Thursday, December 1, 2016

Nocturne Light

In Nocturne LIght there is a shadow and night and there is falling light splitting the large area of shadow. Night, a somber key but much going on: the life of the night behind the darkness. Something beautiful about the word nocturne; dark and complex, it evokes night and music.  I have heard it called melancholy... the contrast with light. The many shades of dark are predominantly velvety blacks and blues, yet present is the ochre red of dirt or blood and an intense white. In Susana Amundaraín's work, the presence of the paint is always important.
The tactility, the paintness of paint. How we know it’s paint. What the eye feels when it sees paint. What the brush feels. The inherent beauty in the material. Paint and painting, in which form, color, gesture/movement and the spectrum of opacity to transparency is allied so naturally that the viewer responds to a deepness, not a depiction. In fact, one of the reasons Amundaraín’s paintings are so powerful is because they reside on the border of imagination where we see both the cloud and the face in the cloud, the moon and the rabbit in the moon. A layering of subtle washes of color upon color gives the darkness dimension and generates a feeling of power in the watcher. In the movement of light and shadow is that feeling one sometimes gets before a storm—a massing of power—not power directed, but power conjoined with the force of nature… almost a joy.
Still, in Nocturne LIght, there is a sense of place –enough of the texture of the elements, rock, sky, water to take us there without the need to know exactly what place, exactly where.
The dimensions of the painting (8’ by 4’) make the viewer feel as if she is standing behind a canyon wall in shadow looking into the bright falling light. In this painting, as in many of Amundaraín’s works, the geography of the Americas, sparsely populated, and with the open field of plains or desert, is present. You have to go through large open spaces to get to the geographical wonders themselves. In the case of Angel Falls in Venezuela (a sacred space to the artist) you must go through jungle into a sublime geography, the place in the mind that’s high desert, to find this affinity that is not awe, but as if you were yourself desert or waterfall.
A spear of cobalt extends downward into a crevasse. We peer from behind the wall, into the light on the left, where, more organically, the angles and curves are cut as water cuts, into light then into shadow then dissolving into mist or the arc of a prism. Below the mist, a red splinter as if water is still falling, farther down and further away. Amundaraín’s intuitive placement of the bright touches: white, a salmon red, and blue where cobalt brightens almost to sky, shifts our perspective from place to color to place. The characteristic warm darks, the blues, indigo, cobalt and the effortless layering of paint like desert varnish on a canyon wall. The walls can be looming or sheltering— the water life-giving or the plunge of it…death.  Seldom in painting is such ontic clarity present and speaking.
Nocturne as music. Chopin, Liszt. This Nocturne has some of those elements we have come to associate with music, a feeling tinged by living, knowledge which encompasses a sadness as well. Power, joy and sadness live in this painting. But it is not depressing. It’s wise and beautiful and human.
Looking into a picture frame at a landscape painting takes you out of your world; you go there. Looking into Nocturne Light, you are already there, where it’s deep and necessary.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Contemplating Wishbones

 I went to an art show the other day.  It was held in an old barracks at what was once an airfield, now converted to artists' studios. Because my early training was in art, and because I like to make it myself, I have seen a lot of art in my life, and I continue to go to museum shows and galleries.  At the barracks, I saw the usual genres, painting, photography and some sculpture.  As is also usual, some of the work was well-executed and some was not.  Of the well-executed art, there were a few pieces that were pleasing. But "pleasing" is certainly damning with faint praise. Don't we want art that says something to us, other than "I am a pretty picture of the ocean"? So I was very happy to see an installation by Jessica Yoshiko Rasmussen that offered something more.
Murmur was set in a small room paved with green linoleum tiles, some missing, some paint-spattered.  A green radiator was visible. Light came from an unseen window to illuminate the white parachute material draped the length of the room to create a ceiling and a corridor.  At the end of the corridor was an old bird cage on a stand. On the green floor in varying sizes, were wishbone shapes, sharp angled, yet covered with a soft felt, as if, perhaps, they had soft down growing on them, an unsettling thought, but perhaps comforting, too.  The wishbone shapes led to, or were coming from, the direction of the bird cage.
I loved the quietness and the grace of the piece, but what was also important was that it did not tell me what to think. I am free to wonder: to whom do the wishbones belong? What is the connection between the bones and the cage? I can see humor; I can see dream; I can sense a pinch of the macabre, or  imagine a ritual. The symbol of cage, the meaning of wishbone, the soft light. The broken tiles left exposed, the radiator.
This is a place to contemplate in and about. It's a little like falling in love, to connect with art in this way. Because it's an installation, it's ephemeral. But what a space to return to, even in memory.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

J.M.W. Turner  The Burning of the Houses of Parliament  1834

"...the painter appeared to have lived life backwards, having 'possessed in youth all the dignity of age only to exchange it for the effervescence of youth.'"
   Painting Set Free, catalog for Turner Exhibition at De Young Museum, San Francisco, August 2015

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Anchor with Cow or Rabbit

                                                     by John William Dey, "Uncle Jack"

"'When I've finished a painting, I put a bright light on it and I go over the whole thing with a magnifying glass to see if anything's wrong. Sometimes a picture just doesn't look like it's level, and then I have to put something on to anchor it--something like a cow or a rabbit.' He points to a painting on the wall. 'It looked kind of lopsided. It's the inside of a living room, so I put a clock over the mantel to anchor it.'"                      
                                              from American Folk Artists, Elinor Lander Horwitz

A poem can be itself, just as it comes out of the brain and scrawls itself on the paper. But some poems die for lack of an anchor; an add-in to the process that's necessary to balance or anchor the poem. It's not a theme, not a trope, not the subject, not's a cow or a rabbit, something that surprises the writer or adds, subtracts, counters or reinterprets what comes before or after it. It can appear anywhere in the poem. It doesn't finish the poem, but more subtly, seals the poem as itself. 

    Friday, November 21, 2014

    How the Light Gets In

    I like to read all kinds of books, and like most readers, have several going at a time.  Right now, I am reading O Heart, a poetry book by Claudia Keelan; The Decameron by Boccaccio; A Certain World (a commonplace book by W.H. Auden.)  What I am missing is a really good mystery.  The last excellent mystery I read was by Louise Penny, called How the Light Gets In.  The title is taken from a Leonard Cohen song and the verse she was inspired by goes like this:

    Ring the bells that still can ring
    Forget your perfect offering
    There's a crack in everything
    That's how the light gets in.

    At this period of my life, that verse really moves me.  And the other day, I found another moving illustration of the "cracks in everything" thanks to a  mention in a wonderful online magazine called the Kyoto Journal, itself a thing of beauty.  Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing cracks, but in a way that enhances the piece itself, while deepening the idea of the break in the piece as an integral part of the piece's history. The article and video are linked here: