Monday, April 29, 2013

I had an idle thought; and yet ~

By a strange coincidence, working in my computer files today, I came upon something I'd written in July of 2003, upon return to San Francisco only a month before we would leave the city, where we'd lived for 18 years. There had been years of measuring this impulse to return to the east. That May, we'd left everything behind and traveled to visit family and friends, and places we'd never been before. Now, I'd landed back in the familiar home I planned to abandon. Under my feet, instead of centuries-worn stones or mosaic paving, I was back where the bright California light bounced from concrete pavement, and asphalt that hadn't seen enough rain lately. 

Before California, I'd lived in rural Arkansas. When we decided to leave there in 1985, we'd had to borrow money from my father just to buy the gas to reach San Francisco, and make a deposit on the first and last month's rent. I had mixed feelings about the move (to put it mildly), and I remember my father's saying, by way of encouragement, "It doesn't really matter where you live." I never understood that and have puzzled about it ever since. It's possible that little matters more to me than where I am.

One morning early this month, an artist on Facebook posted this photo of the ground where he lives, in Georgia, wet with spring rain.

Tim Hunter  (Georgia)
That orange puddle gave me a thrill. One of the things I love about where I now live is the color of the soil: not that beautiful orange above, but a loamier red shale clay. This is how it looked early in those thawing days of spring:

I look down at the soil a lot, wherever I am. It's a way of orientation to the world, which I've wanted to incorporate into my work for some time now, the connection I feel to the ground under my feet. 
I asked my friends on Facebook to contribute their own photos to this blog post, so I could have images of the spring season as shown in the soil under my friends' feet. As I might have anticipated, only a few responded - many of my friends live in cities and are probably not looking at dirt every day! Of the ones who did send me a photo, I surmised they already had photos of the ground, because they might be preoccupied with where they are, they are connected to what being there means to them, and they might even have incorporated that into their own work.
Matthew Wong (Hong Kong)

Betty Tompkins (Pennsylvania)

Lynda Fay Braun (Florida)

Altoon Sultan (Vermont)
There is nothing in life that has ever mattered more to me than to wake up and know my intimate relationship with the natural world is intact; that's why I'm here and not in a denser cultural center, which I also love. It's going on ten years since I left behind life in San Francisco and many good friends, whom I miss, because I couldn't live without trees and rivers any longer. Some people live in cities and visit the countryside, and find that enough. I have to find the reverse enough. Some days it isn't, but most days it is.
Now, since these photos came into my email, weeks have elapsed, and the spring season has unfolded to create a green light on this drippy day. Farm fields have been plowed and planted.
The heaved winter soil is now revealing the tubers of iris that will blossom in summer.

Still, I am surrounded, for miles around, by trees downed by the winds of Hurricane Sandy, everywhere to be seen their upturned roots, from hilltops down to this one on the bank of the Delaware River, and the many others I posted photos of in autumn last year. I like to imagine frogs and salamanders having a fruitful summer in the depressions they've left; and in my studio, some new work that might bring soil into the picture, to somehow transform the depression of these past winter months, wrought by upheavals of so many kinds: too many deaths, lost habitats and homes, and destructive forces of nature, and human nature, both.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Sought Sight


a dark time of moon
things lost and remembered –
tanzanite light in turquoise sky
lapis clouds aglow,
a sliver smile

intentions unworded
there's only desire –
smell, and soon touch - to hear and see
feeling, then a turn to thinking
ask what love is

Ravenna Taylor, 2005

Monday, April 8, 2013

"Art is long, and Time is fleeting"

 The Sun is bright, -- the air is clear,
The darting swallows soar and sing,
And from the stately elms I hear
The bluebird prophesying Spring.

So blue yon winding river flows,
It seems an outlet from the sky,
Where waiting till the west-wind blows,
The freighted clouds at anchor lie.

All things are new; -- the buds, the leaves,
That gild the elm-tree's nodding crest,
And even the nest beneath the eaves; --
There are no birds in last year's nest!

All things rejoice in youth and love,
The fulness of their first delight!
And learn from the soft heavens above
The melting tenderness of night.

Maiden, that read'st this simple rhyme,
Enjoy thy youth, it will not stay;
Enjoy the fragrance of thy prime,
For oh, it is not always May!

Enjoy the Spring of Love and Youth,
To some good angel leave the rest;
For Time will teach thee soon the truth,
There are no birds in last year's nest!

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

[my post's title, "Art is long, Time is fleeting," is from another of  Longfellow's poems: "A Psalm of Life"]

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Chromatic Scale

Some new work is developing, in a slow way; incubating quietly and playing close to the chest. I see it fleetingly, in a dream sometimes. Or it occupies my thoughts in the way I find my cat occupying a place on the rug at my feet, silently, although I hadn't even noticed she'd entered the room.

I was driving to an appointment this morning. I drove over the Delaware River and it seemed as though many impressions suddenly felt the force of the current below, and they ran together in my mind.

I had written last week about my work of the 1990s and currently, in the context of my show online; I alluded to the influence of Mughal painting, which I'd seen so much of around 1997, with many exhibitions displaying the work as part of a global commemoration of the anniversary of India's independence from Great Britain. At that time, my painting palette had been most influenced by the life I'd had living among woods and fields, then transplanted to the Pacific coast and the concrete, treeless streets of San Francisco. The Indian paintings I was seeing opened up another language of color for me. I was painting abstractly, always (as now) concerned about how to invest the work with intention. I  saw then how color could bring all my feelings together - it was revealed to me not in the narrative content of those works, but the ways in which the close harmonies and varying intensities seemed, to me, to speak of the range of human emotion and drives.

As I was listening to the news on the radio, driving over the Delaware River this morning, I was thinking how odd it is that the most basic, and even base, of human drives are now expressed in the world through the most technological of means, and then the outcome is broadcast all over the world through the internet, radio and television. But nothing really changes enough, when it comes to destructiveness, greed, and violence.

At the same time, the prior week I'd been into New York and had seen a few really wonderful painting shows: Thomas Nozkowski at Pace Gallery; a brilliant group show called "Painting Advanced" at Edward Thorp Gallery; Al Held at Cheim & Read; and Andrew Masullo at Mary Boone.

Well, I'm starting new work and thinking about color, and my use of it, and about how color is being used by my contemporaries in painting. There is a lot of very saturated color in contemporary abstract painting, brilliant and bold. For the kind of nuanced and sensitive calibrations of color I most enjoy, I was excited by the group show at Thorp and the Nozkowski at Pace - although the inventiveness of the imagery keeps me interested in Andrew Masullo's work too - the "Alphabet Paintings" by Al Held are in a class by themselves.

So, driving over the Delaware River and listening to the news, and ruminating on all the many currents flowing into my awareness, I was visualizing new work, in particular a few drawings I've made recently, without much color. I came back to the realization I had in the 90s, about how the stories didn't really matter to me in the Mughal paintings; it's the colors, the expression of nature and design, and the way that emotional range and the coexistence of noise and song, dissonance and harmony, rage and joy, make that kind of chromatic composition very meaningful to me. As much as I love, even prefer black and white photography, I think I can't, for now, express what I need to in painting through the use of black, white and grey alone. 

Still, maybe because when I am composing I am using value as my scaffold, I remain a big fan of black and white photography. Here are a few books I recently found at a favorite bookstore, Panoply in Lambertville, New Jersey. You can find just about anything you want there, and things you didn't even know you'd love to see.