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Art Conversations on Art

Word as Art- R.H. Quaytman

Modern art. Canvas of miniscule stripes atop larger canvas of miniscule stripes. Just another painting hanging at the MOMA. Or is it? Upon closer inspection…

A poem that Borges would like! The artist, R.H. Quaytman we discover has coyly engaged verse from Jack Spicer into his paintings.

CONVERSATIONS ON ART- Word as Art- R.H. Quaytman

It starts, “The poem begins to mirror itself/”
And we as spectators see this to be true in the manner in which the poem is conveyed.

We stand there, drinking in the words, literally reading between the lines because isn’t that what we love about poetry? And we discover the poet singling himself out and wishing to be changed, but recognizing the fallacy of such a desire. And we are suddenly stopped in our tracks with the gravity of his words “Things desert him.  I thought of you / as a butterfly tonight with clipped wings.” In one instant, we feel his abject loneliness. In one instant, his beloved close by but wishing to alight upon the air away from him. It is no accident that he too craves wings and avian form.

The lines become a cage we are peeking into. You never know when you’ll be arrested by word as art.

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Art Conversations on Art

Word as Art

In college, I discovered that many things in life are free. Then again came the reality that a whole heck of a lot of things aren’t. Sometime during my sophomore year, I stumbled upon a delicious secret. It kept my weekend evenings regularly packed. It kept me well versed and amused at the theater. I volunteered as an usher. By signing up in advance, taking tickets and pointing paid ticketholders to their seats, I received free entry. As the lights would go down, I would find a nook at the back of the auditorium to watch the play or musical performance. Many good nights were spent in the three theaters on campus.

One evening in particular, I remember ushering with a girl we’ll call Jessica. We’re going to call her Jessica because I don’t actually remember her name. Anyways, she was studying dance at the art school on campus and in between spurts of tearing ticket stubs, we began talking philosophically about what art is. A seemingly innocuous question, ” what are you majoring in?” had taken an unexpected turn. I replied I was studying journalism and poetry. She practically snorted as she quickly responded, “that’s not art.”

For 10 minutes we discussed the fine points of writing as an art form.  Her comment had jostled me to the core. I remember it gestating in my head, distracting me during the performance. Many years later it sits there on the shelf of memories. What could have been one artist talking to another about how their art forms might inform one another ended up being a conundrum of she said, she said. Even after cited attempts of Shakespeare, Woodward and Bernstein, she was unmoved.

Right now we live in interesting times.

The visual form holds our attention so completely that many Americans don’t read. Why read a book when you can see the movie? I have enjoyed my chats with film protagonists and buffs including Sandra and Xavier. I see the visual form as visual storytelling and when done well, what’s not to love. An image can transfix the viewer with such powerful appeal. It tells the viewer what to see when. Some directors show such skill with this medium that you can’t help but be wooed and thusly changed after encountering their work. I love that.

Then again, I live in a city well known for its books and authors. I remember once hearing a statistic that San Franciscans pay per capita more on booze and books than anywhere else in the country. Many people here tout themselves writers “with a book inside, waiting to get out.” And if this is the case, who will read those books?

Cue blogging. Sometimes people stumble upon a person’s blog and find themselves inexorably drawn into the story being told, whether it’s food recipes with photographs that make readers want to lick the screen or whatever appeals to their personal tastes and whims. We live in an age where newspapers are increasingly going from print to online and where books can be printed by the author for a price without having to shop them around to mainstream publishers as the only avenue.

Interesting times indeed.

Several years ago, I developed a fun ritual with my then-roommate Mindy of Tuesday nights as poetry night. See, I knew if she got a taste of it, she might be interested in bigger bites. It didn’t hurt that I scratched her back as we read Billy Corgan, Coleridge and Strand. Night after night, I could count on the television being on, but Tuesday nights, we set aside time for reading poetry aloud. She still mentions how much she loved poetry night.

The need for people to tell their stories is intrinsic and really one of the primary reasons I pursued journalism in the first place. We want details, an insider’s perspective, the close-up shot. If a picture is worth a thousand words, perhaps that says more about the quality of the words used. I for one, am a fan of film, but as with that conversation with Jessica so many years ago, am interested in how film can inspire or inform writing. I love the idea of conversation between art forms. And I believe in the power of the word.

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Art Conversations on Art

Images a la Sauvette

Last Sunday, the sound of rain pelting the window pane woke me up. Plans to lead a walk along the Golden Gate bridge were definitely off. One of my favorite past times and excuses to love rainy weather is the opportunity to ensconce myself in a museum. Two photography exhibits proved to entice me to visit the MOMA. New friends, Elina and Carolyn accompanied.

Henri Cartier-Bresson first got my attention in graduate school, his photo En Brie hung over my roommate Yoo Mee’s bed. I called her a woman-child, she called me “Chick”. Her mother sometimes called in the middle of the night, not speaking any English and sounding frantic to speak to her daughter. I learned a few select words in Korean to help our phone communication along. The evening I said chamkamanyo in response to the repetitive litany of her daughter’s name, it was met with a brief pause and then a giggle. When Yoo Mee graduated, she left me a bit of herself in the form of Henri C-B.

I arrived at the MOMA expectant and anticipating. Henri Cartier-Bresson photographed Colette and other French literary dignitaries. A room away, a historical photo of Nehru and Lord Mountbatten was framed to the left of a close-up of Gandhi’s funeral pyre. His way with the 35 mm camera set the stage for modern photojournalism and point-and-shoot photography. He called his style “images a la sauvette” which translates to being “caught red-handed.” This also fit the end of the photography exhibit upstairs: “Exposed: voyeurism, surveillance and the camera since 1870.”

The photos in this exhibit really created topics of conversation and brought the museum visitor into the same voyeur stance as the photographer. There is something compelling about watching other people. Babies can sit in front of a television watching video of other baby faces roll by for hours. People watching is infinitely fun, but when does the fun act cross a line of inappropriate. I think we’d all agree that watching people stroll by a window of a coffee house is innocuous. Watching the lit window of a person in a dark evening, not so much. What does privacy look like in today’s world and what should it look like? Do you take the photo if you’re about to catch a murder in progress or try to stop it? A whole room devoted to catching murder and suffering in action turned my stomach and included images of suicides in progress, prisoners of war being put to death. Thankfully only the one room existed and one photographer communicated he took the photo of a POW being killed so the killer could never be lost in obscurity.

One particular project of note involved photographer Nicholas Nixon shooting his wife and her three sisters over the course of 24 years. Along one wall hung the 24 pictures with the sisters standing in the same order, but with time and age marking them. Sometimes the photo showed arms wrapped around each other, other times stoic and not touching. This left an indelible impression because of the thoughtfulness and length of time necessary to finish it. I wondered what this might look like in my own life. If translated into poetry?

Another artist took a job as a housekeeper at a small pensione in Venezia for the express purpose of  snooping through the guests’ staying in the rooms she cleaned. She described her findings with alacrity. This “research” took place over the course of several days. She read one man’s journal and his movements to Venice from France. She watched the orange on his desk become orange peels in his wastebasket a few days later. She photographed his room and along with her writings, it was on display at this museum. Were her actions sanctioned in the name of art? It definitely gave me pause.

Another photographer, Emily Jacir, positioned herself at a square overseas for a series called In Linz and using time lapse photography, placed herself in different spots of the square each day, describing in her cutline, her location in the pre-timed photo. This prescribed breach of privacy may have shown her physical location but did not break into her interior landscape.

Surveillance, voyeurism sees to an extent what it is shown, what it wants to see.  Often, I wonder if we are seeing, rather than just zooming through our lives. Do we see what others might be seeing in our direction? One of the concepts I took away from both exhibits and notably, a favorite reason for loving photography is the act of looking, which is exactly the name of the overall exhibit at the MOMA. If we look around us, what might we see that’s innately there if looked for?

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Art Conversations on Art

Open Studio, Open House

Bldg. 116

For Halloween, as my friend Bryan walked to church, I yelled at him across the street, gesticulating wildly and told him about the afternoon planned. A happy captive, he joined me as we set out for the Hunter’s Point artist colony open house and an afternoon of stepping in and out of people’s subconscious. Art shows what is important to the person, like the subject matter that keeps a poet writing different lines about the same thing.

I found myself drawn to the Shipyard Open Studios primarily to see my friend Amanda’s recent foray into painting and collaboration with her mom Lynne, an established painter.

So Bryan, one of my favorite people over the years to drag along to art exhibitions and I drove to Hunter’s Point, the weather warm and sunny. One of the great things about attending an open studio is to see so many different points of view and style.

Bryan taking a quick bite before continuing Open Studio tour
$3 Cold sesame noodles never tasted so good.

Bruce Katz painted a clump of radishes that popped in their pinky-purples. He and I discussed the varying styles represented in his open studio. While the realistic fruits and vegetables he painted invited me in, his Tuscan streets mixed media pieces kept the conversation flowing.

I rediscovered Susan Spies and her abstract paintings. Her work found resonance with me the last time I visited the Shipyard Open Studios several years prior. “Push Pull, Orange” drew me into her studio those three years ago conjuring up blue sky out of a rustle of grey clouds sweeping the canvas. This piece to me communicated a hopefulness in spite of circumstances. The orange square seemed to be a happy pop of color to almost ground it back to earth. This time, her star of the show, “Azure” did the opposite. Its teal and robin’s egg blue tonality evoked a sense of whimsy and fun. Those would be the top notes of the painting. Below the surface, the painting is comforting. It relaxes the eyes, and the very colors remind me of the ocean off of Kauai.

Sharon Beals’ bird and egg photographs make me gasp a little, in a good way. The collection she showed encompassed photographs and still lives of birds including a cheerful looking tanager and many nests of bird eggs. She shot them at the California Academy of Science and the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. One part scientific study and the other vantage point felt as if the object had been captured in place for a moment. Some of the nests felt stumbled upon, involving the detritus of the environs in which the nest might have been found. I immediately wanted to buy the lot of them for the dramatic impression they left. Even though the colors might be subtle, they really popped against the black background. Something about her photos in this collection convey life and death dichotomy, showing beauty in both. Her compositions are quite conversational.

Then there’s Amanda. The thing to know about her is she’s a bit loud and brash. She works in sales and thus has a fine-tuned gauge on the best way to speak someone’s language to make the pitch. This, at least, was always the side of her I saw professionally. In 2009, she sustained a big loss and in the same month of 2010, so did I. Where we had talked about having dinner for seven years and never followed through on it, once dinner finally transpired this year we talked over cocktails and talked over dinner. When we finally said goodbye, it had been a five hour gabfest.

She recently took up painting and collaborating with her mom, Lynne Sonenberg. While none of her paintings hung in her mom’s studio, one painting showed detail work and swirled flourishes she incorporated into the work, which is one of two paintings in that series, “The Leap”, inspired by a story of the Lori’s. Both Lori’s were training for a long bike ride in the Wine Country when one of them cycled off a cliff. The other Lori saw her friend’s predicament as it happened and instead of calling 911, she leapt off the edge after her friend. Both sustained injuries and it was that bit of risk in the name of love that inspired the paintings. One shows an abstract figure hurtling over the side of the mountain. And it is at the bottom of this painting that my friend painted her flourishes. It’s fitting really.

Art has its way of sneaking in a side door of a person to help them express the inexpressible. These ephemeral subtleties that art tries to define on canvas, paper or form keep the conversation interesting. Death and life after death can do that to a person. It’s that life after death theme that for me is getting me writing and delving back into creating art on multiple platforms.

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Art Conversations on Art

Umm, blogging soon

Be on the look-out for:
— Restaurant Reviews from Chicago
— Lecture Notes from “The Importance of Art in Human Community” with NEA Chairman, Dana Gioia

The three day weekend kind of kicked my ass in a matter of speaking, and yet also entailed a marathon of catnaps- albeit the one Monday afternoon was sangria-induced… Glad to have Indiana Jones back and yet much more happy with the storyline of Prince Caspian. Pass on “Before the Rains” unless you want to see a very irresponsible anti-hero who looks like Gavin Newsom going colonial on the pre-monsoon peeps.

I will write soon. *Soon being a somewhat relative term that I hope will apply prior to the jaunt to Mexico.*

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Art Conversations on Art

A Sunday detour with Jackson Pollock

The sky has been warning it will rain again and this evening the fog is like a warning or a punctuation mark that the space heater will be on tonight. Instead of attending a fabulous potluck with Italian Wedding soup in hand, I was given the gift of several hours of uninterrupted brain space to finish my residency journal for school. Consisting of a 10 page response to lectures or workshops that challenged or encouraged me, I am marinating in my notes.

This evening, I am reconsidering the value of cross-fertilization in the form of friendships bridging artistic mediums. Frank O’Hara spent so much time at the MOMA that he ended up becoming an assistant curator. He befriended painters of the abstract expressionist spirit and even wrote a poem entitled “Why I am not a painter.” What’s brilliant about the poem is that as he describes a befuddlement with how his friend Mike Goldberg composes the painting “Sardines”, he does the same thing poetically that Goldberg does visually. He described his poems as “all-over” poems, just as Pollock described his style as “all-over” paintings. The conversations and collision of ideas permeates his work.

And this leads me to think of Victor. Victor, struggling with all the bravado he can muster to make his dent in the New York opera community, taking the risk to realize his dream. I have often thought how his courage will seep over into my life with its sometimes ambitious goals that seem so unbelievable partly because no one else is pursuing this particular path in quite the same way.

Victor and I spoke over a week ago about the musical “Sweeney Todd.” The gory story features music that enchants and repulses as it draws you in. This night we were talking about the haunting ballad “Johanna”. I commented that I love this song- it always gets drawn out in my mind leaving me to wish that they would sing more of it. Victor begins talking about what’s going on in the musical score to tell the story musically. We agree that we are left wanting more of Johanna just as Sweeney, the judge, and Anthony can never have enough of her.

I remember a conversation with Olga at “Madame Butterfly” late last year where we wondered aloud how spirituality can shape art, how we can allow both to speak to each other as if in dialogue and what the output resembles. We spoke of the sacrifices required to engage our mediums more fully and how life’s paths can take us in very different directions than we intended.

My opera friends and our conversations of craft energize my art. Like Pollock and O’Hara, let the permeation continue unabated.

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Art Conversations on Art

Marketing the dead

Is it fair really that painters become cheese, chocolate or liqueur post-humously. Something about this scratches against my conviction that art should mitigate memory not Hickory Farms…

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Art Conversations on Art

Spoiled by Mr. Darcy (spoiler alert)

Ladies, ladies. Do you remember the smoldering look he gave Lizzie from across the room? Even atop the piano’s grate, we swooned watching his eyes betray his heart from the cold, proud edifice of his carriage. What the cleverly wrapped up ending does not let onto is that Mr. Darcy did not end up with Lizzie but instead with a woman of convenience.

I must be a glutton for punishment because I saw not one, but two movies in two days about unrequited love. This was quite unintentional I suppose since the primary force driving me to see them lay in:
— my love of historical fiction
— fantastic fashion and decor

“Becoming Jane” begins quite like “Pride + Prejudice”. Then with the omniscience of future-dwellers, we know her life will take a sharp turn. Jane Austen, as depicted in the movie has a capacity for writing and is a woman ahead of her time in an era when women depended on men for their survival. She chooses the high road of selflessness and the risky one of trying to eke out a living by her pen. Jane visits renowned author Mme. Radcliffe and remarks that though her novels are full of vivid detail, her life appears austere. Radcliffe comments and foreshadows that she writes out of what she does not have. Jane ends up taking these words literally. As they become her bread and wine, she writes out of what she knew and yet does not have currently, happy endings to stories of duress marking the way. She becomes this prolific author. Yet once aged as the Jane Austen, she sights her beloved, provoking a crack of betrayal in her carefully crafted composure. They observe each other and that is that. A list of her achievements don the screen and we learn he named his eldest daughter for her. The credits roll and it doesn’t feel like it’s enough.

“Moliere” accidentally falls for his insipid patron’s wife. He has been hired to teach his patron Msr. Jourdain how to act. Regretfully Jourdain is without talent and sense. His neglect of his wife and the caressing words Moliere has penned turn her heart toward his. But theirs is a love that is not meant to last. We know this, even as he pleads with her to leave Jourdain and join him and his troupe. It won’t happen. As he desires to involve himself in serious theatre, his aim is to write and play in tragedies. Instead he carves out a name for himself in history through the humorous plays he brings to his willing audiences. And whose advice fueled this direction, none but the now dying Mme. Jourdain. On her deathbed, he laments their final happy moments before parting. She is still goading him to invent a way to marry the tragic with the comic before the curtain closes over her eyes one final time. His eyes, we see looking behind the screen background, words mouthed over the actors reciting them to an audience. But those eyes are haunted, clouded with grief and tears. A rich legacy of drama his to bequeathe.

And so this leaves me with me. Wondering if great writers really do offer themselves up to their art, a sacrifice for the greater good. Wondering what modern day Darcy’s look like and how they are best recognized amidst all the cads roaming the streets like feral cats. I ask these questions and leave them, wandering back to the pen that waits uncapped, ready like a sentinel to the patrol the paper street upon which its lines will cut.

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Art Conversations on Art

Guts and all

Some people are content with seeing a highly anticipated movie the weekend of its opening. I, on the other hand, am not. There’s something about the energy of a crowd that has waited hours in line until the clock strikes midnight to build adrenaline and enthusiasm. “Lord of the Rings” definitely had me on a strange routine. I would go home and nap for several hours before we would set out to jump into the fray, flanked by Galadriel-clad fairies and Legolas-legged elves. My sidekick Olga and I met a guy in line for “The Two Towers” who had visited J.R.R. Tolkien’s grave in the motherland and was all geeked out. We waited outside of this beautiful old art-deco movie house in the chilly evening air and scampered to our seats, once they tore our tickets. Gilded reliefs of 1920’s style angels and scrollwork donned the walls above the red velvet curtain separating us from the screen. Collectively, we whooped and hollered as the ents took down traitorous Saruman and left the theater close to 3 a.m. groggy and yet thoroughly energized.

This same art deco theater has been purchased by an old folks agency and cordoned off for several months. I kept having visions of how they would use the space- for meetings or perhaps private showings of Cocoon. My last trip took me away from the city for three weeks. I was suprised to see, driving to the convention center the other day, a gaping hole replacing the once sturdy wall, separating the parking lot from the movie house. Somehow I had hoped and thought they would restore it to its former beauty. Wishful thinking, I see now. From the hole, the building’s vulnerability showed, like a woman with her skirt accidentally tucked into her pantyhose. The guts of the building stirred a sadness of our need to destroy and replace. Today, it was gone, now a socket of space and air. And it occurred to me that perhaps what has happened to this building can happen to us. It takes months of planning and organizing to build a structure and only a little while to destroy. We have to be careful with each other. Our time together is short enough already.

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Art Conversations on Art

When two worlds collide

Oh, if only Jane Austen and J.K. Rowling could have met! The stories they could have told…