Sunday, July 27, 2008

Franz Wright and John O'Donohue

a new arrival, 1 from a litter of 10

Just listened to a very compelling podcast from Speaking of Faith. Irish poet and philosopher, John O'Donohue speaking on beauty and friendship. While talking of beauty, and specifically poetry, he says, "That's the mystery of poetry. That poetry tries to draw alongside the mystery as its emerging and to somehow bring it into presence." He later says, " It's strange to be here (to be alive), the mystery never leaves you." 
Give it a listen. I think you'll like it. 

From a collection of Franz Wright's poems, God's Silence

5. God Here

The uninterruptible
voice, the
silence I now call
my only 

Who says

right about now you might want to stop playing
mad chemist with your brain: return to Me

and I will return

The Fire

Listen, I've light
in my eyes
and on my skin
the warmth of a star, so strange
is this
that I
can barely comprehend it:
I think
I'll lift my face to it, and then
I lift my face,
and don't even know how
this is done. And
everything alive
(and everything's
is turning
into something else
as at the heart
of some annihilating 
or is it creating
that's burning, unseeably, always
burning at such speeds
as eyes cannot
detect, just try
to observe your own face
growing old
in the mirror, or
is it beginning 
to be born?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Painting's Edge and Poetry

Fred Tomaselli

As the dust settles and I get a chance to reflect on the last couple of weeks I'm amazed by all that has happened in the little mountain community where I have been working this summer. During the last month I have had the good fortune to take part in Painting's Edge and Summer Poetry both held in the town of Idyllwild, CA.

Painting's Edge is a two-week painting residency program that is the brian child of LA artist, Roland Riess. Over the last six or seven years Riess has brought together many of the most significant voices in the practice of painting. Voices that have defined the practice for the last forty years and voices that are redefining it as I write. Curators and critics like Robert Storr, David Hickey, and Peter Plagens to name a few. Practitioners such as Pia Fries, Terry Winters, Pat Steir, Mark Bradford, Tom Nozkowski, and Matthew Richie are featured each year. 

The Summer Poetry program has a similar history. The week long residency for poets celebrated its tenth year this summer. This years roaster of visiting poets included the two-time United States Poet Laureate, Ted Kooser. Along with Ted were Eloise Klein Healy, BH Fairchild, David St. John, and my two personal favorites, Terrance Hayes and Cecilia Woloch.

Both programs offer evening lectures and readings that are open to the public, as well as open daily discussions. Talk about a feast for a hungry soul (and imagination.)

As I was going back through my notes from Painting's Edge I found a fragmented and curious trail of captured thoughts as I scrambled to record each lecture. I have to wonder why certain things resonated enough to record them; maybe it related to something I was thinking about that day, it was funning, the audience shifted in response to the statement. Anyway, here is a sampling of but a few. These notes in no way give testimony to how articulate the artist was, they represent my inarticulate listening. 

Fred Tomaselli - "as a young artist I felt burdened by the history of painting so I made escapist installations that commented on their own escape." "I wanted to use drugs in a different way." "My work got better when I let myself in." "My formative years came from hippy years burned into disco and cocaine." "There is always a ting of pathology in the work."

Peter Plagens - "the practice of painting is like the Spanish Empire. It's not the most important country any more but its still a great place to be from." "The newer forms of art making just translate better into media hype." And my favorite, "The contemporary art scene consists of well dressed anarchists shopping at the Apple store."

Beatriz Milhazes - you don't write things down, you just look. 

Wendell Gladstone - see Beatriz Milhazes

Leslie Shows - the real surprise of the residency. She is a killer painter. "Civilization is heartbreaking and fun at the same time." "I like the quality of gritty, muddy, disappointing landscapes - stripped to the basics."

Mark Bradford - "I wanted to paint but I didn't want to use paint."  "... using the materials that were at hand, that were embedded in my social fabric, my lived context."

Laurie Fendrich - "I really like the four edges of a painting." sometimes it really is just that simple. 

Pat Steir - listening to Pat was like listening to a living history. It was an amazing experience. I was reminded of a James Moody interview I had recently heard. Like the jazz great, Moody, Steir was a little verbally choppy at times, a little defensive, a little impatient talking about her work (it was clear they both would prefer to be making the work.) "If it's true, you will just get it. If it's not then no matter what you say, it doesn't work."

The things she said couldn't have been said by a younger artist or if they were said I wouldn't have trusted them. "Close your eyes and let go." "It's like the Zen practice, throw 3 stones into the air and walk away." "When your intention has no doubt, it is easier." "I take any chance I want to." "I'm not trying to be anything outside of my self." "If there is something true or real there will be someone who will connect with it. Trust that." "Your face changes every ten years so why shouldn't the face of your practice change?"

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

new work and Laurie Fendrich

This showed up on my studio wall.

New York painter, Laurie Fendrich
"What do I ask of a Painting?"
1) hold my eye
2) give me something more then a second
3) parts that add up to a significant whole
4) parts that stand on their own
5) surface
6) something that I can return to
7) visual surprise

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Au Sable Institute

I just returned from five days in the forests of upstate Michigan at the Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies. Au Sable is a residential field study program for under graduate and graduate students studying field biology, environmental studies and earth care. They do this around the world: in the Great Lakes forest of northern Michigan, the Puget Sound in the Pacific North west, the Everglades in south Florida, the Great Rift Valley in Kenya, and in the lowlands and mountains of South India. 

Dr. John Wood, a stream biologist, urban environmentalist and interdisciplinary scholar, invited me to present to their Academic Council. The Council consists of biologists, geologists, and chemists that are affiliated with universities a and colleges around the United States and Canada. After some thirty years of specializing in biology based environmental studies they are exploring interdisciplinary relationships starting with the visual arts.

I was invited to present my work and to talk about contemporary visual artists that are working with issues that pertain to environmental stewardship, either directly or indirectly. We looked at the work of Fred Tomasellis, Terry Winters, Leslie Shows, Kim Stringfellow, Janine Haard, Joel Sternfeld to name a few, and of course, Andy Goldsworthy. I also talked about the historical development of Western concepts of nature, landscape and the human occupation. We looked at the relationship of the prevailing narratives of science, religion, commerce and the arts and how they work to define our idea of landscape.

Art Making. After the slide lecture and discussion I sent the scientists out into the landscape with a visual assignment. I assigned two words to the group and asked them to photograph the landscape in response to these words: Sacred and Profane. In the process of defining these words we talked about Emile Durkheim's definition of the Sacred and the Profane. We contrasted this definition to the way that Christ casts these words in the New Testament Gospel texts. 
The group had two hours to photograph. They returned and I had two hours to sort through their images, select and arrange them, put them together with Yo-Yo Ma's Appalachia Waltz. It was a simple exercise but rich in its implications. In it we have the visual insights of those who are deeply invested in the landscape. The result was a potent reminder of Annie Dillard's the lover and the knower

The results of the time spent with this community of scientists proved to be rich and deeply rewarding. It appears to have amazing potential. We will be offering a visual arts course next May at the Puget Sound site. 

Joy Williams

from Joy Willians, Literature Unnatured

We use language to conceal, distort, and subvert the reality of many things, a great many things, and flattened terms like environment and biodiversity are words thrust in an ever reductive context of cant. They're words that have lost their juice, their power. Once Nature became Environment she became semantically much diminished, as befitted her humbled station. The grandeur was gone. It became just a matter of politics. The environment became society, was society. It could be friendly or controlled, hostile or unstable, but it was primarily anthropocentric and generously relative in its applicability. Like our state forests, those lands of many uses, many not so ecologically benign - Environment, as a concept, is utilitarian. There's the home environment, of course, the workplace, the school. There's the environment of Wall Street and the CIA. Natural becomes one prefix among many. An environment that's "natural" has already sidled away from Nature some. It has come to mean, sort of, not the same thing. It's something to locate between the tennis courts and the condos. Something that hasn't been drilled or mined or dammed yet, but exists, rather, in the wondrous state of pre-becoming - drilled or mined or dammed. It's already in the state of pre-becoming - drilled or mined or dammed. It's already on the grid, the graph, but isn't being used ... for now.

When exactly did Nature become Environment? It's a matter of style, of course, as well as diminished expectation.