On My Mind 01.06.12

AliStrange and Beautiful Things

Sunk deep in the night.  As one sometimes sinks one’s head in meditation, thus utterly to be sunk in the night.  All around people are asleep.  It’s a harmless affectation, an innocent self-deception, to suppose that they are sleeping in houses, in safe beds, under a safe roof, stretched out or curled up on mattresses, in sheets, under blankets; in reality they have gathered together as they once did of old, and again later, in a desert region, a camp in the open, a countless number of men, a host, a people, under a cold sky on cold earth, cast down where they had earlier stood, forehead pressed upon arm, face towards the ground, peacefully sleeping.  And you are watching, are one of the watchmen, you find your nearest fellow by brandishing a burning stick from the brushwood pile beside you.  Why are you watching?  Someone must watch, it is said.  Someone must be there. – At Night by Franz Kafka, from The Great Wall of China and Other Short Works Scenes from a telescope/ The night planet electric/   With all the trade routes of the world lit up/   However, since nothing confutes the assumption that lines and forms and colours exist on innumerable other planets and suns as well, we are at liberty to feel fairly serene about the possibilities of painting in a better and different existence, an existence altered by a phenomenon that is perhaps no more ingenious and no more surprising than the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly or of a grub into a maybug. The existence of a painter-butterfly would be played out on the countless celestial bodies which, after death, should be no more inaccessible to us than the black dots on maps that symbolize towns and villages are in our earthly lives. Science – scientific reasoning – strikes me as being an instrument that will go a very long way in the future. For look: people used to think that the earth was flat.  That was true, and still is today, of, say, Paris to Asnières. But that does not alter the fact that science demonstrates that the earth as a whole is round, something nobody nowadays disputes. For all that, people still persist in thinking that life is flat and runs from birth to death. But life, too, is probably round, and much greater in scope and possibilities than the hemisphere we know. – Vincent van Gogh, from The Letters of Vincent van Gogh Such science will go a very long way in the future/   Perhaps to the moon on a ladder of light/ And back in an all-too-brief freefall…/ Inevitably, what seems realest to us is what gets activated most often.  Our hangnails are incredibly real to us (by coincidence, I found myself idly picking at a hangnail while I was reworking this paragraph), whereas to most of us, the English village of Nether Wallop and the high Himalayan country of Bhutan, not to mention the … Read More

AliOn My Mind 01.06.12

The Line is the Feeling

AliStrange and Beautiful Things

I was sad to hear about the death of Cy Tombly today.  In my first year at university, when I was doing fine art, one of the staff noticed that I kept writing on my canvases and suggested that I checked out Twombly, who often incorporated scratchy text into his work.  I loved his paintings right away, especially the ones where he scrawled sentences across them, or bits of script that looked like made-up languages, or strange words half concealed behind thicker layers of paint.  At a later point, the university art staff suggested that I was writing a little too much on my own canvases, and that perhaps I should be writing on word processors on a different course, but it was worth having been there just for the tip-off about Twombly. There are good articles about his art in lots of newspapers today, and they will tell you better than I ever could about all the great things he did.  Here and here are two I’ve enjoyed looking at.  The appeal, for me, is all in a kind of gut recognition.  He seemed to understand that the process of a making a mark, be it handwriting or graffiti or frenzied slashing with a palette knife, is as important as the symbolism of the mark itself.  In other words, the shape the word is written in says just as much as the word itself. I was thinking about this a couple of months ago, and that was what I was getting at here.  When I got stuck – which was often – writing The Man who Rained, I would think about Twombly’s flourishing scrawls and force myself to forget about structure and narrative and all that rigid stuff and just write, write, not even write but just mark-make, be it real words or made-up words or a made-up momentary alphabet, just to enjoy the feel of the nib moving across the surface of the page.  My messy results had nothing of the elegance of Twombly’s – that was the man’s genius, to elevate scribble to a thing of beauty – but they helped me become unstuck and press onward.  So thank you, Cy Twombly. CT: I’m a painter and my whole balance is not having to think about things. So all I think about is painting. It’s the instinct for the placement where all that happens. I don’t have to think about it. So I don’t think of composition; I don’t think of colour here and there. Sometimes I alter something after. So all I could think is the rush. This is in certain things and even up to now, like The Four Seasons, those are pretty emotionally done paintings. And I have a hard time now because I can get mentally ill. I usually have to go to bed for a couple of days. Physically I can’t handle it, and I can’t build myself. You know, my mind goes blank. It’s totally blank. I cannot sit and make … Read More

AliThe Line is the Feeling

Love What You Love

AliStrange and Beautiful Things

What great births you have witnessed! The steam press, the steamship, the steel ship, the railroad, the perfected cotton-gin, the telegraph, the phonograph, the photograph, photo-gravure, the electrotype, the gaslight, the electric light, the sewing machine, & the amazing, infinitely varied & innumerable products of coal tar, those latest & strangest marvels of a marvelous age. And you have seen even greater births than these; for you have seen the application of anesthesia to surgery-practice, whereby the ancient dominion of pain, which began with the first created life, came to an end in this earth forever; you have seen the slave set free, you have seen the monarchy banished from France, & reduced in England to a machine which makes an imposing show of diligence & attention to business, but isn’t connected with the works. Yes, you have indeed seen much — but tarry yet a while, for the greatest is yet to come. – Mark Twain to Walt Whitman That was Mark Twain writing to wish Walt Whitman a happy birthday in 1889.  At seventy, Whitman had lived through a great deal, and Twain celebrated it all with gusto.  Had Whitman gone on to live the further thirty years Twain requested in the letter, I like to think he’d have proved to be a lucky charm of sorts.  It would have been swell to have had him there in the twentieth century, offering his take on things. I love Walt Whitman.  I try to read his stuff if I have to go to the hospital waiting room or to see the bank manager.  I’d like a bracelet for my wrist with What Would Whitman Do? stitched across it.  That’s a fun game, actually, and one worth playing if you’re stuck in the bus queue or walking down Oxford Street.  The only rule is this: you have to view each and every person around you, their armpits and all, as a celebration of the human body and soul.  I find this game hardest very early in the morning and easiest after a few glasses of whiskey. I believe in the flesh and its appetites, Seeing hearing and feeling are miracles, and each part and tag of me is a miracle. Divine am I inside and out, and I make holy whatever I touch or am touched from; The scent of these arm-pits is aroma finer than prayer, This head is more than churches or bibles or creeds – Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (24), first edition This letter of Twain’s is kept in the Beinecke, but I discovered it on a great site called www.lettersofnote.com.  You can’t fail to find something that interests you there.  The Beatles, Benjamin Franklin, Kurt Vonnegut, all these are present.  Every day, its curator Shaun Usher updates it with a new letter, providing both a scan of the manuscript and a typed transcription.  It’s such a worthwhile project, a showpiece of what the internet’s good for, and it’s deservedly nominated for the 2011 Webby Awards … Read More

AliLove What You Love