Art from The Arc

I paint for the same reasons I write: it’s a physical activity that is peaceful, happy, and all about light. Though for some time now I’ve not been painting much. When I do paint, the images come from some underground reservoir, the same place many poems come from, a vision from the inside, if I can say so without sounding too psycho, as opposed to en plein air, painting what one sees on the outside. I read recently that Monet painted dozens of scenes of the River Seine – the same scene over and over, but each scene in different light. I’ve never seen a Monet painting in person, only pics of them, often the light different in each photo, and I’ve often wondered what Monet would think of that, the light in his paintings changing with each reproduction. The light in a parlour or museum likewise might change the scene as it was seen and painted. That effect is not unlike sound effects, where the splendid, carefully practiced arpeggio heard on the radio is accompanied by static, a dog barking in some distant yard, or a trash truck picking up the street cans and noisily dumping them into the void.

I did see some Rothko paintings in person, some time ago, at a show at the Portland Art Museum, and I was surprised by how thinly he applied the paint to the canvas. You could easily see the warp and weft of the canvas. Of course you’re supposed to view from a distance – the same distance for everyone? One’s eyesight too changes the light. Way back in my school days, I once tried to argue that Monet’s impressionist style was the result of cataracts, but I was struck down by an art student who argued that the work of the impressionists was the result of an art theory they had invented and implemented as a complicated statement on reality and vision. I still think it might have been cataracts.

I started painting with my two granddaughters when they were little and liked to play with paints, unconcerned with talent or any kind of “I can’t draw” self-criticism. We all three painted for the same reasons mentioned above: peaceful, happy, and light. And fun! At first I bought new canvases from an art supply store, of modest size, 20″ by 20″ or so, but I then started to find large canvases at garage sales, priced cheaply enough, far less than I was paying for the new ones at the art store, and I bought them for us to paint over. The garage sale finds were not Monet’s or Rothko’s, so no harm was brought to the art world by our painting over them.

Recently, over at The Arc, a non-profit thrift store not far from us, out on the sidewalk, against the wall, behind some smaller items, I spied a large canvas, 26″ x 60″ x 1 & 1/2″. They wanted $10 for it. A great find. The visions of what I might paint over it started drifting in like a slow moving moon, the light in a park changing by the minute. But when I got the painting home, a canvas print of some sort, the kind used to decorate hotel rooms or small business lobbies, I began to have second thoughts about painting over it. Something about it said no, put me up as is.

So I did, and here it is, for your critical review. Please leave a comment! Is it art? Is it good? Why, why not? …B, care to comment? Ashen? Dan? Bill? Barbara? Lisa? Susan? All you artists and art aficionados out there?

The pic in the bottom right corner shows one of my basement paintings, sitting on the piano, which I took down to hang the Arc find.

Tabor Space

At the bottom of the bell tower you poured
yourself a coffee, put a contribution into the jar,
and through the big doors entered the space,
a two story high ceiling of 100 year old wood,
brick walls with stained glass windows, a few
stuffed chairs by the Brobdingnagian fireplace,
tables and chairs spread out in the space,
a lending library bookshelf, a kids’ play area,
and the floor to ceiling folding sliding doors
hiding the dark cool nave of empty pews.
I would sit in a stuffed chair or at a table
and read papers or doodle in my notebook,
sitting on the big couch in the far corner.
Young moms with children came and went,
small group meetings held at the larger tables,
couples hooked up for a coffee & snack talk.
It was mostly volunteer, then went commercial,
then closed as the virus swept through
so many spaces, closing doors and attitudes.

Anyway, Tabor Space has now reopened,
a second location for Favela Brazilian Cafe,
and we visited yesterday, chatted with the
Brazilian baristas, and we sat with a coffee
and we looked around and I took a few pics,
and we’re glad the space has reopened:


Leaves

“The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom,”
said William Blake in his “The Marriage of Heaven
and Hell” (1790-1793). And later says, “A fool sees
not the same tree as a wise man sees,” a leavening
thought, where leaves allow for us to see the sky
and its Cyclopean eye in easy earned middle class
moderation, where all things are divided by two.

Autumn Us

In the evening the sun is placed
over 60th and Belmont walking
down the middle of the street
into the powdery scene I snap
a few pics with my phone cam:

Autumn Equinox 2022 from SE Belmont and 68th

Earlier in yard I cut feather grass
as dry as a lint trap and the spent summer
daisies cringed crinkled into dust as
I yanked on the stiff stems like the barber
at my gone to seed hair a mess she said.

Looking west over downtown to West Hills from SE 68th and Stark

End summer evenings still too hot
to walk but coming of Fall equinox
portable air conditioner quiet fan
spins cooler nights tiny blue eyes
charge to pay to keep cool to sleep.

A day later, a bit cooler, orange to blue, Morrison and 68th

So it goes Vonnegut said so it goes
around and around on old vinyl the needle
finishes its drive toward the center the turntable
still spinning the needle clicking back
and forth wanting to stop but caught in the groove.

Caught in the groove walking around and around

No one understands Universe least of all physicists
who must talk a taught tongue while the rest of us
find rhymes and rhythms as we dance around and around
until the moon goes down as Chuck Berry said around and
around until the sun goes down and the moon comes up.

Fictional Photography

Yesterday, we cruised on foot an antique, theatre, and tavern storied section of Sellwood then drove to the north facing cliffs where we looked across Oaks Bottom, where still lives lively the Oaks Amusement Park, “where the fun never ends since 1905,” the Oaks Park Roller Skating Rink, East Island, Hardtack Island, Ross Island, and across the Willamette River and above the trees to the tops of the taller downtown Portland buildings, looking smaller than nature in the distance.

Downtown Portland from Sellwood Cliff

The walking tour of Sellwood came after a trip to the Ledding Library of Milwaukie where Clo returned a book and Z checked out a new one and where I purchased from the library discards store a copy of Gordon Bowker’s 2011 “James Joyce: A New Biography.” Ahead of his Preface, Bowker quotes from Bernard Malamud’s 1979 “Dubin’s Lives”:

“The past exudes legend: one can’t make pure clay of time’s mud. There is no life that can be recaptured wholly; as it was. Which is to say that all biography is ultimately fiction.”

p. 5

In a similar sense, all photography might be considered fiction. Certainly that view of Portland above is only distantly related to a view of what’s going on in the streets below and between those tall buildings. One problem is how quickly things change, grow, recede. But photographs stick, or they used to. Maybe memory itself is a fiction – without which nostalgia couldn’t thrive like it does. Sellwood is currently an interesting blend of the old and new, of change. Imagine a time when it was necessary to build and display a gargantuan grandfather clock on the street. Did no one carry a watch? Today it’s one of the local antiques, and like a true grandfather tells a fiction all day long about what time it is.

At the Bowling Alley

The bowling alley sounds like a bottling factory
its lines uncorked and every lane a light show
of spilling prolepsis and soft bottomed shoe slide
with curving anticipation and explosive excitement.

Splits appear and show in the piqued spin
of the turn about after the pause as the ball
rolls to its clatter in the gutter of chagrin
at the pins left standing and smiling

wingless pigeons dithering in place
the lane vast with its snowy beer
stained past the air warm with smoke
pin boys hiding in darkened wings.

Notes on Earliest Parietal Art

A Science Bulletin article, available online 10 September 2021, titled “Earliest parietal art: Hominin hand and foot traces from the middle Pleistocene of Tibet,” provides an opportunity to consider definitions and purposes of art. The article discloses and describes what appears to be the discovery of the oldest known evidence of human art, from over a million years ago, much further back than any previous find, and probably made by children.

To ask the question what is art and attempt an answer is to engage in an argument of definition. The scientists involved in the recent discovery outline a kind of argument of stipulation; that is, in the example being discussed, for something to be considered art, it must include mimesis. It must be “a copy of something else.” And that copy is taken out of its natural context and given a new birth:

The Tibetan art-panel meets this basic criterion, but with its own flourishes. The placement of the prints is not as they would naturally occur, with tracks spaced by movement, or hands placed to stabilize [4]; rather, the artist has taken a form that was already known through lived experience (i.e., the artist presumably having seen their own footprints), and took that form (the footprint) and reproduced it in a context and pattern in which it would not normally appear. This is made even clearer by the addition of the handprints, which are not commonly seen in lived experience.

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scib.2021.09.001

According to the definition of art built into the article, the object of art need not be something an audience bows to in reverence. The skill required to make the artwork is not as important as the intention of the maker that the work be “received as art.” The purpose of the work might be “enjoyment, fun or decoration.” The article uses the example of contemporary parents displaying a child’s work as art, even if “tentative artistic endeavours as art.” The authors argue the prehistoric art panel satisfies all of those conditions.

There are other important implications and conclusions of the discovery and analysis of the hand and foot prints (a human presence not expected on the Tibetan Plateau so long ago, for example). But the insistence of calling the panel art seems to distinguish this discovery from that of some other remote relic or fossil find.

What is art that does not free us from the existential cages into which we are born – distraction, deceit, knickknack; advertisement, marketing, sales? In short, propaganda. The artist deviates, moves on, leaves, wanders, wonders, is born again, an outsider, without a comfort zone. Even to just want to be an artist might suggest a kind of alienation, isolation, irrelevance – playing an instrument out of time and pocket. To turn art into a practice is craft, which is fidelity. Art is what is born again, a reassembling of experience, a repurposing of predicament. A pastime, when we had time on our hands.

The word primitive does not appear in the “art panel” article of foot and hand prints. This may be read as a sidestepping or a deliberate absence from the definition. Seen as art, the prints develop their own place of permanence and value without reference to a hierarchy of skill level, training or education, or complexity of instrument. The body parts are at once the form and content and implement of the art work. And it is the arrangement of those parts, the rearrangement in an unexpected pattern or rhythm or placement, that fulfills the necessary characteristics of a work of art.

I’ve been making art with my granddaughters since they were toddlers. I’ve put together a collage here of pieces, adding a few other pics on topic: