Roy Lichtenstein, Landscape with Philosopher, 1996

Roy Lichtenstein, Landscape with Philosopher, 1996

Surprise! Near the end of his career, Lichtenstein turned his dots to breathtaking use in a series inspired by works from the Song Dynasty (960-1279).  Several are on display now at the Art Institute of Chicago as part of a sweeping retrospective.

He abandons his traditional primary colors in favor of a sky blue palette. Transforms his flat graphic style to meditate on depth, distance and the illusion of spaciousness. Eternity floating before our eyes.

Stripped down, the tight pixel pattern harmonizes with the spare eastern aesthetic. The graduated dots, fifteen different sizes, create scale and distance. With the tiny orange philosopher as the only figure to give us a non-dot reference.

Clouds, mountains and plunging gorges implied with staccato points. Forces your eye to connect them, read in between them. Merge the black space; eliminate the white space. Feel the tension between form and formlessness.

I enjoy the knurling tree, floating rootless, just as much as the orange seed speck of a philosopher. I wonder if together we contemplate his smallness and impermanence in the face of epic mother nature. Maybe that craggy mountain holds both our fates.

The eyes have it

 Kiyoshi Kobayakawa, Expression of Eyes, 1931

Kiyoshi Kobayakawa, Expression of Eyes, 1931

I used up this body


for one who does not come

A deep valley, now,

what once was my heart

Izumi Shikibu (974-1034)

It seemed the plum trees

were already in bloom

but when I picked a branch

what fell – so much like flowers –

was snow.

Izumi Shikibu (974-1034)


Judy Paul, Twins 1 © Judy Paul

Judy Paul, Twins 1 © Judy Paul

Today’s not a day for arm-chair metaphysics. It’s a Monday. Let’s not contemplate the imminent demise of abstract art’s possibilities. “Happy” is a fine and dandy reason for a brush to tickle a canvas too. So I dub Judy Paul Queen Monday because of slinkies, hula hoops and spiral thinking.

I spent a heated Saturday unraveling a ten-inch rainbow slinky my son bought with tickets from Chuck-E-Cheese’s. Like the excruciating division of Siamese twins. I overtook shambles of cork-screwy plastic with only the panic in his eyes to keep me going.  In the end, the tangles surrendered, but the slinky now slinks a wonky lop-sided gait. A sproingy architecture piece twisted on my desk. So I get nervous for this painting. I want to tell it not to get uptight, ’cause if it gets tangled, well it won’t be pretty.

I’ve told you before that I yearly panic because I missed the 60’s in America. Free love, bra burning and Bob Dylan–teenage troubadour. But I found peace, love and happiness in a handmade hula hoop I bought at the local farmers market as Booker T & the MG’s spun the turntable. You catch a freewheelin’ fun vibe when you’re hoopin’. And you can catch it from these loop-d-loops too.

And the joy of chasing your mental tail. The going round and round the same synaptic cycles in your mind. The same triggers, the same feedback loops.  A hypnotic ever-circling. I want to tell this painting to snap out of it and move on. But it is moving isn’t it ? Not sure which direction.

Maybe it’ll take a lop-sided slinking or a hula-hoop shimmy, but I trust you’ll get where you’re going. Rock the round robin as you find your way.

Bigger Splash

California Dreamin.’ No people here, though. Only smooth linearity and cool contrasts. If it weren’t for the live-edge, vivid color I’d turn away from these surgical lines. But there’s a mystery here so I’ll bite.

Sink down, down through the linear elements. The flat turquoise sky, faintly lined. The terracotta boxed house. The tan expanse of pool deck. The aquamarine pool. All stack on top of each other, neat blocks with no beginning or end. The right and left sides of the canvas push out infinite edges. Lest all this eternity disturb us, Hockney adds two vertical palms with quirky feathered tops. Rests our eyes. Another bristled stretch of grass to soften the lines. I notice the director’s chair, a silent judge sitting. A clue.

Everything static still. Listen to the heavy heat breathing and the cicadas’ distant chatter.  A yellow diving board slices diagonally through the water and something careens off, diving or cannonballing.  A big, big splash. A very large person or a not-person?

Watch the scale of the splash. It’s quite high, as high as the house or higher even. It appears larger because it’s closer to us and the house smaller because it’s farther away. But Hockney is playing with perspective. He  intentionally flattened it out with the linear elements, but now baits our depth perception with this gigantic splash.

The chair is sooo small, so far away. The splash, tsumnamic in proportion. Is the splash so close to us? Then pool and deck must be very long indeed. Yet they appear too thin in terms of width and we don’t seem close enough to the splash to get soaked. Terrible Hockney to tease us so.

I’m working up a sweat; my toes curl around the pool’s edge.  I’m gonna make a wave myself. Geronimo!


Alex Katz, Eleuthera (1984). Private Collection, Courtesy Galeria Javier Lopez, Madrid © Alex Katz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Alex Katz, Eleuthera (1984). Private Collection, Courtesy Galeria Javier Lopez, Madrid
© Alex Katz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Sleek caps, bathing suits that suit to a tee. Gives me pause, tells me to cast a wary eye. Vibrating-colored gals ready to splash, but smiles have evaporated (except Miss Peach Fest Queen, 1989). Why? The dissonance is killing me. Here’s a 20 second soap for each pair.

First panel

Red swimsuit– athlete. Good too. Placed in last year’s local Danskin triathalon. Her friend, Green, clasps anxious hands. Red talked her into doing this year’s race and she’s afraid she’s not up to snuff. (But it’s on her bucket list) Worried Red won’t win because she’ll slow her down.  A forever slow poke.

Second panel

Leave it to grinning Ms Peachy Queen 1989 to strike a nail-perfect pose, as average mom Jan looks away. How can she compete?  A scoreboard ticky-tack tallies in both of their heads. Jan’s kids are smarter; husband drinks less. Peachy Queen’s girls have more tiaras; her husband’s a golf pro. Both uncertain winners in an unquiet friendship, silently nitpicking. Always game on.

Third panel

Mean girl in red hat does not like what she is seeing. At all. Hayley, that slut, sitting on her soon-to-be ex’s lap.  Blue holds her by the shoulders, pulling her back. Warns her to not do something she’ll regret. But she’s going to tell them off come hell or high water. What’s a little mosquito like regret to stand in the way of her lips ablaze?

Fourth panel

Mother and daughter.  Sadness stares out from the black suit. Seems she faces something unfaceable. Her daughter embraces her, an attempt to protect her from the whittling tides of illness and grief. She looks away, her eyes out searching — over the water for hope’s little horizon.

Alex Katz himself - see these at the Tate St. Ives right now

Alex Katz himself – see these at the Tate St. Ives right now


Claude Monet, Geese in the Brook, 1874. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute

Claude Monet, Geese in the Brook, 1874. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute

Oh Claude, you old wizard!

With deft alchemy you have melted the trodden path into water.

And made the pool sprout  golden leaves.

Brushed into silence, my paddling tongue.


Pierre Bonnard, Woman with a Dog, 1891. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute

Pierre Bonnard, Woman with a Dog, 1891. © Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute

Look dear, the dog’s name is Bonnard. What a darling puppy! Is it a poodle?

(If paintings could speak. . .)

No, no that’s the artist’s name. French, impressionist, part of the Nabis group. . .

And don’t you love her gingham dress. What a cheery polka dot scarf.

Yes the dress is interesting for its sheer flatness, the way it starts a dialog of pattern that circles around the painting. . .

And her sister’s curly hair. Lord, I’ve spent hours ironing my sister’s kinky hair to get it straight. Back before they had flat irons that is. We actually used an iron.

Mmmhmm. See how her curly hair pulls out the whorl of the dog’s coat, similar colors even, and then talks to the shaggy flowers and rattan chair at the left. Yellow playing at the perimeter of the painting.

And the men, just setting there like bumps on a log, watching while the women help the poor puppy, probably has something in its paw. Well, that’s just like a man.

Wait… the contrast of yellows on blue, the patterns and the shifting perspective, the delightful textures, the floating narrative. . .

Maybe I can buy a card for my niece for her birthday, do you think they have this puppy on a card? She loves dogs.

Probably in the gift shop, next to the needless mousepads.

Oh Patty, just look over there, at that wretched yellow Gauguin! It is Gauguin isn’t ? I so dislike him.

I like the dog too. Probably a terrier. . .