The Artist is Surprised

With Anne Truitt.

Although there was no objection to the idea of a self, hers tended to elude her. I’m curious, she said, and decided one must be here, somewhere. But where to start? Perhaps a record of everyday things. Let’s see what happens, and what happened yesterday? Last year? Does the one from today have any relation to the one from last winter? 

The works, when she regarded them, stood clear and solid, each holding a space of its own. The same could not be said of the artist. Each has her preoccupations: certain colors, shapes, proportions. One day an insight comes: there is an energy you can use to endure your life, and there is a force for changing it, and these are not distinct, but drawn from the same well.

I am not so much an artist, she decides, but out of my life these objects are surfaced. It is possible, after all, to become what we have not before been able to be. I am here, she told us, to be surprised.

***

Inspired by, and with borrowed phrases from Anne Truitt’s Turn: The Journey of an Artist (1987). 

Material Concerns

In the garden of mirrored monsters.

In the end, it was the materials that killed her. But isn’t this always the case, these days? she might have said, taking aim at another plaster sculpture. In the beginning, her thing was to hide bags of paint inside, to bleed an aftermath. 

When she was done with shooting, she became mother to the monsters. It was a dream vision. Why? someone asked. They locked her up. In lieu of an answer, she returned to her creatures.

See the sphinx, a flower blooming from one breast, her insides shards of mirror. But why? Inquiries persisted. The monsters grew. To heal, she said. A joyland, she named it, locus for a new kind of life.

What kind? someone wondered. 

One where when your face breaks, it bursts into a tree.

Someone called it an apocalypse in paradise. She did not object.

***

Inspired by the work of Niki de Saint Phalle.

Fragilities

Considering emergent occasions.

Common practice refers to any “I” with consistency, but there is no monument here, only these constant aberrations. A body may be well one moment, wounded the next, then ill. Same for soul, spirit, mind, and whatever else we try attaching to this ongoing flux.

Also common, at least after a certain point, to wonder each morning, how now? Check pulse, blood pressure, eyes. Are the dark circles back? I remember the years I could not look because I knew. How cold, this seeming indifference. I was angry at her, for being so much less than solid. And possibly more, too; more than I wanted to imagine. I wasn’t myself, we commonly say, looking back on moments like this. And yet, I never asked, who are you? I never asked, how is your name? or what form shall we take, next?

We move more gently now. I check the pressure, coaxing encouragement. C’mon, I whisper, while I wait. Don’t let up. The translation might be a little prayer, some invocation to this small, quaking of tentative flesh and fluctuating fluids, to hold. We are still emerging.

***

Inspired while reading John Donne’s opening meditation in Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions (1624).

Playing Time

With the angels still untrained in walking.

The artist used the scraps of the day to dance angels on his fingers. He wanted his son to have playmates free of history, open to unknowns, without the knowledge that cultivates fear. Here is the glost of a scarecrow, here the electrical spook. Once upon a time this was a napkin, but now it’s Mr. Death, live on a shoebox stage, fielding questions from all sides. The wine cork becomes the old man, the devil is a ringed glove, and the monk wears a luchador’s mask.

Let’s play, he told the child––animals playing comedy; tragic heroes dressed as children playing proud birds. Make the cat a bull for the land where the only constant is that everything is constantly morphing into something else. 

Watch the big eared clown, ecstatic with the solemn poet and the absolute fool. Only the fragile are powerful here, arms up to highlight where their hands might be, in display of delight: Look, no hands and nothing to hold! They will dance as soon as they wrestle, these angels, and every blessing is also a wound. 

***

Inspired by this article about the hand puppets that Paul Klee (among my favorite artists ever) created for his son.

To the Tiny Constant Voyagers

Here’s to you, intrepid seafarers.

To those ostracods playing in the moonlight, I had no idea you were so risqué in your movements, throwing off your cloaks of protective depths after sundown, dancing up to taste blooming krill, or that from your bean shaped carapaces you were extending sensate tendrils of yourselves like cat whiskers through gauzy shields, reading the waters as you undulated through and in and over, all traces of your nightly ecstasies vanishing by sunrise.

And you, copepods, have you been in these waters the whole time and I didn’t even see you? –––here or anywhere else, and you have been almost everywhere remotely wet, from underground caves to ground leaves, braving arctic interfaces and hydrothermal vents, you intrepid seafarers, propelling bravely by the whirls of your little oar feet where others fear to tread.

I hear that you are disappearing and reappearing nightly, deep scattering layers of you like a phantom seabed, and here I am, clothed and blanketed against the chill and still sighing with the quaking shift of the space that is no different from the space I was in yesterday, except that I am learning, thank you, about the futility of my constant attempts at holding it still.

***

This post is inspired by Hannah Seo’s recent Atlantic article about the diel vertical migration of creatures throughout the world’s seas.