Category Archives: Painting and Sculpture

Domenic Cretara — Masterful Artist and Extraordinary Teacher — R.I.P.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Domenic Cretara (March 29, 1946 – December 22, 2017)

When Linda and I got home from Thousand Oaks last evening, we learned through social media that one of the professors I most admire at CSULB, Domenic Cretara, had died on Friday, December 22nd. The news put a very somber glow on the day’s festivities, for Domenic still had much more drawing and painting awaiting his pencils and brushes, and I am very sorry that his studio will no longer hear the quiet shifting of the models’ bodies.

I met Domenic when Linda was taking classes at CSULB to get her BFA. I would occasionally find myself in a Fine Arts building when he had his students’ work spread out along a hallway, and I always felt compelled to stand at the edge and watch him praise, cajole, and verbally nudge his students to aspire to the highest degree of their potential. He always made useful suggestions as to what the student should think about in continuing to work on a particular painting or drawing. There was nothing vague about his critique. He got right to the point, and it was specific advice that even I as a non-artist could see was exactly what the painting needed. Quite simply, he was one of the best teachers I ever saw, and I never left his presence without feeling rededicated in my profession as a teacher of literature.

Truly fine teachers are often at a disadvantage in having their work admired as much as it deserves. While Domenic was an internationally recognized and admired artist, he carried none of egregious aura of “success” as he went about his daily life. He was a rare human being, and I feel very fortunate to have known him.

If anyone who reads this knows of someone who studied art at CSULB, you might pass on the word that Domenic Cretara’s memorial service will be on Friday, Dec. 29 at 10:30 AM, at the Luyben Dilday Mortuary Chapel, 5161 Arbor Road, Long Beach, CA 90808.

Here are some links to learn more about his art and skill as a teacher:

http://www.cretaraart.com

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domenic_Cretara

https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/485022

The Garden City Horse Sculpture

Friday, December 8, 2017 (Feast of the Immaculate Conception)

The transition from graduate student to faculty is perhaps even harder than writing one’s dissertation, if only because the time allotted to turn one’s attention from the latter task to the former endeavor is so brief. No sooner had I finished defending my dissertation in the late spring, 2004 (and it was not a slam-dunk; not everyone on my committee believed that what I had written deserved their signature) and submitting a revised version to the graduate office at UCSD than I was heading to Idyllwild to teach for six weeks, and then back to San Diego to teach a summer extension course in poetry, all the while packing to head to Lynbrook, New York and teach English as a Second Language at Nassau Community College.

The drive from where Linda and I lived in Lynbrook to the NCCs campus was about nine miles on surface streets, and one day we ended up taking a different route. About three miles from the campus, we noticed a park with a statue of a horse and got out and took some photographs.

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“Welcome to the Village of Garden City” declares an oval sign, at a spot on its breastbone where a medallion might hang. NCC was in Garden City, a place I’d first heard of when I looked on the copyright pages of books published by Doubleday, and saw its headquarters listed as Garden City, New York. The company was located on Long Island for about three-quarters of a century (1910-1986) and I believe the building it occupied on Franklin Avenue is still in use.

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As a youth, I had not the slightest idea where Garden City might be, nor did I care. It seemed odd to me that a publishing company in New York wouldn’t be located in Manhattan itself, but with the exception of a half-dozen writers, Doubleday’s authors were never of much interest to me. That Doubleday found itself being packaged and repackaged as part of the corporate expansion into the cultural domain was hardly a surprise. I don’t know of many people who worry that its backlist might perish from the conversation (e.g., Form and Value in Modern Poetry (Doubleday Anchor) by R.P. Blackmur; or the poems and essays of Robert Graves).

Linda and I remember the statue of the horse with bemused affection, though. While we passed by that park just that once, the occasion in retrospect still seems more than a droll chance encounter. I suppose it might be thought of as kitsch, and yet is it any less appealing than the work of Jeff Koons? He should be so lucky as to have this piece of work to his credit.

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Audri Phillips and “Robot Prayers”; “A Thought Has No Physicality”

Monday, September 20, 2017

I met the artist Audri Phillips well over a quarter-century ago, back when I was still living on Hill Street in Ocean Park. I myself was not a painter, but knew a group of painters who went around each other’s studios and critiqued each other’s work. Besides Audri, I remember that one of the artists was Richard Bruland, the former owner of BeBop Records. Audri eventually painted the image that went on my CD/cassette of spoken word, Vehemence, from New Alliance Records (1993), and I contributed to the poem that accompanied her first computer art project, “A Thought Has No Physicality” (1995). (Note: This can be found on vimeo, but my inclusion of the link in this blog post will not grant direct access to it; hence, my mere citation of this early work.)

Audri is still working as an artist, though she stopped working on canvas about a half-dozen years ago and now paints only on the computer. Linda and I attended one of her earliest full-length collaborations that included work painted on a computer in 2011. It was a theatrical event, “Migrations,” that she staged in a geodesic dome with some other musicians. There were moments in that event that were as full of soothing gracefulness as anything I have ever absorbed.

Audri is shutting down her studio in which she worked with paint and selling all of her canvases. As she concludes this part of her life, I wish to pass on to you a link to her most recent work, “Robot Prayers,” which I believe you will enjoy and savor enough that you will hope she can keep on working in this manner for decades to come.

www.robotprayers.com

https://www.flickr.com/photos/111721388@N06/

http://www.studioarts.com/bio_audri_phillips

A Quick Sunday Trifecta: Joseph Hansen, Lewis MacAdams, and Women’s Music

Sunday, October 15th, 2017

There was a meeting this afternoon at Beyond Baroque for the committee in charge of its 50 anniversary celebration, which will start in just a few months. I couldn’t make the meeting, for I find myself trying to finish both a major poetry project and several papers for the literature side of things.

However, I doubt there’s a better way at the present moment to invoke the grubby days of a half-century ago — when poets in Venice considered themselves fortunate to have a small storefront to gather in and talk about their poems — than to pass along a link to an article on Joseph Hansen, without whom there would have been no workshop and everything that grew out of all those encounters. If George Drury Smith was the founder of Beyond Baroque, then Joseph Hansen was the secret instigator of its ability to encompass a most peculiar variety of poets. Lisa Janssen has written a very fine account of Hansen’s life and commitment to social change that deserves your attention:

MY FAVORITE GADABOUT #3: GAY PRIDE EDITION, JOSEPH HANSEN

Of course, not all the poets who have made a significant difference in Los Angeles were based in Venice. Lewis MacAdams, for instance, arrived here in the early 1980s and promptly made himself one of the indispensable activists. His work on reclaiming the Los Angeles river is legendary, and is rightfully being accorded an oral history in which Lewis gets to assemble and preserve the details of that process. Here is a link to an article that lets us peek into that process.

http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-macadams-lariver-legacy-20171006-htmlstory.html

The third thing I’d like to share with you is a counterpoint to all the news coming out about a certain Hollywood mogul. While it’s crucial that those who have been victimized get to confront the perpetrator of their debasing memories, it’s also important not to let this overwhelm the discourse of imagination to the point where women are primarily categorized as either one of two things: victims or potential victims. Against considerable odds, women have done extraordinarily important cultural work, and here are two links to some of it. The first is to women who worked in the field of electronic music, and the second is to a long list of albums that anyone interested in popular music should be familiar with. For those born since 1990, a surprising number of these albums may only be familiar as flare-ups of nostalgia by their aunts and uncles, or parents.

http://edm.com/articles/2014/12/14/6-women-history-electronic-music

http://www.npr.org/2017/07/20/538324927/turning-the-tables-150-greatest-albums-made-by-women-page-13

As a last-minute follow-up, I just now remembered that I happened to run across a video that made me think of the book, Gunfighter Nation.

Is there a way to substitute guitars played by women musicians for the guns in the above video, and thereby move the image to one of affirming life’s potential for joy?

“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

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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.

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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)