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.
 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

MICHELLE




Nightly,towards twelve
   When the room with its confining walls
    And wreaths of smoke within
    Can not be borne,
     Your car--increasingly geriatric--    
Will carry us non-the-less
   To a collection of outposts,
    Little would-be worlds,
With their own customs,mores,
  Their  native costumes--
  Ranging from jockstraps
    To feathered boas--
Their denizens
   With their secret agendas,
     Their satellites
Spinning in the haze


And as mortality rates
   In avant-garde circles proves high,
     It is all the more astonishing
On such beclouded nights
    To run across this or that  
 Old  nemesis or ally
    In from Paris or L.A.
Some metaphysical circus ramp
    Landing them here
     Among transvestites,
To cult membership confined


X., with  whom I've locked horns
   On the periphery
    Of more scenes than I can classify
Is not dead after all,
   As reported but sports
    A new incarnation
As an entrepeneur
   On a side street
     Which will surely grow chic
Now that he's here,
   Here to summon his minions
    From the four quarters
And control the mindwaves
   Of those whom fashion has made mad.


His nails are well-manicured
   Which once were bitten
    To the quick over a boy
Whose name he's forgotten,
    I remember him, too,
     On the barricades of the 'sixties
Who now affects
  A diacritical deconstruction
   Of a tuxedo from Milan
 As casual wear..
He has taken a shine
   To my companion, little Tito,
Who will slash his own wrists
     Six months hence


Our gossip--
    Concerning whose parental chateau
     Has been blown to smithereens,
Or what shard of glass
    Was put in whose ballet slipper
      At what premiere,
Of who tattoo'd himself where
   Etcetera,
    Is what we secretly rue.
That our period of decadence
    "Begun at birth"
     May seem self -indulgent
To some  (perhaps you,
    the reader I otherwise court)
     I quite understand.
That self destruction
  Is de rigeur  when Utopias fail
And millenia end without rapture
      You may not comprehend.
That X. once put daisies
    In rifle-barrels aimed at him
     And believed that rock n roll
Would crack the gates of Eden open wide
     Seems incredible to me, as well
In a realm of beauty besotted with death.


Tito--who I suspect
   of mixing downers with alcohol--
    has grown lugubrious
    cataloging those of his acquaintance
Who have O'D on heroin
    Or crystal meth,
      Died in gang-wars
Or thanks in one case
    To auto-erotic axphixiation misfired,
In another to S and M
     Prolonged to excess,
     Not longer a game.

This plainly bores X.
   who has heard it each season since '66
When he hung out with Warhol.
   It makes him, indeed,
    Positively reptilian--with ennui?
(Or does he foresee
    The unsanguinary scene
      In the bathtub?
I will wonder, later,
   Recalling what he says next:)

"That girl over there
   In the black leather halter top
    And leather garters
Is neither a girl or a guy.
   If you think you are lonely,
    meet Michelle, a hermaphrodite
With residual male genitals,
    You wouldn't exactly call it a dick
      Said Bobby,
To whom she gave VD .
 I won't forget
   The first time I heard him --or her--
    Her voice a low  ghostly alto
Exactly between him and her
   --Not campy at all
     Like a drag queen's
But recognizable in an instant
   Because the hairs on your neck
     Stood upward
And you felt  you were about to remember
   A bad dream that you'd forgotten.
   It was unique but not a Eunuch's
    (And I have met some in Egypt)
Though naturally
   It brought to mind
     That old Victrola recording
        Of the last surviving castrato
Made in 1905


"The last time I saw her
   Was in DC
    When she wept in a gutter
Having been kicked out
   Of the lesbian caucus
    And before that,
The Black Panthers
--She severely disturbed  Bobby Seale--
Also the Gay Activist Alliance
   --There had been scenes
    on the stairs of the Winter Palace--
The Womyns group loathed her
   --she had hit on some sister
    in a horrid male way
At a symposium  on clitoral massage.
In short, she'd been kicked  out
   On her polymorphous perverse ass
    From every coalition or caucus
 Which ever existed,
    A freak among freaks.
If  she can survive, so can you."

(illustrations:portraits of John Rothermell and  David Brinzenhofe by Peter Hujar)

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 immune
  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.