintings!* The critics are going to have a
field day. It will not be a matter of abstraction versus figuration or color
versus colorless or 3D versus 2D or heroic versus mundane or cool versus hot;
no, it will be, “is it bad, or the worst painting he has ever done?” No
theorizing about what I was up to; it will be plain and simple — the worst!
Maybe I should have a drink and slap myself awake, feels like I am dreaming or
nightmaring — the experience is similar to a lover rejecting you for another,
harsh and painful. But isn’t it
life to experience the good, the bad and the true worst?!
it is time to end this rambling piece of writing and get on with it, y’know.
Get in the studio and face the music and move on. Shake it! Shake it! Shake
that booty and get to it! Paint it! Shake it! And see what comes of it! Shake
it! Paint it! Have fun with it! Shake it! As you paint it! Shake it! Paint it!
Benito Huerta has a B.F.A. from the University of Houston and an M.A. from New Mexico State University. He was co-founder, Executive Director, Co-Director, Vice President and now Emeritus Board Director of Art Lies: A Contemporary Art Quarterly. He is a Professor at the University of Texas at Arlington where he has been Director/Curator of The Gallery at UTA since 1997.
Huerta’s work is currently on view in:
Texas Draws 1
Southwest School of Art and Craft
San Antonio, TX
July 2 – September 6
Check out other artists’ worst art:
Michael Bise’s The Worst Piece of Art I Ever Made: The Black Box
Ludwig Schwarz’s The Worst Piece of Art I Ever Made: Hot Dogs For All