A history of the Heart, Pt III

Francesco Clemente, A History of the Heart in Three Rainbows

Francesco Clemente, A History of the Heart in Three Rainbows (I), 2009

You know the moment when you’ve collided with a hole.

You reach out to your loved one, offering a hug or smile, and swipe air. That holy-shit-what-happened-here moment. See — the faceless joker holds hearts pierced thru, these holes are what I am talking about.

The trauma spots wriggle into everyday life and reduce a beautiful competent partner to a raging tear-flung lunatic in the event of misplaced car keys.  They morph a normally affection-able partner into a cold-hearted bastard.  Don’t expect a movie about this or even an HBO series. These heart holes open at a moments notice — white-hot or pale-cold — to suck all good comfort dry.

This is the un-fun part of love. The possible break-up part. Doesn’t make a good Jane Austen book. Or Shakespearean sonnet — This.

Maybe you choose to wander through childhood piercings/past relationship woes with your partner or friend. Maybe not. Either choice acceptable. You can still be friends — you can still be lovers. Much depends on the sunflower.

The joker here is a scale, balancing the Swiss hearts. Two up-sized sunflowers flame divine, possible healers. The repetition of a table cloth, our daily life, interrupted and cracked by the hole moments. Making us decide how much we are willing to give. Is there enough sunself in us to comfort or at least stay calm. Enough to try to understand another? Would they do the same for us?

Don’t try to mend, fix, or patch these holes. See them, and notice their shape. Such sighting takes un-named courage. We decide if we want to give it. Maybe we will keep it for ourselves.

But I have an interesting idea about compassion when its shared. It tends to grow . . . for both. And this, I call this love.

A history of the Heart – Pt II

Francesco Clemente, A History of the Heart in Three Rainbows

Francesco Clemente, A History of the Heart in Three Rainbows (I), 2009

In a gallery far far away. . .

HERS: Need I explain a heart surrounded in darkness? Dark knot of isolation. A heart in safe surround, in pearl white hermitage?

HIS: This looks like pretty much like guts to me. A heart stuck in a white gumball in outer space. Simple.

HERS: Are you kidding? This heart is asking BIG questions– motheaten through heart — has decisions.

HIS: Those are holes? Naw, those are bits of shaving cream left over from a dull razor. Or maybe blind spots.

HERS: Will the blackness be a self-grown cancer that tightens in the belly of this relationship? Refusing to nourish? Feeding only.

HIS: Oh God I’m hungry — how long before our table’s ready (checks his phone for a text message from the restaurant, looks up) You are missing the heart-shaped skittles everywhere.

HERS: Or is the dark slowly being broken, digested by compassion, melting in its multi-hued warmth? Multitudes of  heart shaped cells of care. Kind words, kind actions, a little kiss, a full on hug, a compliment, a cup of coffee, a belly laugh.

HIS: Ugh sounds like too much work. This is inside a belly isn’t it? Get in my BELLY! Ha!

HERS: (Rolls eyes) The reasons for this heart’s self enforced privacy are probably pretty good. Protection. Survival even.

HIS: Survive? Who survives love?

A history of the Heart – Pt 1

 in Three Rainbows (I) 2009

Francesco Clemente, A History of the Heart in Three Rainbows (II), 2009

Recently the question “what is love” google-ranked into the top ten question searches. Who’s asking? Who isn’t?

What is love? That depends on what time it is.

Is it the time when the great noise parted — the only sound — the breathing of you and another? Whose dilate eyes held in them all your healing and possible death. Who captured your soul with their fingers?

Is it the time — fifteen years in, goldfish crackers crunched to floor, high on exhaustion, child echo in your ears, when you look to your partner and feel a sense of long-lived loyalty.

Is it the time after you’ve thrown a rose down an earthen box, heard it soft thump. Tasted your tears and groped around to find some feeling to name? A duty — and still is love.

The truth is — love grows and dies on the same tree — our lives. We have a myriad hearts we’ve encaged to many people and things. And our several loves, delicate hued, have a variable shelf life. Your limited number of hearts, your time-limited love. To lavish on others, to lavish on ourselves.

We want to be free, but we want to be loved. One condition opposes the other. And the struggle between the restrictions of love and the care of self are paid in seconds ticking by. We make choices. So the cage door closes and the cage door opens. The joy close. The sorrow open.

These intricate economies of time and passion we call love.

In love

Melon 2, oil on canvas, 24 x1 8

Todd Kelly, Melon 2, oil on canvas, 24 x 18

I haven’t fallen in love for awhile. Don’t have the time. Probably not the emotional energy either.

But here I’m crushed.

Love at first sight, when I didn’t believe in love at first sight.

It’s a still life, but I didn’t recognize that at first. The surging lines and the color. Still life’s are usually. . . so still and this one has all the right moves. Sexy even. Line meets color. Two distinct elements, separate  then join together in overall composition. Line teases your eye out then the color pulls you back to center. Two to tango.

I may love it more than — my iphone.


Tamara deLempicka, Self Portrait in the Green Bugatti, 1925 Private Collection

Tamara deLempicka, Self Portrait in the Green Bugatti, 1925 Private Collection

You know she’s gonna run you over.

Drive you to the edge.

You know she will cost you.

Her eyes.

And you bite your lip for that green Bugatti.

To Russia with love

Maria Garkavenko, Untitled, 2008, Ten43 Gallery, New York

I spent a summer in Eastern Russia (Siberia that is) in 1991 and maybe that is why I’m so drawn to this painting by Russian artist Maria Garkavenko. I remember the simplicity of the grayish town, living in a small flat on one of the many streets of looming cinder block buildings. Searching the sidewalks for an “ice cream vendor” and the gnawing the brick-hard brown bread. Calculating the price of a chicken with an abacus.

A granite Lenin head (25 ft tall & 42 tons) stared us down in the public square, casting a deep shadow.  Tongue clicking babushka’s wore chunky sweaters and wool knee socks on the trams in the dead heat of summer (they disapproved of my short sleeves). You could taste the harshness of life there, but the open hearts of the friends I made created resonating beauty. Lots of  boisterous singing after supper and a bending over backwards to offer you the best of everything. Even the highly prized “meat jello.” A joyful simplicity in the face of brutal winters and not a shred of democracy to be had. My English students called me “Marilyn” because I reminded them of Marilyn Monroe, so I must always love them for that.

It’s that resonating beauty that speaks to me in this painting of  a man and a women sleeping under a yellow moon. The stark simplicity of their state is arresting. Note the use of primary colors. Initially the figures look similar, yet there are subtle differences like the uplifted woman’s chin and the shorted neck on the blue headed man. Their hair, like feathers, flows off their heads, cascades down, ‘twining  together in a bold hued braid.  At peace.  Maybe male and female aren’t all that different, and that any differences can be knitted together over time into a stronger strand, or at least a more colorful one.

I’m reminded of the two faces of the Roman god Janus – the god of beginnings and transitions. He faces both directions, seeing the future and the past-reigning over time and often associated with sun and moon.  Although in this version, the eyes are closed. The future and possibly the past is unknowable, but togetherness creates a cosmic unity beyond the reach of time.

I really like the prominent braid, a traditional hairstyle for girls in Russia, because the strands look like arms intertwined. The braided hair symbolizes love. And today I think of Russia with love.

Handkerchief amoré

Allison Miller, Noren, Susan Inglett Gallery, New York, New York

Allison Miller, Noren, Susan Inglett Gallery, New York, New York

Ahh. . . now here we are in the land of pure abstraction, not a representational figure in sight, yet Allison Miller uses pattern to create a wafting, billowy painting that draws your eye back and forth in the breeze. Like a gossamer handkerchief on a clothes line, or a myriad flags waving under a quilted sky.

The use of pattern here is still as playful and engaging as in the last two paintings we touched. If you look closely, the patterns actually create the painting and its depths.  Not utilitarian and controlled, bowing to the artists bidding. They take on a life of thier own, stacking like those overhead transparencies our teachers used to use, laid one on top of the other. She accomplishes this transparent depth by working in a medium called encaustic, hot wax mixed with pigment and then applied.

Notice the background layer, a collage of quilted colors that melt and merge in liquidy squares. These draw your eye deep into the painting. Next look at the gossamer overlay of filmy blue- the squigges dance on top. These seem to float and wriggle right before your eyes.  What to do with the squiggles in orange diamonds, do they belong to the quilted background or the breezy foreground, or a no-man’s-land midground?

The squiggles remind me of flags, and I imagine she is bidding “ciao” to her Italian (or Hungarian) lover. I still can’t get the handkerchief impression out of my head– but that could be the muffled call of a forgotten one given to me by a long ago lover, tucked back in my lingerie drawer.  Does she long for that vibrant happiness? Maybe she just misses the kick-ass gelato.

Kiss, Kiss

The Kiss, Gustave Klimt 1907-1908. Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna,

A golden moment. Gustave Klimt’s the Kiss (Der Kuss).

Their love, multilayered and complex.  Intricate symbols lavish the lovers’ robes. Haloed in gold leaf, they kneel among  the flowers afield outside space and time.  The man, a kiss to her cheek (not mouth) the woman, in repose, her eyes closed.  In a dream?  In bliss or just tired?

The tenderness is palpable, yes.  The sacrament of tenderness.  It’s much lauded in the relationship between mother and child. But what about lover to lover? Tenderness– more than affection and less than passion. Kindness intensified by desire. Desire mellowed selflessness. Opening the soft underbelly of us in a gentle offering of acceptance.

Tenderness trumps sacrifice as the ultimate gift of love, in my book. Because sacrifice demands a repayment (often implicit) that most of us are often unable to afford. And it’s terrible to be penniless in love.

The difficulty receiving such tenderness is also hinted at in the painting. Is she worthy, is she unworthy.  Does it matter? Will she kiss him back? Can she accept his supplication without shame, loathing or regret?

The love deacon passes the offering plate today, my friends. Maybe you will keep your gold, maybe you will give it.

Blue Moon

I hear the thwang of Cupid’s arrow near and offer up my favorite painting of love as a target for today’s discussion– Thomas Hart Benton’s Romance, on display at the Blanton Museum in Austin, Texas.

Thomas Hart Benton, Romance Blanton Museum Austin, Texas

Thomas Hart Benton, Romance Blanton Museum Austin, Texas

I’m immediately drawn to the intense turquoise blue of the sky,  embraced by the tree branch and her vibrant poppy red dress. The statuesque couple contrasts with the dream-like landscape surrounding them. They walk, hand in hand, eyes closed. The the moonlight casts its spell; wafting clouds swirl to the ground.

I’m again caught up in the depth of the jewel-like colors intensifying this dreamy, atmospheric feeling (almost Surrealist with echos of El Greco).  His shoes are off, hers are on.  Is this a new romance? Are they courting, walking though a neighbor’s backyard, blind to each other’s faults (love is blind)?   Each experience intensified yet dreamlike in the thrall of eros.  Their feet don’t seem to be firmly planted on the ground.

Or is this an old love, deep and unscarred by time and circumstance. What they have is beyond sight, a heartfelt soulfulness.  At peace with each other. Such that they know each other’s thoughts. The hard work of running their farm, a silent testament behind them. Do they walk side by side, even in their dreams?

The mystery here is the mystery of love. What drives it. What sustains it. How we get it; how we keep it.  It’s a million immutable questions that must be answered one at a time. With our eyes closed.

I love you this much. . .

So what can you get your sweetie this Vday to show him how much you care? How about a $23.6 million dollar, 9 foot high stainless steel heart pendant? Complete with bow.  Sorry no gift wrap for this baby.  This is Jeff Koons’ Hanging Heart in Magenta (there are five others in different colorways).  A little above your budget perhaps?  Well that’s because this piece garnered the highest price paid for art by a living artist in 2007. The next year his magenta balloon flower sold for a cool $25.7M.

 “I realized you don’t have to know anything and I think my work always lets the viewer know that. I just try to do work that makes people feel good about themselves, their history, and their potential.”  Jeff Koons

Some think he’s a high price manufacturer of artsy kitsch. Each time his art changed hands, the prices skyrocketed.  A Koons “art bubble”.  Art as commodity.  (Koons is a former stockbroker) Now the recession has hit, his violet heart sold for only $11 million. Look honey, its 50% off!

As a former machine shop owner who knows a little about stainless steel, I can tell you this work is fascinating for its sheer perfection. The balloon-like heart is a 3D mirror that reflects you, the viewer. However, as in a fun house mirror, your image distorts into various shapes as you move around it, following its curvatures. Light refracting. Images bending.  Now, I don’t know whether Koons will last as a cultural icon like Warhol, but I do think this is very clever.  What reaches our hearts without a little distortion? The play of light on the heart’s surface, the play of love – – an ever changing game of desire and perception. Reality curves as it bounces through our various colored consciousness.

Still, I’ll leave the chromium plated psychoanalysis to the people who can afford it and opt for the plebeian (but tasty) standby Godiva chocolate this V-day.  Cheers!