OF THE GAME
He’s drunk, he’s high, he’s mournful, he’s masochistic and he makes great art. It could be a lot of painters throughout art history and now, according to HBO, which is premiering director Jeff Stimmel’s 63-minute-long documentary The Art of Failure, it’s Chuck Connelly. What this film unintentionally reveals is that, contrary to cliché, Connelly is not an oil-based genius because he is psychotically living through constant pain; he is in pain precisely because making arresting images in paint is so easy for him. When Chuck is out of the studio, everything else is difficult.
In rather conventional "art brut" passages, we see Chuck alienate his wife, hire a doppelganger to pretend he is Chuck, fill his living room with his naked lesbian series, smoke joints, visit Warhol’s grave, and generally act out like a vicious Chucklehead. Intermittently, Connelly grins with idiotic sweetness. Then, mirabile dictu, we see Chuck turn out a toadlike green self-portrait, a masterpiece, in 50 seconds, with sympathetic play-by-play commentary from Artnet Magazine’s own Walter Robinson.
The value in this film lies in its quick-time gaze at almost 3,000 of Connelly’s excellent paintings. His obsessions with St. Sebastian and the head of John the Baptist are right out of William Blake and his interiors could rival Vermeer’s House at Delft. Seventy percent of the time Chuck overreaches himself with facile paint handling, but the other 30 percent are spot-on perfection, in which Connelly captures the soul of his subject and expectorates it with his brush. In his personality and protean ability, Chuck Connelly is truly Stan Brakhage’s DogStarMan, howling from the stars, shitting in the mud, jerking off in poisonous waves of self-debasement. What is left is the work and putting your dollars in Chuck’s unmuzzled maw.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).