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".

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