Nov 29, 2011

The 4 Pitfalls

There are 4 things to watch out for in life. Allegorically, they are: Tigers, Poisons, Storms and Gardens.

Tigers are predatory individuals. They are spurned lovers, manipulative acquaintances, and the like. Poisons obviously represent health concerns- to ward off this one you eat healthy and actually go outdoors. It often takes years to see the damage. Storms are much bigger cultural events. Political unrest certainly qualifies as a 'storm'. Even potentially positive things can have this effect on a person. Gardens are really tricky. Gardens are situations that lull you into a state of calm, which can be great for the moment. Unfortunately, they can also allow you to dismiss your more curious spirit and creative energy.

It's almost December now, a time when I feel this pull very much. Maybe some would think I'm odd for thinking of gardens as pitfalls, but most of the meaning in my life comes from things I create- things I have to get up and do, dream up, fight against doubt, not from the place where I clock in (not that there's anything wrong with that!).

I thought I'd share this little big of personal mythology. It really helped me to organize potential negative effects when I had a "tiger" in my life. I found to look at him in this way made him a little smaller and the pain easier to bear. It reminded me that these situations happen literally to billions of people, and that it's not so novel after all. I suppose it helped me not take things personally.

Sep 16, 2011

Fixing a hole where the rain gets in

When Hurricane Irene's rains hit Richmond, they caused a minor leak where the newly installed Sean Scully painting was hanging and so it was temporarily removed. Today, I went to check on it and found it returned to the wall. I spent about 20 minutes looking at it and felt the time fly by.

I think it's important to have more conversations about what we think about when we look at art. What actually goes through your mind? I have a suspicion that a lot of folks project a great deal onto the work without letting it impact them too greatly. I also suspect that when I see or hear people get frustrated with a piece, that's them just beginning to allow the piece of art into their consciousness. You can look at a painting and get a sense that it's really offering something to you but maybe you try to put that emotion into words too quickly and it shuts down. And you get angry. I bring all of this up because I have had some trouble talking off the cuff about art despite my studies. And because I see such a disconnect between the people I know who have studied art (or who know someone closely who has) and people who have not.

It's like a language barrier. I find it so frustrating! Not against anyone, but frustrating due to my own inability to communicate the gravity of what I'm looking at. Paintings like the one I looked at today an escape hatch to a place where you can look back out at the world, so not exactly escaping....but...see? Stupid, words. In other words, it would make sense to me if Sean Scully and other contemporary artists were revered in a more populist way. I imagined running out behind the art museum to the first person I saw, grabbing their hand and saying, "Come quickly, you have to see this". Not just because that would be hilarious, but because really, it deserves this kind of treatment.

But I've gotten off-track. Here's my best to describe what went through my head while looking at the monumental Sean Scully painting. Not because I am enlightened in any way but as an act of disclosure:

Giant painting! Then I noticed the triptych format, all three butted together. There are some weird spatial things happening at the top and bottom of the middle piece. They recede. I thought about the word, "impasse". Then I thought about the sky and landscapes. And how the top part could easily stand as it's own as a muted horizon. An American landscape of a distant sleepy town. I noticed the scale of the brush marks. All about 3". How he worked back into colors so there was a glowing effect to some parts. Especially the "white/grey" set. Then I thought about yellow ochre and how it does something very peculiar to me. Grounded, energetic, satiated. I thought about the three parts and how they had different temperaments and how if my mom were there I'd ask her which one reflected the most how she felt. I decided the right one was most like me at the moment. There was a lot of vertical pressure at the top. I imagined the middle piece as a stage persona. And the different expressions of black, some very bluish and I got lost in those for a while. Then I focused on this weird brushstroke in the middle of the painting and another in the upper right. How did that mark get made??? Then they receded. Some people walked in and I got self-conscious. I spent a lot of time finding groupings and patterns and letting them wash over me. And kept returning to the glowing blue around some of the stripes. I felt a certain intimidation from the red and black stripes in the very middle (stage persona) and noticed how they seemed figurative or at least sculptural. I thought about signs and why those longer thinner stripes seemed to signify a passage of some kind. The vertical ones and the horizontal ones would mean passage through different aspects, like one for time and one for space. I inwardly rolled my eyes at myself for thinking that way. I feel a connection to whoever created this- I feel so relieved to see the evidence not only of the hand but of a brain working around this space in the same way. Just moving around the space, considering color, considering marks. Painting reflects the world in a way that's neither high nor low. I imagined being surrounded by an encompassing wall of Sean Scully painting. Then I reminded myself that's not what I'm looking at, THIS is what the artist gave me. THIS is what I'm looking at. I couldn't stop thinking about the word "abutment". Because that was one thing that seemed to carry a great deal of meaning but I couldn't put into words why. I didn't really like any of the answers I could come up with. They seemed too definite. Too located. Too separate from the painting, such as: the sudden dramatic change of form and mark evokes the kind manner in which change affects our own lives. Barf, I thought. But still it is meaningful despite my inability to build a sentence around it. Don't push so hard. Just keep looking. Despite my reminder to myself, I thought about faith and how in abstraction there is so often this density, this 'hahaha' fluctuation of foreground and background. Faith, in the sense you know the answer to everything is probably right there but you can never quite reach it. A deliberate withholding. Every so often I would just become overwhelmed by the overall presence of the piece again but I could never hold onto that idea for very long. It was almost an animal or hormonal feeling, like I got startled by it all over again. I let it wash over me for a moment longer and then left.

There are dozens of fragmentary thoughts stuck in there too like: tapestry, earthiness, ground, sense of flight but stable- what the hell, passing through or looking down??, prison bars, contained but not trapped, and on and on.

That's all. Just do it! I suggest everyone go find a painting that makes you raise an eyebrow and spend at least 20 minutes looking at it.

Aug 19, 2011

Boom, shaka...laka?

When I speak their language I fail
See me drift mid-sentence
Know where I am headed:

Between pages, between glances (how geometry was born)
Past that blinding light, there must be something to see
once your eyes adjust
The energy within and the energy around
Places your waking life has stolen
Something inside, something that must be freed
A rotten edifice that must be destroyed
A celebration hall, festooned but uninhabited
An abandoned house, deep within the woods
The flickering of light on the leaves
dancing, almost mocking
as they obscure but become your vision
A bed of many fabrics, an array of elixirs
Make-believe, a silly place, a sudden place
a realization, a recognition
a premonition, a pattern writ
A space destroyed with a wave
of an indelicate hand
A radical light, a power
A skeptic searching for a potent spell
Where any object can take on this living quality
this breathing color
This THING, this thing that sneaks up on me
This strange beauty that lurks around the corner
This shape-shifter of meaning, this house of lunatic potentials
and renegade spectrums and spectral renegades
You and I, the only eyes
You and I, the spark, the source
You and I, so patient, so HUNGRY

Apr 29, 2011

Picasso at the VMFA, notes, thoughts, etc part 2

So I tried to approach the Picasso show with fresh eyes. I ignored most of the biographical content in order to simply look and respond to the work. The first piece that I felt a deeper engagement with was a painting of 2 bubbly abstracted figures copulating on what appeared to be a desolate seashore. The copulation wasn't sensual it was more violent, like they were attacking each other. What was so striking to me was the transformation of the scene. The background is simplified but not abstracted in the same sense as the figures. To me, this created a dissonance that was both exciting and melancholy. That doesn't seem to translate at all in this little jpeg. That dissonance really traps the figures in time in a way that seemed eerily familiar and somewhat ugly.

Two other pieces affected me in a similar way: there was a painting of a light in a wine bottle juxtaposed with a goat skull figure. He painted the emanating light from the candle in the wine bottle. Next to the painting was a sculpture of the same scene but with the rays of light made into physical brutal spikes. This represented to me another brutal transformation of the known physical, experienced world into limbo. I distinctly got the impression with these pieces that I was seeing a wholly realized, if terrifying, alternative reality. Not just the idea of an alternative reality, the actual thing. Like I had a portal to it.

Picasso at the VMFA, notes, thoughts, etc

First of all, I'm not entirely sure Virginia is ready for 1910 based on the conversations I overheard. For example: "Well, TO ME, that just doesn't look like it should be in a museum". To me, that just shows that you're completely unaware of what it is an artist is trying to do. Drawing is thinking through the hand. Picasso's drawings are of interest because you can see that thought process in a stripped down form. Also, *BACKHAND*.

This is not to say I don't have questions, concerns, preoccupations with the show also. Unfortunately, I can't seem to separate my personal studio preoccupations with what I'm seeing at the museum. So let me get that out of the way and come back around to the show....

It's a problem of purity, a problem of everything's permitted so therefore nothing seems to matter in particular. This feeling is not limited to the studio. Within the studio, this is translating into a problem differentiating art from fashion. The general distinction is simple and well-understood: art carries meaning where fashion carries superficial contemporary aesthetics. But the specific is tricky, as always.

I'm craving a method, a recipe. I'm tired of what feels like random achievement. At the same time I am wary of abstraction with a system behind it. I'm also feeling very seduced by contemporary fashion. It just happens to reflect back my own sensibilities. In 5 years I'll be out of fashion, it's just coincidence, the wheel turning. Unfortunately, my own yearning for meaning manifests as an urge to mythologize. It's very hard for me not to jump straight from that urge into primitivism and symbolism. I keep hovering around the native american and Ife exhibits at the museum like some kind of nerdy ghost. Of course, this sort of thing happens to be in fashion right now. Are you feeling my frustration yet?? It does seem important not to be reactionary also.

Part 2 after work...where I will bring this all around to Picasso, I swear.