Artist Prudence Whittlesey occasionally attends lectures and paints a watercolor of the speaker. We are pleased to share her paintings of Lauren Berlant, author of Cruel Optimism, The Female Complaint, and The Queen of America Goes to Washington City along with a commentary by Berlant.
Prudence Whittlesey paints the atmosphere of a lecture, a thinker, thought, recording the doubletake of being hit by sights (the performing live body) and phrases (the talk's memorable anchors). These works mark the occluded emotional landscape of the performed argument, qualities imperceptible in fixed written scholarship. Whittlesey's ability to map this topography happens in more concentrated wordless forms when she invites these same lecturers into her studio for a sitting. There, in an hour of silent process painting, the artist and writer lock eyes in a kind of looking without seeing, Whittlesey monitoring the paintings out of the corner of her eye. This rarefied process calls upon the non-sight senses to feel out the atmosphere of diffused encounter and inhabit the consciousness that is the relationship. What results is a portrait of the thing, the flesh that is happening between them. Whittlesey painted me on 26 April 2012, during the LeBoff lecture at NYU, titled “Sex in the Event of Happiness.” We had a studio sitting the following day.