Monday, November 16, 2020

Village Disco: Closed/Open

I'm moving to the New Orleans Review!

I had to look back to find my first Village Disco post because I could not remember when I started writing this blog. It was May of 2015. At the time I was hosting monthly events at a gallery uptown that is now a tee shirt and souvenir shop. These events were literary readings and artist talks combined. I would choose a theme based on the current gallery show and invite the artist(s) and a writer to read and discuss their work. It was awesome. One regular participant (shout out to Neil) suggested I apply for an art writer’s grand and so I did. My proposal was to write a blog, which I had done before in conjunction with an exhibition series I organized in the same space, co-curated (with Kathy Rodriguez and Natalie Sciortino-Rinehart) and wrote about daily for 28 days. I did not get the grant but this blog was born. 

 The name Village Disco came from Bartek who I knew from living in Greenpoint, Brooklyn when it was still a Polish neighborhood. Bartek was complaining about the Polish night clubs in Connecticut (who knew?) where there was also concentration of Polish immigrants. He said these clubs were like...village discos. I loved the phrase. It conjured a place that is doing something urbane or maybe just urban but in a way can’t escape its provincial roots. Like New Orleans. Like me. In this blog space I could write about art without a template, focus on the experience of looking at art,  explore connections between art and life, and according to at least one person, politely complain that I missed New York. 

There were a couple of posts that made wider but still humble rounds, like the one in which I wrote critically of a piece of public art or the one where I gently objected to a local arts writer’s review of a show at NOMA. One post complained about playing music in Julia Street art galleries. For that I was politely confronted by a Julia Street gallery owner who said “You’re the one who doesn’t like music.” Mostly, I just shared these writings with the artists I wrote about. In 2016 I pretty much shut down the blog. I wrote a post about visiting NOMA after the 2016 election, about art soothing the wounded soul. I received an email from Russell Lord at NOMA thanking me for the post. I have reread his email occasionally over the last four years, especially if I feel drained of art purpose or just feel like crap in general. Jeeze, 2016 was four years ago… 

 At some point I decided I would like to write an art column, something like Artforum’s Art Diary, but on a village scale. I told my friend Chris, (my unlicensed life coach) this is what I wanted to do and he urged me to approach The New Orleans Review. By phone the editor Lindsay Sproul and I hammered out the details.

I just finished my first column for NOR, which is about Mail Art and Art about Mail and will be posted soon. So, I am shuttering this venue. If you have been a reader of this blog, thank you. If you are person working in the arts and would like to talk to me or show me your work, you can find me on Instagram @thevillagediso or @emilyfarranto contact me through my website. See you at Village Disco, care of The New Orleans Review.

Hello. Colored Pencil. 2020

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Artificial Light

Patch Somerville
at The Front

I just wanted to get out of the house yesterday. One of the first things I noticed about the day was the sound of rain and the color of the light, blue-grey and reminding me of the Northeast. I met my friend Adam at The Front. In the second gallery there was a show of three light works. I would have said neon but one of the gallery members who was sitting in the gallery (not the artist) said something about it being a new technology. Or maybe LED but don’t quote me on that. I couldn’t refer to a list of works because I was told there wasn’t one. There was no information about the show at all actually but the gallery sitter gave me the name of the artist: Patch Somerville. I have met him on a couple of occasions so I knew that he is a figurative painter and that this work was a departure from the last work of his I had seen. 

Two of the three pieces, one yellow one blue, were simple forms that looked like rectangles in one point perspective hung at picture-on-a-wall height. (This installation choice may relate to the artist’s painting background. The pieces would have looked different, referencing objects more than images had they been on the floor, low on the wall or in a corner.) These two pieces were attractive, but I didn’t really get them. Maybe titles would have helped. I was more interested in the largest piece, a construction of cool white light in the shape of French doors.

I did not really have enough room to look at it. Hoping I did not sound like a jerk I asked the guy who was working on a laptop if he would mind relocating for a moment so I could take his spot on a bench directly across from the piece and as far back as one could get in the small gallery. I was glad I did. Vantage point had a significant effect on this work. I had the small room to myself for a moment. The feeling of the piece changed slightly depending on whether I was standing or sitting.

Now here is the tricky part: where does an artwork end and our experience of it begin? When I write about art I am writing just as much about my idiosyncratic experience of the work, specific to my past, the light of the day, the weather, my mood, all of it. I liked this piece a lot. But I liked it partly because I had not left my house for hours, because of the rain, the meaning of inside/outside on a day like this, at at least least two potent memories of French doors. Finally, and in no small way, I liked this piece because it reminded my of an almost forgotten Rainer Maria song, Artificial Light. When I saw the French windows, I heard in my mind the opening of the song, a jagged chord progression, some minor chords–this intro always gave me a small ache in my gut (or whatever you call two inches below the solar plexus) to hear it. I sat there looking at these windows with all of this baggage and so if you ask me if the artwork was good, I would say I it was good to me. 

I go to art to feel something. This is a tall order in sometimes numbing days. If I have to bring something to the mix to feel it, that’s fine with me. (and all the invisible arcs are caught in my head…)

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Are We Really Here?

Cottage, Colored Pencil
I was staying in the beach house belonging to the mother of a friend. The stilted house was in Waveland, Mississippi and I was staying for a week to work  on a book I have been trying to make progress on for two years. 

I had just woken up from a nap laced with residue of the present COVID reality and the temporal vertigo that can come form writing about the past. I woke like a child, overheated, confused. It was bright and hot outside and I walked away from the water and turned down a street, feeling small near the large houses that stood at strange heights, heights to avoid the storm surge of the next gigantic hurricane. Without the storm surge, with a transplant's enduring estrangement in a culture and landscape shaped by tropical storms (I was raised near woods and hills) the effect of the houses floating over the flat land made me Alice-like in Wonderland. There were no people around. Where were all the people? 

There was a main street with a row of brand new buildings, new since the last gigantic storm. There was no one when I turned on Main Street. Then, on the playground, on the merry-go-round, the most obsolete and poetic of all playground equipment, were two children. I do not have a habit of sentimentalizing children, but these two were quiet and smiled quietly at me. An adult (their father I assumed) sat on one of the benches playing an acoustic guitar. I do not have a habit of sentimentalizing people playing guitars but I could hear a deep and pretty sound and I could feel it vibrating in my ribs. As if that wasn’t already too much, I recognized the song. 

In high school, my friends and I used gather in Ali’s basement and play pool and listen to Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti over and over. The song Bron-Y-Aur, is played on the acoustic guitar and without vocals, may not be recognizable to some as Led Zeppelin. I have always loved this song because of the way it creates an ache for something I cannot (and could never) name, like longing, like a question about belonging.

 In 1970 Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and Robert Plant spent time composing songs and walking in the woods near a cottage named Bron-Y-Aur, which was nestled by a hillside in Wales. Like mine, it was a kind of self-made retreat. There was no running water or electricity in the cottage but their time on retreat there was reportedly inspiring and generated many songs or parts of songs. I was also getting a lot done and had been working on a passage of my narrative that addresses high school. In the strange quiet of that afternoon, the notes of this song, some remembered rock trivia acquired by my teenage self, and the already dreamy day, I felt connected to multiple times and places, like I was here and not here. 

I listened to the man play the end of the song, including the slide, the last notes, the last chord strummed reluctantly and I waited until the sound was gone and then waited another moment. Excuse me. Hi. Was that Bron-Y-Aur? What I really wanted to ask was, Is this a dream? Are we really here? As I walked away I turned around several times to confirm that I had not imagined this scene. The man was no longer playing the guitar but had joined his children near the merry-go-round. Confirming that he was there though did not seem to answer my question. Then, I made my way back to the beach house to write.

Google Maps Street View of Road near Bron Y Aur in |Wales

Main Street, Waveland

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Is This Courage?


The Front, New Orleans



A long time ago I read a "clever student" anecdote. My two-minute Google research told me that it's most likely an academic legend (like an urban legend). Here is one version: a philosophy professor assigned a final exam essay question: What is courage? The exam had a minimum length requirement of some number of pages. One student responded with a two word essay that read, This is.

When I read that, I liked it. Something about the less-is-more "courage" of minimalism appealed to me.

Srdjan Loncar, From If You Would Like to Place a Call at The Front
A few weeks ago I went to The Front, my first time out to look at art since the confinement. In the fourth gallery there was a show I really wanted to like. Or maybe it's more accurate to say I loved and hated it. It moved and disappointed me. I wanted to like it because it was based on a gesture I deeply appreciated. (I have been thinking more and more about the gesture of art rather than the thing of art.) 

The show was a group of works by Srdjan Loncar. The gesture was that the artist had paid attention to derelict pay phones around the city. The thing he had made was a concrete pay phone, mounted it on the wall. It was perfect. But there were three of them. In addition to the three concrete pay phones, there was another sculpture, and a map, a photograph and some wall text.

I really like pay phones. I mean I have noticed them, paid attention. I have taken photographs of pay phones and phone booths for at least 15 years, though not "obsessively" as the kids say. I like the way pay phones stand (or stood as they near extinction) solitary. I like them especially in rural or suburban places, sometimes lit sometimes with glass booths. Pay phones call attention to the absence of a caller. They are communication devices, which front-load them with meaning. There was a great story by producer Miki Meek on This American Life. It was called “Really Long Distance” and about a phone booth in Japan that offered the thousands of people who lost loved ones in the 2011 tsunami and earthquake to call the departed. I say all of this because I am the choir: broken or abandoned pay phones are, from my view, totally relevant fodder for art-making. 

I would have love love loved to have walked into that gallery and seen a single concrete pay phone on the wall. If there had been one sculpture in the gallery, it would have been just me and an non-functioning pay phone, two entities interacting and I can feel how powerful that would have been. Instead, the experience was less economical and less poetic. And I just feel disappointed when art becomes too project-y. 

If courage in the anecdote was two words, one pay phone might be its sculptural corollary. What is courage? That would have been. 

Artists work in solitude and have only so many opportunities or official spaces to share what they have made. Artists also have economic or career interests in being "out there" as much as possible which can lead to the impulse to pack a space or over-explain with words or quantities. Forces can lead an artist away from minimalism. A beautiful, solitary, deeply real gesture (like installing a concrete pay phone) can often get swallowed up by “art making” and art statements. These phone booths are also, according to the artist statement, installed around town. If I had encountered one accidentally in public I know I would have been thrilled (provided there was no artist statement nearby describing the meaning of it).

Speaking of beautiful gestures, I was listening to a podcast on which the guest, well-known in several circles, was prompted by the host to direct listeners to his books, website, etcetera in what the host calls the “plug zone.” The guest plugged his projects then gave his phone number, his actual phone number in case, he said, anyone wanted to call or text him. (I am not naming names here because I do not want to alter his gesture.) The host was incredulous. Is that your actual phone number? It was. This was a strange and and fearless gesture. Maybe this was courage.

What is courage? How does courage relate to gestures, quantities, lots versus one? How does courage relate to withholding or sharing? I don't know...What do you think? Hello? Hello?

Friday, June 12, 2020

Ariel Claborn - "Eyes Without A Face"

Bedroom Songs (play on Repeat)
Part 2

"Eyes Without A Face" by Billy Idol. 


When I called Ariel to ask if she wanted to participate in this little project, I was sitting on my roof. This is where I sit sometimes to quiet my head, though sometimes my thoughts just speed up and propagate there. I had decided to take the weekend to put together a song-inspired bedroom "exhibition" and Ariel crossed my mind. We do not know each other well but she is an artist, we work together, and I like her vibe, so to say. She answered my call and I (with very little preamble) I proposed we have a two-person "show" based on a pop songs. The locations would be our respective bedrooms and very view people would see them. Without hesitating she said yes, but she had only that night because she was leaving town in the morning. 

Opening the files she sent to my work email address was like opening a letter a friend taped to your door; there was something so tactile about the images. I had not seen much of Ariel's work, nor her room, and seeing the two together made an immediate kind of sense. 

She had not told me ahead what song she would use and when I read the title, "Eyes Without A Face" my mind immediately served up the deep vintage voice of Billy Idol. I'm all out of hope... The three things together, her drawings, the images of her room, and the song, made me feel like it was some teenage suburban afternoon, after school, in a friends room with the radio on. The Adults might call it wasting time but we would know better and still do.

• • •

Ariel Claborn grew up in Alabama and now makes art and teaches art to children in New Orleans. A communist once said to her, “So goes the south, so goes the nation.” She said, “I’ll be here.”

Friday, June 5, 2020

Don't Come Around Here No More

Bedroom Songs (play on Repeat)
Track 1 "Don't Come Around Here No More"

The other day I opened my front door and as if and my brain were actually an iPod, I heard (I didn't imagine, I heard) the first slow drumbeats of the song "Don't Come Around Here No More" and then of course the sitar. I pretty much lived inside this song for two days, listening on my big, noise-canceling headphones in the car and in the grocery store, on my smashed phone posed on my sternum where I lay on my bed in my room looking at the fan spin, and while I was making these drawings at the table. Sunday morning I put together this private little show.  


Installation View
Page from my Moleskine Notebook (Jacques Prévert) 
Highway in Fast Motion, GIF of Cells, GIF of Stars  and  One New Message


My Moleskine Notebook,  HA HA,  You Liked Takotsubo

Digital Touch

Installation View,  My Bedroom
good night


Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Online Viewing Room versus My Living Room (Two Works by Some Guy Named Ray)

I saw a post by Jerry Saltz last week on Instagram. It was a hypothetical email. “To: The Art World; Subject: When I hear the words online viewing room” I remove the safety from my mental revolver" The body of the email just said: “It is a website.”

Earlier that morning, flipping though the newest issue of ARTFORUM, I looked at the phrase Online Viewing Room and was struck by the absurdity of it. It’s a website, I thought. Then I thought maybe I was just being a jerk. 

If I am a jerk, so is Jerry Saltz. We are probably both jerks. 

The term Online Viewing Room is used to elevate something ordinary (a website) to make exclusive something that is not (the internet). There is also something here about reframing, steering purpose, marketing psychology blah blah blah. I have looked at these online viewing rooms (after registering). The legal fine print to visiting Gagosian's online viewing room is hilarious, almost a New Yorker Shout and Murmurs column ready to print. "If you do not agree to these Viewing Room Terms, you are not granted permission to use the Online Viewing Room and must exit immediately." Exit?! HAHA. But for those whose job it is to buy and sell artwork, whatever; live and let live. For me, online viewing rooms are just okay-looking websites that are mildly annoying to deal with. Anyway, I prefer to look at art in person.

Last week my friend Ray and his son came over to my house. While I was making dinner, Ray began constructing a floor-to-ceiling Lego tower in the living room. At first the kids, his and mine, were into helping with the tower but eventually the children lost interest, probably when a tape measure was brought out or when Ray began firmly insisting on sticking to the plan. The children went outside to play. The pieces had been put together, long batons of color on the floor while we ate. After dinner and after a couple of collapses, the tower was erected. It had a bellbottomed base that quickly tapered to  8-stud, then 6-stud and finally 4-stud pieces. It began on the floor, was lightly braced mid-way by two books on the mantle (one of Joan Didion essays the other a beginner’s Ancient Greek) and it ended at the ceiling. It did not stand perfectly straight. It was the tallest object in the room, as tall as the walls.

While the tower was there, it changed things, it affected how I felt when I walked through the room. Like Wallace Steven’s jar, it altered everything around it, "took dominion everywhere." It was the embodiment of the casual efforts of someone whose impulse and sensibility I know. Objectively, it was 
really good looking, and really present.

This has been a good season for art made in my living room, what with nowhere to go and all. This next “artwork” was not made in my living room, but my living room is where I received it.

I was lying on my couch (looking at the Lego tower, in fact) texting with Ray. The day before, his seven-year-old son (in the context of a story) made the gesture of giving the middle finger without wanting to really flip anyone off. He extended his middle finger but covered it with his other hand. Instantly, I remembered this gesture from my own youth, this sanitized two-hand, PG middle finger. In response to something sarcastic Ray had written, I texted that the iPhone insta-reply icons (thumbs up, down, ?, !!, HAHA, and a heart) were missing some things, say, a middle finger. In less time that I would have thought possible, Ray made and sent me this:

HAHA. Is it art? Whatever; sure.

Here is my point: While sure, you can see some representations of  nice artwork in these online viewing rooms, they are only representations. Even here, in these photographs, your experience of the Lego tower will be second hand. But you can make your own Lego tower. Or you can make a stack of…marshmallows, laundry, toilet paper (good luck with that one). 
When your icon or emoji bank fails you, make one. 

I guess I am glad that the art world, wherever and whatever that is, is still turning and maybe these online viewing rooms help. But, you know, you (or friends on your phase one post-quarantine list)  can make stuff in your living room. The gesture and the result might be more fun, profound, interesting, and meaningful than what you can see on the internet. It may cause a shift in your perception, it may come closer to doing what art does than “visiting” an 
online viewing room or traditional website (or basement of the internet blog like this one).

So the other day Jerry Saltz sent out this appeal to NYC art galleries:

Real Question to NYC Art-Galleries, from a Squirrelly Art Critic itching for a Mission: Are you planning a Sept-Oct show? What show? Do you see me/Roberta coming to yr gallery in our safe-bubble, let in, left a checklist, see show alone &leaving? I see something like this.
I hope they let him in. He seems like a fine guy and I know he really, really likes looking at art (Art). So do I, but if I had to choose, I would choose make over look

If the art galleries don’t let Jerry Saltz in, maybe he can get online and order some Legos...or paint... Or he can pick up this phone, Screen Capture an emoji, open Edit, Mark-up, and then create an emoji that expresses his feelings... 

(resting disappointed art critic face emoji).


(2 Towers) Joe Andoe made that beautiful painting of the top of the Empire State Building 

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

There and Here, Then and Now

This painting on paper is evidence of my early fumbling into painting and drawing from Google maps Street View images. The arrow that used to guide you through directions has been replaced by a more static, more subtle arrow. Directions 2.0.

Sometime about ten years after I had been there, I was tracing my way from Fiumicino airport to the center of Rome on Google Street View, looking for an orange tree that I had seen my first time abroad. Abroad. The word sounds like it’s from a different era, like sophomore. I was twenty-one years old.

On my laptop I traced the route from the airport to where it left the highway and then activated street view for a closer look. I remember the taxi was going down hill when I saw outside my window on the left, a stone wall and over the top of the wall I saw the orange tree. I had never seen an orange tree having spent all of my time in the north east. The bight orbs nested within a roundish green form looked other-worldly. The fact that it was behind a garden wall made me feel lucky for having caught sight of it. That feeling of wonder registered so deeply that ten years later I could still bring it up. Ten years later I searched for directions from Fiumicino to Via Cola di Rienzo, the street the hotel was on. 

So I was looking back on this route a decade after having been there in the flesh, in person, in a taxi. I am now looking at this drawing several years after drawing it (in the flesh, in person, in my room in New Orleans, as it were).

In this painting, the gaze is pointed forward, or the opposite direction of forward if the arrow is to be believed. The paper I used is brittle, not meant for drawing or painting. The painting includes not only the obsolete icon but a water stain in the sky.

I made the second painting at the same time and on the same route, pursuant of that orange tree I caught a glimpse of from a taxi at the very end of the last millennium. In this one I drew the arrow and trailing white line that appeared when one turned to view to the side of the directed route. I am constantly looking off the path for better or worse.

Why did I look back along this route at all? Simple: I was moved by an orange tree. Why am I looking back along the more metaphorical route now?  Both retracings weave together the past and the present. Here I am in the future once again looking at some picture that is, as they say, neither here nor there. All of this (the pictures and what I am doing now) shows a contradiction of intent, directions pointing one way, and also the other All along I have been painting, not from a defined point or toward a defined goal, but from and towards something I cannot name, sone side view, some distance that never takes form.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Sugar, it's Emily.

I have been looking at my old artwork (and newer artwork) on the walls of my room. After a gap–full of over-thinking, a day-job, home-schooling, avoiding complicated feelings–in which my walls remained blank, I put an old painting on the large wall. I wrote about this in my last post. Then, I looked through a box of small drawings and set two aside. One is a self portrait (sunbathing) I made sixteen years ago when I was living in France and as alone as I am now, in a stretch of time, which like now, seemed occasionally to stand still. There were empty hours of the day and sometimes I would go on my little terrace and lie in the sun. The other painting is a portrait of Sugar made from a snapshot taken in our shared kitchen on Jewel Street in Brooklyn. That was fifteen years ago.I taped the drawing of Sugar on the wall next to my self portrait from the year before we met.

I made about thirty self-portraits in acrylic paint on typing paper from photographs taken on my first digital camera, which had a screen that swung out for taking what weren't yet called selfies. I have never liked having my picture taken because looking at the result was always kind of spooky. The person I saw in photographs did not resemble me, the person looking outward. I took these photographs the way I talk to myself aloud when I am alone for thirty hours or more, for the company, I guess. In France, alone with my digital camera, I had the idea that I could cure my photo-phobia (Scopophobia, scoptophobia, or ophthalmophobia). If I could become accustomed to how I looked in photographs, I would no longer feel strange seeing them. To some degree it worked. I don't think any these paintings really look like me but they look like the photographs I took. And they feel like me, feel like I remember feeling, quiet and alone, for better and worse. I can remember vividly the sun on my skin, the little terrace outside my borrowed studio apartment, outside a little village in Provence. I can see the heat of the sun on my face in the painting. 

This is Sugar. When I moved back from France I went to New York. I found a room in an shared apartment in Greenpoint. I wanted to learn Polish, had been studying a little, and so moving in with four or five or six Polish men and the wife of one of the men seemed perfect. I had a room in which I could paint and sleep and sit at a small round table and drink one Brooklyn Lager in the evening. I got along fine with most of the roommates but Sugar and I became friends. It was a friendship that happened in the smallest of margins of two lives that barely overlapped. In the evenings I would knock on Sugar's door with a frequency or manner that made me think of that line from The Royal Tenenbaums "Sugar, it's Eli." I would say "Sugar it's Emily." in Owen Wilson's voice. I wouldn't have guessed I would know Sugar fifteen years later. I used to prefer to live with strangers and not so that I could make life-long friends.

Now, I see Sugar in the apartment taking my door off the hinges to use as a table for our Christmas dinner. I see us playing baseball in McCarren Park on Easter, the Polish boys shouting Do domu! Do domu!, go home, go home, the spring I was falling in love. Sugar came Upstate to the party to celebrate my marriage and I have a photograph of Sugar holding my son after we had moved to New Orleans. From the window of his second floor apartment in Queens, I see Sugar below playing with my children in the fresh new snow, their first sight ever of snow, their first trip back to New York since the divorce. We have gone years without seeing each other but Sugar has been there for events in my life and has still been there after they ended. Sugar always leaves me voicemails on holidays, on my birthdays, long, strangely formal messages I always save. He wishes me love and money and health and happiness.

I look at these drawings now to think about painting and art, and what I will draw or paint next but I think of other things. This is the way life has always distracted me from art. I call Sugar to say hello, to say I am thinking about him. He is already at LaGuardia working on the new terminal. I want to tell him that I ordered electrical tools and watched YouTube videos and fixed my washing machine. But really I want to say Sugar, where we are going? Why has everything changed? Why has nothing changed? I want to ask him something I couldn't find words for and he probably doesn't know.

What did I want these drawings to tell me? What did I want Sugar to tell me on the phone? I don't know. When I would knock on his door in in our apartment on Jewel Street, I didn't necessarily know then either. Chcesch herbat
ę? Want tea?  Maybe I was just taking a break from making some painting that wouldn't mean much in the long run either. We don't usually understand the meaning of things we do, of the things we make, but at some point they should point to something, shouldn't they? The art is the record that we witnessed our lives as did our friends. Maybe these drawings just say: this is how you lived and made art, this is someone you knew and know, someone you were and are. They say, this was me and this was Sugar, moving unbelievably fast and standing perfectly still. 

Monday, May 4, 2020

Are We There Yet?

My walls have been empty for a few days. And in spite of what I said just a week or so ago, I had no compulsion to fill the space, to fill the vacuum. I guess my thoughts were elsewhere, or so far inside my head I was no longer looking at the walls of the room; I was staring at the ceiling of my brain. I get like that, over-thinking, shut in, my senses sort of ossifying while I get lists of things done.

And for the past week or so I was fine with the empty walls. I felt no desire to draw or paint or I was too busy with other things to draw or paint, or as I said, I have been too much in my head. Then yesterday I just made a move. I thought, anything will do. I will just put something there on the wall to look at and then have a thought about it. That was the robotic tone and unimpassioned way I went about pulling from my closet, a roll of large paintings on paper. 

If my motivation for putting work on the walls has been to see where I have been so I could see where I was going, it did not seem to be working. I am nowhere and doesn't that fit the moment? We go nowhere as mandated by the pandemic. But in the name of follow-through, I made a decision. This large landscape is unlike any other painting I have made in recent years. It is just a sketch really, made in black acrylic paint and not on very good paper. The source photo came from a book of Russian miniature lacquer paintings on wood boxes from a town called Fedoskino. 

In both the source image and my painting, I liked the winding road, the brutal building, and the shape of the tree on the right. It is not at all a great painting, I would hardly call it a painting but I tacked it to the wall and now I am looking at it. 

My lack of connection to this image had given me a kind of freedom when I was painting it. I had no history on this road in Russia. Still, something about the image made me nostalgic. The photograph in the book was black and white and vertically formatted. Just now I went to Google maps to try to find this road, this view. To the map search bar I typed in Fedoskino, a village outside of Moscow. I saw the factory on the map, I saw the blue line of the river near it which must be the one in the photograph. I went to Google Street View. I clicked back and forth over the bridge but could not find the perspective in the photograph. Strange.

The landscape surrounding the factory reminded me of where I am from in Upstate New York, and also reminded me of Poland, where I have visited twice, and just looked like a landscape I wanted to linger in, have lingered in, a kind of déjà-vu. I was no longer lost in my head but I was beginning to feel lost on the other side of the over-thinking, a kind of through the looking glass. Do you remember the first time you had déjà-vu and tried to explain it to a grown-up?

I moved the viewpoint back and forth closer and farther from the factory but I could not replicate the view. From the bridge, the factory was way too far in the distance. Did they move the bridge? Is that the same large tree? But it looks smaller... How was this photograph shot so high off the ground? A bucket truck? This state of not understanding, of puzzling, is the baseline state of a child who does not understand physics, optics, logistics of much beyond tactile experience. This feeling, this state, was already activated in me when I turned the pages of the book to look at these strange little paintings. 

I cannot remember where I got this book or why. These paintings are truly bizarre and not remotely what I ever would describe as my taste. Look at this one of a bear driving a sled under a black sky! The sky in many of these paintings is black. These paintings are disorienting and spark the low register terror a child feels. The fact that they are painted on boxes also also tunes my mind to a static-y frequency of childhood, the encountering of curious objects, the smell of old containers at a grandparent's house, the spell of strange images. 

Since the pandemic drove us all indoors, the world has lost some of its form, some of its solidity. Much of it appears in image, through windows or on screens. Looking at these weird paintings with black skies and figures that seem to be in a trance, looking at them first thing in the morning when the sky outside my window is still dark, has made me feel less certain that I know the world I have woken into. I feel outside my own taste in art, outside my own urge to draw and write things, outside my timeline, my life's continuity. 

These little paintings are disorienting and this particular feeling of disorientation resembles that of a child. Children are new here, lacking the background knowledge to dismiss this or that.  Yhe world comes in funhouse mirror proportions, shifting and unreliable. A child's mind is different than that of a forty-something year old art-educated person who had just been trying to stick to the program, look at something on the wall and then make her next painting. 

There are lots of people whose job it is to keep things in order. Artists and writers should invite disorientation. When young children wake up  they are lost. After every nap, every sleep, they have this look that says something like where am I, what is this place? We lose this. We grow up and wake up thinking we know lots of things for certain and that is how we proceed with the day. But what really do we know for sure? What do I know today? The sky outside was black when I started writing but it is lightening now. It's time to make coffee, do grown-up things, pick things up and put them down in proper places, which no longer look quite right.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

You're the Man, Prince Charles.

Village Majorca, 1990 Prince Charles

I had a moment of panic this morning. I could not find my book of Prince Charles's watercolors. I bought this book in the gift shop at The Morgan in New York City a few years ago. I love this book. I love the Prince of Wales and not because I am not one of those fans of the crown or anything like that. When I finally found the book, rather than taking it over to the table, I opened it here on the floor by my bookshelf and drank my coffee on the rug. like that he signs his work "C." I'd like to know him and call him C

The text that accompanies the paintings describe the landscape the weather, technical challenges he encountered and his childhood memories of some of these places. He frequently describes his body in space. For example, he "sheltered pathetically under a leafless tree." Or, "the setting winter sun created the sort of dramatic display that had me fumbling for my paint box." And this, "I was sitting on a grass slope amongst a large quantity of sheep droppings with my back beginning to give out and with pins and needles in my bottom...!" Don't you want this guy to be king?!? Look at this picture of him painting. 

He likes Turner; I like Turner! Who doesn't like Turner. Prince Charles writes, "Turner was one of those geniuses of English art who understood so well and whose sketches and paintings betray this deep and unstoppable passion for the beauty of God's creation." His watercolors show he likes Turner but of course he is not as good. No one is. Turner's paintings are other-worldly. Prince Charles's are worldly. This is something I like about them, about this book. 

I like the way Prince Charles writes, the language he uses. I wonder if he talks like this. I hope he does. The way he articulates why he loves painting. He is so sentimental. Despite the ascot on the language and exclamation points (which convey passion as they neuter it) I am right there with him in the way he is moved by what he sees, by his desire to articulate it in paint. In these texts he cannot contain his deep love of painting, nature, and being present with them both. I have not come many painters who express such a juicy love of it. "The wonderful thing about painting is that it provides you with an excuse to sit in one spot long enough to appreciate the quality of changing light and the theatrical effects of the weather on the landscape." Dang right, bruh. 

I like when he mentions the intersection of being Prince Charles and painting. The accompanying text to one painting of a beach describes how just after he settled himself to paint he discovered that a bunch of paparazzi were "crouched in the sand dunes pointing their ridiculously long lenses in my direction." It's funny in this passage he switches to the second person, as if using I would somehow be too revealing. "your imagination plays on the predictable captions to accompany them..."Beach Boy Charlie Paints Alone" or, better still, "Beached Wales – the Potty Prince Revealed!" His comments on being a prince and a painter that make be feel lucky to be a painter and not a princess.

HRH The Prince of Wales Watercolors Jacket Photograph, by Lesley Donald
And while, no C, I cannot relate to your concerns about tabloid headlines, I think I do understand something about you and the way you look at the world. Did I already say I wish we were friends? 

For the past couple of years I have been trying to do something similar than is done in this book: I have been looking at paintings and drawings I have made, and trying to say where they come from. Prince Charles describes how they come from within a person and without. This is the intersection of living and art. Part of me wishes he could get even more personal but the future king can only be so candid. Oh well. All I can say is, no you cannot borrow this book, and Long Live Charles, The Painter of Wales!