Monday, March 31, 2014

INSIDE AN ANCIENT TREE

The week had been spent in terrible suspense, as when I arrived at my friend's house in Virginia, he was doubled over in agony. This turned out to be from kidney stones, and I soon saw him spirited away into the vast and impenetrable bureaucracy of a modern day hospital, which has procedures and protocols but no ready answers.

I had fled my home and family to visit him--it was almost the first time in three years that I had left the care of my old parents to other hands--- so this was like being upbraided by fate. Waiting word from the hospital had a terrible quality ,too, because my friend's wife of more than fifty years had died six months before. She was very dear to me, and the enormity of his lose--and my own--was constantly  about. It was the constant presence of absence, as it were.

My friend , who was in a great pain, seemed almost intent on quarreling with me, and I felt terribly conflicted about remaining while so obviously unwanted--but who would  be around to help otherwise?  So I tried to make myself unobtrusive and small, and felt like I was walking on shells in the ghostly house.


It is odd how beautiful things become under stress. That week, every little detail became beautiful--the cracks in the pavement, a stone covered with moss. I photographed the light falling over the stacks and stacks of paintings done by my friend's late wife, the light through curtains, or on a wall, or the sunlight passing through what leaves remained on the trees that late October, or the Hallowe'en decorations of the small town. Then my friend was operated on, his son came to care for him ,and I left.

I visited a dear aunt en route home. Her place is called "Windy Hill". She is in her late 'eighties and a wise   woman. We have always loved  each other with an unspoken understanding. We talked at length of the problems which had lately attended my parent's care, and of the savage quarrels that had come up over apparently small matters.  Her advice was matter-of-fact and to the point, and much appreciated.

Windy Hill is high in the Appalachian mountains, and  has been a homey sanctuary for her family members for many years, and so it was for me. As she napped in the mid-afternoon, I walked the property, and soon found myself fascinated with a weathered tree at the edge of it. It seemed to be telling me something about  
time by the shape of its folds, and the  termite borings, and concave hollows in its split trunk.
I fancied that I saw the entirety of the history of art in its weathered trunk, and could identify Michelangelo and Rodin in the lichen which covered the cancerous boles which warted it.

Also the faces of nymphs over which bark had grown, more prehistoric than Daphne, and ships' heads, and prows .

The desert dwellings of lost civilizations known only through fragmentary evidence also were there;
no one knew where these aboriginals went, or what their enemies made off with.


The  last time the suspension bridges were used was in time immemorial.

Above all these minuscule activity, the upper trunk of the tree seemed to lament like Niobe.

And the faces of the witnessses were covered with a volcanic sediment in the rising storm that ended their civilization.

Or maybe they just waited, waited, waited for time to unpetrify them.

Maybe the sea would roll back, and  all would be restored.  

It was constantly metamorphosizing between decay and potentiality as I circled it, and I wondered if my recent sorrows  had made me susceptible to instruction..  Much later, after my aunt went to sleep, and I dozed off myself, I woke with a start. It was after midnight. Despite the cold I went out on the mountaintop and studied the stars as one may only do on a mountaintop far from city lights. The sight of the stars re-newed me, and I re-oriented myself to the vast sky, having received the wisdom of the tree and my  dear old aunt. I promised myself to cherish my old ones again, and shed a few hot salt tears. The next day, I  returned  home.
 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

BLACK DRAWINGS

Throughout the  later 1980's, I had  drawn to the recitation of the 99
names of Allah, but there was a time c.1991 when I  changed practise. Instead of an impeccable technique in ink,
I would  "break my hand" and explore  awkwardness, color, and a  black ground. In retrospect, I can see that it was an
attempt to integrate the sense of lose, both of my friends lost to AIDS, and  the
distance I had put between myself and the Sufis. These drawings, done in pastels, became a kind of journey into the
underground. They are not without a certain humor, however,  and I executed them at a clip, often eight or so in the span of a day.  I  have destroyed a great many --a number were later  turned into constructions . Fifty or so have survived
destruction, of which these are a sample. 

one of the problems I was working on was color separation--a printer in Oakland had asked me to devise
something which might be reproduced, and it was my notion to  print something like this drawing or the one before it on black vinyl insect screening .

another question was whether antithetical compositions could be put on top of each other

there was also the attempt to record the after effect of the deaths  where I had been  in attendance--so that this  drawing is almost an image of a journey through the land of the dead for me.
this would be the altogether happier subject matter of creatures at ebb tide by he sea
or Poseidon and a Nereid. The subject matter of the underworld--or Nekuya--re-appears below.
Looking back, I see the struggle between the pull to oblivion and an inherent joi de vivre.
                 This is common to everyone, I now know.
                                                 (a "snow drawing")
                                   (a " sex on the couch" drawing)
(a "rumble")
                                                         (a coral garden)
                                             (a coral garden lite by a half moon)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

HOW ONE THING TURNS INTO SOMETHING ELSE (HEBE)

The paradox of flowing drapery rendered in marble has always seemed sexy to me.
It is actually a multiple paradox (or paradox multiplied by another paradox and yet
another). There is the rendering of the impermanent into the" permanent"---  the
 human form into statuary--- the suggestion of nudity by way of drapery--
the flowing by the motionless-- the  fleeting moment frozen in time---poor.Hebe will never
undress.

 It would almost seem that such a statue  is upheld by the interplay of crisscrossing
paradoxes, and that,lacking them, it might topple and fall. It also helps that it
is marble.
.
To extend  these paradoxes further by transforming a sculpture into a painting, a painting
 into a construction,an academic work into an experiment , was my purpose in adopting
Canova's Hebe to a four layered aluminum screen painting.

There was also the sexiness of flowing drapery, in marble or not.





I choose Canova's "Hebe"-- she was the Roman Goddess of Health--because Canova
has always posed an additional puzzle to me, that  of an artist whose technique
 outstrips his affekt,  whose parts are superior to the whole.
He is sublime at drapery, but deficient in feeling.
(It occurs to me now that another paradoxical premises was at work--that of
reconstructing a statue from  its photograph)

The first three photographs illustrate the screen painting version. What a photograph can not convey is
 how the shimmer among the four images--one on each layer-- seemingly billows and  ripples with motion.

The  photographs below
illustrate the two constructions--or free standing sculptures--- made of a four layer
painting on screen from a photograph of a sculpture. The first of these attenuates a
"Canova "into  a "Giacometti,"..

 I am not quite happy with the third and may change it into something more like a relief..
(It  might thereby  fall into the category of a Nereid.)



(These were done in the spring of 2009; the painting is four layers of screen and is 2' x2'; the "giacometti" Hebe is 8 inches wide and 22 inches tall; I am  revising the last piece somehow and have no idea of what will happen yet )

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A POEM OF THE GREENHOUSE

In this vast alphabet
   of  forms we wander
wondering which
  of our charges--ranging
  from camellia japonica
to araucaria--
  wants water,
if Japanese beetles
  attack the neurasthenic roses
   in our care
or pillage the plum,
if the hydrangeas
  on the hillside
wilt in the June heat,
or, conversely, in winter
  if the ornamental quinces
brought outside on a mild day
  must be wrapped for the night
when February turns frigid.

Never-the-less, despite
 the sometimes seemingly
  continual sense of emergency,
the rigid
  Linnaean nomenclature
  not to mention a clientele
rich in idiosyncrasy,
  some resistant
  to the simplest instruction,
it is beauty
  the more touching
  for being transient,
perishable as a peony
   which seems to shed
  its petals as we watch,
which commands our attention,
  even our wear.

Spading the compost
 into  the clay
until the mixture
  resembles cake batter,
is required if the jasmine
  or gardenia will make a summer
   scent redolent of Eden
or Paradise-- first garden
  and the last.
  Is it  then to be inferred
that a stench
  is required to make perfume?
  So I suspect.
Certainly sweat
  is required, and skill,
also the patient
  calculation of effects
  though nature is fickle,
the weather unpredictable,
  and no reference work
seems to account
  for the anomaly
presented by an irate customer
  bearing a blackened branch.

Zigguruts of Babylon
 disappear, the topiaried
knot garden is converted
  into a bocce court
   after the revolution.
The symmetry of heaven
  (where all that is lost
  will be found)
is felt none-the-less
  in an idle moment
  on a hot afternoon
when the flower
 at which we stare
    looks back.

      (1999)


THE GREENHOUSE DRAWINGS

All through my life,  I have worked in greenhouses. The first of these was in California, at Rod McClellan's Acres of Orchids, and then in the plant shop which I ran with my friend, Baruch Himmelstein, in North Beach on Grant Avenue. in San Francisco. We specialized in cacti and orchids.

 Later, I tended the orchid collection of my friend, Nina Reed, in upstate New York. To tend the Vandas,and Oenicium, Cattleyas et al was like being in the sacred Alphabet of Forms. I have worked as a foreman in a nursery specializing in bedding plants, as a garden designer, and as a salesperson in rural nurseries.
 How many trees and shrubs and perennials and bedding plants I have watered is known only to the
recording angel, but if it is to be calculated at a thousand a day--which is an understatement
given the scale of certain operations that I've worked for--then must be a matter of millions. Whenever I have left the business, some prehensile tendril loops me back.
 These drawings are not botanical drawings at all, but memories of the Tillandsias--or tiny grey green bromeliads--at Nina Reed's farm. They were also a nod at the extreme linearity of Ellsworth Kelly's drawings of plants. But some Celtic memory of a carpet page from the Lindisfarne Gospels perhaps intervened. I also do such drawings as a way of elucidating my hand, to draw in a different key, so to
speak, from the drawings done to Islamic Il'Allahis. It is also how my hand wants to draw with a certain kind
of pen, especially when the pen is green. These were done in February 2009.











Tuesday, March 11, 2014

THE DREAM OF THE FOUNDRY


During the time that my  circle was being destroyed by AIDS,  I had a dream of a purgatorial
foundry. It consisted of a vast conveyor belt into the moulten center of the earth, into which  souls went
gladly, to be purified by the fire. This fire was not a hell of eternal torment, but a place of purification.
(The poem I wrote about it--from the vantage of a Charon-like figure who mans the conveyor belt--appears
earlier on these pages, under the title "The Foundry".)

At the same time, I painted a number of works on mirror or glass or mirror and glass into which this dream  attempted to take form. The earliest of these  which survives is  this small piece, twelve inches square, painted on a piece of copper colored mirrored tiling. The straight  lines are  where the mirrored surface appears. My intention was to do a piece which (a) reflected the time of day, which a mirror surely does and (b)a painting in which the viewer may  glimpse themselves. A close examination will yield many fiery figures.Also a ladder of mirror among the flames.


 Another version was on glass and mirror. This is the front panel painted on glass sans the mirror which  reflects the reversed side.
 This is the reverse side, which is a kind of calligraphic skeleton or armature on which the entire painting  "hangs". When it is backed with a second panel of unpainted mirror, it is reversed once again..
 This photograph shows both the two sided painting and the mirror altogether. The two panels are not quite an inch apart, and this process has the effect of  "floating " the painting.
 This is another painting from the same time,  in which I attempted to depict a fiery figure. The front of the first glass panel appears thus.

 But the reversed side is entirely different and is reflected in a mirror. This is, however, complicated further by a second glass panting below the first which is also painted on both sides.
 This is the front of the second glass panel.
 This is the back of the second glass panel.
 This is the three panels together. When assembled, the three panels are about an inch apart, and the painting flickers in  myriad ways.
 The anatomy of this painting is like the one above, and has four painted sides and a mirror.
Here is a detail.


 This is another four sided glass piece. Because it is airier than the previous paintings, I have omitted  the mirror and with it my own inadvertant appearance.
 This is a detail.
 This is another painting directly on mirror. The mirror appears bare mostly towards the center of the piece, but as a linear device throughout. Indeed, it might be described as being carved or incised as much as it is painted. Along with a painting called a "Baroque Mirror"--which will appear elsewhere--it is one of the most elaborate that I did using this technique..
 This is a detail of the center.

And this is a closer viewer of the  left side.
These were an attempt to transistorize the multiple layer technique of my screen paintings, which are my real center, as well as an attempt to make sense of my dream of the Foundry. Let me add that I do not believe that such a dream is meant to be taken literally. It would pain me to feel that I was consigning my dead to the fire. If anything, these were the fires which  I passed through.

(the first painting is 12'x12' and is painted on copper mirrored tile; the second is 8'x 10" and consists of a windowpane painted on two sides backed by a mirror; the following two paintings  are 8 x 12" and consist of  two  window panes  painted on both sides backed with a mirror of the same size; the final painting on mirror is 18''x 25")