Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Gate At The Stairs by Lorrie Moore

I go through phases of reading--phases where nonfiction seems more real to me and more necessary, and so I just read nonfiction.  I was in a nonfiction phase in graduate school and in the five years (roughly)  following that time.  When my son was born I found it hard to get much reading done at all as I went to the studio while he slept during the day, and at night my head was too tired to do much more than watch old episodes of Lost or The Wire with the help of netflix.

Of late I have been in a fiction reading phase.  For now memoir or actually-happened fact does not call me.  Invention and story are the draw, as I want to settle my painter's imagination in my own work or in the worlds created by writers.  I don't leave my own space when I travel to a work of fiction that holds me, but instead step along an ancillary path that gives me more of the information I crave.  Last night I finished reading Lorrie Moore's A Gate At The Stairs, a book narrated by one of the most captivating, resonant, humorous and smart female characters in recent fiction.  Why are there not more of these in contemporary fiction?  Or maybe I just need to read more.  Here's an excerpt from the book that reminded me of many a late night with book in hand in an old home without air conditioning:

Every night I lay in my bed, staying up past ten, reading.  The light from my lamp attracted insects through the holes in one of the screens, and by eleven I would look up at the ceiling and it would be crawling with bugs, small, medium, and large, light and dark, all collecting up there in omincous flocks as if awaiting Tippi Hedren.  Once, a leggy winged albino think landed on my book, and its oddness fascinated me, though I soon slammed it between the pages.  Once I awoke in the middle of the night and could see that through the crack in the door and the badly settled frame there was a long sliver of light from the hallway, and fireflies could enter the room; they sparkled in and out like fairies, as if the door were nothing at all, as if there were no separating this room from any other space.  They were like visions, really, but ones I'd not had as a child, when I'd slept through the night with a depth and stillness that was no longer possible.   
p. 290 from A Gate At The Stairs by Lorrie Moore 

I've been away from home in the last week and will be gone this coming week too, so I will not be posting much, if at all, until the start of August.  I am very fortunate to be heading to a retreat centered on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Dear Ross,

Just completed a picture (Picture?)--the last stages of doing it was a 24 hour bout--so many images and structures painted out--They do not satisfy now.  Something is happening to me and I do not know what it is.--As I look at it now, after some sleep, it feels so compressed--ordained and remote.  Yet it is so simple to look at.  No--it is not simple to look at all.  It is as if now for all the mind--whose thoughts are pinned--riveted down--but it moves the mind--IN A NARROW RANGE--moves, not roams.  The least--almost nothing for the eye--just enough--one even doesn't need to "look"--too unnerving.  When I am away from it, my thoughts revolve around the image.  Where has it been before, masked & hidden.  I think I have known this image all my life but did not make it visible before. 

-Philip Guston in a letter to Ross Feld from Guston in Time by Ross Feld

When I read Guston's wrangling with words I feel relieved.  Often I struggle to put words to what I do in the studio and feel like all I can do is cobble together a bunch of phrases and dashes.  There is a strange sort of verbal inarticulateness that characterizes the attempt to write out a visual process, and I wrestle against that inarticulateness--I desire verbal equivalents, or at least clarity!  But here the inability to say what is felt when making a painting is utterly beautiful.  And all I can think at the end of reading is that yes, he nailed it, that is exactly what making is like.

I am thinking about my friend Melissa too, as I write this out--as I believe she will know what I am trying to say.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Window (fifth notable image from the last week)

My mother is able to find the neatest things for children--of late she brought us these window decals, and Alexander was quick to turn our panes into see-through abstract paintings.  Another collision!  Here I am intrigued by the melding of home life/domesticity with a formalist abstract language redolent of Kandinsky.

Cows with color (fourth notable image from the last week)

Our home is surrounded by fields that are periodically grazing land for cows.  The latest batch of cows arrived while we were away and, with each new day, are moved systematically around the field to enjoy fresh grass.  Yesterday morning they munched away behind the clothes line, and I was struck by the collision of animal life with these two rectangles of color hovering in front.  I don't quite know how the essence of such an idea would make its way into an abstract painting but the thought interests me. 

Fourth of July Feast! (third notable image from the last week)

We celebrated the 4th with good friends who have a gift for making and assembling extraordinary feasts!  I had to take a photo of our beautiful appetizer plate--all food from Jerusalem Market, a nearby Middle Eastern market. 

Green and Red (first and second notable images from the last week)

I've been silent here for a time due to a trip to the beach last week.  Two images from our of the palms we passed each day en route to the sand and water and of course a shock of sandy red hair bent over some recent new discovery.