Art That Stirs Creativity: Rufus Wainwright

The Event of a Thread was a huge installation mounted in the Armory in New York. It was multi sensory and combined different perceptual modes into one. There was a huge white curtain strung across the Armory and swings that came down from the ceiling; when someone swung, they were attached to pulleys and chains that influenced the movement of this beautiful silk. It was a piece about interdependence and interconnection, and to be able to manifest a philosophical principle like that in an aesthetic way was extraordinary. It was a kind of weaving in real time of objects and language and action.

I learned about Gustave Caillebotte through Proust. I tend never to be on-cycle. When Titanic came out, I was like, “I’m going to get really into the Hindenburg!” And when the books came out, I thought maybe that was a good time to read Proust. You know when you’re reading something and haven’t been to the place where it’s set, so you start populating it with places you have been to Like the Iliad takes place in, like, your garage, or in a yard you’ve seen. When I first saw this Caillebotte painting, I thought, This is what Paris is supposed to look like—these are the streets people are walking down, this is the sort of color-saturation levels that they have there. It’s very much the aesthetic of the Proust books: here’s some far-off lighting, here’s somebody in a top hat, here are some buildings just after rain. And it looks like there’s something behind all of the doors, in an exciting way.

I’ve loved Hank Willis Thomas’s work for a long time. I’ve always thought of him as prescient and as a kind of public servant. My favorite artists are public servants in a way, and I think of all of us in that way—as capable of using our creativity to be of service to other people. And All Power to All People feels like the art we need right now. We are in this moment when it’s like “All Power” or “All Power to the Incredibly Vapid Projectile Ignorance Coming Out of the White House.” So it’s amazing to see a afro pick with a title like that in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love. That’s pure Hank magic.

Space and color are very important to me and how I think about music—as a way to relate to space. The first time I saw Helen Frankenthaler’s paintings, I felt like I was encountering a vision of space that was very thoughtful and sensitive, and it was the same with color. I think most musicians are close to color, and color is really important to my way of seeing life in general. In Mauve District, there is something so simple: It’s almost like part of the painting is missing and you’re seeing just a piece of it. That is how I see art and music in general—most of the time it’s a fragment of something bigger, and it’s always in touch with something even if it’s detached.

Victor Vasarely’s commitment to his art and evolution is to me one of the most focused of any artist ever. He was always interested in optical illusion. His geometric modulations of color, shape, tone, size, and perspective create virtual space-time warps, delighting in distortions of view and viewpoint. His work is also some of the most cosmic and psychedelic of any era, uncannily matching the hallucinatory visions created from the visual alphabet. My suspicion is that he arrived at the same place—where we create images and modulations that never exist outside of our minds but are intrinsically part of the planetary folklore.