Thursday, January 30, 2014


Blue Nereid is a four  layered piece  made of  painted aluminum screening;
each layer is painted with a different but related image; each layer is shaped differently 

it is meant to cast an ambiguous  series of shadows

and to yield a different image from each angle at which it is viewed

to act  somewhat like sculpture

somewhat like painting or even  a  drawing

and then change once again on examination

I did  this  in the spring of 2012; it is about  forty inches long and forty inches wide
and   stands  off the wall at about  a  foot at its deepest, and no more than  an
inch off its edges.  I think of her--for she seems feminine to me--
 as being  the Nereid Leto in the Odyssey, who lent the wrecked Odysseus  her
 "scarf", as Robert Fitzgerald translates it, so that he could be washed ashore
  after his craft and crew were lost.. This  however,  is the sort of thing
 that must be told, as  it would take a   genuine  psychic to deduce.

Sunday, January 26, 2014


This Maenad, who appears on a wall of the Villa of Mysteries at Pompeii,
has long been an emblem of inspiration for me.  I have usually managed
to have a postcard of her up somewhere, no matter where I have lived.
(There was a time when I lost such a postcard, and there was an odd,
lingering uneasiness to missing her image which I did not quite rid myself of
until I found it again.)
 I associate her with a poem of Goethe's, In Tausend Formen. Here are
a few of its stanzas, which Christopher Middleton put into
Take on a thousand forms, hide as you will
O most beloved, at once I know 'tis you;
Conceal yourself in magic veils, and still,
Presence in All, at once I know' tis you

The cypress thrusting artless up and young,
Beauty-in-Every-Limb, I know 'tis you
The channelled crystal wave life flows along,
All Gentling Tender One I know' tis you.

This presence is something I sense continually, and just as the Maenad
might serve as its emblem, so Goethe's poem might serve as its song.
As a process, it might be described as seeing the Nereid in the
water and the Nymph or Dryad in the wood . It is elusive,
continually changing, shape-shifting, on the margin of appearance.
Certain of paintings or constructions of mine may be described as
nothing more than devices for sensing this presence, or
as records of my sensing of it. This is less singular,
and less pathological than it might seem to those who
do not envision this way, but it is a strong feature of
Dante's poetics in the tweltth century, and of Eugenio Montale's
in the twentieth. In painting, I would hazard to
describe it as the moment when something "abstract"
flickers or to distills itself into the  "figurative". (But I
dislike this terminology, which seems irrelevant to me:
I have always inwardly doubted whether there is
really much difference between them, other than focus:
if we do not know what it is, it is "abstract"; if we can recognize
it .it is "realistic").
This is one of the most recent "Nereids", done on four layers
of aluminum screening. it was done in 2012.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


In the fall of 2010 , I became obsessed with FW  Murnau's film version of  Faust, which was done
 in 1926. This photograph depicts Mephistopheles--who is played by Emil Jannings--
unfolding his dark wings over Nurnberg.
. I studied this part of the film repeatedly before making  what was to prove
an over-literal copy of  the sequence--the wings sequenced nicely on the layers of
aluminum screening,, it is true,  so that they did seem to unfold-- but my Mephisto-face
looked like something from "Batman". As a result, I decided to transform the wings
into relief-pieces. of which this is the first.

It is done on three layers of aluminum screening  using sign painter's 
enamel and a special metallic blue spray paint I am only able to find 
at autobody repair shops.
this is a detail of the upmost part..
the second version is shown here.

this is the moon who was once the face of Emil Jannings.

and this is the upmost part of this version.

I was pleased with these pieces but not satisfied
so I did a third version, as large as them both together.
this is a detail of the third version's lower half; unlike
its siblings, it is done on four screens and is darker
and perhaps more ominous as a consequence.
it  is also deeper,  standing  about 8 inches off the wall,
so that the moon  changes to a much greater degree
in relationship to the position of the viewer. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


In addition to chopping up those hobbled drawings of sad thought, I decided to in some
cases to weave them together. I wanted to make something  in which one was not sure
where one thing ended and another began.


I had a bad period as an artist in my early forties. It was as if my hand had gone wrong, or
I had lost the way. Looking back, it is understandable:the AIDS crisis had compelled me
to renounce whatever was easy in my own personal mysticism, and for a while I struggled
to see again. My reading changed:it was no longer anthropology, religion, poetry, but
history and science. Also I abjured what for lack of better terms might be called  "the circus'--
the dancers, and choreographers, and shamans, and Sufis, and artists, and witchdoctors,
and Tibetan Buddhists etc., which had been my milieu in Soho. I put myself
into hard labor landscaping. For a while I was a foreman at a nursery. This proved a
better means of contending with sorrow than metaphysics.I sweated it off.

Years later, I went through the drawings of the time. Not all were bad, but some limped on
hobbled feet. And so it was that I decided to chop them up, and turn them into something else.
This was accompanied by the most delicious feeling of releasing the sad thoughts of that
time and transforming them into something else. This was in 2010. I call them
my "Rope Tricks."

Monday, January 20, 2014


By dawn we had reached the village 
        where the festival was to take place.
Greeted by itinerant musicians 
        playing something like klezmer music,
We were soon surrounded by shamans 
      with headdresses like juke-boxes
         made of tinsel and feathers,
feathered boas around their robes the color of sorbets,     
       all of them shaking marachas.
Lead to a small chapel from which billowed copal smoke,
      its lineaments obscured 
     by smoke, jukeboxes, feathers,
as honored guests, we were compelled by etiquette
     to sing a phonetic anthem  with ten dozen choruses.
The dialect was unknown 
     to the anthropologist who accompanied us,
      as well as to the barrio shaman--call him "Mario"--
    acting as our interpreter.
The former supposed 
       that it was some synchronous paean 
     to assorted demiurges, saints.
I wished it was "Yankee,Go Home."
Some whim or intuition
     had lead me to wear a business suit,
     trusting that it  act as a prophylactic measure
    and keep the gods at bay.
This was only partially successful.
     Repelled by my cologne,
     they did not pass
      the threshold of my conciousness,
taking possession of me 
     (as they did my junior colleagues)
instead crawling at my feet like lizards, hissing
    with forked tongues imprecations
    whose import--though in Nahuatl--
     did not escape me.
Your gods are demons, I thought,
    picking my way through the cow dung.
Strictly local, they delight
   when an afternoon knife fight
      ends in shed blood.
It pleases them that
    some wretched widow thereby
     fulfills a destiny slated
 from day one of becoming
     a mater dolorosa hocking pig parts,
that children are hitched 
      like donkeys to a spindle
    which makes the merry go round go around.
In a circle of peyote takers with a look
   of ecumenical bliss straight from California
     danced the anthropologist, his loopy grin
confirming my hatred of the ineffable.
The book he'd write later
     lead to tenure, and a second Volvo.

(the illustration is of an Asmat body mask now in the DeYoung)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

A BLACK WINDOW(for James Merrill)

(this is a full view done in a dim light; it is almost impossible to photograph due to the reflections)
A BLACK WINDOW (for James Merrill)

Word of James Merrill's death reached me shortly after I had returned to North Carolina.
I was startled by this--I had just  received a postcard from him, which now seemed a message
from further afar.

 This was at time--the first decade of the AIDS crisis-- in which the membrane between
 the living and the dead seemed stretched thin.. I had grown  haunted by mirrors and the sense of unseen presences there. No doubt this was prompted by  Cocteau, whose Orpheus falls through a mirror, and Alice in Through the Looking-glass, which was my sacred book in the fourth-grade. JM  also had a hand in this, I am sure, as he and his lover, David Jackson,place a mirror on a  chair during one of their sessions with their familiar spirit, Ephraim,which appears in "The Book Of Ephraim",in order that their familiar spirit "see" them from the other side. (The results might be described as an erotic necromancy).

 As a result,I had begun to paint on mirrors during this time--whether as  messages to the dead or as a means of mitigating  that sense of unseen presence I could not be sure. There is nothing like being bereft for
making superstitions.In JM"s case, this was vastly complicated by The Changing Light at Sandover,
his "ouija board trilogy", which is an intricate narrative and exegesis on the subject of the life after
death, as reported from years of  seances at the Ouija board .I was quite enchanted with it before
my friends began dying, but these actualities greatly altered my perspective.

Never-the-less, it was a great privilege to have known Merrill,  and this painting--on a large
plateglass window--was my act of mourning him. The process was suggested by a poem of
his called "Some Negatives: X at the Chateau", which begins:

      "Where skies are thunderous, by a cypress walk
       Copied in snow, I have you:or
       Sitting by the water-jet that here
       Is jet. You could be an Ethiop with hair
       Powdered white as chalk
       Instead of simple diffidence on her tour
      Of monuments. Yet these first
       Images of images I shall keep,
       Once they have testified, immersed
       In a mild lethe, to what you really are..."

This is why the painting was done in black::it is a negative, or the reverse-side, and  the
process of painting glass black is paradoxically to turn it into a form of a mirror. I
imagined a great fete in heaven on JM"s arrival--which, alas, I could only see in
negative. Because it was a window, I began first by spray painting a flat black
enamel through lace on both sides to create a kind of curtain. Then I painted a
variation in glossy black enamel, and then another variation in white enamel,
and another variation in silver. Finally, I used a deep ultramarine blue to play off the
"negative"--my blue way back to the living.
a  detail of the  center

a detail of the  right side bottom; below is a shot from a  left angle--one of the curious traits of this piece is that it appears to be carved in a shallow relief  when seen in actuality.  The difference between the details done in white and those done in silver enamel is something else that also eludes my camera. This was done in 1995, and  as it was drying I received a copy of JM"s last book in the mail, his posthumous "A Scattering of Salts".

Saturday, January 18, 2014

FOUND ON A SCRAP OF PAPER first I knew everything. Then I looked into your eyes and discovered that I knew nothing at all.
Having crossed deserts following your disappearance, I have learned to extract beauty from sorrow.
In some sense, this  answers my  call.."
(no date)

Friday, January 17, 2014


The time of the Mothers is winter,
   the time of the Crone
   with her age-old question at solstice:
"What have you done with your life?
    Which was the fatal wrong turn
     that let you to this juncture
this bed with cold shroud sheets?
     Chilled to the bone,
there is no answer at midnight or after.
      The clock is ticking,
      self important and squat
pleased with itself at the news
      that Time flies in one direction,
 an arrow shot in the forest
      as a hunter stalks by moonlight
      an enigmatic deer:
there, over  an ice-lake,
      into deep thickets
over a creek it is madness to cross,
     far from the lighted porch.

He will see it in every shadow
     in the wind and the snow
and travel great lengths to pursue it,
     and never find his way home

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


Consider the expert in his private Library
   who at his desk with its good lamp
         and its bronze copy of a Hermes
    has filtered through all accounts of the pre-literate Belorussians
      and their counterparts, the painted  Scythians
      comparing them in a footnote
   to the more distant Lats,
this in a paragraph of his vast
    "Patterns in Comparative Religion" .
     His is a text I peruse, inconsolable,
as I try to picture your journey, well under way,
     and for all I know
          without the co-ordinates of Time and Space.
 his book was one I admired once,
and aspired to rival its euridition
        with my own  in late night studies
       and by lamplight at noon,
   the curtains drawn, like Faustus,
           in search of a key.
Consequently, I am able to follow the authorial motions
    as he strives to wear his robes lightly
           among the debris,
even as the figments of an Afterlife
     man-made and fictitious
         sprawl like a growing suburb in my brain.
Touring them in a mood such is as felt in a museum
     on a rainy day, I have discovered
time and again is to fall
     without volition
         into the collective frieze of Babel.
That sinking sensation is culture and its hierarchies
      a ritual lasting ages and consisting of armies:
         you might be a flea on an urn near a cenotaph
           a hieroglyph in a library of papyrus,
ushered in and out of incarnations like changing shirts,
     chained in a oubliette, or merely matter.
  Scanning   my mind for a clue or intuition,
        I find myself on a promontory
         viewing a city wider than the sea,
         its buildings sprouting up like crystals
    to shatter bright as diamonds in the wave.

Saturday, January 11, 2014



Shortly before the fall semester
   of the art school I would go to began,
   a water main  burst late at night in the storage vaults
of the adjourning gallery, a large
   but secondary collection of art.
   The antiquated plumbing proved impossible to staunch
by the time the night watchman  found the Horace Greenloughs
    knee-deep in black water;
    soon the General Washington
modeled on Phidias' giant Zeus at the Acropolis
    (bare to the waist, seated on a dais
     flanked by the eagles of the Republic)
would vanish, along with catacombs
     lined with brown nineteenth century oils,
sepias, aquarelles, Boston Impressionists,
     like the ballroom of the Titanic beneath the tide,
     and when the lights went out
--according to my friend, the nightwatchman--
it felt as if the entire building had tilted
    about to slip into a chasm
       or ocean unlit and chill.
     The main valve shut down,
it was found that the holdings
--all but those works on exhibition--
    were entirely submerged
    and indeed the water had crept even so far
as the stairs to the central rotunda
    where they halted by the velvet ropes
     like a crowd at a premiere.
To remove a vertical lake
 some four underground stories would require
     months of unstinting effort
    said the engineer
called to the site the next day.
   Thus our lifestudies began to the shudder
of hydraulic pumps, a lecture on Monet
     was accompanied by cataracts,
     and sophomoric debates in the coffee shop
by the slow re-emergence of drown objects.
    Needless to say, this hardly concerned us.
       We were busy. With our instructors cheering us on
we would enter a new millenium,
     blurring the distinction between art and life
         in a flurry of manifestos.
Questioned on the subject of the aquatic archaelogy
      going on nearby
      most would reply that it was a pointless effort
and what was lost, historical detritus,
         the academic efforts of the dead
         made with an eye towards a posterity
     which had rightfully forgotten them.
We did not know of the rise and fall of schools
     or of the many manifestos even then dissolving under water.