Irony is a contrary part of life. Everyone perceives irony from time to time, but these incongruities seem to occur most regularly in relation to the more intense and passionate experiences in life. The iconic pop artist Andy Warhol once said, "I am deeply superficial." The oxy-moronic statement is brilliant and amusing, but he was indeed, by all counts, superficial. An odd individual full of idiosyncrasies and frailties, he cranked out art ironically, using a production-line process set up in his stu- dio, called the Factory, and he readily sought money and renown with complete disregard for others. In many ways Warhol was not unlike the very merchandise he lampooned in his art.
He was the product of an era that touted movie stars, TV dinners, silly putty and subliminal messages. His creative production ultimately parodied one of humanity's most profound offerings—the fine arts. Yet it is ironic that he simultane- ously opened new windows on how we look at art. In the end, his superficiality became part of his artistic persona. Many do not gravitate to Warhol's work, but as an artist, I do, even though I am light-years away from his mindset. For me, the action of generating art is sacred. It is about inner spirit. I am a loner artistically, and I prefer to stay far away from the show. The concept of creating art while surrounded by crowds and assistants does not jibe with me.
Of course when painting outdoors I meet many passersby, and I have painted en plein air with my friend Patrick Walsh many times. However, we never paint side by side, and when occasionally a stranger stops to chat, I put down my brush and talk for a spell, patiently waiting for privacy before I return to painting. The famous illustrator Charles Hargens, at the age of 103, said to me, "There are only two reasons in life to paint—for yourself or for someone else. I painted for someone else my whole life. But you, Alan, paint for yourself." On one hand I am a loner, yet ironically, I enjoy spontaneous gatherings and uninhibited exchanges of thought. My Gristmill Studio has become a place for cultural and artistic exchange.
The very solitude I covet as an artist now also embraces an open-door policy for visitors. Painters, sculptors, poets, musicians and others have found the old mill to be a welcoming place where thoughts can be expressed freely. Perhaps it is the fate of artists to find themselves in situations that contrast poignantly with their expectations. The final irony of Warhol's irony-filled life is that he is buried, not in New York City where he achieved fame and fortune, but in a part of the Pittsburgh suburbs which he considered a place equivalent to nowhere. He was a man with a thirst for status and gold. But his collection of empty cookie jars may be an ironic metaphor for his bittersweet existence. As for my own life—it's interesting to ponder the possibilities of future ironies to confound my dearly held expectations.