Category Archives: Painting and Sculpture

“Centered Recoils” — Caliban, Issue No. 28

Thursday, July 27, 2017

http://calibanonline.com/CO28/

Issue number 28 of Larry Smith’s CALIBAN magazine is now available on-line for reading. In particular, I would call attention to the quartet of questions posed in part five of Rob Cook’s “Elimination Recovery Entries”:

“Will artificial intelligence lead to awareness so powerful it can bring back everything that’s died? Do all sentient beings contain a code that can be recovered at any time, no matter how long ago they left? What will be done with the newly returned? What will be done to them (to us) when no one mental space is left in the universe?”

Sheila Murphy, Ivan Arguelles, Elizabeth Robinson, Jim Grabill, Carine Topal, and Simon Perchik are some of the poets who join with the visual artists in this issue in responding to these questions through a steadfast devotion to an organic imagination. My favorite collage pieces are Ellen Wilt’s “Unseen,” Angela Caporaso’s “Piante,” and Christine Kuhn’s mixed media pieces, especially “Roommates,” which reminds me of Alexej von Jawlensky’s work. The shadow presence of other artists can be seen in Ellene Glenn Moore’s three prose poems, each accompanied by the notation “after Joseph Albers.”

I, too, have a poem (“Centered Recoils”) that appears in this issue. I would note that my first attempt to answer the second of Cook’s question was a long prose poem entitled “The Resurrection” that was published in issue number nine of The Lamp in the Spine, a magazine edited by Jim Moore and Trish Hampl. Oddly enough, the first draft of the poem published in this issue of Caliban dates back to the period when I was working on that poem.

The Poet in “The Painter’s Garden”

July 3, 2017

I visited Jim McVicker a second time in the Eureka-Arcata area back in the mid-1990s, when I flew up there to spend some time with him and Terry Oats at their home, after which we drove together down to San Francisco, where Jim had an exhibition for which I wrote the catalogue copy.

While I was visiting, Jim began working on a painting of their garden, and I suggested that it might work better if he had a figure kneeling at work in the midst of the flowers. I walked along the garden path, crouching at various points, until Jim said, “Stop there.” It was a warm day, but I had a hat on, and the fragrant poise of his garden’s flowers helped me hold a pose long enough for him to render a symbolic votive centered in an enduring cycle of renewal.

I would like to note that Terry is also an exceptionally fine painter herself, and I would consider myself fortunate if someday she were to have the chance to include or feature me in one of her paintings, or if I were to be the subject of a portrait. Let’s put it this way: it’s on my bucket list. In the meantime, my office at school has a large painting of me that was done by Linda several years ago and exhibited at the Department of Art’s galleries in a portrait show. We still haven’t located a truck big enough to haul it back home, so when students walk in my office, they are often initially puzzled by my “office mate.” “Is that you?” “He’s the poet,” I tell them. “I’m the academic. There’s a difference, and I prefer it that way. I hope you’re here to discuss Literature.”

Painter's Garden - DETAIL - WM

(Detail from “The Painter’s Garden,” by Jim McVicker. July, 1996.)

The Papa Bach T-shirt Jaunt

July 2, 2017

0701171351

At some point between late 1971 and 1980, I bought a Papa Bach t-shirt and wore it to readings and while I was teaching in the Poets-in-the-Schools programs. In the summer of 1981, I drove up to Eureka, California with Cathay Gleeson to visit an old friend of hers, Karin. It was my first jaunt that far north in California, and details of that trip appeared in a long poem I was working on at the time, “Your Move.” It wasn’t the first long poem I had attempted. In 1973, I had worked on a long poem entitled “The Resurrection,” parts of which had been published in The Lamp in the Spine (edited by Jim Moore and Patricia Hampl) and Intermedia (edited by Harley Lond). “Your Move” was influenced by my reading at the start of that decade of poets such as Kit Robinson, Ron Silliman, Lyn Hejinian, Rae Armantrout, and Barrett Watten. It quickly went beyond just reading of their work. Conversations with Ron when he came down to Los Angeles and a talk and reading at Beyond Baroque continued once we had left that venue, for he stayed over on that trip at my apartment in Ocean Park.

0701171352

Cathay and I spent a week up in the Eureka-Arcata area, and I commissioned Karin’s friend, Jim McVicker, to paint a portrait of me, for which I chose to wear the Papa Bach t-shirt, the same one I was wearing when I was photographed teaching a poetry class in Lone Pine, California. This particular classroom photograph brings back a set of contradictory memories, since working with CPITS was a problematic enterprise. The time spent in Lone Pine, however, remains one of my fondest occasions of working with other poets. Kit Robinson was there, too, and he mentions the gathering in the Grand Piano volumes as one in which he felt out of place. He probably didn’t realize how many of us didn’t feel quite at ease with each other, but our devotion to inspiring the students superseded the disparities in our poetics. I remain grateful to Eva Poole-Gibson for all she did to orchestrate two consecutive years in which poets from all over the state gathered in Inyo County to celebrate the joy of language surprising us when we least expect it.

CPITS Brochure - PB

Backlit by Blackness: Kerry James Marshall’s “Mastry” at MOCA

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Backlit by Blackness: Kerry James Marshall’s “Mastry” at MOCA

A couple of weeks ago, Hye Sook Park reported that Kerry James Marshall’s retrospective exhibition at MOCA was a must-see event. Even before her enthusiastic commentary, in fact, I had made a note in my memory’s calendar of the closing date of his show, which grew ever closer as the month has gone by. Getting time to see his show has not been easy: my teaching work glided straight from the end of the spring semester into the summer session course I am teaching without the slightest pause.

Two days ago, on Friday, we might have headed north, but on Thursday the place where my mother is being cared wrote me and said that her doctor would be visiting her on Friday; since I had never talked to him face-to-face in the past eight months, that priority cancelled any other possibility. We did drive up to Beyond Baroque that evening, though, and heard David St. John read from The Last Troubadour, and Christopher Merrill read an account of his long friendship with Agha Shahid Ali. As always, it’s a long trip from Long Beach to Beyond Baroque, but this time it was truly worth it. David is one of this country’s very best poets, and Christopher’s recollections made Ali a living presence in the room. I would have liked to have heard Christopher read some of his poems, too, but his choice to read a single piece made it all the more memorable.

On Saturday, with a rare empty square on the kitchen calendar, we saddled up and headed north. Marshall’s show is easily worth more than one visit, and I hope to return before it closes, if only to spend more time with an unframed painting from 2003 entitled “7 a.m. Sunday Morning.” Before I briefly talk about that painting, I want to list several pieces that impressed me almost as much: “Beach Towel”; “Slow Dance”; “Red (If They Come In the Morning”; “Frankenstein” and “Bride of Frankenstein”; “School of Beauty, School of Culture”; “Heirlooms & Accessories”; “Chalk Up Another One”; “Fingerwag”; and “The Actor Hezekiah Washington as Julian Carlton Taliesen Murderer of the Flank Lloyd Wright Family.” If I have not included the housing project paintings in this list, it is only because they have already drawn more than sufficient critical attention.

The scale of Marshall’s work is often startling in its acute depictions of personal identity within the encompassing hemispheres of economic and racial confinements. Circling in a room of fermenting ordinariness, the figures in “Slow Dance” are both holding tight to each other’s poignant desires for more than has been allotted them, and grateful that at least they have each other for the moment. It more honestly addresses the romantic plight of marginal individuals, no matter what their race, than any painting I have ever absorbed into my memory.

The room the dancers inhabit is exactly what could have been foreseen by anyone who looks closely at the furniture of an engagement scene in a cheap restaurant. Even if one imagines the couple looking back at each other, and then unclasping to reach for a celebratory sip of their drinks, one would hardly expect either one to feel more comfortable in the minimally padded chairs the restaurant has provided them. Their fond ebullience is as much a performance meant for themselves as the onlookers they are posing for. The mise-en-scene of the restaurant extends to the smallest details of an urban backyard: the pink flip-flops being worn by the sunbather in “Beach Towel,” for instance. Equally pertinent in scope, one should not overlook the oversized earrings of “Fingerwag.” Marshall has a profound ability to augment his excavation of that which the ideological normative would prefer not to be present at all.

Jed Rasula mentions the contrast between “the politics in the poem, and the politics of the poem” in his intriguing study of American poetry anthologies. One could use the same distinction to talk about Marshall’s work, too, since in his case the politics in a painting such as “Red (If They Come in the Morning” are equally about the cultural politics of abstract painting and its reluctance to accept work done in that domain by African-American painters.

The street scene depicted in “Sunday Morning, 7 a.m.” has no overt politics, and yet the speeding white car that the running child seems to avoid by not much than a second and a half can hardly be separated from the more obvious repression cited in “Chalk Up Another One.” The adults in the post-dawn background stay safely on the sidewalk with its immediate access to the liquor store. The child has other comforts in mind. What might await that young man is hinted at in the right hand portion of the painting, in which Marshall’s synaesthetic handling of urban light portends some future visitation. Softened by a prismatic uncertainty, as if a late spring day will fulfill its potential for revelation, one can almost hear Whitman’s pure contralto sing the organ loft of some unanticipated destiny. Redemption is not an option, so don’t get carried away with hope, this light suggests. On the other hand, there is no reason to settle for mere survival of one’s ideals.

This show will be up through next weekend. As hard pressed for time as you might be, make every effort to catch this show. I agree with Christopher Knight’s concluding assessment in the LA Times: “Kerry James Marshall: Mastry” is the first time in a long time that MOCA’s exhibition program has felt essential. Don’t miss it.”

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/la-et-cm-kerry-james-marshall-moca-20170320-htmlstory.html

Peace Press: The Art of Its Cooks (Arena One Gallery)

Monday, June 5, 2017

For 20 years, Peace Press functioned as a collective of political and social dissidents, and their steadfast devotion to the ideals of the Bill of Rights assisted thousands of people devoted to radical alternatives in the American economy. Stalked by the FBI in its early years, and no doubt subject to continued monitoring once Reagan became President, Peace Press is fondly remembered by many who protested inequity in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

As a tribute to all those who took the risk of working for causes that were not popular then, and are still not popular, Arena One Gallery in Santa Monica is sponsoring an exhibit of artists who worked in one capacity or another for Peace Press. Working in a print shop involves tasks that require more physical effort than one might expect, and certainly working on your feet can itself build up an appetite by mid-day. If an army marches on its belly, so do those opposed to that militarism. Since artists needed jobs after they graduated from places such as California Institute of the Arts, they found a ready-made job in Peace Press’s kitchen. I confess that the title of this exhibit confused me slightly at first. I didn’t realize that I was supposed to take it literally. One normally associates cooks with restaurants, but in this case the restaurant was the noon-time, in-house menu that was provided by a series of artists whose day job was cooking for the workers at the press.

There is a catalogue that reproduces several pieces of work on exhibit by each of the artists, along with a short statement by the artists, who include Nancy Youdelman, Jan Martin, Maud Simmons, Henry Kline, Carol Kaufman, Christina Schlesinger, Anni Siegel, Linda Shelp, and Steve Volpin. My four favorite pieces in the show were Anni Siegel’s “Evening Caryatids,” Linda Shlep’s “Golden Eyes,” Maud Simmons’s “Dreaming in Color 2,” and Carol Kaufman’s “Untitled” pieces. I especially regret that I didn’t get to spend enough time on my first visit to this galley with Kaufman’s work, which intrigued me for the way her pieces seemed to echo Agnes Martin. Nancy Youdelman’s pieces were also more complex than my first glance remitted. Her dresses had a sculptural quality, in that they seemed sufficiently “embroidered” with a cobblestone collage of buttons and other tiny mounds of shiny convections such that there was a hint of the effect of a bas-relief. I would be remiss in finishing this brief commentary if I did not emphasize how much Anni Siegel’s work impressed me. “Evening Caryatids” has a tone of dignified exuberance to its composition, both in color and in the undertones of the colors, that made the centered angle dividing one side of an ancient temple from another balance the gravitational pull of the centuries encased in the stone. The passage of time, in all its organic momentum, revealed itself in the deceptively inorganic pulse of the mineral world out of which the caryatids surfaced.

There will be a poetry reading with Michael C. Ford, Dinah Berland, and Julia Stein on Saturday, June 17th, at 2:00 p.m., and I look forward to a more extended visit.

THE ART OF THE COOKS OF PEACE PRESS
June 3 – July 1, 2017
Area one Gallery
3026 Airport Avenue
Santa Monica, CA 90405
www.santamonicaartstudios.com

“Light and Line”: Hyesook Park’s Arcs of Stillness

Monday, May 15, 2017

Bowl - HSP

Hyesook Park’s current show of new and recent paintings spreads through several rooms at the Proxy Place Gallery in Chatsworth. The variety at work is exactly that: at work. One must bring an ability to shift from tone to tone in order to absorb the full intentions of any given painting. One of her paintings could be regarded as the best depiction of the enjambment at work in W.C. Williams’s “The Red Wheelbarrow.” The third pair of lines goes:

glazed with rain
water

Puddle - HyeSook

It is this enjambment that carries within its scoop the meaning of the “depends.” One can find a longer explication in my article in the William Carlos Williams Review. For the present moment, though, I would rather emphasize how Hyesook Park so deftly renders that almost unfathomably rapid transition between the state of “becoming” (symbolized by rain”) and “being” (the connotation of “water”). How can one possibly detect, let alone represent, the full import of this distinction? To keep them apart without imposing some binary of being and becoming on the perception is quite an accomplishment on her part. In fact, it seems a minor miracle that she has pulled it off and left the viewer reconciled to this simultaneity.

Puddle Up Close

Her exhibition includes several fine small and medium-sized paintings, such as “Bowl” and “Hand,” that reaffirm a seemingly archaic vision of modernity at its inception. In ignoring the allure of popular culture and social media, Hyesook Park reminds us of the rewards of a bold meditation on the “blue mountain” of one’s solitude. “Way,” for instance, depicts what might be ascertained as “satori’s swamp,” and yet the path is not lost, but glowing up from underneath as well as from some lunar source.
Way - Satori's Swamp - HSP

One painting reminds us that not all contemporary artists have surrendered to synthesizers and their equivalents. A traditional musical instrument, primarily played by women, straddles one painting, its pegs like stanchions on a bridge of melody awaiting to be plucked.

Koto Detail - HSP

SHOW: “Light and Line”
Hyesook Park
May 13-28, 2017
Proxy Place Gallery
proxyplacegallery.com
19860 Plummer Street, Chatsworth, CA 91311
Monday; Wednesday; Friday: 12 – 4 p.m.
(Saturday: appointments only)

Melchor Peredo’s mural “Una Revolución Continua”

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Rachel Levitsky, David Shook, and I had a brief break in the late afternoon of our first full day at FILU in Veracruz, so we walked up a hill past a large public park and briefly visited a market, during which we each fortified ourselves with a cup of strong coffee. We talked about possibilities of visiting the anthropological museum the next day, or of going to the beach in Veracruz. I eventually chose to accompany Forrest Gander and his friend to the museum, and Rachel went to the beach. On Thursday, though, we settled for a quick visit to the Cathedral in Xalapa, which has an enormous statue of the crucifixion of Christ above the altar; the scale of the body is so large and imposing, in fact, that it repels any temptation to be in its immediate vortex. Perhaps this is intentional, for we found ourselves quickly lingering in the rear of the cathedral, where a believer might find solace in the more proportionate depiction of a “Stabat Mater Dolorosa.” We paused only long enough for me to take this photograph, and then headed back to our hotel on a casual route that brought us to a halt. Across the street from a set of outdoor book stalls adjacent to the cathedral was a walkway that led us past an alcove to a large building guarded by a heavily armed soldier. Just past where he stood, I noticed that an interior wall of the alcove had a mural; as I walked closer to take a photograph, I realized that all the walls of this alcove were covered by this mural, “Una revolucion Continua.” It was painted in 2010 by Melchor Peredo, who was born in 1927. I didn’t know his birthdate at the time, so it in retrospect that I express an even greater degree of respect for his skill, commitment and passion. The subjugations depicted in the mural certainly justify the need for the continuity of resistance; in particular, Rachel pointed to the figure of a conquistador stretched out on his side, attempting to sleep, but unable to vanquish the memories of the atrocities he has committed.

Stabat Mater - VC - 1

The Anthropological Museum at Xalapa has on display the remnants of what survived the European invasion. In particular, I was struck by a piece of sculpture that surpassed most work done in Europe, even at the height of its artistic endeavors. “Gemelos,” which means Gemini, depicts the circulating bond infusing a set of twins who are about to deliver a box whose contents may well be unknown to its carriers. They are primarily conscious of their palpable contact with each other: an overlapping pair of feet is matched by hands rubbing against each other at the rear bottom of the box. The mystery of its contents is amplified by the uncertainty of their joint heft: are they about to move the box to some spot known only to them, or have they just arrived at their destination, and are about to reveal the marvels inside? (While the museum’s lighting is more than adequate to appreciate the extraordinary vivacity of this sculpture, I regret that my antiquated cell phone yielded only this image, smeared with my reflection.)

Gemelos - Front

Gemelos - Rear

“Music for Airports”: Brian Eno and 512 Hill Street, Ocean Park, CA

Brian Eno’s “Music for Airports” and Ocean Park, California

Back in the mid-1970s, I was living in an apartment in Ocean Park, California on Hill Street. I had originally moved into the neighborhood in early 1973, and ended up living in that same apartment for 20 years. With my 70th birthday only 15 months away, it’s doubtful I’ll ever have such a long stretch of residential stability. I still have dreams of walking around in that apartment, and the dream-time is as real as this keyboard feels to my fingertips, typing these words. Indeed, more palpable. My life as the editor and publisher of Momentum Press took place entirely within my occupancy of that space, and there isn’t a memory of all that publishing that is not intertwined with its pair of upstairs bedrooms. Over the years, I had a number of roommates, the most famous of which was Nick DeNucci.

I got more than a frequently anthologized poem out of my co-habitation with Nick, however. After HIDDEN PROOFS came out, I got a phone call from a stranger one afternoon. “Are you Bill Mohr?” “Yes.” “Did you really know a fellow named Nick DeNucci?” When I admitted, somewhat reluctantly, that he had indeed been a real life roommate, and not just a character in a poem, the person calling me shared his experience of knowing Nick DeNucci. Nick had been a musician, and he had swooped in and out of number of other lives rather briefly. In the case of Brooks Roddan, the person calling me, the brief encounter did not even involve meeting him face to face. According to Brooks, Nick knew Brooks’s roommate, and had occasionally borrowed his roommate’s car to get to a gig. Unfortunately, on one particular night, that car was not available, but Brooks happened to have an extra car parked in front of their place, and the roommate lent DeNucci Brooks’s vehicle, which didn’t surface again for a couple of weeks, when it was found wrapped around a telephone pole on Vermont Avenue.

Instant commiseration! Brooks and I felt bonded immediately, and I am grateful to the auspicious fate that has kept us loyal, dear friends. I would think of him as a profound friend, in fact, even if we were never to spend any time in the same physical space again. I doubt that will happen, but I believe there is an intimacy each of us finds in our artistic solitude that is similar to the intimacy of our friendship.

The intimacy of this imaginative friendship also involves experiences that have no originating attribution. I have no recollection, for instance, of who encouraged me to buy Brian Eno’s “Music for Airports.” All I I remember is standing at the kitchen sink, doing the breakfast dishes, and listening to that album one or twice a week for about a month. It was as close to some profound communion with the Eternal Pulse of Being as I will ever come. A winter month, overcast, and there were many slightly damp mornings, and rainy nights. As I ran hot water over each clean plate and bowl, I could feel the cool grey from the Pacific Ocean just eight blocks away from back door.

I had not yet begun reading the poets associated with the Language movement., but in the middle of the next decade I would write a piece that was absolutely grounded in the poetics of “Music for Airports.” Thanks to Rod Bradley and the sculptor Mineko Grimmer, you can see a performance of the poem I wrote out of my meditations on Eno’s music.

“BARELY HOLDING DISTANT THINGS APART”

The Blue Cut Fire and the Wheel of Mutability

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Blue Cut Fire and the Wheel of Mutability

The most recent post centered on water, but the pre-Socratic philosophers must be afoot in Southern California, because fire is the chief element at work right now. The Blue Cut fire in San Bernardino County has burned over 35,000 acres, at last report, which would roughly be equivalent to an area seven times the size of the City of Santa Monica. When I first learned of the outbreak and spread of this conflagration, I immediately thought of the proximity of the Love Art Gallery to the heat perimeter. According to a message from Hye Sook Park, the Love Art Gallery is still intact. From looking at maps posted on-line, however, it appears that the fire came within less than five miles, if not closer, to the gallery.

If one is an artist and writer in Southern California, it is difficult not to have had the annual fire season affect some part of one’s life. Those who have been following my blog since its inception will recollect that a major fire broke out in the mountains around Idyllwild less than six months after my first post; the town had to be evacuated, and almost everybody left, except for the brave owner of Gary’s Deli, who kept his place open in order to feed the fire crews on the front line.

Idyllwild is typical of many mountain communities in Southern California in being extremely vulnerable; the longer the area goes without a fire, the more devastating the embarkation is likely to be, once ignited. The close calls come with a price: Idyllwild still mourns the death of firefighter Captain Mark Loutzenhiser, in the Esperanza fire of October, 2006.

In thinking back, in fact, of the decade during which Cecilia Woloch ran the Idyllwild Poetry Festival, it is quite remarkable that not once did that festival get interrupted by a mandatory evacuation. Not every arts organization has been as lucky. Dorland Mountain Arts Colony, just outside of Temecula, had all of its venerable cabins burnt down in a fire in the late spring of 2004. It has been partially rebuilt, but nothing can replace the inspiring quaintness of the original setting, which I was fortunate enough to spend a couple months at during the winter of 1997.

And fire affects individual artists: perhaps fire spared the Love Art Gallery because it had already helped itself to enough of the art produced by one of its exhibitors. One thing I did not mention in my review of Hye Sook Park’s show at the Love Art Gallery (see “The Fall of St. Paula,” April 13, 2015) was that she had lost an immense amount of work in a studio fire about four years ago. The storage shed that contained dozens of her canvases somehow caught on fire and destroyed years of work. I am grateful to learn of the survival of the Love Art Gallery and look forward to seeing more of Hye Sook Park’s new paintings, which affirm the work yet to be done as always already being made vivid by the indestructibility of the joy of creation.

For those who want to visit:
Love Art Studio
15551 Cajon Blvd.
San Bernardino, CA 92407
(909) 576-5773

The Plasticity of Reenactment’s Homage

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Plasticity of Reenactment’s Homage

I first read John Rechy’s novels back in the late 1960s, when my roommate Tony Landmesser loaned me his copies of City of Night and Numbers. In many ways, Rechy’s forthright accounts of hustling on the streets of Los Angeles enabled me to have an immediate context for the poetry of Leland Hickman, when he sent me the first five sections of “Tiresias” to publish in Bachy magazine’s second issue. There is more of an echo of Rechy in Lee’s writing than he was ever willing to admit; the echo, however, is not so much an imitation as a complementary flowering of the compressed chaos that both Rechy and Hickman drew upon as the groundswell of their internal muses.
A pair of Rechy’s novels are the current project of Los Angeles artist Tim Youd, who has embarked on the close reading of typing up 100 novels. He finished his reiteration of City of Night about three weeks ago, and I would guess that he has almost finished – if not in fact finished – typing up Numbers. According to an article in the L.A. Times, he began working on Numbers at the Fern Dell entrance to Griffith Park on July 6. Given the heat wave of recent weeks, I wouldn’t blame him if his pace had slowed down a bit, and he were still working on this book.
For those who might be working as scholars on Rechy’s writing, I would recommend taking a look at the interview that Lee Hickman conducted with Rechy on February 7, 1980. It was published in issue number 17 of Bachy magazine. To read an interview with Tim Youd about his experience of typing up Rechy’s City of Night, see:

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/miranda/la-et-cam-tim-youd-city-of-night-20160628-snap-story.html