Saturday, December 18, 2010

Memory changes everything

I visited "Oannes et le Sphinx," by Odilon Redon yesterday. Funny how memory changes everything. It has been an unusually hectic few months and I had not had a chance to visit in too long, but encountering the painting again yesterday reminded me why I love it.

In my memory of it, in my mind, the image is transplendent, full of crisp lines that playfully and gracefully define and ornament the two metaphysical creatures located in a dark afternoon-like, almost subterranean environment.

Seeing it anew, I noticed more muck, more chaos. The two bodies were far less separate from their surroundings than I recall them to be. Their surrounding, far more mucky, more like ochre mucous, than my mental image would suggest. The purple stripes decorating the wings of the Sphinx look like day-glo acrylic paint. It's hard to believe Redon generated that color from the oil paint of his day. The disturbing little set of teeth (presumably the only part of Oannes that is identifiable) in the lower left corner is even less specifically attached to a body, than I recall. And most surprising, the breaking of that adage- "thick over thin." Redon painted several thin glazes of earthy-raw sienna over some very thick chunks of impasto smack dab in the middle of the painting.

I love it. I love how he broke the rules in such a clunky way. I love the inexplicability of the foreground, wide irregularly shaped swaths of the ugliest green which somehow add up to a comprehensible space. Utterly brilliant.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Jean-Michel & Mayzie Jean: Valentines forever

When I found out there was a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting at PAM, I was shocked. How had this been under my nose? I loved him so much and for so long but I had somehow never considered the possibility of being in the same room as his work, especially right here in my hometown art museum. He seemed so elusive, more precious than the celebrated greats with travelling collections. For years I had poured through books at the library, photocopied my favorite pieces to frame, saved to buy my own pristine copy of the book from his 1992 exhibition at the Whitney. When Reebok put his illustrations on shoes, I bought a pair of slip on Vans and drew his signature crown all over them. When Fab Five Freddie and Charlie Ahern came to town to show Wild Style, I asked them about him, about what it like to be his friend. I made my own Jean-Michel in my mind, and I had been satisfied with that.

Needless to say, it was the first time art made me cry. I wasn't expecting that, but I also wasn't expecting to see something brand new. After so many years of research I thought I had seen it all. Silly me! It was a brand new piece of art to my eyes, but oh so familiar. So loving and tender and unexpected. I recognized the eyes, I could see him adding final touches with a red acrylic paint stick. I wanted so badly to touch it, to give it a hug like a long lost friend. Instead I touched his name on the wall, I figured I couldn't get in trouble for that. It was surreal to see:

Jean-Michel Basquiat
(American, 1960-1988)
Valentine, 1983

I still cry when I think about seeing Valentine for the first time. I'm so thankful to have it here in my town. A little bit of my favorite artist, from his hands straight to my eyes. To be married to this precious work is a dream.

-Mayzie Jean Hart

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Inscrutable you

Hello Early Hour, my dear. It's been a little while since we first met, but you're still fresh in my mind as if it were yesterday. There were many strong, vibrant, and loud personalities vying for attention at the party that night, but you won me over with your gentle warmth. I looked and looked at you and wondered, "now, what could he be thinking?" And the moment reminded me that so much of what we perceive in the "other" is actually a reflection of our inner selves and lives. In your quiet face I could find sadness, peace, contentment, loneliness. I thought, are you in love with the woman sleeping at your side? Maybe you're contemplating how to tell her you're leaving her - or maybe you're planning to ask for her hand in marriage. Varied possibilities seemed equally plausible as I gazed at your expression, and I felt that was your genius - that you engaged me in that way. My understanding of you depends on my understanding of the world we share. You are beautifully complex and therefore open to interpretation - and that's a prerequisite for any lover worth his salt, don't you think?

- Juliette Harding