Wednesday, June 27, 2012

I Take the Back Roads for the Views

I don’t talk much, usually, and
hardly at all in the morning.
I enjoy the sensation of emptiness in my mouth.
Words eddy and pool;
they submerge my larynx, so my thoughts can swim.

I live in a woodframe house, and wake with windows open. There are birds’ songs, and the dragon-y exhalations
of an early hot air balloon dropping into the adjacent mowed hayfield. My head is still clouded by dreams,
images of past and future,
people I’ve lost, including me – 
The balloon comes near, the birds go silent.
My tinnitus whines,
there is only so much of Time.

I keep an appointment near a large stone church, with a clock that rings the hours and half-hours. I hear the hourly chime, then the dongs: ten this hour.
Each dong is allowed to spread out and thin
before the next is struck, so reaching ten takes more than the moment to read time on my cell phone –
maybe enough to watch it turn from 10:00 to 10:01.
My breathing slows with the dissipations of the dongs. I feel something then,
an awareness, a sensation
of being pushed by the pace of my life,
pushed right out of the space and the time I take up within it.

I drive the back roads.
Over a sea of wheat, three clouds,
long white rafts in the sky, all going my way: home.
My thoughts take a back road too
-- I’m thinking about the movie “A Single Man”; I’m thinking how little I wish to be in his position.
Pressing on --

An oncoming car strikes a Gray Catbird; I watch it roll across the windshield and tumble to the double yellow line. Hoping it might only have been stunned, I turn back to move it off the road. On approaching, I see another Catbird come, sit on the ground near for a moment, then fly off.

The Catbird is limp but warm, soft; its eyes still bright though unfocussed, slowly closing and growing dull. It is all
in a slatey gray, with some russet at the vent,
and a tiny bright spot of blood on one leg.
Its life left;
that’s what I saw unfold in my hands.
What did the other bird see?

Another creature might not see the body at all,
not as the being, just as more of the world’s matter.
When animals regard a dead body, some
seem not to see the body once the life has gone; others possibly do.
I wonder if this shouldn’t be part of the nomenclature of a species,
the way the mammary glands give a name to our class of animal:
We are the ones that mark time and the endings of hours;
we cling to our matter even as we rush headlong away.

I know the road and the flocking there.
Because the other birds are watching, I put out of my mind
the thought of photographing or taking home the bird to study it. I can
do nothing but put the bird safely at the base of a tree, and continue home.

Outside, I walk
past blueberry bushes to the pasture.
A Catbird is being pestered by her four fledglings,
all pretending to need her help feeding.
She lifts from the fence rail to a tree's branch to scold.

left: sumi ink; right: drypoint with graphite

sumi ink, 3.5 x 5 inches

sumi ink, 16 x 20 inches

oil on masonite, 4 x 5.5 inches

pencil drawing

oil on panel, 10 x 8 inches
[All the above bird studies were executed during the 1980s, when I lived in San Francisco and made frequent visits to Ocean Beach, the western perimeter of the city.]

Saturday, June 9, 2012

No More

This evening at twilight, I went outside to watch the fireflies emerge from the grass and the trees' twig-tips. The hayfield to the south of my house is edged with trees and brambles, with a spring and a creek on one side, and a boggy place at one end -- this seems to be a favorite hang-out for fireflies, and I look forward every year to the first half of June, when they peak. They are near but not yet at that peak tonight.

I watched and played with my little camera, to see what it could record of the tiny quick flashes of light they display. There were sounds of frogs, crickets, birds, all with their own rhythms.

I also could hear a tractor, even as the night was washing in. The large farm adjacent to ours grows mostly hay for horses now; the two brothers who own the farm are quite elderly. One of them, I remember, when I first moved here, greeted me at the Post Office, "I know you! You're my neighbor!" He told me how old he was, and was proud to still be working, and fit as man 20 years younger; I told him I was amazed by his vigor and hoped I might be as strong as he when I reach his age. He was pleased, because he knew it was true.

Tonight, I heard the tractor running as dark was coming on, and I could hear my neighbor's son saying loudly over the engine noise, "Stop. Turn it off. Stop - no more! -- I'll do it -- Let me do it!" Then again and again, stop, turn it off! But my proud neighbor was not stopping. He was going to work that field in the hastening dark, until the little light from the twilight sky, fluttering with fireflies, was not enough. Only then, no more.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

"Leaves Of Grass"


Poets to come ! orators, singers, musicians to come !
Not to-day is to justify me and answer what I am for,
But you, a new brood, native, athletic, continental, greater than
          before known,
Arouse ! for you must justify me.

I myself but write one or two indicative words for the future,
I but advance a moment only to wheel and hurry back in the

I am a man who, sauntering along without fully stopping, turns a
         casual look upon you and then averts his face
Leaving it to you to prove and define it,
Expecting the main things from you.


Delaware Township, New Jersey, on my way to the studio, June 2012

Monday, June 4, 2012

Monday And The Meaning Of Work

Does your body know why it breathes?
So it can sigh, says mine.
And my heart, it beats,
My ankle, rotates
outward from my center.
My fingers form semaphores, unseen - 
Tiny pins of light ignite the air,
And single strands of silver hair
stitch those signals tight.
Brain-named; lame-brained or wise -
You write that story to find out what happens
Not to find out why.

June 4, 2012 Ravenna Taylor

Thanks to Halvard Johnson for the volley

Friday, June 1, 2012


After my Open Studio event passed, I immediately put my studio back to working order. But I also turned my attention to the Bach B minor Mass, my final performance this season with Princeton Pro Musica. The concert was a big success and the B minor Mass is such a great source of artistic gratification -- I'm still singing it!

Since then, I've been working on altering my schedule and habits to allow for more intensive work days. I have several small panels prepared, and a few medium ones, but I need to get some larger surfaces ready because I'm wanting to make some larger work again. I have some time to build work in the studio this summer, and have done the finishing on two pieces, have two new oils underway, and started another small one yesterday. I am also continuing work on paper, in watercolor with gouache, sometimes added collage.

Sometimes a prepared panel of linen over wood is a beautiful thing before I do anything more:

Yesterday I walked into the studio, and looking at those things I had decided not to remove from the wall, those things I'd added, I was reflecting upon my drive to compose space, to build patterns -- I think a lot about subject matter in art, and how can it support the intended content of my work. When I am in a museum and see things from the Italian Renaissance (for example), I always consider how the subject matter of artists' work was more or less given to them in that time. That is possibly the defining thing about contemporary art, that we have no ascribed or proscribed subject. But we are also not given a ticket to meaning.

As I look at my own work, while other parts of my mind might be flooded with information about the world outside my studio, within, my concerns seem simplistic: spatial organization; color relationships, the edge of one touching another; transparencies and overlays; how things influence one another, obscure one another, support one another. It's all about those relationships, and about the human condition in a broad way. But it's possible for an abstract painting to be co-opted by its environment, and to seem to be about decor and aesthetic pleasure above all, while I have a metaphysical bent I wish to communicate also.

I happened then upon a page from Milan Kundera's "Unbearable Lightness of Being." Many years ago, I'd photocopied it and then drew boxes around certain parts of page 52, so that I could highlight this thought:

... human lives are composed ... like music. Guided by his sense of beauty, an individual transforms a fortuitous occurrence ... into a motif, which then assumes a permanent place in the composition of the individual's life ... with its dark beauty. Without realizing it, the individual composes his life according to the laws of beauty even in times of greatest distress.

I've had a lot of questions in my mind lately, and the selection from the novel made me wonder if I might find some answer in the patterns I paint. The previous day I'd worked on a small watercolor with gouache, actually copying one of my oil paintings in process, as a way of re-entering the imagery I'd begun, before stopping for studio preparations last month. I didn't draw the pattern on my paper, although I made some marks at the edges to show where the centerpoints were. I work all over, establish a pattern, then repeat it, allowing edges to overlap as I add layers and colors and tone, the shapes and patterns to become defined through repetition. I ended the day thinking it would go into the box for collage materials (but went ahead and worked on it more the next day anyway).

It occurred to me that life is like this, in that we repeat things, we make patterns in our days, and then maybe the edge of one aspect bleeds into another, a boundary drawn, redrawn, broken, moved. Every day a new opportunity to express a conviction, to obscure something that might have been preserved, or to honor a beautiful accident -- or even an occurrence not so beautiful, but which, being flawed, makes what is beautiful seem all the more so.

May 30, 2012, watercolor, gouache, 6 inches