Personal Margins

Barnett Newman, 18 Cantos, 1963-1964, a lithograph portfolio of 18 pages and one cover page

Barnett Newman, 18 Cantos, 1963-1964, a lithograph portfolio of 18 pages and one cover page

I should say that it was the margins made in printing a lithographic stone that magnetized the challenge for me from the very beginning. No matter what one does, no matter how completely one works the stone (and I have always worked the stone, as soon as it is printed) makes an imprint that is surrounded by inevitable white margins. I would create a totality only to find it change after it was printed-into another totality…There is always the intrusion of the paper frame. To crop the extruding paper or to cover it with a mat or to eliminate all of the margins by “bleeding” is an evasion of this fact. It is like cropping to make a painting. It is success by mutilation…The struggle to overcome this intrusion-to give the imprint its necessary scale so that it could have its fullest expression, so that it would not be crushed by the paper margin and still have a margin- that was the challenge for me. That is why each canto has its own personal margins…These eighteen cantos are then single, individual expressions, each with its unique difference.

-Barnett Newman, “Preface to 18 Cantos,” 1964

Canto XIV 1963-4 by Barnett Newman 1905-1970

Canto XIV 1963-4 by Barnett Newman 1905-1970


Sardines and Oranges

Michael Goldberg, Sardines, 1955, Smithsonian

Michael Goldberg, Sardines, 1955, Smithsonian

Why I Am Not a Painter

I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,

for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
“Sit down and have a drink” he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. “You have SARDINES in it.”
“Yes, it needed something there.”
“Oh.” I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. “Where’s SARDINES?”
All that’s left is just
letters, “It was too much,” Mike says.

But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven’t mentioned
orange yet. It’s twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike’s painting, called SARDINES.

 Frank O’Hara

(1926-1966)

 


Monday Monday

Franz Kline, Mycenae, 1958

Franz Kline, Mycenae, 1958

Oh you Monday. With your redrush urgent,

your orange streak, next-in-line, get-it-done-before-lunch.

I’m yellow drifting in a little late, weekend hung over

deskchair heaped, haven’t checked emails yet.

your high hot list, citadel efficiency

Getting there,

Soon enough.

Staff mtg doesn’t start for another 5 min.


Completely Dotty

Yayoi Kusama, detail Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: With Artwork by Yayoi Kusama, Penguin, 2012

Yayoi Kusama, detail Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: With Artwork by Yayoi Kusama, Penguin, 2012

“If it were not for art, I would have killed myself a long time ago.” Yayoi Kusama

On the subject of being crazy and creating mind-blowing art let’s talk Yayoi Kusama.

She came to prominence in the 70’s when she staged Body Festivals – naked people walking around clothed only in painted polka dots. And since then the dots have not stopped.

Polka dots are a way to infinity. Yayoi Kusama

Kusama leads the avant-garde contemporary art world. She checked herself into a Japanese mental institution in 1973 and since 1977 has called it home. She is escorted each day to her studio and is walked back to the hospital at night.

The Whitney now features an eye-popping retrospective of her work which you can browse when you click the picture above.  She’s a published poet and novelist. Louis Vitton partnered with her to make this fall’s hottest, spotted accessories.

Her latest work sold for $5.1 M, the highest amount for a living female artist.

Don’t know about you, but that doesn’t seem too crazy to me. Just badass.


Double Moon

Robert Motherwell, Blue Elegy, 1987, National Gallery of Austrailia

Robert Motherwell, Blue Elegy, 1987, National Gallery of Australia

Blue Moon Friday. That’s right, a second chance this month to see that spacious pearl rise and reflect more glowing light to love by. Due to the calendar we’ve concocted and the actual lunar cycle, we get a bonus full moon today –  happens every 2.7 years. Ok, so that’s mildly interesting. A good time to concoct a love potion perhaps.

This month’s two-moon tango reminds me of Blue Elegy by Robert Motherwell. I did a double take on this one. Only a pair of marks here, not an eye pleasing threesome. It’s repeated but not repetition. Just tandem. Why?

Powerful strokes that were originally the work of chance and subconscious, are now Motherwell’s signature mark. The strong downward stroke with the affixed oval shape (art critics say rectilinear and ovoid, ugh). He did about two hundred paintings in his Elegies series, mainly this same repeating mark in graphic black. A protest against the atrocities of the Spanish Civil war, as Picasso did in Guernica. See one here. http://www.guggenheim.org/new-york/collections/collection-online/show-full/piece/?object=84.3223&search=&page=&f=Title

But this Elegy’s in blue. Takes on celestial feel instead of the dark, stagnated fury of the black ones. The stroke now softened by sky blue and gilded by a gold top line. This mark usually told of senseless death and war’s vengeful repeating.  Now, it speaks of something more heavenly and I think more hopeful. The gift of second chance.

You struggle to say something important but you can’t quite get it out. You try again. You do something brilliant and then try it again –  fear of failure be damned. You attempted life, but it didn’t quite work out. You look up to see that second beautiful chance you thought you’d never get.

Blue moon shining.


Pollock is as Pollock does

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956). Convergence, 1952. Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, N.Y. © The Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956). Convergence, 1952. Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, N.Y. © The Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 “When I am in my painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing. It’s only after a sort of ‘get acquainted’ period that I see what I have been about. I have no fears about making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own.”  

Jackson Pollock

I don’t believe Pollock on this one. He has no fear about making changes to his work? That would be extraordinary indeed. I tend to shy away from Pollock because of the unnerving visual chaos. I understand this explosive change (dripping paint on canvas) skyrocketed Abstract Expressionism to sparkling mid-century glory. Today many artists drip in Ab-Exstasy.

I appreciate his process a bit more after reading John Yau’s poem inspired by Pollock’s work. Am I layering esoteric upon esoteric by mixing in a contemporary poem with a Pollock to bake a giant heady souffle? Yes. But hell, here it is.

Notice how the words mimic the energy of the paint. How the repetition and redirection, indirection and circumnavigation of words whirls you around like you are a streak of yellow or red inside the painting. How Yau ravels and unravels the mystery of being in the flow.

830 Fireplace Road
John Yau

(Variations on a sentence by Jackson Pollack)

“When I am in my painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing”
When aware of what I am in my painting, I’m not aware
When I am my painting, I’m not aware of what I am
When what, what when, what of, when in, I’m not painting my I
When painting, I am in what I’m doing, not doing what I am
When doing what I am, I’m not in my painting
When I am of my painting, I’m not aware of when, of what
Of what I’m doing, I am not aware, I’m painting
Of what, when, my, I, painting, in painting
When of, of what, in when, in what painting
Not aware, not in, not of, not doing, I’m in my I
In my am, not am in my, not of when I am, of what
Painting “what” when I am, of when I am, doing, painting.
When painting, I’m not doing. I am in my doing. I am painting.


Run the Experiment

Patricia Qualls, Mystery of the Margins, courtesy of Patricia Qualls

Patricia Qualls, Mystery of the Margins, courtesy of Patricia Qualls

I’ve collected Patricia Qualls art for several years now, and I am in good company. Beyond being an artist whose energy, empathy and clear vision speaks through her canvases, she’s a smart-as-tacks person and arms-wide-open kind of friend. Patricia is hidden gold in Carmel Valley.

California recently tried to outlaw gold mining in these mountains, but you can follow a lovely winding road down to her gallery/studio and uncover it still.

Her favorite phrase is “run the experiment.” She told me this as I held a hair pick slathered with color over a blank piece of canvas (too chicken to pick up a brush). Her twinkle eyes convinced me to paint one day while on a studio visit. We were at the point in the process when the white paper yawned wide and my hand hovered in midair, paint dripping, stuck in a fear struggle between desire to create and ominous-cloud certainty that the outcome would be total crap. I listened to a silent thought croaking, I have the talent of a toad. A warty toad. A talentless warty toad.

She said, “run the experiment.” And the pick finally careened toward the canvas. See, I am the sort of person that demands a beautiful result every time. Like Venus rising from the waves. In my imaginary Pintrest life.  Forget the wild impossibility of this thinking -of catastrophe courting  this high-stakes perfectionism. Venus rising is a myth, an ancient lie.

Forget beauty. Damn expectations.

Run the experiment. Try things out. See what you like. What pulls you forward? Swirl it all around and do it again, and again.

Do thousands of them –  Patrica did.  Play outside the margins of myopic judgement. Run the experiment. Let’s just see what happens. . .