A Few Instances of Imagework

  1. SHE SHOWED HIM.

    “I included in the stuff I sent you* a bit of a page from a book I used to have of stereoscopic aerial photographs of canyons. The pictures are taken from directly above. The resultant effect is a completely unreadable and insignificant depiction of canyons. This however only heightens the effect when the photos are viewed stereoscopically. I remember the first time I looked at them through the viewer,  I actually experienced vertigo.”

This is part of a note I wrote to woman who I had sent nine pieces of art.  She had served as the model for the art and I sent them to her at the same time I sent all such work I had in my archive out to the people who had posed for them.    The itemized list I included in the note is quoted below.  The 9th item on the list is the work under discussion here.

increased-in-depth-out-in-700x886-2The flat obscurity of the single eye photos emphasizes the surface pattern and the marvelous black and white textures. I liked them flat too so I tore pages from the book, put them in an opaque projector and cast them on the walls of my room.  I looked around at the walls and where I saw something interesting I put up a piece of paper and traced what I saw.  The texture of the wall is visible in the pencil marks of the traces.

What I saw, I suppose, was very like what is seen in a Rorschach ink blots though far more vivid than I ever supposed the inkblots could be. It was as much a projection of my wider unconscious self as is a dream. The experience was breathtaking and nerve-racking.

The addition of psychological depth to these ambiguous shapes strikes me now as perfectly complementary to the vertigo- inspiring addition of depth in the stereoscopic view.  Much of what I consider my best work was produced by very similar techniques. But even my best work shares a weakness: ultimately I fail to give viewers an experience as compelling as the one I have in seeing these images flower out of my dream mind. My question has always been how I can provide someone with an experience equal in intensity to the experience I have in the initial confrontation with these images?

[My answer for the most part has been to work mostly in promoting creativity, in teaching process to individuals rather than attempting to sell them images that are painfully personal, idiosyncratic, obscure and never as valuable as anyone else as they are to me.]

 

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The drawing “She Shows Him…” was produced in the first batch of these traces.

What is remarkable to me in looking closely at  “She Shows Him” is the detail. There is a remarkable accuracy in this drawing,  from the anatomy of her back to the texture and volume of her hair. And this was produced merely, truly, by tracing.  And what I was tracing were the tones in a photograph of canyons.

I think the first thing I learned about the arts was probably the first thing everybody learns.  The arts are somehow special important things, spoken of in terms of Truth and Spirit and Soulfulness.  Aiming at these vague targets, every effort is doomed to miss.  But here in actually having images emerge before my eyes, images which spoke more honestly than I ever do consciously to myself,  in them there was real truth. Certainly they offered a bracing encounter capable of educating my soul.

“She Shows Him…” was the one piece among the images that I sent this woman that had been exhibited.  It was also the one piece that is precious to me.  It is precious to me because it was one of the first pieces produced by this process.  And this process I consider worthy of all the big words always propping up the arts.

The incident to which the title refers was an one with all of the anguish and confusion of adolescence in it.  Ahe image was found in the projection and traced at a time when I no longer realized the incident haunted me.  It emerged like a long denied sob.

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  1. Seated Nude. 1987. Pencil.
  2. Standing Nude, profile. 1986.  Pencil.  Developed into a painting since lost.
  3. “Leda + Swan.” 1986 (?) Conte’ Crayon.
  4. Torso. Study for the Painting, “Meg Sleeping” 1986 (?) Pastel.
  5. Face in Profile. Study for the Painting, “Meg Sleeping” 1986 (?) Pencil.  Painting lost.
  6. Sketchbook page, prep for a painting, “Anxiety” 1984-5.  Ballpoint. Painting never executed.
  7. Sketchbook page,  1984-5. Pen. (A fine example of adolescent immaturity, but a nicely rendered profile of the flying figure.
  8. Sketch of my impression of the first anxiety attack I ever witnessed. 1984-5. Ball point pen.
  9. “She shows him…” approx. 1987. Pencil.

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2.  OF VANITY

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3. BRUTAL FOOD

 

The Splinter

1

On the front lawn of an old house similar to all the other houses on the street Sammy Boy is attending to countless children, leaving the preparations for the wedding in more capable hands.  Well-dressed guests file passed him carrying boxes of tafetta and lace, some carrying satin gowns on hangers dressed in clear plastic.  He smiles gently at the greeting of each without showing his teeth.
Inside, in the small green kitchen with the large cast iron stove, the Mother of the Groom somewhat nervously decorates the simple cake, writing, “Congratulations Cassius and Pamella.”  People travel back and forth through the doorless rooms. They walk  from the kitchen directly into the dining room, where women sit making lace doilies, through the gradual arch directly into the living room, where, if there is work going on it is made invisible by the crowd of newly arriving guests saying hello and wishing well to the Father of the Bride.  There is a fireplace on one side of this room and a staircase to the second floor on the other.
From the kitchen comes Cassius dapper in a suit and a thin tie.  Not tuxedoed as he would be for the wedding, but nicely dressed.  People slap him on the back as he passes.  He is stopped several times to shake hands before reaching the living room.
The living room gives onto the foyer and to the right, the front door.  That end of the crowd, nearest the door, begins to look out the windows which line the foyer and to push to the side the white transparent curtains.  There is apparently a ruckus on the front lawn.
In the gravel driveway of the next row house, Cassius’s father waves his arms broadly, swaying as he speaks.  Sammy Boy, seriousness in his eyes, holds the man where he is simply by standing between him and the house.  The children, very somber now, stand behind Sammy Boy on the lawn.  Cassius comes out on  the front step followed by as many of the guests as could fit behind him.  The Father of the Bride looks on, stern and protective.  Cassius’s father’s wildness vanishes when Sammy Boy steps aside.  No longer thwarted, he approaches Cassius  making gestures of congratulation, slapping him on the back.  He waves off invitations to come inside and turning away, once again obviously drunk, walks down the street.  The guests show signs of relief.
Sammy Boy, a look of concern on his face, has followed Cassius inside.  Visibly shaken, pale, perhaps ill, sweaty, Cassius moves weakly into the living room.  The crowd of friends hover round him.  The Father of the Bride kneads his arms with his huge hands, pats his back, and smiles closely into his face, saying consoling things.  Cassius brightens, also smiling, never one to disappoint offers of help.  Sammy Boy steps away from the close knot of people.  The children follow.  Crossing the living room, Sammy Boy approaches the staircase, touching the rabbit ears of the television set lightly as he pauses to look upstairs.  The case turns at the top: pale yellow light from a glazed window shines only on the last visible step, the bannister and the blank wall behind.  Giving on nothing, it seems purposeless.

Turning the corner of the last four steps, Sammy Boy and the children arrive on the second floor.  Sammy Boy steps across the hall, passing the bathroom, to the first bedroom.  The door is slightly ajar.  He sticks his head in on the final fitting.  Pamella is standing on an ottoman.  Women surround her, pulling out pins.  The Mother of the Bride turns quickly, feeling a presence at the door.  Her face is anxious, her teeth slightly bared.  She recognizes Sammy Boy and her fierce look softens to impatience — perhaps feigned impatience.    She ushers him out.
Flustered again by the sight of the children, the Mother of the Bride shoos them all to the top of the staircase.  Bustling, she disappears back behind the door, which is again left ajar.
Quietly Sammy Boy walks to the end of the second floor hallway.  The children follow in chastened silence.  At the front of the house a broad archway gives onto the attic.  A large oscillating fan on a tripod stands in the middle of the entryway.  In the dimness of the attic, stacks of wooden milkcrates, most between five and six feet in height, recede into the infinite distance.  Sammy Boy tightens his mouth, his lips disappearing.  The children brush by his arms, moving forward.  He catches hold of sleeves and looks back at the door of the first bedroom.  He turns back, moving again toward the stairs, the children in tow.

2

The whole crowd of them dash for the awning of the train station, some with coats folded upwards from the back to protect new hair-dos.  They enter the soda shop, the bell at the top of the door rings repeatedly.  The patrons turn their heads, mostly indifferent, perhaps upset by such a large number entering.  Cassius pauses at the door and those behind him collide with his back.  He turns and smiles, apologizing and asking pardon.  The soda shop appears strangely long.  Many small tables with empty chairs enough for all of them, placed in a row, follow the entire length of the impossibly long soda bar.  Cassius mops his brow with a white hankerchief.  The people at his elbow, now concerned, close in on him.  Pamela is there, in her cloth jacket and with a plastic rain scarf over her hair.  They, Cassius and Pamella,  smile at each other, each a little uncertain.
Cassius sits at the head of the table, his back to a wall covered with framed pictures of fighters and movie stars.  Light flashes from the countless moving glasses and silverware.  Cassius is flanked by Sammy Boy and the Father of the Bride.  The Father of the Bride is hunched over his plate, leaning toward Cassius, the obvious discomfort of suit and tie making him look all the more huge.
Shrugging and shaking his head at their concern, Cassius kneads the back of his neck.  At the far end of the table, Pamella speaks over her shoulder to the patrons who are now showing interest in the meaning of the gathering.  The soda jerk too, leaning on the bar, smiles and asks questions.  Pamella steals looks at Cassius.
Snapping his hand away as if pricked, Cassius leans forward in his chair.  All three, Cassius, Sammy Boy and the Father of the Bride look at his hand.  On the index finger there is a drop of blood.  Now Cassius’s head rests on the table.  He is unconscious.
Jumping to their feet, Sammy Boy and the Father of the Bride topple their chairs.  All heads turn their way.  Some people stand but do not advance toward them.  The Father of the Bride works underneath Cassius’s neck  at his collar.  He cannot loosen it.  Sammy Boy tries.  As it is unbuttoned, the Father of the Bride fumbles to fold the collar down in back.
There is a small spot on the back of the unmoving neck.  The Father of the Bride’s finger moves toward it.  Touching it, showing surprise, he grasps the spot with two fingers and pulls.  A thick splinter, perhaps four inches in length, is drawn out.  It is momentarily brandished to the gawking crowd.  The hair of both men, leaning over the body, is suddenly afloat as if blasted by a puff of air.  They step back, their heads swivelling upward.
Their eyes, searching, track to the ceiling.  As from a hypodermic needle, a pressurized stream, so fine it is invisible, passes between the men and strikes the ceiling in a continuous flow.  On the ceiling and then dripping on the tile floor and on Sammy Boy’s shoes, the stream spreads and becomes apparent as blood.  Both men throw their hands to the wound to stop the flow.
There is a rush from all sides toward the end of the table, and a passing of napkin after napkin, even a table cloth and ice handed over the soda bar.  The effort is prolonged.  Sweat has dilluted the blood that had thoroughly covered Sammy Boy, making him look simply sunned  or over-wrought.  Amid overturned glasses and melting ice, the table murky with blood, Pamella, pale and motionless, unresponsive, lies just as she had fallen.  Her father strokes her hair.  Someone has removed her cloth coat and folded it neatly on a stool by the bar.
Finally there is some brief conversation.  Sammy Boy lifts the body to his chest.  People make way for him.  Pamella seems to respond to the movement.  She tries to speak but appears delirious.  She is gravely pale.  Her head lolls and Sammy Boy holds it more tightly to his chest, rolling his shoulders to further shelter her.
As he makes his way down the long, long shop, one of the children enters, curious and happy, looking about.  Pamella sees the child, turning her head and pointing vaguely.  She wants to stop, to engage the child.  Sammy Boy, whispering through tight lips, quiets her, putting off the visit until later.  He turns his back on the child to close off Pamella from view.
As they reach the door, the shop bell rings.  The Mother of the Bride enters, hunched in her own cloth coat, busy removing the plastic scarf from her hair, not seeing the people that are too near her.  Sammy Boy ducks his chin, hunching his shoulders further and turns sideways toward the door.  Pamella reaches out her hand weakly and looks from her mother to Sammy Boy’s eyes.  there is a blind intensity in those eyes, meeting hers.  He is trying to communicate something to her.
“It’s my mother.” Pamella says, a slow confused urgency in her voice.
“I think you’ve been dreaming,” Sammy Boy says,  “You have a fever.”
The shop bell rings again as he steps out of the soda shop passed the awning, under the train trellis.  Gathering Pamella closer to him, he pauses, looking left and right, uncertain which way to go.

Regarding the project the Mentor’s Grove:  Here is the original threefold pamphlet I made for my first pitch to build an outdoor classroom/sculptural setting to honor my mentor.

2004 3fold Grove reordered

Two things are remarkable about it for me now, 12 years later.  First that the idea was so fully present in this early draft, and second, that even while in its full presence, I was still incapable of recognizing key elements of it.

I don’t say this in a spirit of self-criticism.  I say it in an attempt to underline what was central to my experience of the Grove; which was, to use the words of the Gilgamesh Epic, “the untying of a dream.”