Tuesday, April 22, 2014


I would like to record accurately for once a view I see every day.
It is the tree-shaded lawn leading to what is too large to be called
a pond and too small to be called a lake, where my grandpa watered
his cows when this land was part of a farm thirty years past.
 Now across the field which borders us on three sides is a development,
shady and not at all raw, for which I am glad. A hedgerow follows
the length of the gravel road leading to the house which my father
and brothers built almost as a jeux d'esprit on the concrete
foundations of an old barn.  The house is peculiar, improvised,
homely and large, but pretty,too, I find, driving down the long
road to it, surrounded as it is with mimosas, crepe myrtles,
and great oaks, nestled in a concavity of a slope at the edge
of a field, with a remnant half acre of of woods at one edge
 next to the pond, itself surrounded by old maples

 But this is not the scene that I wish to depict. It is the
view from the house across the lawn with its oaks to the
pond surrounded by maples and an occasional white birch
that I am trying to see. I am seated on my couch in
my studio in the upper floor of the house.  Just below
my window is the upper floor studio variation of this view but my
back is turned to it to test my memory on something nearby.
What interferes is the composite image of days and nights.

My ideal "platonic" view is not of this hour--it is
barely afternoon--but at dusk, at a time during sunset and
its aftermath, on one of those days which occur each season
when the ordinary merges without transition into the
spectacular, when pure cerulean meets moulten gold
and then is subsumed in a thousand slow shades.

There is a Rubens which depicts the sun at dawn seen through
the fretwork of a forest in which the sun is a stroke of
raw titanium white. I get the opposite  each night, the sun
rolling under a forest which seems to store a residue of
light in coral pink and gold streaked umber. The pond,
furthermore, reflects light long after the source is gone, as if
the vestigial light has learned the secret of a half-life or
a life hereafter.

The shadows of the oaks are emerald becoming cobalt blue,
then a black which is a distillation of the green, a kind
of lacquer. But where the rural streetlight shines,
 cast through shadowed leaves, the lawn is chartreuse,
almost phosphorescent, as if the yellows on a palette
have been incompletely mixed  with blue and have not
become what they would.

Each blade of grass bristles with this artificial
nocturnal color. They are almost too pointedly
detailed  in contrast with the blue black of the

The pond, meanwhile, has tried on every scale of the
opal. The sunset has illumined in flemish detail first one
patch then another of the woods, as if they are being scanned
and developed before one's eyes to then emerge  en masse
with the silhouettes of trunks, branches, leaves, dark  but
still distinct.

If it is July or August, then the intolerable torpor of a long
hot afternoon begins to subside, or better still, to gather
into a storm. The fireflies are out,electrical, and flash out
intermittently, now and again in sequence, so it seems,
or more rarely in unison .The leaves begin to stir and the
oaks to sway. The sky is sullen, and darkens with
a look unlike nightfall, more like wrath. A rogue wind
rises and spirals, clockwise or counterclockwise, it
doesn't matter.  It is meant to agitate the roses,
as if to say, the vegetative life is not enough, there
is anarchy to be had.The exaltation of a mob smashing
windows .

It is then the first bolt of lightning flashes, and the scene
is printed in negative for a second, and again in intervals
impossible to predict, as the thunder roils , or cracks
so viscerally it might be the nearest tree executed
via electrocution, too close for comfort.

I am on a swing, who likes the moment when the rain falls
like a vertical curtain, and if I am struck dead this would be
just, even characteristic. But this does not occur though
the downpour is as fierce a force as one could ask for,
dispersing lassitude in a sudden flood which enlivens the

How long this lasts is variable, but gradually  a
 diminuendo effect occurs as the storm passes over
or vents itself. We are still streaked with lightning, true,
but  with  wisps of lightning  compared with the Jovian
bolts that began.

I know that it is done when the bullfrogs surface.
A serenade for bassoons in the new cool. The
fish are also curious. An adventurous flop into
midair and out can be heard, perhaps to measure
the wider breadth, the  one or two inches the down
pour has added to the pond.

As for me, I can not say why but I am more aware
after such a storm of the surrounding life, the turtles in
the slime,  the snake in the grass, the tribe of
rabbits reconnoitering the vegetable garden,
alas, fenced in. I can feel the mice in the field where
hay is grown, and the surveillance of the owl,
which is keen.  I am aware, also, of trucks on
 the highway,and the road, and of the little town asleep,
and another hundred little towns asleep on the road.
Of houses with porches with rocking chairs on them,
and family graveyards in a corner of a field,
of rural churches, and service stations closed for
the night lit by a neon sign, and of travellers in
bus stations sleeping on a hard wooden bench or drinking
a cup of bad coffee as they wait for the bus
to Knoxville, or Memphis, or  far beyond.

(from a journal of 1997)

Thursday, April 17, 2014


 The Year Zero was done in 2007 as a study for  the set of the crucifixion section of a
performance of the Bach Johannes Passion. It is based on photographs of the ossuaries
of the remains of those dead at the hands of the Khymer Rouge. In one of the photographs that
I worked from, there are three small children looking over a fence into the pen
where these bones lie. I have sometimes wondered what they thought..
 The choice of such subject matter was prompted by the New Testament description of
Cavalry as a "gehenna" or Hell, the place of the crucifixion being described as  shaped
like a skull. (And, indeed, the vernacular Phillips translation describes it as "Skull Hill").
On a deeper level, I wanted to interrogate my own relationship to atrocity.
 In my youth, I had  broached near anorexia over the course of my twenty-fourth and twenty fifth years ,
trying to comes to terms with my  incomprehension of the Nazi death camps. My sense of ethical incongruity
was severe enough that I gradually started starving myself, and indeed starvation became a kind of addiction, with addiction's downward  pull to oblivion. The Well Tempered Clavier of Bach was one of the things that aroused  me from this  state, and years later I felt that I might  brave my questions again in Bach's trusted company.

It was a perilous enterprise, I now see in retrospect. The painting is done of four different layers of screening, 
with  the skulls  on the horizon started first, the skulls in the more remote mid ground added to them, the skulls in the forward mid ground added to them, and the skulls on the foreground added to them. In brief, I found myself orchestrating a sea of skulls. 

What was distressing was how each skull  on inspection became a missing personality, whose life had  come to a foul end.  

What was different from the horror of my youth was the horror of adulthood, or a growing sense of complicity with these terrible deeds. I have never murdered anyone in actuality, but often  in my heart. Somehow, though this is impossible to demonstrate, I feel sure that this is my part in  abetting

Certainly, this came home to me while painting this painting, and I wept often doing it, which is unusual for me.

The intense migrainous sensation of doing it is also something I recall, though this now seems serio-comical.
Throughout the process   my  cranial-fissures were felt keenly, like tectonic plates migrating grindingly apart.
And when, in a moment of discovering a way of rendering the skulls more rounded---an instance of technique losing its relationship to the subject matter--I plunged my brush into the paint can of vermillion, and accidentally cracked   the brush- handle. 
This jolted me from my moment of aesthetic pleasure, and I recalled how the first  photographic documentarians of Auschwitz found themselves composing shots to distance themselves from the "subject matter".

I am entirely unconvinced, for that reason, that one might  claim that  art can act as testimony to atrocity. The instances
where it is an expression of vehement indignation seem to me to be almost an unintentional disclaimer on the part of the artist,as if to say,  in this I am an innocent.And as an innocent, I accuse you. But to speak of myself alone, I am not an innocent in my heart , and this knowledge extends  the questions I  may put to history or another people to the questions I  must put to my own heart. In the matter of atrocity, I must also stand among the accused  if I wish to change myself. Sorrow is another matter. And in sorrow and contrition, I  may find  some connection with humanity.
(The Year Zero; 2007)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Periodically,fate--or some distorted reflection of Providence-- serves up a mansion to me.
It is always huge, and I am always welcomed as a honored guest.  This should make me
'happy, but whether the mansion is owned by a Baroness, or Sufis, or a Hollywood
producer with some connection to "revolutionaries" or Cyber-punks, it is always
'inhabited by zanies.

If deja vu is merely the body's recollection of a certain texture--say, a sidewalk--
or a rhythm--such as the rhythm of sitting shotgun in an automobile up a bend
of the  road at a certain grade, one might naturally wonder, even so, for
the mansion is always located up a certain bend in the road at a certain grade as
the previous mansions. There is always the green velvet presence of  Italian
cyprus and blue firs en route. The gateway--approached at the twilight hour--
the door--tudor or medieval--and the mansion only appears after a period
of voluntary solitude, the soul's necessity.

That it represents twin wishes--the desire for the magic circle, the temptation
of a group identity--has grown increasingly apparent.  I remember "the Winter
Palace", the Baronesses' spread in Santa Fe, the Sheikh's American digs..
mullioned and bevelled, the carpets thick.There is, despite marked differences
in the locales a certain note of the salon, something fin de sciele
and trop Lalique about each of them. But perhaps this reflects nothing
more than a taste for the etiolated among rich intellectuals.

And this may be why they like me.


Thursday, April 10, 2014


In 1996-7, I did a number of geometrical paintings on two mirrors facing each other at forty-five degree

These were meant to be studies, but as is my weird wont, they got deeper than my initial
intentions.  The very first of these is this black piece. It is primitive--I "drew" with tape,
 then painted, then painted on top of the painting. It was meant to be a corner piece, and
it seems to take a piece out of the room and put it somewhere else.

The later paintings in this series were painted first with a brilliant yellow or orange undercoat, which can be seen  when light hits the mirrors at a certain angle; it gives them a peculiar glow. I did about twenty one of these over a summer, but they proved mortal beyond belief, and only ten have survived ntact-- a gale detached a door in a storage unit, destroying a number of them. Viewing the wreckage I had the sense of a clean hollow at my center--but there is nothing to do but pick up the pieces, and sigh to the night, and wake with a new resolve at dawn.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


When you took me dripping from  the vat
  what I felt was not birth pangs, rather
a sullen sense of becoming particular,
     a lump with a weight  but not  a shape
at another remove from Mother Earth

Sat on a wheel and stared at
  I could not look back,
but suddenly  subjected to inertia---
 (who could be sure?)
under the pressure of hands
  I could do nothing but comply
  leaving nature
to enter history, as it were,
a  bit of identity
  out for a spin

O revolution! A space
  began to hollow out
   where my center once was,
and then a mouth,
   a base due south,
and far north
  of finger corrugated walls
  made smooth by palms
     a lip

What I would be--
   elongated vase or
   bosomed amphora
  or cookie jar---
I scarcely had time
   to wonder;
if I'd be slim or stout,
 crowned with a top
  or given handles
though a matter of concern
  was quite outside my control
  dizzy as I was

Very well, then, I thought,
  I'm done;at last
that infernal
  whirling's over:
  what's this?
an unguent is spread upon
  the form  I am
and seeps
  into my pores

And on a tray
    with barely recognized
cousins? siblings?
  I pass through a curtain of fire
  where an angel stands guard
who will not release me
 from the blaze
   until the will
 of the hand is fast.

(Dec.10 1996)

Monday, April 7, 2014


 I seem  chronically  unable to make work which can be  straightforwardly reproduced.
 This " baroque mirror" from 1995 will serve as an example. It is meant to be a work in which the viewer
appears--but not the photographer. He is someone I would gladly eliminate entirely, but it is an effort to
disappear myself. I thought about sheeting myself in a white shroud, but this seemed  fantasticated.

 No more so,perhaps, than the thesis of this piece itself, which was to condense a baroque ceiling--including a dome--onto a sheet of mirror. I  wanted to blur the painting and the mirror in such a way as to almost erase the place where the one ends and the other begins.. For this reason , I used  a neutral palette
consisting of a flat white spray painted through lace onto which details in flat black, gloss black, gloss gun metal grey, metallic silver, and gloss white were added in increments.
The lace through which I shot the " skeleton  image" was from a curtain for a baby's room, and featured smiling teddy bears holding balloons reading, "it's a boy" . This is my baroque mirror's preposterous origin.

 Another working  proposition  was  that if you take horror vacui far enough, it cancels
itself. Whether this is true or not, the piece makes a more unified impression--I hope--in person than in these
 I only did a few such pieces. They were an extreme that I backed away from.    

There was also the superstitious sense of being watched from the other side of the mirror by my dead---if a superstition may be understood as a notion not quite believed but entertained none-the-less. I was perhaps doomed to be haunted, then, and not only by my dead  but by lace teddy bears holding balloons.

This was done at roughly the same time as The  Black Mirror (for James Merrill) which was, however, done on thick plate glass.  I no longer remember which was done first, but both had been preceded by a number of studies on either window panes or small mirrors, and were to be the last flat pieces on glass or mirror that I did. They would be followed by a  larger number of paintings on  double or triple mirrors, but the slickness of  a glass surface was one which never quite appealed to my hand,  unlike working on aluminum  screening---which requires a fastidious lightness--or paper--where I can exalt in exactitude. This may sound odd, but glass--which can be revised, scrapped off ,or painted over--- forgives me a little too much.  

(A Baroque Mirror; 1995; the mirror is 29" x 40", and is photographed from right to left, then left to right, and then in different sections)

Friday, April 4, 2014


During the early and mid 1980's we used to dance every Saturday night--or rather,  every early Sunday morning--at the Paradise Garage, a dance palace which was an automotive garage during the weekdays. This was in lower Manhattan, not far from our loft in Soho.

  We--my lover, Michael. and I--would wake at  1:30 or 2:00 in the morning, drink coffee so strong a spoon could stand in it, take an herbal remedy called "Chi power" which was supposed to be a natural amphetamine,roll other herbal remedies, and head out--our hearts racing for obvious reasons--to the Garage.

En route, the streets were largely empty, but occasionally some or another hulking male beauty (broadway dancer, ballet dancer, modern dancer, weightlifter, swimmer) could be
spied hastening to the bare lightbulb and corrugated tin door that lead to the ramp which lead to the ticket office--only club members admitted!--and from there to the entry room where many gorgeous semi-nude
dancers stood on the periphery of the dance floor, and from there to the dance floor, and a protracted
ecstasy of being subsumed in the rhythm of hiphop under the  hypnogogic tutelage of DJ Larry Levan.

For me, a furrowed intellectual  (deep into weightlifting, none-the-less) it was a  revelation, and I took
as much pride when the best dancers of Brooklyn admitted me into their  clan  as I did when a
Pulitzer prize winning poet complimented a poem of mine.

I had come into this rejuvenescent quasi-adolescent realm late, in my '30's. My '20's had
been squandered in philosophical quandaries and bouts of metaphysical anguish, and I was bent
on making up for lost time. My relationship with M. was what might be described as a highly
corrupted monogamy, moreover--more than once  this or that rivetting satellite on the dance floor
ended up in our bed, undergoing a drugged menage a trois to the Faure Barcarolles in the later
part of the morning. It was joy until it ceased to be fun.

The Paradise Garage has entered art history as the purview of Keith Haring, who we often saw there
in his unmistakable glasses, writhing among the black boys.  Much of his iconography was inspired
by the dancers on the dance floor.Those crowds of jiggling pictograms began there.

We would also see Robert Mapplethorpe cruising the bar, looking like a camera on its tripod himself,
 his legs akimbo, scanning the crowd for his next model. A great many of the models of his
photographs were found there, and some I knew.

There was a time when those shining hours palled. I remember when the reprise of a song heard too often
suddenly halted me. I was tired of this particular aquarium. News of the Virus was spreading, furthermore, not so fast as the Virus, alas, but enough to graze  our circle. The sight of someone adored from afar grown suddenly gaunt,of one and then another rapid disappearance from the scene was cause to re-think easy love, to  investigate pre-cautionary measures, to restrict the magic circle, and--in my case--to step out of it altogether. Suddenly, I became a caregiver rather than a boyfriend.

Many years later, I dreamed of the Paradise Garage. It was a part of Paradise, just as it had been advertised, the part of paradise where to be young, beautiful, and queer is sacred. I saw an array
of faces (and bodies, for that matter) not to be forgotten.  Some internal camera of my own had recorded
them, the ten thousand thousand lovers.

I remembered Keith Haring,too, and decided to make a scroll of the thousands on the dance floor using
pictograms as a friendly nod to him.  Allan Mc Collum's rooms of  thousands of slightly variable objects
was another inspiration--one of my objectives was never to duplicate a pictogram.

The pictogram drawings underwent a number of permutations.  At first they happened on a grid.

Later, I made them into  something which I hoped would shimmer the way calligraphy in Arabic shimmers on a Mirhab.

At times, I experimented with how many pictograms I could get on a small piece of paper.

Or if I could put a series of drawings inside another.

Or if I could layer a drawing over another one.

This and the drawing  below it are layered over a grid/pictogram

The four drawings which follow this are  colored over a two layer grid/pictogram

. Below is a four layered pictogram drawing. As in polyphonic music, the questions is how many "voices" can be orchestrated and "heard"--how legible is the first and second and third layer in relationship to the fourth?

I also did a series of pictographic drawings on two layers of aluminum screening that had been enameled white; below is one.
These were not done to a recitation of the names of Allah, but are more Buddhist in origin--- each pictogram represents a prayer for all sentient beings.  These were begun in 2009 and resumed intermittantly through  2012.