One Year Later at Luke and Jody’s
No amount of marketing will make looking at a painting online satisfying. The translation to the screen is inadequate. Oh well, I thought, clicking send on a new post. But clicking send also reminds me of the postcards On Kawara mailed to friends. He wrote, simply: “I am still alive.”
In a retrospective of his work a few years ago, the wall text quoted someone who received a postcard from him as saying, “I recognized it immediately as art.” I recognize pictures of paintings as art, but when it becomes my only experience of art, it’s disappointing.
Disappointment, inadequacy, dissatisfaction–paintings have this in common with their images. A painting is a partial view. It gestures toward something else, something — one imagines — better.
Painting can express a way of looking at the world–John Berger says this about Poussin, whose paintings I was looking at online when I started this body of work. Poussin’s attitude toward the world was one of order, clarity: he struggles to impose this on the landscape. He ruthlessly expunges ambiguity.
But there is too much complexity and chaos to control, especially by the end. His Seasons paintings were the last ones he worked on, in Rome, where he lived. I read that on Wikipedia, and saw the images of them there. When I enlarge them they get bigger but less clear. They push the frame into the blurry sky, or into the trees.
I looked at these in LA, where I drove last fall to borrow my friend Jody’s studio and live with Luke. Some of the plaster from Jody’s casts were on the studio floor, and when I painted barefoot I would sometimes step on them. At night, I would paint or listen to music, or talk with Luke. And very late at night, there was an injured grasshopper that would come out of hiding and hop on the rosin paper I put down to cover the floor. I am still alive, I imagined him saying.
Luke painted on the other side of the wall. He and I collaborate sometimes–we had worked together on paintings a year earlier, during a similar stay. Our collaborations have given me a sense of shared approach to form. It’s homonymic: one thing resembles another but has a different meaning. Form speaks in patterns and repetitions. On the page, a clock can sound like a color wheel; a color wheel can sound like a washing machine; a washing machine, a lens, a spiral.
A year had passed between when I last saw Luke and Jody in LA and painted there. I painted pages of color wheels and thought of them as entries in a diary. I photographed Luke and the studio. I gave my return more significance than it really had. It felt important. It was like going back to a painting I loved–I’m thinking of a blue Agnes Martin painting, one containing so much beauty, and (in its way) promise. It would tell me, I hoped, there’s something else. Something better.
Studio, April 2019
Spiral of Justice, Hyperallergic, August 11, 2018
The poem, ‘Spiral of Justice,’ or ‘Gerechtigkeitsspirale’ in its original German, was carved by Erhart Falckener onto a church pew in Hesse in 1510. The words are punctuated by red diamonds and surrounded by thistle and acanthus. I found an image of the pew while researching examples of shaped poetry. Reading the English translation is like reading the news: ‘Justice suffers in great need/Truth is slain dead […] Faleshood is of high birth.’
Justice suffers in great need.
Truth is beaten to death.
Faith has lost the argument.
Falsehood is of high birth.
That angers God the Lord.
O man, let go
That you may not always be lost.
Bad News, Hyperallergic, April 6, 2019
The day the Mueller Report was announced, I thought: more bad news. What a surprise. But on second thought, it was a surprise. Unfortunately, I am the sort of person who carries hope with me. Hope is like the real photograph I keep folded in my real wallet that has, over the course of several years, separated along the seam.
The photograph was given to me by someone who said, as we were hugging goodbye, “I love you.” In that moment of heightened emotion, I said it back and, I think, felt it. It was the last time we ever saw each other. Love is frequently disappointing, because people are rarely as we hope them to be. I ignore that to my detriment. No one involved in our politics, maybe Mueller most singularly, conveys emotional complexity. How could there have ever been any hope?
The photograph is old and in bad shape. It’s an elevated shot of a busy avenue, with old-fashioned cars next to a large public plaza that is, at the same time, a waterfront. It’s a beautiful image, if a little vague, and its subject is, as it is with many old photographs, longing. And this is the case partly because of the romance in which it was given to me. But I don’t carry it in my wallet out of longing for that person, or with any meaning attached. I just keep it there.