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PRINT May 1977

Notes on Narrative and History Painting

I FIRST THOUGHT OF PAINTING a narrative picture—one that told a story—in 1963. Perhaps it was a year earlier. At that time, I thought of it strictly as a problem in subject matter and had no visual concept to match it. I simply lacked pictorial conventions that would enable me to credibly represent the subjects I had in mind and I did not finish the projects I started, though the studies exist. One of them was called The Return of My Father from Alaska.

I had the notion at the time that autobiographical subject matter was somehow more modern than the traditional kind which, as a good “modernist,” I believed to be obsolete. In my notebooks I recorded such sentiments as: “I am celebrating the only myth I have—my family”; and “We are the heroes of our own existence.”

But the problem was that I did not see a subject visually, as constituting a picture whatever content it contained. But when I

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