Posts Tagged ‘dada
popularity has always been my bête noir; the one attribute i want more than any other and the one that proves the most elusive. there are days when i am content being just the way i am and there are those other days (i must digress here for a moment, for it is moments that i would like to address: when i say ‘day’ i don’t mean a whole day, for that is only a contrived marker of time, what should be indicated by the word ‘day’ is ‘moment-by-moment’ and that doesn’t mean i’m any more mercurial than the next person, but it does mean i am willing to admit it,) when i wonder at my inability to draw a crowd (other than those watching and waiting for the accident to occur, the “what a train wreck, i couldn’t turn away from it” kind of people who dog your life.)
being popular. as children, let’s say under 8, you don’t much think about popularity (your Q rating, as it were), you’re content to play with whoever is at hand…it seems pretty democratic, if i remember correctly. somewhere in fourth or fifth grade, you’ll begin to notice that some of your classmates attract more attention by their peers than you do (or not, you may have been one of the popular ones, for which this essay is moot. if you, like me, had a small circle of friends, the ‘B’ group were you grading them, you’d start to see a pattern; the handsome, pretty, not always particularly bright, but with a certain confidence that you just can’t deny is attractive, 9 and 10 years old start to separate from the rest of the class. it may be that they mature faster or start to understand the power of their charisma and how to wield it while you and your friends stand at the side, shoes untied, t-shirts untucked, sucker-punched by this turn of events. (the phrase, “turn of events” isn’t too trite, is it? see, another worry of the unpopular, neurotic about phrasing.)
i am not sure why i”m on this jag about popularity, the rose in the photo is named ‘princess diana’ and she struggled with popularity–more than likely she was a ‘B’ that found herself in with the ‘A’ crowd without the necessary decompression period, making the best of her sudden popularity only occasioned by the bends every now and then (that sinking, swirling feeling you have just before you faint.) or it may be that my expectations are greater than my ability. or it may be that today was a day i actually cared about being popular. there, that’s it.
Tags: art, artists, calculating, dada, david markson, eros, foreplay, giotto, italian renaissance, life, love, marcel duchamp, mixed media, pain, painting, ransom, rose, rrose selavy, sex, signature, thorns, wittgenstein's mistress
there was the circle. actually it was the perfect red circle painted by giotto in response to a request by the pope to see giotto’s work before hiring him that i read about in david markson’s brilliant “wittgenstein’s mistress” although the story of giotto and the perfect red circle (hand-painted without a compass or other assistance–just his hand, the brush, the paint and a surface; think about it,) may have been a part of my art history library (the one you keep in your mind, the one you draw on unexpectedly–that grain silo on a country highway at the edge of a town that hardly anyone, even you, visits.)
there was the circle. i knew it would be the beginning. i knew that the message would start to reveal itself once the circle was down.
there were vague notions of ideas, but none of them fully formed, just an avid interest in the perfect red circle. my fingertips turned red from the craypas as i rubbed its redness into the canvas (a cherry kool-aid red, a candy-colored & -coated red from over-indulging; the red of lips freshly kissed, slightly bruised — a hush of violet.)
giotto is not a favorite artist of mine. i am not disposed to the early italian renaissance, i mean i get it, but that doesn’t mean i have to like it. i could care that the contrapuntal stance suddenly ‘enlivened’ painting toward a more natural representation. but giotto started this [project.] there was the circle. and there were roses. and there is always marcel duchamp. i cannot go further than the front door without packing up my rrose selavy & quietly tucking her into my _______ (an yet as unnamed carry-all [port-manteau, peut-être] for ideas & my past.) please see this blog post, my heart belongs to dada for further proof. )
i am not a painter. my visual expression is usually relegated to what i can make a digital camera & my computer do. i attempt to compose photographs (you may have figured that out on your own, should you be any little bit familiar with this blog) that have some beauty or some symmetry or for that matter, asymmetry or that they somehow tell a story (sometimes about me, other times about greater & smaller things, at times they say nothing at all.)
some ideas start out strong (“this is not a …”, above,) but quickly are covered over when a better idea came along (you’ve been to that bar, haven’t you? the one where you’re just getting into someone — & they you — & suddenly something better comes along — for either one of you & whatever it was that was working for you, isn’t any longer. i know you know what i mean.) ideas are like that, aren’t they? creativity is like that bar–it’s a fairly busy bar–most times anyway, but there are down times too, when your life might get in the way or there’s some other thing that needs YOUR ATTENTION NOW.
there was the circle. it needed paint. i know that acrylic paint makes a great adhesive, so i was already contemplating mixing up the media by the time i dipped my first brush into the burnt sienna (the undercoat) & then i needed to spend about a half hour (with assistance, no less) looking for a palette knife or putty knife or something to make a little impasto (or a lot) & finally ended up with a cake spatula (see above, left) which worked on this small surface perfectly (at least for me, the inexperienced painter.)
which. there was the problem of not being a painter, truly. i suffered some regret as paint went down, sometimes on its own, other times under my not-quite-as-confident-as-i-thought hand. i told myself, ‘no matter’, work with what you have, follow your instincts, for god’s sake “use some brighter colors!” think about the color, the composition, the forms; it’s not like i don’t write about it often enough & here i am struggling with concepts that i know. because, did i say this before? i am not a painter.
before i got too carried away by the surface texture of the paint, i sidled over to the computer & started selecting different roses from my ‘botanicals’ file (thinking, as i was, that only one  rose would anchor the painting, center, front–giotto’s angel’s wings, his perfect circle its halo); i chose several different favorites, printed them & cut them out in a close approximation of their actual shape, but leaving some ‘edge’ (an angle, a scissor cut) to them, but only because the tiny, tiny, tiny details are best left to someone with more patience than i–of course, that is only partially true, i can maneuver among the shoals of tiny details without incident, but like most people or at least most people like me (which narrows it down quite severely, doesn’t it?) i prefer the grand gesture, the details to follow as best they can, scrambling behind to keep up with the sweeping grandeur that is ‘high concept.’
as sure as i could be, i placed the yellow rose in the center of the circle (poor giotto, clumsily painted over as he is) & pushed it into the wet paint. in true amateur painter manner, i stepped back, with brush in paint-splattered hand (i may have stuck the tip end of the brush between my lips, a cigarette to think more clearly) & contemplated my work: the balance, the subject (was the visual result now before me an expression of what i felt?), & realized, with all of those other roses laying to the side of the canvas that i was not done with them, yet.
& they all found a home, although there may have been one or two that were rejected (their sad little faces, “why not me?”) & so i set those aside with another use in mind (they ended up on the reverse with my signature.) but suddenly i now found a triangle (a golden rose triangle) thrusting up into the center of the picture plane (a rose bowl float sliding into the your peripheral vision, just like on new year’s morning as the floats make their away around the corner from orangethorpe onto colorado blvd. in pasadena–an “ooh, look at that one!” escaping your lips.)
& i thought of the flutter of angel’s wings (a scene from kushner’s “angels in america”, maybe not as angry, but still, retributive.) so. & i thought that there might be just the faintest whiff, the odor, the scent, the suggestion of an erotic moment (do i need to spell it out for you? no? i thought as much.)
those unfurling petals that push the center of the rose up toward your ______, an invitation to smell, taste, indulge, relent, submit, a slave to their power. do you lose yourself in their beauty? it is their strength, that beauty, that scent, that sex. & don’t they make it difficult to love them–the thorns, pin-pricks of anguish, scratches of anticipation; all there to make you want them more, because it is the pain of handling them that makes them that much more desirable. even after you’ve been hurt by reaching out to their beauty, you are incapable of resisting going back in for another opportunity to bring it close to your ______.
you know the probability of hurt is great, but their beauty completely blinds you to that danger as the reward (their domination of your soul) is so utterly irresistible. what could feel better than love & yet could cause such despair?
it kidnaps you, love, that is. you may receive a ransom note, all cut out newspaper letters jumbled together, demanding X for the release of Y (the union that produces zygotes.) & i know that some of you will debate the relative value of one over the other; others may rush in (otherwise known in romantic literature as ‘fools for love’–a description that, unfortunately, applies to the majority — even the most calculating among us.) you may prevaricate, waste time, dither, sweat, say yes! then as quickly say no! all of which are the symptoms of love’s relentless hold on our lives, its foreplay were we in the mood (or in a clearer state of mind) to admit.
(did i know this is where i would end up when i started this project? & please, consider the parenthetical thoughts, phrases & digressions as asides delivered directly to the audience in a knowing & conspiratorial tone of voice–perhaps accompanied by a wink of complicity, we are, after all, actors upon a stage, blah, blah, blah… [what to do about the poor ellipsis, so overused & under-appreciated, but so perspicacious an ending to our blathering.] )
Visual epiphanies, those moments when you deeply understand an artist, an ‘aha’ moment, if you will, are, i believe, rare occurrences (unlike the comma splices in this sentence.) There have been several for me over the years, but the one I want to discuss happened in the spring of 1974. When you reach a certain point in your life, when the music of the spheres is in harmony with the cycles & synapses of your brain, truly when the stars & planets are aligned, if you let it, it will hit you on the head like a coconut falling from a tree (salesmen, you know whereof I speak.) You must be open to the possibility of the epiphany & be able to recognize it for what it is–eyes open, ears open, mind open, heart (soul) open because it comes without warning, without preamble, without trumpets. It can be like the fog, slinking into the room (or landscape or wherever) on little cat’s paws, but unlike the fog it offers clarity where there had been none before.
I had had one a few years earlier, at least one that I recognized as such: driving through the Black Hills of South Dakota I crested a hill and below lay a valley all green & bathed in an orange light just like in many of the landscape paintings that Cézanne created when he lived in the south of France. (Read the complete post here.) That experience left me breathless and a little star-struck, not unlike a celebrity sighting on Hollywood Blvd. (as if,) but I did have to pull over & glory in the beauty that lay before me & contemplate on the vision of the artist–that seeing is being & that I could recognize it when it presented itself.
For me, these visual revelations continued unabated over the next couple of years, & as real today for me as if I had been presented with the exact same experience minutes ago. Much of it had to do with the fact that I had moved to Chicago to study at the Goodman School of Drama, at the time housed in a grand theater on Monroe east of Michigan Avenue and part of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Sometime between March 23, 1974 and May 5, 1974, the exact date sadly lost to time (but not the experience) Marcel Duchamp decamped at the Art Institute in a major retrospective organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Anne d’Harnoncourt & Kynaston McShine (Duchamp could’ve made up that last name, yes?) As students at the Goodman, we had back door access (free!) to the Institute & libraries, entering through a intricate series of underground passages, all overhead pipes & institutional green paint, belching us out in a basement gallery from which we emerged into the Institute bathed in the skylights of the main stairwell.
The Duchamp exhibit was set up in the south galleries that I believe have now been demolished, but at the time were a ‘modern’ addition to the Beaux Art pile on Michigan Avenue–a sweeping & floating curved staircase led you to the main entrance of the gallery & there they had installed ephemera from Duchamp’s life (more on that later.) Slipping past the guard (clad in a maroon jacket with gray slacks & ‘sensible’ black shoes, regardless of sex) with my student pass’ chain cool against my neck, I faced the gallery; my memory tells me it was dark and that the works were starkly, dramatically lit with what I remember to be a single light source (but that could be the result of the effect the work had on me.)
& then, then, there was “Fountain,” “Fresh Widow,” “Bicycle Wheel,” “In Advance of the Broken Arm,” “L.H.O.O.Q.”; all of Duchamp’s Ready-mades with their pun-y titles. You have to know it turned me on my head. The sheer audacity of his pissing on the establishment, not only the art establishment but also the cruelest of worlds, with its wars & destructions & its mayhem & murder & madness (this after 10 million dead in WWI,) but for me, for me then, at that point in my life, young, coming out, the thrilling discoveries of power & upsetting the establishment, the revolution of sex–Duchamp sparked that, ignited it, fanned the flame, intellectually, & coolly emotionally & spit at you, daring you to feel or think otherwise.
He made people nervous. You could sense that in the galleries; oh, there was laughter, coupled with nervous undercurrents, a murmuring stream of conversation, questions, disbelief that this could be art. To me, though, Duchamp was art, art that was clever & insidious & thrillingly simple & complex & sexual. It rubbed up against you, slipped under your skin like a needle connecting to a vein, harsh, compelling, thoroughly addictive.
Could an artist be this disruptive, 40, 50 years after the fact? Could an artist’s work from the 1920s & 30s speak to a young man as honestly & directly as Duchamp’s did to me? It was revelatory, it explained unspoken meanings & revealed truths, I felt, meant just for me. Yes, yes, I know, but what about Duchamp the man, his times, his life, you say. & I tell you it does not matter, his life is but a clothes hanger on which his art hangs (but more on that later.)
I only recall two paintings/constructions & they are the ones most commonly referred to, parsed, explicated: “Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2” and “The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even,” because, after all, I am describing a feeling, a thought & a motivation not the exhibit as it unfolded. At the time, I recall thinking to myself (I first saw the exhibit alone, but went back on subsequent visits with friends from school) that Duchamp had done this work solely for my enjoyment. It was a powerful sensation, & with some sense of entitlement attached to it. I owned his intent. But perhaps, now, nearly 40 years later, I believe that he owned me, & my little universe & without meeting we shared something unique to us & us alone. That to me is an epiphany.
Et maintenant, je voudrais présenter, Rrose Sélavy! I mentioned earlier in this post that Duchamp’s life’s ephemera was on display in the antechamber to the exhibit. This room, although square, seemed round because of the large floating curving staircase that wound its way down from the second floor past floor-to-ceiling windows (facing Michigan Avenue.)
Bathed in the cloudy gray of a Chicago spring day, these artifacts, letters, photographs (most by another favorite of mine, Man Ray) laid out Duchamp’s life — but there, there was Duchamp in drag (the aforementioned Rrose Sélavy, possibly a pun on the French adage, “Eros, c’est la vie.” ) A fetching flapper from France (couldn’t resist the alliteration, sorry) & that photo, key to lock, the last thing I saw in the exhibit, turned it all around for me. The door swung open & revealed his subversive, sexually ambiguous (but deeply sexual,) revolutionary thumb in the eye of convention. Pffft!