Book Review: “In The End It Could Be Nothing But Painting” – On Daniel Maidman’s Interview of Vincent Desiderio by Matthew Ballou

Matt Ballou

Theseus: Vincent Desiderio on Art, published by Griffith Moon, is a remarkable little text that documents a conversation between Daniel Maidman and the aforementioned Desiderio. To a high degree, Desiderio needs no introduction. He is a powerful, unique voice in the contemporary art world, and his works have commanded an international following for more than two decades.

Maidman, known particularly for his wonderful drawings of the human form, is a Brooklyn-based artist and writer. His Instagram feed is an immersion into the figure, and I routinely share his works with my own students. The conversation he initiates with Desiderio is lucid and bright, and it rings true as a kind of meeting of the minds.

Matt Ballou

I hesitate to call this talk an ‘interview’ as there is much more than simple question and answer happening here. Maidman knows enough about the context (of history, art, film, philosophy, etc) to draw out the natural intensity of Desiderio. The pages of this book capture the passion and wide-ranging knowledge that Desiderio commands. Reading through, I was struck by how familiar it all felt. I spent a couple days with Desiderio when he visited Nebraska Wesleyan University in February of 2009 (Professor and painter David Gracie invited me along). Whether over coffee, a quick lunch, or surrounded by a few dozen students, Desiderio was wonderfully incessant. He didn’t force anyone to listen, but once an audience (of even one or two people) drew him out with insightful questions, he was ready to roll at full speed. It was intellectually challenging, reflective, and fun. That’s what I felt again in reading this text.

No editorializing takes place here. There is no fluff. Yet the two men leap from artist to artwork, from observations about narrative structure to biology to the manifestation of surfaces. It is humorous, deadly serious, and very encouraging to witness; the Apollonian and Dionysian impulses can coexist. This conversation demonstrates the joy of an intellectual and poetic exchange between two artists who share a knowledge of the deep concerns of art making in all its myriad forms.

This book may just become my go-to gift for my graduate students. It is a great example of how a life-long interrogation of self and history through art can result in a kind of profound astonishment and wonder. Not only is Desiderio’s work strange and wonderful, so is he.

Many thanks to Daniel Maidman for letting us all listen in on it all.

Matt Ballou

All Photos by Matt Ballou.

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